When I look at this photo I realize how far this group has come in 5 weeks, and how attached I have become. They make me laugh, challenge my thinking, and warm my heart. I am happy to be engaged in the work now, both lecturing and the clinical teaching.
Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to drive during their service, but I got lucky. They have recently revised the policy for Peace Corps Response Volunteers, the short timers like me, so that we are able to drive. Initially I didn’t think I wanted or needed a car and was completely freaked out about the idea of driving here, but as time progressed, I wanted the freedom and the convenience of my own vehicle.
Last week the “yellow banana” arrived in my life! Keeps reminding me of that male strip joint in Revere, MA called the Golden Banana. I have named her nthochi, banana in Chichewa.
Yes, a 2004 Mazda Demio with 80,000 miles became mine. Buying a car in Malawi is like buying a car in Harlem or something. Most of the cars are real beaters and are not well maintained. So I was hesitant to even start the process. Many cars are imported through Tanzania by a huge shipping conglomerate from Japan, like mine, that arrived in Malawi 7 months ago.
One of my colleagues in the capital here found the car for me. We looked at it, had it checked by a mechanic then negotiated with him to drive it the 4 hours north to my site. You know how everyone in the US detests going to the Motor Vehicle Department? Well, the same applies here but the wait is generally 2-3 days versus a few hours in the US. I waited for 3 hours (short by Malawi standards) for the paperwork to sign over the title, get a Malawi traffic card and pay all the associated fees. Thanks to Roy, it only took 3 hours, as he was pushy and made things happen. Otherwise we would have to come back the next day.
Driving is an experience here, but I live in the north in Mzuzu which is less densely populated, and fewer cars. The most challenging thing about driving is that everything is backwards, driving on the left, console on the left, blinker on the right, wipers on the left, lights on the right! To say nothing of trying to navigate through all the round abouts here.
EVERYONE walks or rides a bike, sometimes 3 or 4 to a bike with a baby strapped on the back. Bikes carry goats, chickens, furniture, mattresses, lumber, rice, firewood, and just about anything else you can strap on. The bikes are old, heavy and in poor condition. No fancy gears or cushy seats. The bike taxis have a long padded flat seat behind over the rear wheel for transporting merchandise or people.
My fear about driving is that I am more likely to hit a goat or a stray child than another car. People seem to have no sense of traffic. Walking in the road instead of the path along side is common, and occasionally a ball or child darts out unexpectedly which is unnerving. The goats and chickens graze right up to the pavement, unfazed by the cars whizzing by. A quick honk with the horn scatters them away from traffic, as well as the children or meandering peeps.
Friday I drove my longest distance, 2 hours, to Chitimba Beach on Lake Malawi. There was only 1 road block where I stopped briefly to exchange pleasantries with the officer. The drive was beautiful, through valleys and eventually across a VERY large peak, descending on hair-pin turns with the Lake in view. I had to pinch myself during times like this, like oh my GOD, I am driving my own vehicle in f***ing Africa!
Halfway down this precipitous drive, I was greeted by a large band of huge monkeys or baboons more likely. As I slowed down to observe them and take a picture, they quickly approached the car, awaiting a hand out. Some were so large it was a bit scary, running towards the car, so I took the photo and sped on, sure they would jump into the window if encouraged!
Around 8 pm, there was a sudden insurgence of trillions of little bugs, lake flies they call them. When the lake is calm, they swarm by the bagillions and are attracted to the smallest amount of light. We had to turn off all the lights (power was off anyway) and stow the phones and computers as they would be covered with these tiny bugs. In about an hour, they passed. The locals take nets and catch them, making cakes and other delicacies with them, ugh!
Yes, pinching myself as I sit outdoors under the large thatched pavilion, drinking my soda water, listening to the surf, enjoying the 80 degrees temp at dusk. Rough life here in Malawi….
This is what makes me the happiest…