Malawi has made a great first impression, although it is obvious people are poor. Everyone I’ve met has been genuinely lovely, although short enough to make you wonder about childhood malnutrition. Everyone is shorter than me, apparently I’ve ‘got American height.’
I love dilapidated modernist buildings that aren’t as functional as the architect hoped, so I was a fan right from the ATM-free airport. We had to wash our hands in 95% chlorine and fill in a form asking if we’d been to China recently, but otherwise no one seemed that bothered about whether we met the requirements to receive a visa.
The charity, Temwa, sent Blessings the taxi driver to meet me and a college from Bristol who is out for a few weeks. Equipped with Malawian SIM cards, phone credit and, of course, his taxi, Blessings was chosen as he is a safe driver and unrelated to the staff team. The CEO’s brother and the husband of a woman in the finance department drive taxis but rather touchingly it was felt sending one of them to get us would be verging on corruption.
I thought Malawi looked surprisingly like northern Cuba, although with significantly more coffin shops. We passed through Jenda, where Blessings explained the border with Zambia runs right through the houses. He has visited all of Malawi’s next-door-neighbours and was interested to see the ways they’re similar to Malawi and the things they do differently. He says it is clear that they’re all more developed, but that what he loves best about Malawi is that the people are peaceful. He says that the people disagree with each other, but when it is clear that they can’t win the looser just gives up rather than making a fight. We also passed Kasungu, my brother’s local town when he spent summers coaching football in Malawi.
After about seven hours, thick fog, a giant pothole even Blessings couldn’t save us from, and a lorry that had lost two wheels and spun across the road almost blocking it, we arrived in Mzuzu. We were met at our guesthouse-cum-office by Peter, a Londoner who spends chunks of his retirement helping Temwa Malawi with whatever it is finance departments do. He’d cooked for us and stocked the fridge with ‘greens’ – Carlsberg beer, earning our eternal gratitude in the process.
Although Peter only had one full day left before flying home he took us out for lunch and dinner and showed us some local necessities. Our CEO nominated himself to take us past all the bars ‘so people would see us with him and know to react appropriately to us.’ This crash course introduction to Mzuzu was particularly welcome as after only two nights in our new beds we were off to our project office in remote Usisya. None the less Mzuzu feels surprisingly like home for a town I’ve barely seen.