My Adventures in Malawi

26 Nov


CHAPTER EIGHT — 10/12/2007 — Lilongwe

One word to summarize Lilongwe: trees trees trees. Okay that’s 3 words, but you have to understand that not so long ago, Lilongwe was a forest. On a whim the president decided to move the capital here in 1974 from Zomba (which I have flown over in the tiny tiny tiny plane!) and the trees fell fell fell.

Now you can be severely fined for cutting trees down, yet they keep burning the bush to make coal — don’t quote me on this, Madonna might know better.

So, between neighborhoods, all you see is trees. For example, leaving my house, you see: houses — nothing but trees (not even lights at night which is why I make sure I am home before 6!) — Pacific Parade Mall (my grocery store is there + a cafe + 2 restaurants, etc.) — nothing but trees — some houses on the left — nothing but trees — Capital Hill on the right — nothing but trees — Capital Hill Hotel on the left — Botanical garden on the right (guess what’s there…) — and Bank office straight forward surrounded by trees.

I should take a photo of the view from my office (more trees) but I am worried about disturbing the spider that lives in the blinds. My karma cannot forward killing more insects.

I work in the City Center, which is boring because it’s all businesses: every donor nation/organization has a building, banks, a few grocery stores, a library, that is it. All around: trees.

The lively center is called Old Town, that’s where I hang out on the weekend. So there is the ultra modern chic Crossroads Mall (a dentist, a hairdresser, a dry-cleaner, boutiques, a grocery store, a cafe, a bank, a hotel and 2 junk food spots–pizza or burger?).

Along the road down the hill, there are many small stores (food, clothing, office stuff, tons of electronics, etc.) and… trees.

The center is at an intersection. You have 2 bookstores, banks, Nico Center (mall type), ShopRite (I think it’s the only place I have seen so far with a high density of white people), a few places to eat, etc.

Across the river and up the hill, you can find more stores and 2 markets: one more informal where everything is on the ground and the other is a maze with a series of stalls. You can buy meat or toothpaste. You can get some fabric and walk further to the seamstresses. You can buy art or jewelry.

I, of course, have bought nothing because I am still struggling with the currency and don’t want to get ripped off!! I always feel that I am carrying around too much cash because the ATM only gives out 500-Kwacha bills… but it’s actually only worth $3.50, enough for a sandwich and a soft drink at the fancy Foodworth.

I don’t miss Washington!!

Another feature of Lilongwe is the hills hills hills — up and down, up and down. But nothing really steep. All the ministries are on one hill called Capital Hill, very convenient. They have been moving the Parliament from Blantyre to Lilongwe, but I think that building is still under construction.

Blantyre, where I was last week, is actually bigger and more commercial– it’s the economic capital. The mausoleum where their first president is buried is quite nice. Kamuzu Banda is on all the Kwacha bills. This is what you get when you are President for Life!

Lilongwe is divided in ‘areas’ — for example my house is in Area 43, my grocery store in Area 10, work in Area 3 and the markets are in Area 2 – where you don’t go after dark.

There is quite a lot of constructions going on (2 buildings just around the Bank’s offices) and now they are redoing the roads, quite messy: big piles of dirt with huge rocks right ON the road so there is only one lane for both directions. Or they just close that section, which is what they have done to my usual route out of the office and yesterday we were stuck in traffic! My first traffic jam in Lilongwe! We were bumper to bumper for almost 5 minutes… I hope you DC commuters are green with envy. ; )

Roads in Lilongwe are actually good, the edges sometimes are a bit jagged, but there aren’t many potholes (compared to Kampala and Washington haha). Apparently there are a lot of checkpoints where the “police” ask for your papers and there is always some kind of fine to pay or tax or whatever, but I haven’t seen one so far… Probably because my driver is local and it’s a small regular car.

My favorite tree is the jacaranda because I have never seen a tree with flowers so vividly purple. The photo doesn’t do it justice. When I arrived they were all in bloom and sometimes there are several of them side by side along the road. Just gorgeous.

Everything is very dry now because the rain season starts in November. Apparently the landscape changes completely and Malawi becomes lush lush lush.

On a different topic: the Country Manager left yesterday to attend the Annual Meetings in Washington. You know what that means? Celine and the “bouhou my dog died” music will be back… Sigh. It could be worse, I could be in Switzerland…

To end on a good note: I have found a WHOLE channel more boring than Big Brother Africa: Fashion TV. Of course, that is where my “unreliable channel” has been stuck in the last 3 days.

It’s a channel for ADHD people who don’t eat: in quick succession you have a series of segments showing runways around the world, or rehearsals at the Maisons de Couture, or the Fashion Yacht where girls in bikini eat grapes and strawberries.

The worst part is when they actually interview the models… Painful. They did try to redeem themselves this morning by showing the red carpet for Ocean’s 13 in Cannes — aaaaaaaaah George Eye-Candy Clooney. All too brief.

He was replaced by unknown actresses posing at a photoshoot in a run-down house… No amount of supplication made a difference so I switched the TV off and left for work. Thank George it’s Friday!!!

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10 Responses to “My Adventures in Malawi”

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