Last Tuesday marked an important and sad day for our family – The end of an era. It was our last day in Malawi. Well, my partner’s… Me and the boys left in December! My partner has been working there since January last year and, because he was based there, he rented a lovely family house for us in Lilongwe. It had three good-sized bedrooms, not much furniture, and the main bedroom had an ensuite bathroom. We also had staff living quarters in a separate building across the lawn. In these quarters lived a lovely young family – A couple in their mid-twenties, and their now-two-year old daughter, who was completely adorable. Our boys loved this family very much, and they always worked above and beyond for us. The husband worked on night security for the house, where he sat in a small brick outhouse, on a crate, all night, with his baton and his whistle in case of a break-in. We also had the added security of an electric fence, which we turned off in the daytime for the poor birds! The husband also worked in the day, helping with errands to the local market or assisting the gardener with some bigger jobs in the rather large garden. He should have been sleeping, but we realised that he doesn’t really like to sleep that much.
He came to the house not long after my partner moved in, looking for any work that might be available. He had been knocking on gates all around the city, until he came to ours. My partner felt a good vibe from him and took him on to help with the garden and the house, to set it up for our arrival (I travelled alone with the boys, see Flying With Little People). Along with the hiring of the husband, we also hired his wife as our cleaner/housekeeper. It took a while for me to get used to this set-up, but we ended up getting into a really nice routine with the housekeeping. Soon, the staff also helped us look after the boys, which they loved. The family were so energetic, fun and caring – We had no problems leaving them in charge of the boys.
I learned a lot during my time in Lilongwe. I tried my hand (or tongue??) at Chichewa, one of the main official languages of Malawi. Here are some useful words for you all, just in case (and you should) you decide to visit someday:
- Zikomo – Thank you (I said this so many times, I think the boys learned it more from me than any Malawians!)
- Chonde – Please
- Pepani – Sorry (This is particularly useful when you’re in a supermarket with two unruly boys)
- Moni – Hello
- Tiwonana – Goodbye
- Muli bwanji? – How are you?
- Ee – Yes
- Ayi – No (I said this a lot to our staff’s daughter when she mounted our youngest!)
My partner could probably tell you more useful phrases. Not only has he been there for longer, he is also really good at picking up languages.
I wrote a list while I was there. It contained the things I loved and the things I didn’t love so much (I won’t say hate, as I only reserve that word for Donald Trump – yuck). Here it is:
- Perforated cling film (GENIUS… and also available in South Africa).
- The sunsets (The most breathtaking I’ve ever seen).
- Automatic cars – I gained a love and respect for them in Malawi!
- Driving on the same side of the road (and car).
- The animal cars in Gateway Mall (They were available all day for kids for a small price. They would ride up and down the mall, supervised, on these electric cars dressed as various stuffed animals!).
- The people – This is a big one. They were warm, welcoming, kind and hard-working. Definitely a people to look up to.
- The music (Live or otherwise).
- Our resident birds and lizards in the garden (We had one gecko who lived in the walls of our house. During one bath time, I saw him peeping at me through a gap near the taps!).
- Lake Malawi – I will come back to this later. Oh. My. God. It’s so beautiful.
- The diversity and acceptance of all people.
- Feeling really safe.
- The kabazas – These are bicycle taxis. Sometimes, you would see a man pedalling so hard up hills with rather large people sitting on the back of his bike. Other times, mothers would be carrying their babies and have another young child with them, all on one small seat. They use bikes for lots of things, especially carrying heavy loads, like charcoal, goats, planks of wood. It’s amazing to watch!
- The price of the wine (Awesome).
- Savanna Dry cider (A perfect drink for those days when wine was that little bit too heavy).
- The climate.
- Our wonderful house and garden (I have many, many happy memories of that place, and we will never forget it).
- The size of the cake slices (ie. Ginormous).
- The many colours in our garden – The varieties of flowers and plants, the birds, the lizards…
- The chocolate mousse dessert from Shoprite (Massive yum).
- Jacaranda trees when they blossom – The colour is intensely beautiful.
NOT SO LOVE
- Evening electricity outages – We would have outages every day, for around 4 hours at a time, and the times would be on a loop (eg. morning one day, afternoon the next, evening the next, then repeat). The daytime outages weren’t such a bother, but the evening ones were really annoying. No light, no electric hob to make dinner on… It was an inconvenience for sure!
- The cheese – Not only was it SO expensive to buy cheese (They don’t really do dairy over there), it was that awful rubbery stuff.
- Ants – Oh god, the ants. I once sprayed some ant spray into a hole in our lounge wall, and thousands of ants started spilling into the room. It was like something from a horror film.
- Mosquitoes and the risk of malaria – This was a major problem. My partner contracted it while we were out there together, as did one of our staff (who was born and bred in Malawi and still at huge risk despite being exposed to mosquitoes for all of her life). The boys took some tablets daily, but I risked it without taking any. I was VERY lucky not to get it, considering there was clearly an infected mosquito in the house somewhere!
- The price of food and drink – Wine was cheap, but everything else was so pricey. All of the goods for the supermarkets needed to be imported from places like South Africa, but Malawi produces their own meat, fruit and vegetables, which were all of amazing quality.
- The quality of the clothes and toys – Honestly, there was so much tat.
- Airtel – The mobile network in Malawi. My GOD did they like to piss off their customers! Not only was the mobile data really expensive, it was a mission to get a SIM card in your name if you’re not resident in Malawi, and they were either closed or packed with waiting customers… There were a few teeny moments when you could go in, speak to someone and be out within half an hour, but they were few and far between.
- Mobile data roaming charges – It’s lucky that my network told me about the charges before I arrived, as it was extortionate! £5.00 per MB. Yep, you read that right – per MB, not GB.
- Malawians on the road – I generalise because I originally wrote ‘drivers’ on my list then subsequently added ‘cyclists’ and ‘pedestrians’. Honestly, there are no rules, it’s scary. More so because you end up joining them (but more safely, I may add). If you’re going too slow, or a relatively medium and safe speed, someone will overtake you regardless of whether something is coming in the other direction (They will just have to move). People take so many risks, but because it happens all the time, it’s ignored and accepted. As long as you are really, REALLY observant, you should just about avoid the accidents…!
- Unreliable internet coverage.
- Salt and sugar in every food item you buy from the supermarkets.
- The poverty and divide in society – There were areas of Lilongwe which were like areas of Beverly Hills. Then, just around the corner, were poorer townships.
- No beans at KFC – This is a first-world problem in the third world.
- The dust from the ground – Because of the lack or rain during our time there (They do have a rainy season, however), there was so much dust coming up from the ground. The winds were strong where we were, as we were on a hill, so we were constantly shielding our faces from the dust!
- Poundstretcher – This was a shop in our local mall which imported goods from the UK. Great, right? Home from home and all that. Well, they kept the UK prices on the items, so you could see how much they had upped the prices. And it was a LOT. For example, a pack of baby wipes was 2,000MWK (around £2.00) but only 79p on the pack!
- Prayer calls in the night – We had a lot of mosques in the area, and they would call to prayer around every four hours. They didn’t bother us at all in the day, but the night-time ones were so loud, especially if there was a strong wind carrying the sound. It would set off all of the stray dogs in the neighbourhood – They would howl, bark, screech… Ugh.
- Driving at night – See above, but WAY worse, especially when they don’t have cars that work very well. Some cars had no headlights, some were on high beam at ALL times… It was exhausting!
- UHT milk – Remember I said they didn’t really do dairy in southern Africa, well this is why you can only really buy UHT milk from the supermarkets. And it’s not as nice as fresh cow’s milk.
That’s about it! Perhaps it all sounds like I was being really unrealistic and snobbish, but these were the (relatively small) things that made me miss home sometimes. I really loved our time in Malawi, especially at….
Oh god. This is my new favourite place. I could have sat in that lake for weeks and wrinkled up like a prune and not given one single f**k. It was paradise. Well, for me anyway! The water was warm and fresh, not salty like the ocean. It was clear, shallow (for a distance) and you could see out for miles, but it had waves, which made it fun for the boys. There was sand and light shingle on the ‘beach’ which was soft and comfortable to sit on. I’m not a huge fan of the beach – Sand irritates me, and the sea is always too salty and unpredictable. The lake provided me with the joys of being next to, and in, the water without all of the mess and faff of the seaside. We will, one day, have a house on the lake, I hope. It will fulfil my dream of living next to freshwater. I mean, look at it…
So, Malawi, thank you for being the definitive ‘warm heart of Africa’ and for giving us an amazing experience, or seventy!
As for the rest of you, please consider Malawi as a future holiday destination. It really is an amazing place to see. So many beautiful vistas, people and flora. Please contact me for more information if you’re planning to visit.