We were keen to get to Malawi as travelling on public transport in Mozambique is back breaking. Not only do they fit 25 people into a 15 person minibus but the roads are terrible, slow, full of potholes,dusty as hell. It also takes 8 hours to do a 250km trip. We pressed on regardless and headed up the coast to Vilankolous for a short stay and a few dives before making the 1000km trip out of Mozambique to get to Malawi. It took us 3 days of continual day travel to get out as you don’t travel at night due to numerous accidents and drunk drivers. Combining hitchhiking on artic lorries with public transport we finally made it to the border at Zobue in the South East Corner of Malawi.
Malawians are known to be one of the most friendly African nations around and as soon as you stepped over the border you can feel this change. Malawi is also one of the highest densely populated countries in Africa so I guess you have to get along! Boasting around 14m people in an area half the size of the UK is a lot for an African country. Our goal was to get to the “Lake of Stars” a fresh water lake that stretches 500km along the Eastern side of Malawi. First though we had a few days in Blantyre to wash dusty clothes and rest aching limbs. Blantrye is another unexceptional African city of squared blocks, drab facades and the usual splattering of semi decent restaurants. Once rested we headed up to the lake in time for the Easter weekend were you were guaranteed most things would shut down to cease to a halt.
We made it to Monkey Bay on the Southern shores of the lake and enjoyed a nice few days chilling on the white sand and swimming in the clear water of the lake. The highlight of our stay was the large disco that was put up for the residents of the guesthouse which attracted most of the local townsfolk around Monkey Bay. Within seconds of the music starting up they descended in swarms of 200+ kids, jigging and dancing to the loud pumping music. The owners of the guesthouse seemed aggrieved by this thinking that only the residents should enjoy the music. So then every 20 mins or so the manager would run onto the beach yielding a large stick to chase away the locals only for them to return 10mins later and carry on their own party! Malawians sure know how to dance as even the youngest of 5 yr olds could strut his stuff with the adults!
We had a brief stay over in Cape Mclear after the bank holiday weekend which was much more sedate and quieter. We then headed still further north to the even more tranquil area of Senga Bay. The roads were so much better than in Mozambique that we almost arrived fresh and clean. We were staying at a place called “Cool Runnings” which had a reputation around the area for a lot of charitable work to fight against AIDS and malaria. No sooner were we unpacked and settled with a beer in hand we were asked by Sam the manageress of Cool Running’s if we could donate blood.
Not having donated blood for a while and sceptical of the conditions in which we were to do so we headed off to the hospital. On the way there Sam gave us a long list of reason why our blood was so important. Firstly in the Senga Bay area around 5 out of 6 people HAVE AIDS which is caused mainly by promiscuity and lack of education. As with most African nations men are allowed more than one wife and even with a few wives they enjoy a numerous girlfriends on the side. Most marriages are arranged and marry as soon as they reach puberty. It also the responsibility of the chief of the village to provide the girls with the sex education they need which he of course does in some often dubious circumstances. All these factors combined has led to a wide-spread AIDS epidemic and one hard to reverse. That is where Cool Running’s has come in to teach, educate and advise the local community.
There are also the other charitable institutions around (UNICEF, UN etc) to help but frankly they spend little time in the community to make a worthwhile cause. As much as 80% of money given to these charities goes on administration and often enough the NCO’s are giving lectures to promote the charities than to make a worthwhile impact on those they are trying to help. The idea of Cool Running’s is that they are based directly in the community, they are there all the time and they give and promote more money to direct causes then most other charities. Shocked by the statistics that Sam told us we were looking forward to helping out albeit in a small way.
Due to the high level of AIDS and STD’s of local men and women the need for clean good blood was like gold dust. When we arrived and looked in the blood bank we could see it was empty. In fact the blood that we gave that day would be given straight to a lady in the ward who need a blood transfusion. After the usual screening tests in the more than adequate and clean lab we were whisked into an adjourning room to give our blood. It was the first time Sarah had given blood so she was a little more than apprehensive. After the larger than normal needle was stuck into our forearms we held on firmly to the bags filling up quickly with our red substance. In less than 5 mins we had given out 500ml or so and cleaned up and followed our bagged blood to the ward and the waiting patient. A brief introduction and a few photos we tried to explain our blood was coming but she looked so frail and exhausted I don’t think she took it all in. Huddled around her were her female relatives who had to provide food and water for her whilst she was in hospital.
It felt good to have done something even though it was very little, but to hopefully help someone less fortunate than ourselves was better than nothing. Not only is AIDS an epidemic but malaria is a massive killer in Africa too. In Malawi alone, malaria counts for 98% of child deaths. The only real current prevention to Malaria is providing families with mosquito nets.So the only solution at that time is the search for decent nets.
We stayed another 5 days in Senga Bay relaxing and enjoying the nice warm weather, reading, eating good food and the swimming in the beautiful lake. Further North and 8hr bus ride later we arrived in our penultimate stop in Malawi a beautiful cove called Nhakata Bay. Nestled into the large boulders opposite the town our guesthouse had beautiful views of the bay whilst our room hanged precariously over the lapping water. We spent a further 6 days here doing more of the same, reading, swimming, chatting with locals and more chilling African style. It was one of favourite places in Malawi, more than friendly locals, helpful staff and good food. Malawian children we also proving to be the funniest and cutest kids encountered in Africa so far. Time passes quicker than expected when relaxing and soon it was time to head off to Zambia to make it Victoria Falls in time for my birthday. A quick stop over in Lilongwe to catch an overnight bus and we were heading out of one of our most beloved countries in Africa so far. Very relaxed, easy to travel around and so friendly Malawi was safe as well as beautiful and well deserved the title “Heart of Africa”.