Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Malawi – King (and Queen) of the Jungle

August 20

Hello everyone!

Africa is known for its wonderful wildlife, a vast array of animals who stomp, slither and swim across the spectacular landscape. Many people visit the southern reaches of the continent to see the ‘Big Five’: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. Today was one of their special days.

World Lion Day is on August 20, apparently. There aren’t many in Malawi. The largest African cat is only found in a few wildlife reserves. Luckily for us, one of them happens to be right in the middle of Lilongwe!

In the UK, wild animals within the confines of a city are usually kept in a zoo. Though they do tend to them and try to make their life as pleasurable as possible, it’s not the sole aim of the zoo to do so. The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is different; its only purpose is to care for sick and injured animals, often ones who have been rescued from horrible situations abroad.

Many species are visible in the wildlife centre, including baboons…


…a massive python, which terrifyingly was partially camouflaged within a tyre…

…and vervet monkeys. Many, many monkeys.

These cheeky chimps apparently jump out of their own enclosure and steal the food of other animals, which is why certain animals are fed at dusk. Other than that, they’re generally well-behaved. Being allowed to roam free around much of the enclosure, and in very close proximity to humans, comes with a bit of responsibility.

All of these creatures are charming and are brilliantly looked after by the wildlife centre. We gathered lots of information about them and the work of the place from boards placed on the sanctuary trail; certainly a lot more than our guide, Maxwell, who seemed to be trying to speak as fast as possible in a thick Malawian accent.

I found the first fact fascinating!

On the trail we were also taken past the clinic, where the animals are regularly checked upon and maintained.

Being World Lion Day, we had come to see the ‘King of the Jungle’. We weren’t disappointed, with one male (Simba) and one female (Bella) sleeping and then stirring a few dozen metres away from us.

Remarkably, Simba was sleeping with his foot in the air. Their stories are both sad and heartening – sad in terms of the way they were treated in France and Romania respectively, and heartening because they have been rescued and are now getting the love and care they were lacking in Europe.

Unfortunately, most of these animals will never return to the wild again, having lost many of the hunting skills needed to survive outside of the centre’s walls. Nonetheless, it is lovely to see that they are being cared for in such a loving way. Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is definitely worth a visit for that reason alone.

Love you all


Monday, 22 August 2016

Malawi – Escape to the country

August 14

Hello everyone!

How many places in the world can you truly escape a city centre into another world within half an hour?

Lilongwe is not a massive city. It is a bit of a sprawl and having a car would certainly be helpful, however it pales in comparison to the likes of Kampala, Addis Ababa and many of the South African cities.

An aerial view of Nairobi, Kenya's sprawling capital city

In spite of its middling size, it’s always nice to be able to escape a capital city into more natural surroundings. The most obvious destination from Lilongwe is Malawi’s treasure: Lake Malawi. This, however, is about a 90 minute drive if traffic is good. Not a guarantee around here.

An old newspaper picture showing the potential traffic jams
we'll experience in Lilongwe in the future
Closer to home is a lodge in a village called Namitete, where we spent our final day before the invasion of new children into our lives.

Namitete is a popular expat spot, a lovely and peaceful setting approximately 30 minutes outside of the capital, on the way to the western border with Mozambique.

Arriving early in the morning meant we had the place to ourselves
for a little while
The main feature of Namitete is its small lake, on which you can sail and canoe. We did the latter and paddled our way around in glorious sunshine. It was almost silent as we glided along a meandering stream in the corner of the lake. The lack of noise was only occasionally curtailed, either by animals or by a large machine on the riverbank. I’m not sure what it was doing.

We paid the princely sum of MWK1000 - £1 - to use the canoe

Whereas much of the country is dusty brown with drought, the
grass here is much greener
In this peaceful setting, away from the noise of Lilongwe, lots of different wildlife can be found. We rowed past some vervet monkeys and some striking white birds.

Here and in the video below, the monkeys are bouncing around
about 15 metres from our canoe

We found the tree below particularly interesting. The bareness visualised by the lack of leaves is offset by the extraordinary number of bird nests hanging from the branches. The holes on the nests were on the bottom. It looked like a rather lovely bunch of coconuts.

The nests up close
Namitete is a lovely place to relax and forget about city life. We’ll definitely be back in the near future!

There didn't seem to be enough wind for a sailboat but we'll be
sure to try at some point soon!

Love you all


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Malawi – Home away from home

August 6-7

Hello everyone!

We’ve made it into the country. We’ve made it to our occasionally-powered house. Time to explore Lilongwe, a land far away from home.

A fan celebrating at a Malawi league football match we watched

Well, some of it. The city seems to be a bit of a sprawl. Being a little bit out of the centre, we’ll need to invest in a car in order to live happily out here. For now, the school are sending buses around which will take us to key places in Lilongwe.

This includes shopping. Our apartment needed (and still needs) a lot of equipment in order for us to feel more comfortable. Much of this can be bought from a shopping complex which has two major shops: Chipiku and Game.

The shopping centre is in the heart of Lilongwe city centre

The latter seems aimed at expats and reminds many people of a Wal-Mart or Tesco superstore. Many of the products are imported from South Africa, resulting in prices which prevent much of the population from shopping there.

Chipiku is a more local supermarket, though does stock some very interesting products as you can see below. Maybe we’re not quite as isolated from the motherland as we thought…

The weather doesn't seem ideal for custard...

Coconut and cashew is one of the stranger flavours on offer

Saturday lunchtime seems a particularly busy time in Chipiku; getting a trolley up and down the aisles was a challenge amongst the throng of people. As we finally arrived at the cashier’s desk, the power went. The young lady reclined in her chair and stared at her nails for a minute or so until a back-up generator kicked in. I asked her if these temporary blackouts happen a lot. The long pause before replying ‘No’ suggested that they’re used to these issues.

Another day, another power cut

Other home comforts in this complex include a curry house called Bombay Palace, where all teachers were invited that evening. The school’s director had insisted that this place served some of the best curries he’d tasted. I’m going to have to go a few more times before making a final judgment on that.

Can't claim this as my own photo - I was too busy eating!

Before the curry, we had gone on a walk to locate the local market. We lacked precise directions and the knowledge that the market probably would be closed – or at least winding down – as the afternoon disappeared, so ended up wandering along dusty land which constitutes a pavement.

Kerbs: optional

As we ambled along, we realised that we were heading towards some noise. It sounded like a sporting event. Feeling adventurous, we turned off the main stretch and into a car park. We were greeted by a stand flanked by large, curving walls: a football stadium.

Not your usual football stadium, particularly with those walls being packed with people sitting or standing upon them, and not a usual way of entering a football match. We were peering through a corrugated iron sheet to see what was happening when a stocky man in army uniform – complete with large gun – approached us. After asking him who was playing, he motioned us to the side of the sheet and up a wooden plank, where a man was selling tickets for 3000 kwacha (£3) for the covered section of the stadium. We bartered and got what we thought was a good deal – 2 pay, 2 go in free. Not a bad view, either.

Getting a view from up high

It wasn’t until researching after the match had long finished that I knew we were watching EPAC United host Wanderers, a team from the other major city of Blantyre. We also weren’t aware that they don’t do 3pm kick-offs here. That 3000 kwacha bought us approximately 20 minutes of game time before the referee blew his whistle.

The pitch was bone dry and very bobbly

You could argue that we were hustled but I would disagree. Even with the limited amount of action we saw – much of which resembled Wimbledon in the 1980s due to the bobbly nature of the pitch preventing a passing game from working – it was thoroughly enjoyable. EPAC’s fans were passionate and erupted when they scored an injury-time winner/equaliser (no scoreboard, after all!). Completely ignoring the risk of falling and death, dozens of people were leaping and dancing atop those high walls which fenced in the stadium.

A group of fans ignoring the football, instead dancing and chanting
their way around the pitch

We’ve come out here for something different, to try new things and enjoy, experience, aid and appreciate local cuisine and culture. Ultimately, however, it’s nice to have a taste of home every once in a while. Whether it be enjoying football or a buying a bar of British chocolate from a local supermarket, there’s often something here that will remind us of home. As you have seen, other experiences will also remind us how far we’ve come and how different our lives are to those of people living back in the UK.

Love you all,


Sunday, 14 August 2016

Malawi – No water, no power, no problem!

August 4-6

Hello everyone!

The school we are working for in Lilongwe (known by many family and friends now as Li-long-way-away, because I’m that funny and original) have provided us with accommodation. It’s common practice for an international school outside of Europe to do this, saving a lot of hassle and stress for all.

In many ways, this is new for us. Firstly, we have a house (you say bungalow, I say vertically-challenged house). Other places I have lived have been flats in a large block.

It is far larger than what we have been used to coping with in Prague (admittedly, the latter was our budget-conscious choice). We even have a pantry! I have no idea what to do with it as we have so many more cupboards for storage than we’re used to.

We also have our very own garden, which has been put to very good use for sunbathing and barbecues already.

A BBQ is a wise investment in a place where power drops from time to time

The house is one of six on a compound. Not as scary as it sounds, though we do have barbed wire on the walls and a large gate which is guarded by a private security team. Lovely guys.

Employing locals for a variety of domestic tasks (is security a domestic task??) is the done thing by expatriates in Malawi. It keeps employment rates high and boosts the economy to an extent.

We live in Area 47 (my hunch is that the giant spaceship-styled stadium is surely Area 51), on the western side of Lilongwe.

The stadium, built with a Chinese loan, has yet to be used

Area 47 apparently has a reputation for shortages of certain amenities: power and water. This is true of the whole city – almost everyone who arrived with us on Thursday has had their power or water switched off at some point – but seems to happen more commonly in Area 47.

Dinner by candlelight!

We arrived at our house on Thursday evening, as the sun was dipping behind our back garden view, to discover that we had neither power nor water. Our first evening was spent under candlelight, reminiscent of a bygone era. Toilets wouldn’t flush and much-needed showers after an almost 24-hour journey couldn’t be taken.

However, this wasn’t a problem for us. We’d been warned about shortages. Malawi is suffering its worst drought in decades and much of its energy comes from hydroelectric power. Shortages and cuts are going to happen. We were mentally prepared for it, so it didn’t really bother us. TIA.

A lot of people here must have it a lot worse. We live in a lovely house, have met wonderful and fascinating people and are really enjoying this change of pace and priority in our lives so far. If all else fails, they can’t take the sun away from us!

Love you all