Tuesday, February 10, 2009

on the road - smooth and bumpy

This post is typed two weeks late – not as exciting as the previous posts. I’m trying to cram as much information as possible. Will write a post shortly about deaf students, then another about the SLI training. – kb
Out of the seven days we traveled, approximately good four days of it consisted of being on the road or waiting for a bus or minibus filled with passengers and luggage to the driver’s content before leaving. The longest we waited for our minibus to fill up and depart was two hours in Mzimba with destination to Mzuzu. We missed our meeting with Deaf adults in Lilongwe because of the paperwork needed to be done and travel from Kasungu.

The toughest road was the one from Jenda to the Embangawe school for the deaf, one of the several primary and secondary schools in a huge Embangwei/Loudon synod branch of CCAP (Church of Central African Presbyterian) of Livingstonvia , in the southern portion of the large Mzimba district bordering Zambia. One hour on 30 kilometers of hard dirt road filled with lumps, crevices, holes, and mud spots that can test the car shock absorber and tires. The first ride to the school was in a 4 x 4 overland an ancient ambulance truck that our contact head teacher hired. It was a very bouncy ride in the dusk. Within a quarter of a mile from the synod, the truck blew a tire in the pouring rain. We three (myself, Betty and Charles), Hara the teacher and two other passengers with a small baby stood outside under the trees, watched the driver change the tire with assistance from a couple of passersby. On the way back two days later, one sunny morning the head teacher secured a pick up truck to take us three back to Jenda to take a bus to Mzimba for long detour to Mzuzu for a last minute meet up with a retired teacher to distribute survey forms. To make the trip leaving the school quicker, Charles, assisted by Betty interpreting had to negotiate with the driver on an agreed price to make him hurry up. However the driver resisted a little preferring to add a couple more passengers before leaving. Betty and I were squeezed in the truck cab with the driver and Charles rode in the open truck bed with several other people and our luggage. I wanted to ride in the back for the sake of experience, but Charles wanted to enjoy the sun and breeze. However, he told me that if it rains he’ll gladly trade places with me. The ride was smoother, probably because the truck didn’t have 4x4 wheels and the driver seemed to maneuver around the lumps and crevices more expertly. Along the way, we picked up few more passengers. There were many bikes riding up and down the road – costing MK 600 for a ride on the extended seat behind the rider. There aren’t bikes in Blantyre and Lilongwe, possibly due to the volume of automobiles (they were scarce up north) only outside the cities for those riding in from the rural parts.
Along the way back to Jenda – we spotted two cut branches of leaves on the road placed in a way to slow us down and pass through the narrow space provided. Betty explained that it’s to warn drivers and pedestrians that a funeral is in progress. After passing the second set, a group of men sitting near a graveyard spotted us and begged for money (for burial payment Betty reckons).

After nearly an hour and half on the back road, we reached Jenda and immediately boarded a minibus ready to leave for Mzimba. The drive lasted maybe two or three times the actual distance of the trip, due not only frequent pick ups and deboarding of passengers along the way but to navigate hairpin curves on the road. There’s a slogan in Malawi for its roads – “Arrive Alive!” and “Speed Kills”. We eventually reached Mzimba and expecting to leave again, but the driver and conductor preferred to wait until the minibus filled to capacity. Two hours were spent breathing in the diesel fumes from the running engine, a kid (well a young man) would come up to move the bus around every 10 or 15 minibus. Occasionally he’d shout and bang onto his door as if he owned it. Several other passengers going as far as Mzuzu were not amused but were silent. An internet café sitting across the street tortured me. But I knew I’d have a nervous breakdown whenever I see the minibus move, thinking it’ll go to Mzuzu without me. The minibuses are that unpredictable.
Finally, filled with passengers including several with large maize bags, and one man holding a flat of live baby chicks – occasionally a tiny feather drifted by my face – the driver decided to depart for Mzuzu. Like Jenda and Mzimba, the route between Mzimba and Mzuzu was long, but filled with scenery. The northern region is heavily forested, filled with timber mills. I had become accustomed to seeing people live in concrete dwellings with either a tin or thatched roof, the dwellings were all wood looking like it was clapped together with nails and mud. The planed wood beams piled like large grates dotted along the road. Occasionally we’d see a lorry or large truck hauling cut or uncut wood. Sometimes we’d pass acres and acres of deforested land, land lying bare with thin trunks poking out. Other lands and hills consisted of new trees – afforestation is big here, and the government is trying to promote an afforestation campaign. Once in a while, a man riding a bike (or pushing his bike) with cut wood piled high on the extended seat, as high as four or five feet, held together by braces or splints of some sort. The route also went through or on top of the highlands, with steep or narrow roads.

The route from Mzuzu (a small but upcoming city, filled with bike taxis, many registered and so jazzed up with colorful padded passenger seats with complimentary handlebars – I was angry that I didn’t have the camera on me at the moment) to Jenda, then Kusungu were uneventual. It was becoming dark and we were becoming bored and restless being on the road. Charles and I traded and fought over newspapers before dusk. I happily gave him Chichewa language pages. Some he translated for me. We arrived into Kusungu and we were grateful for the ride a friend of Betty’s gave us. We arrived in time f or a late dinner then totally crashed for the night.
After visiting a secondary school outside Kusungu, and few stops in Lilongwe (including a visit to the Ministry of Disabled and Elderly office) Betty and I headed back to Blantyre on a slow minibus. After seven days of packing and repacking my rucksack I was glad to settle into a more permanent housing at the Kabula Lodge.

The motels we stayed at, does not cater to the Westerners. The rooms and its bathrooms are pretty grim and Spartan like, with mildew damage, cement and bugs. I quickly became accustomed to toilets without seats, shower or bath with freezing or scalding water (sometimes I bathed out of the bucket to reach acceptable water temperature) – one place had perfect water temperature I think. After few weeks in Malawi I’m not as bothered by bugs and ants as I used to be. I merely flick them off or scoot them away. I was grateful that in all situations at least the toilet flushed without problems, running water, warm but simple beds and rooming with Betty. The Malawian sign for “bath” is the action of splashing water to one shoulder then to the next. The motel menus basically consisted of rice or nsima with chicken or beef and vegetables. Nutritious though.


Blogger MCC Brazil! said...

flicking away baby chicks' feathers floating by while smashed in the back of a lorry - what an image Kate! I so wish I had a picture of you. It sounds like you are really learning a lot just in your travels and adapting well to all the vagaries of living overseas. So did you get the surveys filled out? How are people reacting to them? Interested? Are you getting any data?

2/10/2009 3:07 PM  

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