Africa Part 3: Malawi & Zambia
After the relative wealth of Tanzania, Malawi has been a shock. One of the poorest countries in the world, I don’t know what I expected, but it was a really tough country to be in.
It’s beautiful, hilly, but not like Rwanda, which was steep & terraced, this was empty, but almost tropical. The hills were rolling, gentle, not sharp & severe. We drive through valleys of trees, lush with reds, greens and gold, the first deciduous trees we’ve seen.
The people look different, their foreheads are large, their chins just with an underbite. And there’s a bit of aggression. Kids are more demanding, fewer waves from truck windows. Pens, money, sweets, it’s different to previous times though. We had things thrown at our truck windows as people took photos. Kids pulling the finger as we drive past. I can almost understand why, but it’s hard. In being here we’re bringing money into the country, but you can see that it doesn’t filter down to where people need it most.
There’s no bright advertising here. No painted shops – there are much fewer of those too. The huts are red brick, but with window spaces and no glass, glass is too expensive. There are fewer hand pump wells, fewer lines of agriculture, and far fewer cows.
What do people eat? There’s not the smaller markets with buckets of onions & potatoes. Tomatoes are in single piles of 8 or 9, not on whole tables of tomatoes.
We pass villages not towns. Hardly any cars. Chief and churches the best buildings again.
The site of Lake Malawi is incredible. The sun setting behind the sky cools what looks like a grey sea, it’s hard to differentiate between the sky – they’re the same colour bar a single line.. The beach is a golden; dusty sand, a huge difference from the stark white of Tanzania. The sides of the hills are lines of rock, and the trees more temperate than what we’re used to. There’s no acacias here.
When we move on we stay in Kande beach for 3 nights. A break for washing and relaxing. It’s windy season so the beach is rough and loud – it’s hard to believe it’s a lake next to us. We want to snorkel but it’s too rough while we’re there.
We visit a village, and how simply the locals live really hits home. A school with 100 kids in each class, school journals and text books from New Zealand, that I remember learning from more than 25 years ago.
The medical centre with a small birthing centre attached is harder. Women are given a mosquito net when they get pregnant to try and reduce malarial deaths. The room where women give birth is a shock. It’s not white and sterile; it’s a bare room with no way to sterilize instruments. Knowing a friend is waiting at home ready to pop makes me wonder what she’d think of such a place.
We can’t help but donate a little, unsure if it really goes anywhere we feel obligated to do something. We buy from the young men who walk with us, practicing their English, selling paintings and carvings, making a living 500 kwacha at a time.
Back at the lake we swim away the shadow that followed us from the village. The water is warm, and sparkles with suspended particles in the light – like someone has sprinkled the water with glitter. We don’t see any fish.
Our days there are quiet. Relaxing. Swimming. Frisbee. Bao (local 2 player game)- I feel unwell for part of it and rest out of the sunshine. Our campsite has walls on the sides, the village and poverty hidden.
Another excruciatingly long truck day as we venture into Zambia. A quiet border, gone are the 3.5 hr crosses (I hope). And it’s suddenly busy. Cars everywhere, full houses. The wealth increase is obvious just a few kms into the country.
While there are still mud huts, still villages, the people here seem to have more.
We’re in South Luangwa National Park, as I write this from the campsite the river flows in front of me, hippos sunbathing, talking to each other. Monkeys are everywhere, one cheeky one stole an apple of my plate this morning – they’re not afraid of people, and can escape with scraps.
The park is laden with trees, more so than we’ve seen in any park yet. They’re bushy, perfect for hiding leopards, which this park is known for. At our dawn drive this morning we spot 3.
A mum in a tree, all I can see is a long, thick tail. Her young one at the base, hidden in the undergrowth, with a hyena lurking behind.
One is curled up in a dry riverbed. We creep close. It turns to face us.
Their coats are brighter than I expected, more cat-like than cheetah. You can imagine them slinking at dusk, looking for prey. Their eyes are golden, ears sort of round, sort of pointed. Long whiskers. I like them more than the lions, they’re more elusive.
We’re here for 1 more drive at dusk and one more night, before we venture on to the Zambezi River for 2 days canoeing before we cross into Zimbabwe to Victoria falls.