The Death Seat

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Africa » Malawi
July 28th 2006
Published: September 8th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

It was 10pm by the time the Ilala docked in Chilumba, the final stop. There were 14 of us looking for accommodation in a tiny village, which was clearly not quite ready for tourists. The Dutch family were the hardest to accommodate as there were so many of them, so they headed off in one direction while the rest of us piled into a tiny guesthouse type place. To be fair although it was incredibly basic it did only cost me 80p for a double room so I couldn't really complain. I was pretty annoyed when I was woken up at 4 o'clock by a child screaming. The screaming continued for about an hour so there was clearly something seriously wrong. I did not need a clever brain to understand. I was staying at a brothel! At about 5am I could take it no longer so I decided to head out to the tap and brush my teeth. I passed a room with the door open, and saw that the screaming child was being held by a woman who was totally ignoring it. She seemed to be trying to go to sleep despite the fact that the child was seriously distressed and waking up the entire village - unbelievable. I soon found out that the others were as irritated as I was. I decided to leave as early as possible so I got my stuff together and waited for the minibus heading in the right direction to fill up. There was no minibus going to Chitimba, where I was heading so I got on one that would take us to the junction with the main road. From there I would have to take a pick up. There was one other guy heading to Chitimba. He was English and he was a volunteer with VSO in a town called Mzuzu. I chatted to him about the situation in Malawi as our pick up raced towards Chitimba. He told me that living conditions in Malawi had been deteriorating over the last 10 years. The government had recently introduced fees for all secondary schools, as a result of which very few children study beyond primary school, and AIDS is also a major problem in the country. There is no escaping the fact that Malawi is desperately poor. The situation is not surprising however, when you realise just how much corruption there is. Apparently when the current president tried to crack down on corruption all the government ministers went on strike in protest. As a result of the strike he decided to take the 'if you can't beat them, join them' attitude. The big scandal while I was in Malawi was that all MPs were demanding an annual salary of well over 100,000 pounds per year. In country that it as poor as Malawi that is absolutely ridiculous. One of the newspapers had calculated that as there are 193 MPs in Malawi this would almost wipe out their entire budget. I had planned to spend a night in Chitimba before climbing up the escarpment but when I got to the backpackers I realised that it was not my kind of place at all. It was packed full of overland trucks and there was absolutely no chance of me spending a peaceful night there. I decided to leave my bags there as I didn't fancy lugging them up the escarpment and to head up to Livingstonia with Trevor (the VSO guy). It was quite a strenuous walk as it was incredibly hot, and I was relieved to get to the Mushroom Farm 2.5 hours later. I hadn't been planning on staying there, I had just gone there to get a drink and have a rest, but when I saw the place I just had to stay a night. It was a perma-culture camp, so everything was eco-friendly and the views were amazing. I stayed in an A-frame room, which had a balcony overlooking the escarpment. Because of where it was located nobody could see in, so you could look at the stars from your bed - it was absolutely fantastic. The food was all vegetarian and very delicious and I could have stayed there forever had it not been for budget and time constraints. From the Mushroom farm I walked to the Manchewa Falls and I also went up to the Livingstonia Mission. It was pretty surreal. You felt as if you were in a Scottish village rather than in Malawi. The walk down to Chitimba was much more relaxing and having collected my bags I got straight onto a minibus to a place called Rumphi. I'd been told that Vwaza Marsh national park was nice so I decided to give it a go. In Rumphi I rushed to the PTC supermarket, unfortunately the only thing super about it was that it sold Bountys albeit at a ridiculous price. All the same I managed to get some rice, a tin of tomatos and some beef sausages to sustain me. I then headed towards the pick up, which was going to Vwaza. Unfortunately it looked totally full and I was envisaging a long wait, when I was told to hurry up and get in. I didn't mean to sound stupid but I had to point out that there didn't seem to be any room. I was assured that there was plenty and that I should just get in. I knew that I would have to step on people and I really didn't want to hurt anyone but I could see that people were getting impatient so I just went for it. Who knows how many people I stepped on. They all pushed and pulled me until I was crouching in a tiny space with a lady standing on my foot. The pain was excruciating and I tried to point this out to her but she chose to ignore me so I just had to suffer. The next problem was finding a space for my bag. Again they didn't seem to think this was a problem. I and a couple of the other blokes were forced to stand up in the middle of the pick up with nobody to hold on to but the other passengers. The journey took about two hours but it felt more like 10. I was in absolute agony until the woman who was standing on my foot got out of the truck, about 5 minutes before I reached my destination. I was also coated in a thick layer of dust, which resulted in me looking even scruffier than usual. The dust was in my ears, in my noses, in my eyes and in my mouths. It was absolutely horrible. Unfortunately the park wasn't really worth the suffering either. I saw a couple of hippos and a sausage tree and that was about it. I did however become experts on animal dung, I didn't see elephants or hyenas but I saw plenty of evidence that they had been around at some stage. I left early the next morning and thankfully the journey back was not quite as horrendous as the one I had faced the previous day. When I got to Rumphi I found that I would be travelling in the death seat to Mzuzu. I was not at all happy about this. The number of road accidents in Malawi is ridiculous. On every road I travelled on I saw evidence of a serious accident and most of them involved minibuses. As a result of this the front two seats in the minibus are called the death seat. I was incredibly relieved when I arrived in Mzuzu in one piece. By the time I got to Mzuzu I was feeling incredibly unwell. My symptoms were those associated with the flu but the owner of the place where I camping was afraid that I had malaria. Trevor had had malaria recently despite the fact that he had been taking his tablets on a regular basis. I wasn't really to worried as I am quite prone to colds and I just assumed that all the riding around in pick up trucks had probably resulted in my feeling a bit under the weather. All the same I agreed to have my temperature taken. It was fine so I decided not to go to the doctor unless I did develop a fever. I ate lots of papaya and drank some lemonade and by the next day I was feeling much better. The next morning I took a coach to Lilongwe. In general I quite like cities. They usually mean good food and a chance to deal with all the practical things like changing money and checking e-mails etc. Despite this I really didn't like Lilongwe. Everybody had warned me about the high rate of crime in the city, but I hadn't taken them too seriously as they had said that about everywhere I had been to so far. All the same Lilongwe did feel a bit edgy and even the locals had warned me to be careful. As a result I didn't really do very much - not that there was much to do anyway. I was camping at the golf club, which was a little haven of peace in an otherwise chaotic city and I spent my evenings there reading my books and eating take-away. After two days of this I decided that it was time to move on so I caught a minibus to the Zambian border.

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