Sunday, 26 February 2017

Malawi – Here comes the rain again

February 12

Hello everyone!

It didn’t rain for the first two months after we moved to Malawi and rarely rained before the end of November. Things have changed recently, though…


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School doesn't get affected much by the rain

Well, it is rainy season. Malawi is one of those places which doesn’t have what we view as traditional seasons. They have three. We arrived at the end of the dry season with moderate temperatures (which were similar to the UK in the summer) and then endured the hot, dry season which runs from September to November. From November to March it is also hot but with a caveat – a very watery caveat…

A newspaper picture of recent flooding in Lilongwe

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What I’ve identified above is the ‘typical’ climate for Malawi. Unfortunately it hasn’t followed that pattern for the last couple of years, with rain not arriving until the end of December. For a country which is mainly agricultural and lacks significant irrigation, this delay is disastrous. Crops don’t grow, people don’t get food: all sorts of problems arise.

The view of from our back garden when we arrived...
The rainfall is also important for Malawi’s power network. 99.3% of the country’s power comes from hydroelectricity generated by dams to the south. Without sufficient rainfall, those dams cannot produce enough energy to power the country. As the last two years have been close to drought conditions, the water reserves in the dams were very low. Thus it was common for us to go in excess of 24 hours without power, which of course results in major problems for food safety in addition to making our lives slightly less cushy.

Our first night in Malawi was spent by candlelight

We’ve arrived in a more prolific year, as you’ll see from the various videos. Even this first deluge was in October, though that was very much a one-off.

Rain on 29th October - it didn't rain for a while after this

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It has rained fairly frequently since the end of November and it’s amazing how the landscape has been transformed. Land which was once brown and flat has blossomed into lush, vivid greenery, with maize stalks on the side of the road towering taller than the men and women walking past them.

Honey I Shrunk the Teacher!

This was the view from our garden after a February downpour.
That area used to be my running route...

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At the moment, a typical day begins overcast, with bright sunshine heating up Lilongwe until the early afternoon, when dark, ominous clouds start to dominate the sky. A shower will then burst, making a cacophony of noise on the tin roofs. A couple of times a week this will be more persistent heavy rain, accompanied with an incredible spectacle of thunder and lightning. It’s quite the show, which admittedly we usually watch from indoors.

A storm approaching

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Of course, you can have too much rain. Last week had a particularly huge downpour which flooded parts of Lilongwe, including the land behind our house. A helicopter, possibly one of the only ones in the country, belonging to the Malawian Defence Force had to airlift some stranded souls to safety. Many crops were also washed away in this flash flood.

A newspaper picture of the flooding from February 10-11

This helicopter landed quite close to our house

Even with rain, life still goes on. Even the volleyball matches in our league are seldom stopped, though it takes a bit of creativity to get the water off the court…

Volleyball court at 6:30pm, more resembling a water polo arena

Volleyball court just after 7pm after trenches were dug on the
left-hand side of the court

The rain is expected to start relenting from its almost-daily deluges in March and is predicted to not appear from April until next November or December. Being British, I’m used to the rain so a daily dose of wet doesn’t overly bother me. It’s also made Malawi much more beautiful than it was when we first arrived. To badly paraphrase a Christmas song…Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

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Love you all


Matt

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Malawi – One of the world’s easier border crossings

January 15-16

Hello everyone!

Borders are a trending topic in the news at the moment. Certain countries are threatening to build walls, others are preparing for longer waits at immigration before citizens can enter their country. Not Malawi, though.

To the left is Malawi, to the right is Mozambique

Mozambique surrounds the southern half of the country I currently live in. I’m sure that there are proper border crossings and stipulations that need to be fulfilled before entering Mozambique. Unofficially, however, all you have to do is cross the road…

Mozambique has our southern frontier surrounded

Mozambican beer is also far, far superior to the Carlsberg offered in Malawi. Manica is…better. I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way of describing the fact that Manica is quite nice but people get paid good money to do that job.

Czech beer > Manica > urine > Carlsberg

The village we were staying in is called Lizulu, a bit over 100km south of Lilongwe. As with the other villages we’ve stayed in so far, it is a world away from the sprawl of the capital. Shops are congregated around the main road, with the rest of the land being allocated for housing and farming.

A stall in Lizulu's market, where people from across the region
come to shop every Saturday

The countryside behind Lizulu - we spent a lot of enjoyable
time walking through it

On the Saturday afternoon, we went on a walk through some of this land and passed a small hamlet. Being a group containing a few muzungus, we quickly attracted a crowd…

Dozens of followers on our walk

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Whilst in one of Lizulu’s watering holes on Saturday night, I was offered the chance to play for their local football team. Common knowledge suggests that I become more confident than I should after a couple of drinks, so ‘Gareth Bale’ (Welsh, same school, left-footed: similarities peter out after that…) gladly accepted.

Me after three beers...

We were due to play an ‘international’ friendly – i.e. across the road in Mozambique – the following afternoon. At Sunday lunchtime we were informed that the game would instead take place in Malawi on this…

The picturesque setting for our game

A beautiful setting, I’m sure you’d agree. The pitch was a little below the standard of what we call ‘Sunday League’, with its rivets, potholes and tractor tracks proving to be extra obstacles. The very long grass also inhibited any passing game, not that this was part of our team’s plan it seemed.


After being introduced to the rest of the team as ‘expert’ and ‘Gareth Bale’, I lined up in left midfield. My first involvement was to release my inner Welshman by attempting to rugby tackle a Mozambican who had torched past me on the wing.

An inauspicious start...

It got better, with me becoming their chief attacking outlet for the next 10 minutes. After a bit of Bale-esque dribbling and Smith-esque crosses, the ball dropped perfectly for a left-foot volley for me to crash into the top corner (not of the net – no nets here). A defender from the other team nicked the ball away just as I was in the process of shooting, resulting me kicking his heel as hard as possible.

Top tip: if your standing leg is this far from the ball,
you will shank said ball out of play

Not wanting to be the newbie who cried off at the first instance of pain, I tried to carry on, even after being offered ‘first aid’ by the other team’s bench. Alas, after another 5 minutes of hobbling and attempting to sprint, I gave up the ghost and was subbed off. The fact that the opposition scored less than a minute after I exited stage right is probably a coincidence.

Hobbling on - some would say bravely,
others would say stupidly

The foot swelled up nicely and took a few days to be able to walk freely on. Meanwhile I was able to watch our team play hopelessly for the rest of the first half, trudging back to us 3-0 down at half-time, before they gained a bit of respectability by drawing the second half 1-1.

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I really enjoyed my time in Lizulu, meeting some wonderful people and being offered an opportunity which few will experience in Malawi. Maybe next time I’ll add Mozambique to the list of places I’d played for a football team. After all, it is only across the road…

The temperature dropped sharply when the clouds rolled in



Love you all


Matt

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Namibia – Enter Sand, man!

December 29-31

Hello everyone!

Namibia’s landscape is vast and diverse. From the mountains of Damaraland to the pan of Etosha, the background seems to change every day. The setting with which many associate Namibia, however, is this:




Deserts generally cover a vast area. We saw the Trans-Namib desert in two places: Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.


Swakopmund is Namibia’s second biggest establishment (apparently Windhoek is the only city so it is still a town) and self-styled adventure capital. Most of the dunes here are a rather large, red-tinted playground.



The first part of our morning in the town also known as ‘Swakop’ was spent quad biking and hunting for insects. We found spiders and a gecko with a transparent body whilst cruising along the sand.



The other activity we did was one I’ve been desperate to try ever since deciding to go to Namibia: sand boarding.


A fairly minimalist activity, this is the warm version of the skeleton bob event seen in the Winter Olympics. The tea tray used in that event is replaced by a piece of balsa wood.


Once you have scaled the peak of the dune (not an easy task in itself), you wax your board to smooth the lower surface, lay it on the hot sand, place your knees on the back, raise the front corners with your hands and kick.


The rush is incredible. Your board picks up speed quickly, making it increasingly difficult to hold up the front. The consequences of your board flattening are severe for your mouth as it gets filled with sand. This happened to me twice in four of my runs, once pretty badly.


In spite of the early and very dry lunch, I can safely say that sand boarding is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I absolutely loved the speed. It took a long time for my heart rate to recover, such as the thrill of the devilish descent.


They may both have mounds of sand but Swakop and Sossusvlei are two totally different beasts. With its rugged coastline and Atlantic breeze, multiple layers of clothing are needed in the former; in the latter, you ideally want to wear as little as possible due to the searing heat of the interior. And you certainly aren’t allowed to sand board down these dunes.



This is the location of the perfectly photogenic sand dunes you may see if you search for Namibian landscapes on particular internet search engines. Driving there from Windhoek is a toasty and long affair, though some of the views on route are pretty spectacular.



Some of the reddish sand emanates from the Kalahari Desert due to a westerly wind and the river which occasionally flows when the country has had rainfall. It’s not often – there was no river when we visited. The grey tint which can sometimes be seen adorning the dunes is actually mud from the river.



The river bed is bone dry, with cracks prevalent all over its shimmering white floor. Shrubs are seldom found in this barren land, even though we found plenty of tracks suggesting wildlife and spied three ostriches as we walked through the valley.



The river used to reach the Atlantic but now ends in Sossusvlei. The ever-expanding dunes have cut off some access to the river, resulting in the ‘death’ of various parts of the desert. The starkest example of this is at Deadvlei: literally, ‘dead marsh’.



Some of the sun-scorched, blackened trees in Deadvlei are up to 800 years old, something which I struggled to comprehend as I trudged across the vast expanse of lifelessness. The searing heat, which was intense as I’ve ever experienced with the exception of Las Vegas, may have drained my mind of the ability to make sense of what I was seeing.



Sossusvlei is famed for its stunning sunrises. They don’t disappoint.



I’m more of a sunset person though. The previous evening I had driven with a friend to Elim, a dune near the gate of the national park. Joined by a pair of oryx, we watched the sun disappear behind these imperious sandy hills.



Two completely different locations within the same country with one common feature: striking scenery filled with iron-tinted sands. Beautiful and thrilling places in which to end 2016.




Love you all


Matt