|This is what we read going into Malawi: 50% of the population is under 15 years old. 14% of all people have HIV/AIDS which means most families have had some experience with the disease. Life expectancy is 40 years. In 2005, after a short rainy season and the worst harvest in decades, Malawi was affected by severe drought and famine. Luckily in 2006 they had longer rains and a bumper harvest. Malawians are known for their friendliness and generosity. They will offer you food and invite you home to dinner and, unlike in some other countries, there is no sense that they are doing so to try and get something from you. In the 70's, president Banda made it illegal for women to wear trousers and men to have long hair, to keep out the western debauchery. This was repealed in the early 90's. Malawi is "The warm heart of Africa", according to their slogans.
From Mbeya we take a bus to the Tanzanian border but of course there is still 1km to walk with our heavy packs. There is a lot of competition amongst the young dudes waiting to be paid to carry our packs and to change our Tanzanian shillings into Malawi Kwacha. Somehow we make it out of the scuffle alive and walk the km ourselves. Crossing the border we are asked how much money we have with us. Feeling certain that declaring our cash means bribes we are reluctant, but the it turns out the border guard was just checking we had enough cash, and didn't ask for a penny of it. On the Malawi side there is one car waiting and its a share taxi so we take it. In Karonga we hit the bank, and then back on the bus heading further south. Next to us on the bus is Mr. John Brown, postmaster in Nyungwe, who teaches us some essential phrases in "Tumbuka" - the tribal language of the north. He is the first person we have met that has been really interested in us, and quizzes us on all things foreign. We show him photos of snow and this he just cant comprehend - how does anything function when there is snow?? So we have to explain central heating and winter jackets and skiing and the difference between snow storms and just having snow on the ground. Half of the bus starts listening in and I show him pictures of all my family members but its the pictures with snow that really get his head shaking. I have a kr10 coin (Norwegian Kroner) in my purse which i show him and he asks how much it is worth - 250 Malawi Kwacha. Unbelievable that its worth that much and just a little coin! He asks if there are poor people like him in Norway -and we have to say no. So we explain about unemployment, social security and paid leave of absence for pregnancy or bad health. At our destination, we are dropped off by the side of the road and wave to our friends and see a dirt track with a sign saying Sangilo, so down we go. Walking around a bend, loaded up with our heavy packs, we suddenly come across .... a sea of children. The two local schools have joined together for games day and here they are playing, and here come two funny looking "mzungu" right into the middle. Its mayhem. 20 or so children spontaneously start singing a song. About 100 kids come running at us screaming, chanting, singing. Frode pulls out his camera and there erupts a panicked excitement from the children who all want to be in the picture. All we can do is stand there and laugh at the massive joyous energy of the crowd around us. Then more and more kids coming, all wanting to say hello and to touch our hands. The teachers are kind and chat to us and try to control the kids. It takes us over half an hour to walk 100m through the crowd of our screaming fan club and eventually the stragglers walk all the way to the hotel with us, holding tightly onto our hands. We've had fun encounters with eager children on earlier trips in Asia and South America - But this is something different! The 20 minutes walk from the main road to the hotel took us about an hour, and with 20+ kg on our backs we are exhausted when we get there.
Sangilo Lodge is a relaxing haven by the water: cold beers, brewed coffee and the best pizza in Africa. The British owner tempts us with the idea of a rental car and persuades us that the roads are easy and the price is cheap. We find out later that the price of the cheapest car (Toyota Corolla) is in fact far from cheap when you add up all the small costs of the per km charge, the insurance, the delivery fee, the daily rate and even the 16.5% taxes. But by that time we are already sold on the idea. And as far as the roads being good ..... well that one i can write more about later...!