Another week has flown by, mostly involving me sat at my ‘desk’ (slightly broken coffee table and a camping mat) getting back into thesis mode. My overriding impression of Malawi is still how very kind people are, to the extent that most people find it very difficult to say ‘no’, as it is considered very rude. Because of this, most requests are put in a very circumvential way, such as, ‘if you happened to have any biscuits in this shop, it would be very interesting to see if they fit in my shopping bag? Thank you! And maybe my money would look pretty in your till? Thank you!’. Unfortunately, because of my still very limited Chichewa, despite my best efforts, I still come across as a three year old standing in the middle of a sweet shop yelling ‘I WANT CHOCOLATE’ (which I do, if anyone fancies sending me some…).
On our way to the Lake last week we stopped off at a hotel that Jody remembered from living here 15 years ago. It was near derelict now, a small collection of huts on the banks of the Shire river, with a swimming pool full of scrub plants and no guests; Think Filey Butlins in midwinter, only with more Hippopotomi. Since we’d driven up, Jody asked on the off chance if there was any breakfast going? ‘Yes!’. Someone was dispatched to the shop for egg and potatoes, a tin of pre WW2 coco was dug out and the ants and monkeys were partially evicted from the one hut still with a table. The Nali (Malawian chilli sauce, yum yum yum yum) was placed reverentially in the middle. Half an hour later, egg and chips for 2. Of course, since we were paying for our breakfast (about £2.50), there is a motivation to say yes, but I’ve found even with simple things like asking directions, people will never say that they can’t help, to the extent stopping other passers by and phoning their friends if they aren’t sure. I’ve ended up in some interesting places this way, but it’s always an adventure in Chichewa.
Having ventured out of Blantyre, the thing that has most surprised me is that Malawi looks just like it does in the pictures. This may seem self-evident, but then think about how UK cities are portrayed – London is not inhabited soley by women in heels and chic bat-wing gillets striding purposefully down Liverpool Street with a mobile clamped to their ear and a skinny-flat-white in hand (ok, there are a few, but you have to look for them). Sheffield is not entirely populated by old men in flat caps eating whippet pies. But Malawi looks like all the pictures I have ever seen of Africa. Children in brightly coloured clothes, women balancing big plastic buckets of water on their head, athletic looking goats (Tastyboks) wandering about in the middle of the road. I wonder if it is about the nature of the gaze versus the author – I mean that English people take photo’s of England, advertisers, tourism managers, artists, and so we get to say how we want to create ourselves – what kind of cities we want to appear to be. Whereas the vast majority of representations of Africa available to the rest of the world, are not created by Africans. I’m not making any kind of realist claims for the photos of the babies on their mummies back (looking thin if it’s a charity appeal or fat if it’s a report on how well the WHO are doing), but it is interesting. Comments and musings please.
On the note of babies on mummies backs – whilst slings are increasingly common in the UK, and ubiquitous here, Lyra and I caused quite a stir at the market yesterday. I put her in the sling on my back as she was tired and the market floor was awash with *stuff*. In our 10 minute shop for avocados (the best I have ever eaten) and pumpkin, we got a spontaneous rounds of applause and about two dozen belly laughs – no one had ever seen a muzungu (white person) with a child on their back before. Lyra sat there happily eating an apple and didn’t notice, but once I’d stopped being embarrassed, the sight of peoples jaws dropping was funny. Several people even asked us kindly to stop so they could take a photo of us on their phones – we’ll have our own LOL site before you know it.
We are off to the Lake of Stars music festival today http://www.lakeofstars.org/ which takes it’s name from the fishermen on Lake Malawi, who sail out at night with lanterns in the prow of the boats to lure curious tasty fish. Its a beautiful sight, I’ll ask Lyra to take a photo.