My Adventures in Malawi

26 Nov

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN — 11/20/2007 — From Maputo to Sligo

Usually at this time I am fast asleep [it was 3pm], but after nursing a bad cold for a week I decided that the mind would be stronger.I even took my first real long walk since I have arrived last Wednesday.

I knew that my reward coming back was a plate full of shrimp freshly thawed. I know I know but they are local creatures caught by Mary earlier this year. Shrimping is one of our favorite pastimes when I come here in the summer. She kept some just for me and made a luxurious snack!

Instead of heading for the electrically-warmed sheets, I am at the computer, willing my last brain cells to come together and my rusty fingers to start their awkward dance over the keyboard. I know I ended my last email with “The End” but that was the Lilongwe book. I had to write a short story on Maputo and Sligo.

After landlocked Malawi, it felt amazing to be sitting on a terrace facing the sea and eating camaroes (shrimp – I know I am not very original with my meals!!).

I drove through “downtown” but was reminded that outside of the US, the world is closed on Sundays.

Still, it was nice to be sitting in a park with a book, chatting with a couple of locals and enjoying chocolate ice cream.

Monday morning started slowly but after that nice lunch with my colleague Abel, it was meeting after meeting. I even managed to squeeze in a meeting with the Country Director and was shocked by his support! I am so used to facing doubt and boredom that to be challenged was actually welcomed!

Anyway, he set high expectations and we’ll see what I can do to meet them… but I think another trip to Africa will have to be organized… Abel was so kind that not only did he drop me off at the hotel (I miss the Greenhouse, it’s nice to have more than 2 channels though) but he also picked me up in the morning. How do you say ‘I like Mozambique’ in Portuguese?

On Tuesday, after a looooooooooong meeting with my colleagues from Zambia and Mozambique, we had lunch in a great restaurant facing the Bay. We shared 2 seafood platters and a plate of “medium-size” prawns, which means they were GIGANTIC!

The food was delicious but the service slow and I barely had time to send out a few emails before heading for the airport. I wouldn’t recommend the duty free but it took me less than fifteen minutes to go through check in, customs and security. I even got a receipt for the visa that was so long to get Saturday night.

I had some Smarties to kill time because in spite of the fact that I left the office late and got stuck in traffic, there was still another long hour before take off. Most travellers appear about 20-30 minutes before departure…

I waited about two hoursin Jo’Burg and they went by pretty fast between the obligatory visits to the book store and the duty-free chocolate heaven.

The staff seemed confused when I checked in for the BA flight to Heathrow. Instead of telling me what the matter was, they just kept asking me strange questions. It’s only when I looked at the checked bag tag that I saw the source of the confusion: in Maputo, they tagged my suitcase to go on the wrong flight from London to Dublin – Aer Lingus instead of BMI. That of course gave me one more thing to do in Heathrow during my tight connection.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to change terminal but I had to walk walk walk along mysterious corridors; wait in line to go through security (I read a couple of chapters of my Baldacci book bought in Jo’Burg); check in for my BMI flight; visit the Aer Lingus desk to have my bag was re-routed; go through immigration; and ponder my ranking of the worst airport in the world – yeah, still Heathrow.

The trek through mysterious corridors continued, first it was all concrete and unfinished walls (it felt like the cement wasn’t even dry yet); then through dingy halls at which point I had to make a detour.

My stomach shut down at the beginning of the 11-hour flight and refused solid food afterwards – normal behavior I am afraid – but I needed sustenance! My secret to make any trip bearable is hot chocolate – and see if you can get some whipped cream with it.

With my treat in hand (sans cream unfortunately), I rushed through tunnels that looked like giant pipes running in the middle of the runways. [What is that noise? Is a Boeing 747 heading straight for me?!] That’s when you see signs telling you how long it takes to get to your gate… 15 minutes. Oh well, they are always late right? And they were. So after my fast walk walk walk, I was left standing in a cold draft for 10 minutes watching BBC.

Of course all those gentlemen in suits never budged from their seats. In conclusion: I blame Heathrow for this week of sneezing, blowing my nose, coughing and blinding headaches.

I didn’t even get to stop at any duty free shops because everything was closed at that early hour. Honestly, I couldn’t have carried any more Swiss chocolate, still it’s always heart-warming to look at my homeland’s finest products.

As planned I arrived in Dublin at 8am and was in shock when I saw my suitcase there as well, which meant I had to drag it on the train and it felt so much heavier than it was in Mozambique!

I was welcomed by the outrageous Euro vs. US$ exchange rate and the gentle Irish rain.

During my 2 months in Malawi, my skin went from snow white to egg white, so I look really tanned by Irish standards 🙂 The sweet Irish air reopened my stomach and I had a hearty breakfast before collapsing on the train.Even the Irish Idol contest going on in the car didn’t prevent me from sleeping.

At 2pm, I was second out of the station in Sligo and fell into my aunt Catherine’s arms. On the way home, she asked me whether my favorite had won Big Brother and I didn’t know!! I still don’t… I also talked on the phone with English friends commenting about some of my stories… I had no idea people were actually READING my emails!!

Home sweet home! Almost 24 hours door (office in Maputo) to door (my second home in Cliffoney).

First thing first: another snack is in order. Then hot hot hot shower and warm clothes. I don’t come out of my room unless I am wearing four layers of clothes and wrap the orange scarf Catherine lent me all around my ears when I dare go outside. I also have a thick woolen coat and gloves… and Irish people keep saying how mild temperatures are, and enjoy wearing a light jacket… I might freeze on contact when I land in DC.

New car, new settee & armchair in the living room, new oven & grill in the kitchen, new bed & mirror in my room: things have changed since my last visit in March 2006! Thankfully the warmth and food haven’t!!

I have changed a little bit too: Catherine says I lost weight (now you know why I love her) and my hair is much shorter (she likes it that way). We went downtown yesterday and quite a lot has changed there too. Sligo is becoming glamorous! They even have a Virgin Megastore!

That is very bad because it means I should comb my hair next time we go, and I thought it was the last place on earth where I could be myself!

Even subdued Ballyshannon now has a huge store with clothes and fancy home furnishings to make any Washingtonian pale with envy.

Boring Bundoran has a multiplex cinema and a Lidl (German store with yummy stuff you cannot find anywhere else).

This is not all: Mullaghmore, where Mary was born and raised, was the center of the world’s attention this past Sunday: all eyes were on the drivers of the World Rally Championship (no worries: I had never heard of them before either).

I hope you caught the amazing sights on TV: the castle on top of the hill with the steep cliffs, the sandy beaches in the bay, the bog with Ben Bulben in the back (Table Mountain’s distant cousin for those who know Cape Town).

Since it was cold and I am still recovering form my ordeal in Heathrow (…), we didn’t bother walking the half hour down to the village to see the race. We watched it on TV, warm and cosy. Anyway, I don’t care for cars and I know the scenery by heart: since 1994, I have been here 11 times.

It is almost time for dinner, yes, we eat early: why wait for the best things in life? In-between royal naps and glorious meals, I find time to read, watch DVDs and talk talk talk. Consider yourself lucky that I felt guilty enough to write this email instead of sleeping, but it probably means that I’ll collapse early tonight, better switch on the electric blanket now…

PS: I couldn’t bear the thought of entering my email account on an empty stomach, so I logged off and helped with the last preparations for dinner (they don’t let me anywhere close to the serious stuff, so I just set the table and cut the cheese).

Now with a happy stomach full of trifle (slightly spiked), I can face my PERSONAL emails and if it gets too much, there is apple pie in the oven (homemade by friends of ours who visited yesterday, but they left with the chocolate cake – I know I was distraught for a while too).

Do I really have to get back to my modest life in DC? I have been spoiled rotten since I landed in Malawi, and I am not sure I remember how to take care of myself anymore… Meals and clean clothes won’t appear magically, dust and messes won’t disappear while I am not looking… sigh.

I think I am going to need something stronger than apple pie and thankfully there is still some chocolate left from my shopping spree at the duty-free heaven.

🙂

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10 Responses to “My Adventures in Malawi”

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