13 June 2008
Given that I have been planning this trip for months, I should not be surprised to finally be in Lilongwe. And yet I am. Thirty-six hours ago I was bearing up under an unusually early heat wave in Manhattan. Today I arrived to the cool breezes of a southern hemisphere winter. In those same 36 hours I also traveled from one of the richest countries in the world to one of the poorest.
But there is no shortage of hospitality here. My friend Kondwani came to pick me up at the airport, gave me a quick orientation to the city, then deposited me at the hotel to rest up a bit.
First adventure on my own: trying to buy a cell phone. Stumped already. Found a shop that would sell me a cell phone but not the SIM card that would make it work. Nor could they offer the prepaid minutes that you need to use the network. So have put that task off until tomorrow.
Second adventure. Returned from a foray to the local Internet Café to discover that the front door of the hotel was closed and locked tight. Tried all three of the keys I had been given. No go.
The sun was low in the sky and throngs of people were streaming along the streets, headed home. I walked over to the right side of the building and searched for another entrance. Came to a courtyard and spoke with the security guard, who pointed me to the back stairs, which are used after hours. Climbed the steps and headed to my room. So, I didn't have to spend my first night on the streets of Lilongwe after all!
Got back to my room and read the information brochure that explained about the front door. The back door gets locked after 10 PM. Doubt I will be out that late.
Talked at dinner with two young women from the Netherlands who are just finishing up a 13-week internship in midwifery. The brunette said Malawi had stolen her heart and already she was thinking about how to get back again in February. That's the peak month for delivering babies, she said. Funny, I replied, isn't that also the peak season for malaria? Poor choice of words. Not funny at all. The rains begin in November, followed by babies and malaria. More pregnant women, new mothers and kids under the age of fiver die of malaria than any other single group.
A Day to Cheer
First full day in Malawi. Successfully bought a cell phone, SIM card and some airtime in the morning. After lunch, Kondwani and his friend Augustine took me on a tour of Malangalanga Market.
Just about everything was on sale: socks, stuffed animals, fresh fish from Lake Malawi, t-shirts, pots and pans, hoes with strong wooden handles and pipes for the solar heating of water. We stuck to the main roads and it was not a place I would travel on my own—especially after just 24 hours in a new country. One small section felt a little like Bryant Park in the 1980s. I know I missed a lot but I was also paying close attention to where I put my feet and kept a wary eye on the cars pushing their way through the crowds.
The market is spread out between and surrounds two large mosques. Everywhere we walked we could hear the big soccer game (or football as most of the world knows it) between Malawi and Egypt. People were clearly in a partying mood, which turned into a giant celebration later that afternoon when Malawi beat Egypt in the final minutes of the game 1 to 0.
Now back in my hotel room, I can hear the horns of passing cars tooting to each other in victory greetings mixed in with the call to evening prayers.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
13 June 2008