Malawian challenges

11 Sep

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“Please, do you want to listen to this?”, Francis took the earpieces out of his ears and handed it over to me. It was a discussion on a liberal independent radio station between the DJ and the press officer of Mr. Bingu Wa Mutharika, the current president of Malawi. The president just gave a speech a couple of days earlier regarding the protests which were violently hit down by his government. Nineteen people were left dead during the protest and we noticed the anger of everybody we met in Malawi. The discussion on the radio was specifically about the speech after the protests, in which the president tried to defend the actions. The discussion was in English, so while I was struggling to climb the steep path to the top I was happy to be kept busy by the interesting radio show.

We met Francis while we were climbing the Zomba plateau. We were using the so called Potato Path, which is still used by farmers to transport the veggies and fruits from the plateau to town. Zomba town, which was the Malawian capital during the British time, lies in the shadows of the plateau. On the slopes of the plateau there is still evidence of the British. Most of the houses and gardens are some what intact but clearly neglected. While enjoying some of the views, Francis added his concern about the fact that his countrymen are not taking care of the beautiful properties.

The climb to the top of the plateau took us more than two hours. It was steep, very steep. Even Francis, which turned out to be a part time tour guide and a curio shop owner, had to stop for a breather once or twice. He also pointed out some people illegally cutting down the beautiful pine trees. The plateau itself is officially a natural reserve, but due to the extreme poverty and negative economic outlook, people are desperate and will do everything to survive. We were amazed how some of the women and kids negotiated the small path while descending the mountain with pretty large logs on their heads. We are definitely degenerating.

After arriving on top of the beautiful plateau we decided to ask Francis to guide us for another walk on top of the plateau for three more hours. Although we could see a lot of bare land due to the illegal logging, some parts of the forrest were very dense and the rivers and falls stunningly breathtaking. The viewpoints were out of this world. We could visually follow the road we took from Liwonde National Park winding through the dry land. It felt very strange to be in such a cool environment at 1800 m after the dry and hot savanne at Liwonde Safari Camp. Just 24 hours ago we were still enjoying an exviting hot ride through the Liwonde National Park with Frederick (http://www.liwondesafaricamp.com/) and now we could feel the cold night coming. We stayed at an abandoned trout farm on top of the plateau. We asked one of the local boys to fetch us some cold beers and enjoyed the mist slowly descending on us. While cooking our makeshift dinner we were joined by two other overnight visitors at the farm. They turned out to be the Dutch couple we met on our Train ride from Dar es Salaam to Kasama. What a small world! We enjoyed a surprisingly nice dinner, made of our combined ingredients.

The next day we took another exciting minibus ride from Zomba to Blantyre. We met Margriet, a Dutch local who has lived in Malawi for more than 45 years, at her bookshop in the shopping mall. She is also the initiator of the orphanage, Chiuta Childrens Home, Leanne has been supporting for the last couple of years. Hilje had been looking forward to visit this orphanage and now we were very close in doing that.

Greatly stunned by the beautiful and divers settings of some of the places in Malawi but also saddened by the extreme poverty, fragile political situation and incredible HIV statistics we had planned to take the 12 hour busride from Blantyre to Harare.

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