Sindika has been asking me for months to visit his home village in the mountains north of Mzuzu. Malawians are proud of their home villages and have very strong connections there though they may be living long distances from “home”. Sindika works in my garden and does my laundry so is a VERY valued person in my life and I have become so fond of him and his endearing nature.
My friend Sara and I drove Saturday morning with Sindika north to Chitimba where we left my car and hired transport to ascend the mountain to Livingstonia, one of the most historical places in Sub-Sahara Africa. David Livingston, the British missionary/explorer, brought religion, healthcare, and community to an incredibly remote but spectacularly beautiful area in Malawi, in the late 1800s.
Willy, a friend and native S African, about 65 years old and crusty as they come, drove us up the zig zag, heavily rutted, rocky, craggy mountain road in his beater of a truck. The journey takes an hour, literally straight up the mountain, and is harrowing and bumpy; no guard rails, fences or safety nets for the hairpin turns overlooking steep cliffs. Many a vehicle has plunged off the road due to careless driving on this dangerous pass.
Willy gave us a complete historical account (an hour of non-stop talking) of David Livingston and the history of the area. We dropped our bags in Lukwe, the lodge we booked for the night, and I journeyed on to Livingstonia with Sindika and Willy. Picture we are miles and miles away from any paved road, up on the top of a mountain, traveling to a remote village, no electricity, running water, stores, shops, anything! Just people, houses, and crops.
Arrival in the village was uneventful, though I was met with the usual stares. Not too many white people venturing this far back into the wilderness. Sindika HAD to show me his primary school (he is now 42) and I suspect that was a silent plea for funds to repair the outrageous condition of the building. The children sit on the cold and broken up concrete floor. There are no light bulbs or window glass. No desks, no chalkboard/whiteboard. The faded, wrinkled lessons taped to the walls looked like they had been there for a year; a very sad and depressing classroom.
We then journeyed further a field in the truck to the village itself. Met by the 3 “brothers” I was escorted around the village for a tour of the maize bins, the crops, family homes, and cooking areas. The women were busy drying their potatoes, pulverizing the cassava, and drying cassava and maize on huge sheets of plastic. Dogs and chickens were everywhere.
Coffee, bananas, cassava, maize, okra, coffee, and sweet potatoes grow abundantly. Acres and acres of crops surround the village and a small bamboo hut sits atop the neighboring hill with an attendant to chase the monkeys away from the crops. I suggested scarecrows. They had heard of this practice and were amused, but not motivated!
The dramatic finale to the visit was meeting Sindika’s father, the bwana, the chief of the whole area. I am guessing he is my age and has been ill. Greetings were exchanged and he held onto my hand for the entire visit, only to release it when I gave him the banana bread I had baked and toted around for 2 hours.
We exchanged pleasantries and I learned a lot about the role of chief: he looks after everyone, he mediates disputes, has people arrested for crimes, is fully in charge of parceling all the land to people who need or request it, is the highest form of government in the village and generally supercedes the police.
Dressed in a suit jacket, cotton button down shirt, brown trousers, and special head cover, he was not the chief I had imagined from the Lion King movie. Hard to believe that in the 21st century one acquires land by visiting with and gaining the respect and trust of the chief. Forget about the agents and the nightmare of 10 page contracts.
Willy drove me back to Lukwe, I crashed in bed at 8:00 after a delightful al fresco meal overlooking the valley. The arduous journey home began in the morning after a luscious meal at Mushroom Farm, a backpacker’s lodge on the mountain. We waited there for our transport for about 3 hours (it’s Malawi). We were not expecting to share the ride with 30+ boisterous men and women going to a soccer game in a flatbed truck packed to the gills. I couldn’t look going down for fear we would plummet over the edge, packed like sardines in the truck bed (will not discuss this with Hector, our PC security).
The hour ride down was painful, but we made it and walked another ½ hour to the car, another 2 hour drive home to Mzuzu.
All in all, another incredible memory and cultural experience. Loving Malawi!