At Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Jimmy and George Mashinkila, Jimmy’s son and nephew bade us farewell before boarding a 20 seater aircraft for Lilongwe, Malawi. We were picked up and driven 30 km to the Kiboko Town Hotel in Lilongwe, and were pleasantly surprised to find a clean, modest and funky place owned by a Dutch couple. It has that typically Dutch eclectic mix of decorations which create a ‘gezellige’ or cozy atmosphere. Impressive carvings – hippos, chameleons, masks – some 6 feet high, were everywhere. You’re never far from street markets, and such was the case outside Kiboko Hotel. Women selling African materials and crafts were in abundance. We picked up our rented Toyota, did some shopping, got phone minutes and exchanged money, gingerly avoiding the illegal black market money changers and we were off.
As in much of Africa, cities like Lilongwe have grown uncontrollably, are over crowded and can’t sustain a largely unemployed populace. Everyone is trying to make a few bucks, so one runs a gauntlet of street merchants and small shops before one finally leaves the city.
Malawi is blessed with unusual mountain formations and ranges. Some seem to stick up from out of nowhere. We drove to Dedza Pottery where the coffee was fresh and the scones scrumptious, but not before getting a speeding ticket in a poorly marked section of the highway. As we passed over the Dedza Mountains on an excellent highway, kids yelled out for money. People here are poor compared to Zambians.
Finally we reached Mgoza Lodge, our destination at Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi a place that we know well and have fond memories of. Our cabin on the lake is similar to a Malawian villager’s home: grass roof, brick walls, wood doors but also has a bathroom, a king size bed with mosquito net. There’s a bar and restaurant only a few metres away and a small pool filled with lake water. Behind the Lodge is Chembe Village. Its 16,000 inhabitants are at the lake early in the morning, bathing, washing dishes or clothes, gathering water, or using it as a source of food.
Our cottage at Mgoza Lodge Cape Maclear. The cottage is Malawian style with grass roof, en-suite bathroom. The bar and restaurant were convenient.
Lake Malawi is a 320 mile long lake shared by Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. It’s famous for its numerous species of cichlids, which are of turquoise, yellow, orange, black, deep purple and white hew. Tourists come to snorkel amongst them and enjoy the aquamarine water and sandy beaches as well as feed fish eagles.
Gibson accompanied us to Thimbe Island and prepared a meal- fish (kampango), rice, relish, rape. He also came with us when we drove to Monkey Bay to repair a tire. Again people everywhere. Europeans, as we’re called, become a magnet for beggars, drunkards, kids and anyone who wants to see someone different. Gibson is the same age as our son Daniel, 27, and yet their lives a complete antithesis. Gibson desperately wants a good job or an opportunity to further his education, but all the doors seem shut for him and many others.
There’s just very little money. Kids and adults alike are creative in earning kwachas, Malawi’s currency. They’ll make you a shirt, play music, sell paintings or carvings, carry your stuff. They get a temporary fix but systemic injustices and a lack of jobs determines their long term fate.
Mua Mission enchanted us in 1983 when we first visited the place. The Mission was started by White Fathers(because of their garb) in 1902 and comprises a large hospital, school, church and cultural centre, the latter being the handiwork of Father Boucher, a French Canadian priest/artist who’s been in Malawi for decades. Besides being an expert on the Cewa, Yao and Ngoni cultures he has created a village that reflects the art and traditional proverbs of these tribes and an amazing museum that describes and interprets the traditional practices of these tribes. For years Boucher has gathered about him local carvers and painters whose work is incorporated into the buildings on the mission station and can be bought on site. The Catholic Church has tried to get close to Cewa culture and synthesize Catholic beliefs and liturgical practices with local tribes. It’s best said in a quote on a wall in the museum, ‘ Culture in Jesus and Jesus in culture’.
One of the finely carved masks at Mua Mission, established by French priests. The Mangoni Culture Centre has an outstanding museum of Cewa and Ngoni culture and supports Malawian artists.
Before leaving Mgoza Lodge on Lake Malawi, we gave the Chembe Football team a soccer ball after waiting for it for two days. You should have seen the wide grins on the boys’ faces. Fishermen, as they have done for hundreds of years, came in with their catch watched by women cleaning pots and children frolicking on the beach.
Brian giving a soccer ball to eager kids living by Lake Malawi. These same kids formed the Chembe Village band as well.