Wednesday, May 06, 2009

MANAD in Mulanje, Blantyre

Several days after completing the Karonga-Chipita Survey Trip, I met Euphrasia and other MANAD officials in Mulanje for a five day training in Organizational Capacity Training (how to work as an advocacy, identify issues pertaining to the Deaf, etc). Mulanje is a southern most town in southern Malawi not far from the Mozambique border. Due to long training hours I could not explore much of the area. On the upside, our motel where we also had the training contained a perfect view of the Mulanje Massif (for geological information, go to: behind us. Because of low clouds (not unusual in Malawi) that the Massif is often referred as “Island in the Sky” and we did not get the view of the full mountain until the end of the training when it cleared up. As far as Thyolo, I could see the giant base of the Massif, like Jack the Beanstalk's Giant's Elephant foot through the low and heavy clouds.

A minibus took me to Mulanje, from south of Blantyre via Thyolo (the tea capital of Malawi) on M2 which took over an hour. On the way back with all of us in the minibus – needing no additional passengers) took the M4 road which is a shorter route, a strikingly different scenery. On the M2, within couple kilometers south of Blantyre and all the way to Mulanje were fields upon fields upon fields of tea. I think at the moment all of the tea picked, cured, dried and made into individual cups of tea – everyone in Southern Africa that consists of 12 countries plus the tea loving United Kingdom and Ireland can drink at the same time. Tea plantations are quite busy, some open to tourism (nope never had the chance to go though I’ve planned it one time or other  ). A deaf Malawian I know used to work in a plantation, he and his wife picking tea leaves from morning to dusk. It depends on which company owns the tea plantations – some are generous with benefits for its employees while others are not.

It was rather hypnotic with miles and miles of tea fields and people employed to pick the leaves. In the old days, one had to pick by hand which can be painful. Now they have a special kind of large hand (hedge?) clip with a small basket attached to catch the cut leaves. I observed men and women in the fields with large baskets strapped to their backs, cutting and collecting and tossing it over their shoulder into the giant basket. Long hours for little pay unfortunately.

Thyolo, where I changed minibuses – we passed near one of the largest marketplaces in the country with dizzying variety of produce. There were maybe 5 foot piles of cabbages and kale freshly brought in. I never had the opportunity to shop there.
That’d be sweet. For a while we passengers in the minibus watched touts (conductors) fight over passengers, and one tout dissing a couple who decided to switch minibuses. Often we don’t have the pleasure of choosing what minibus to take. What can really anger a tout is if you go into his minibus and you change your mind and go into another minibus. You either argue with the tout or let the touts argue among themselves. It’s mostly shouting and finger jabbing but I’ve never seen it escalate. Other touts would interfere and calm the angry tout down. Sometimes the passenger would return to the original minibus to shut them up.

Anyways, since I arrived early at Mulanje, I decided to try an Italian place for lunch (real mozzarella cheese!). Couple hours later I was ready to go to the motel – I asked the waiter to hire a taxi for me because I was not in the mood to be piled upon by taxi drivers and pick one, hoping I will not be a sucker and pay too much money. The waiter returned and introduced me to the taxi driver. We went outside and expecting to find a cab, he gestured to his bike. I’d forgotten. Many towns do not have taxi cabs, only taxi bikes. I had my rucksack not only with a week worth of clothing but with some paperwork and laptop inside. The motel is two kilometers down the road with some rises and slopes along the way. I pointed at my rucksack and pantomimed whether the taxi driver is strong? He laughed and told me to get on. I tightened my rucksack, securing all belts and loops, and made myself comfortable on the passenger seat. I was grateful for the extra handlebar too, giving me more security to hold on. Not topple over backwards.

As in any other Malawian town – there are more pedestrians and bike taxis than cars, every other bemused (or amused, depending!) face looked at me grinning. All I could do was wave.. A mazungu with a rucksack, on the back of the bike. The driver pumped his legs up and down the whole way and I was impressed he didn’t stand up for more traction. I gave him a tip for his good humor :). When we arrived at the motel, two MANAD Board members were grinning at my grand entrance.

Mulanje Massif attracts hikers and backpackers around the world – it is no easy feat. Some from my lodge went and returned with sore muscles and nasty blisters on their feet. The Malawian Deaf told me about local myths that the spirits and witchcraft cause disappearances of several backpackers. Evidently the Netherlands and one other country sent their teams and the backpackers were never found. Usually because they never hired guides – people I know went they came back because they hired guides. Better safe than sorry! Several times during training if a MANAD official was very late we’d go “witchcraft! Maybe taken away!”.

will post a picture or two..


Post a Comment

<< Home