Adventure, part 2, Out of Gas I like to stay in Lilongwe when I am in Malawi. It’s a bigger town and there are more restaurants and travelers to talk to. There is a place called the Kiboko Town Hotel which has a nice cafe and a great restaurant next door, Don Brioni’s Bistro. If I could, I would stay at the Kiboko Hotel all the time, but it is expensive and I do have a friend who has a nice house in Lilongwe where I can stay when I am in town. I use the Kiboko Cafe as my “office” and spend a lot of time there during the day. The cafe closes at 5 pm and every once in awhile I eat at Don Brioni’s and then take a taxi back to my friend’s house. I never walk alone after dark anywhere in Malawi and even though my friend’s house is only a mile away, this was no exception.
After dinner at Don Brioni’s I asked the guard at the Kiboko Hotel if he could find me a taxi. He called his friend who quickly arrived and was very friendly and happy to give me a ride. About 3/4 of the way to my friend’s house (which was 3/4 of a mile) his taxi ran out of gas. We were right in front of a CCPC church with a big stone wall around it and a gate. The taxi driver started rattling the bars of the gate and two men came out of the dark, unchained the gate and we pushed the taxi into the church courtyard. There was a lot of talk in Chichewa and then the taxi driver asked me if I could pay my fare now so that he could go get gas. He told me I would be safe, to lock myself in his taxi, he gave me his empty wallet (as collateral, I guess) and then headed off on foot to find a gas station. 45 minutes later I was still locked in the taxi and the driver wasn’t back. I decided I better do something and got out of the taxi to find the two men who had let us into the church courtyard. It was very dark and I used my cell phone flashlight so I could see where I was going. I found the two men behind a small guard post and asked if one of them could walk me the rest of the way to my friend’s house. I didn’t know if they understood me, but then one said “money”. I offered K1000 ($2.50) and they consulted with each other and said “No, K1500” to take me to my friend’s. I agreed and actually would of paid whatever they asked to get out of that church courtyard and safely to my friend’s house. One of the men walked me to the gate of the house and waited until I was inside. I never did see the taxi driver again but the next morning when I went past the church his car was gone so I guess he finally did get the gas.
The next day I told some of my Malawian friends this story and they laughed. I thought they were laughing about my predicament but they were laughing because I paid so much money for a quarter of a mile walk when it would have been perfectly safe for me to walk alone. Malawi is the 6th poorest country in Africa, 80% of the population lives below the poverty line. It is also one of the safest countries in Africa. There is no internal conflict or unrest and the people are very friendly. They like people like me because they know I am there to help. The older women especially, they take my hand and give me the “thumbs up sign” and try to thank me in Chichewa. I don’t understand what she is saying but I know what she means. I was frightened in the church courtyard, it was very dark and I was alone. What I took away from this experience, once again, was the kindness and honesty of the Malawian people. If I ever end up in a situation like this again in Malawi, I would still be frightened, but maybe not as much.