Adventure, part 1: Getting to Mangochi

I will be in Malawi from mid-February until the end of March.  I am very excited to see the Khama Sewing School women and their supervisors, Amos and Charity.  I live in Pittsburgh and right now it is snowing and the temperature is 20 degrees and on its way down to 1 degree.  Electricity or no electricity the warm sunny weather sounds wonderful.  THREEafrica had such a successful 2013 fall season that we are doubling our order. When I came back to the US in August I was so busy being a vendor that I didn’t have time to tell you about my trip.  During the 6 weeks I was in Malawi this summer I had a few “adventures” that I learned a lot from.  The first was when I took the bus from Lilongwe to Mangochi, a four hour trip that ended up taking 7 hours (there is this thing called Malawi time...).  I got off the bus in Mangochi around dusk with my suitcase and a large heavy duffle bag of chitenji, the local fabric, that I was taking to the sewing school.  A man grabbed my suitcase and started jumping up and down and shouting “give me money, give me money.”  In a panic, I asked the man who had been sitting next to me on the bus to help me get my suitcase back.  I had listen to him passionately tell me about Malawian politics for about 3 hours, so I felt we were kind of friends.  My friend approached the man and grabbed the suitcase back.  The man started trying to punch my friend who then took off his suit coat, handed it to me and started to fight back.  Fortunately some other men who were hanging around the bus stop grabbed the suitcase grabber and stopped what could have been a fight.  First time two men have ever fought over me (ok, my suitcase) it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, believe me.

By now it was dark and one of my cardinal rules in Malawi is to never be out on the street alone when it gets dark.  There were no taxis, mini busses or mantolas (open backed trucks that you can hop on and get a ride) in sight.  I couldn’t move because the suitcase and duffle bag were too heavy.  I didn’t have any choice so I again asked my friend to help me get to the lodge where I was staying.  He happily agreed and asked me to wait at the bus station and he would be right back.  There were other men who had watched the fight and so at least knew who I was so I felt kind of safe.  My friend quickly returned with 2 bicycle taxis, I got on one with my suitcase and he the other with my big duffle bag.  By now it is very dark and we are riding down these narrow, twisting alley ways and I have no idea where I am going.  I also have no idea how the bicycle taxi drivers can see where they are going.  I turn to my friend, who is on the bike behind me, and say “I’m trusting you” he answered back “don’t worry Madam.”  We arrived at the mini bus station and my friend negotiated a fair price with one of the driver’s to take me to the front door of the lodge where I was staying.  I gave my friend some kwatcha (Malawian currency) and thanked him again and again for being my friend and helping me get to the lodge safely.  He left with money in his pocket and a big smile and I headed straight to the bar for a glass of wine.  I left Lilongwe at 8 am and arrived at the Palm Beach (yes, that is the name of the lodge) at 7 pm.  By car the trip would of taken 4 hours, but not on Malawi time.  I learned four important things about traveling in Malawi from this “adventure.”  When traveling never bring more than you can carry.  Always make sure that you call the place you are staying and arrange to have them meet you at the bus station.  Malawian time can drive you crazy and finally, Malawians are the nicest, kindest people you would ever want to meet and I thank my friend, once again, for helping me.