In the Warm Heart of Africa for the Holidays
Hello and greetings from Malawi! I hope you are ready for stunningly gorgeous scenery, festive holiday celebrations, and lots of laughter and good cheer because that is the focus of this blog entry.
Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa and this is immediately apparent, as everyone we passed on the street was wearing a huge smile, especially the children. In fact, the children wouldn’t just smile, they would race to the edge of their property and wave their little hands as quickly as possible to make sure they were seen. Some of the smaller children would actually stand in a split stance and lean forward to stabilize themselves for the ferocious waving session, which frequently involved both hands above the head. At times, it almost felt like a wave-off to see who could wave the fastest and most enthusiastically: us or them. It is without a doubt one of my favorite memories of Africa and something that will always bring a smile to my face.
In addition to the warm and friendly people, Malawi also has spectacular natural scenery. Take a look for yourselves. Here are some pics taken from the truck on our way to Lake Malawi.
This is our truck, Denver.
Denver may look nice and cosmetically it was nicer than Pumba, but it was configured differently and definitely not as spacious or comfortable. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, this leg of the trip consisted of many long days and by long I mean several 10, 12 and 14 hour days back to back. With all this time in the truck one has ample time to dissect the layout and conjure brilliant ideas for the perfect truck.
Thankfully Janet is an incredibly upbeat, glass half full kind of person and did her very best to keep the energy in the truck positive. Each morning, to get us started on the right track, Janet would read us an inspiring and motivating thought of the day. She also made sure the truck was decorated with helpful language tidbits and fun facts about the countries we’d be visiting.
Since we’d be celebrating the holidays and the New Year together she also made the extra effort to pimp out our truck with holiday cheer.
One of the ways we’d pass the time was to engage in trivia with one side of the truck versus the other. I am pleased to say that I wowed the truck by knowing who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Yeah puppies, whose a patriot?
We would also sing to pass the time. Janet taught us a Zulu Warrior song, which was so much fun and became lodged in my head for the rest of my time in Africa. I’ll go ahead and give you the lyrics, spelling the words like I’m Hooked on Phonics, ok. I realize you may not have the beat, but I will be happy to perform this little ditty for you, upon request.
The entire bus, I mean truck, starts singing this together
I zeek a zoomba zoomba zoomba
I zeek a zoomba zoomba zay
I zeek a zoomba zoomba zoomba
I zeek a zoomba zoomba zay
Hold ‘em down you Zulu warrior
Hold ‘em down you Zulu chief, chief, chief, chief
Once we got to chief, one half of the truck would go back to the beginning of the song while the other half chanted chief over and over again until the other side completed the lyrics and got to chief. We’d switch back and forth until this got old, but you’d be surprised how many times we went around before losing our steam. With 10 hours or more to kill we might as well sing our little hearts out.
Our first stop in Lake Malawi, the Lake of Stars, was Kande Beach and we arrived just as the sun was setting.
While strolling along the beach, I was quickly befriended by the super outgoing and laid back Good Lucky and Yoda. Everyone there comes up with some kind of fun and playful name like Donald Duck or Pepperoni Pizza and Good Lucky and Yoda were going to be my buddies for the next few days in Kande Beach. After chatting it up for a while they decided that the perfect nickname for me was Chimwemwe, which means joy. I like it! I’ve had plenty of nicknames in my time, but I think this is one of my favorites.
I met up with Good Lucky and Yoda the next morning and we took a tour through their lovely village. Our village tour guide was all smiles and decked out for the holidays.
This woman was busy preparing the cassava for their evening meal.
As I mentioned before, the children in Malawi melt your heart they are so adorable and sweet.
Each of us was holding one or more children’s hands as we walked through the village and I am pleased to share that there was no begging for money, food, or pens. In my travels I have visited many small villages and it’s extremely rare to find a village that is devoid of begging. How refreshing!
I know it may seem like this kid probably didn’t want his picture taken given the expression he’s giving me, but he actually asked me to take his photo. Haha! Gotta love it.
This is the little boy who accompanied me throughout the village. He was absolutely precious and such a gentle lil‘ guy. When the adults would go into a part of the village where the kids weren’t allowed, he would patiently wait outside for me and then greet me at the door with a huge smile and an outstretched hand. It was so sweet!
One thing that we all noticed as we walked through the village and spoke with the residents was how many of them were raised by their grandparents, including my buddy, Good Lucky. We’ve all heard how the AIDS epidemic is a huge problem in Africa, but I can honestly say that I was caught off guard when I read some literature supplied at the Tanzania border that claimed that of the global AIDS epidemic, 67% of it is in sub-Saharan Africa! Wow, 67%! In walking through this village though it definitely seemed accurate. It’s heartbreaking, but also encouraging to see the public awareness campaigns underway on billboards in the big cities, on the backs of tuk tuks, and in the curriculum taught to children.
Here’s the school in the village. Even though it was a holiday and the kids weren’t in school, they still accompanied us to the school and performed an impromptu song and dance for us. They were so enthusiastic to have visitors and could have gone on for hours.
As I mentioned before, there are many orphans in this village and limited resources. While the need is obviously great, the tone of the teacher was nurturing and kind as he explained to us the way Malawi’s school system worked, the curriculum, and the ages and number of students enrolled. There was never a hard push for donations. He simply directed us to the blackboard where contact information for the school was located and thanked us for visiting his school.
As many of you know, my mom was a teacher and had a way of making education and learning fun. She read books to us when we were little and instilled in each of us a love for reading that continues to this day. Every summer we participated in the reading program at our library and I have fond memories of the balancing act required to get our huge stack of books from the library to the car and from the car to the house. As you can imagine, with 30+ years of teaching under her belt, mom amassed quite a collection of children’s books and resources over the years. With the help of several of her teaching colleagues and friends we were able to get many of her resources into the hands of educators in her community who could put them to immediate use, but we held on to a stockpile of children’s books with the goal of donating them to an organization(s) that served underprivileged children. Of course I’ll need to discuss this with my brothers, but I’d love to send at least some of those books to these children in this village that captured my heart this holiday season.
The more I’ve traveled the more I realize just how privileged I was to have had access to such high caliber education my whole life. It is truly a gift and something that my mom gave to hundreds of children and something my brothers and I would like to continue in her honor. I have more to share about this subject, but we’ll get to that in later posts.
After visiting the school, we headed on to the hospital, the maternity ward specifically, to see some of the new moms and babies. The conditions here were definitely not the greatest and the new mom we met didn’t look that well. I’m no doctor, but if I had to guess I’d say the insane heat and humidity was likely a factor. As for donations, they were in desperate need to mosquito nets so if any of you have access to them or would like to help I’d recommend contacting the school to get more information.
After our fabulous day in the village we headed back to the campsite to relax and gear up for our drum party on the beach. Prior to heading to the beach, we sat around the campsite and took in an impromptu jam session by Janet, a gifted drummer, some guy from South Africa who was staying at the campsite and great on guitar, and Rami and Line who sang beautifully together. Of course we all joined in the singing by the end so our spirits were high as we headed off to the beach. I wish I had pictures to share with you, but I was too busy busting a move to the sound of the drums. Jerry, you would be proud! We had ourselves a full throttle dance party, my friends, and it was awesome! Of course we also busted into a little I zeek a zoomba action, demanding that everyone in attendance chant the chief line over and over again. They had no idea what we were singing, but in the spirit of the holidays, they went with it until we had our fill. It was such a blast!
The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Good Lucky, Yoda, and our other friends from Kande Beach. Our next stop was Chitimba on the other side of Lake Malawi. Bye Good Lucky and Yoda! You guys are the best and I wish you health and happiness in the new year.
The campsite at Chitimba was killer.
In honor of the holidays Birgit and I even gave our tent a little flair.
The scenery here was breathtaking and the perfect place to celebrate the holidays. Check it out.
Janet and the kitchen team worked tirelessly to make us the most spectacular Christmas Eve dinner ever! (Several of the pics in this post are courtesy of Gan, our resident photographer and fellow traveler, who documented everything on the trip. Great candid shots, Gan, and thanks for sharing.)
Notice the festive holiday head gear.
Janet pulled out all the stops for Christmas Eve dinner. Not only did we eat at a proper table, but this table was decorated with a tablecloth, candles, crackers, and fancy holiday napkins.
Before eating we went around the table and told everyone what we were thankful for and then did a group toast for the holidays. From the scrumptious food to the exceptional company, everything about this meal was spectacular. Janet, thank you so much for making us feel like a family and for ensuring that this was one of the most memorable Christmas Eves of all time.
After gorging ourselves on a delicious meal, complete with a crumble for dessert
and cleaning up the dishes,
we sat around and enjoyed some wine and conversation before the torrential downpour started. This was the hardest it had rained since I had been in Africa, but I made it safely to my tent. With my full belly and the soothing sound of rain hitting the tent I was asleep in minutes and awoke the next morning, Christmas Day, feeling totally refreshed.
The next morning we had a “lunchy brunchy” thing around 11 AM so we could sleep in, lounge at the beach, chat with our families, and ease into Christmas Day. Like the night before, Janet hooked it up big time with the meal.
That’s right, people, a proper braai (remember to roll the r, please). Janet is from South Africa so you know she rocked it!
We also had mango and banana pancakes, hard boiled eggs, nuts, and chocolate. Oh yeah, bring it on, baby!
I realize I mentioned the kitchen crew and cleaning crew, but without much explanation beyond that so how about we clear that up? This was a participatory camping trip so each day we would rotate chores to ensure that everyone had his/her fair share of the duties. Inside the truck was a schedule so we not only knew what we were supposed to be doing, but who was supposed to be helping us to reduce the likelihood of slackers!
Now that we’ve got that straight how about we move on to the gift exchange? Yippee, Yeehaw, Woo Hoo!
We decided to go the secret pal route with some people leaving clues in the truck in the days leading up to the holidays. I got a candy bar from my secret pal that had a German clue so I knew it had to be one of my 3 German colleagues, but since I already knew who Birgit’s secret pal was, it was down to 2. Hmm, I wonder who it could be?
Dani was in charge of giving out the gifts and did a great job.
Ross was my secret pal and he got hooked up with (drum roll please) the Saturator water gun!!! I didn’t want to risk Ross shooting his eye out or shooting the eyes out of any of our fellow travelers so no official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle for him. Sorry, Ross, but your eyes are just too fra-gee-lay to risk it.
If you didn’t get that old school movie reference, I highly recommend you check out The Christams Story ASAP. It’s a classic!
Next it was my turn. My secret pal even gave me a card. Fancy!!!
Caroline was my secret pal and she hooked it up big time with a bracelet (same one I saw her buy that I was admiring and wondering if I should purchase) and an elephant necklace. How did she know that I’m a bit obsessed with elephants? Thanks, Caroline! I love my gifts…you know sister loves jewelry!!!
Here’s Karis, our driver. Someone looks happy!
After the gift exchange I made my way to the shops directly outside the camp.
The guys here were awesome and thrilled to shoot the breeze. Here are some of my buddies who I hung out with on Christmas Day.
Later that afternoon, which was morning in the US, I connected with my brother, Drew. I was so thrilled to catch up and hear his voice. We hadn’t spoken since I arrived in Africa so we had a ton to discuss. While we were Skyping this owl, one of 2 that resides there, was checking me out from across the room, and by checking me out I mean staring at me with unblinking eyes for about 5 minutes.
Owls have massive eyes so a stare down from an owl is something you notice. I swear if this owl had hands it would have done that move where you make the #2 with your fingers and point them at your eyes and then the eyes of the person you are stalking. I was staring back it this owl with some interest and a little bit of trepidation if I am to be perfectly honest, when out of the blue it flew towards me and jumped up onto my leg to get an even closer look. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit wigged out at this point, but did my best to keep my cool. I kept checking out its massive claws, which were kind of digging into the flesh on my leg, but then I’d move my gaze back up to its face where it was waiting to lock eye contact with me. Um, owl, you are freaking me out. Eventually the owl lost interest and me and flew to the other side of the room, but would continue to lock eye contact with me from time to time during the conversation just to let me know that he was still there. Ok, Creep Master, Flowers in the Attic, Children of the Corn Psycho, I see you. Please stop staring at me.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to connect with any other members of my family, but we were headed to Zanzibar for the new year so I knew I’d have reliable Internet there and another shot to connect with them. I yapped Drew’s ear off for over an hour and he gave me updates on the other members of the family so I felt the love.
The next morning we were up at the crack to get on the road since we had a border crossing and a ton of kilometers to cover.
Here are some sights along the way.
We are now in Tanzania. Jambo!
After several hours of driving we stopped for lunch. Here’s a peek of our supplies.
Before touching anything though we must wash our hands. Hygiene first!
Within minutes of setting up the chairs and pulling out the tables to start lunch preparation we were surrounded by tons of smiling faces.
Like the children we met in the village, these kids were adorable, squealing with joy when we’d take their pictures and then show them the images. Man, digital cameras are the best for instant gratification. I wish I had a Polaroid though because it would be even better to actually give the children the photos.
After cleaning up and having one final bathroom break in the bush we were back on the road. I’m proud to say that there was no littering on this trip. We were a bunch of tree huggers here…
so after we did our business, we’d deposit the trash in this handy little receptacle at the back of the bus.
OK, time to get back on the truck.
On the road again…I’m so sick of being on the freaking road again. Remember that shot of us leaving Lake Malawi where we were all relaxed and serene? Fast forward to now, which has us road weary from a 12 hour driving day, followed by a 14 hour driving day, a border crossing, and a rainy night in a tent.
Yeah, it’s not pretty, folks. This was without a doubt the most punishing and brutal stretch of the entire trip. From time to time someone would declare just how “over it” he or she was, but for the most part silence, knowing eye contact, exasperated facial expressions, and forceful exhales reigned supreme. It was hideous, folks, but at long last we finally reached Dar es Salaam. Like most big cities, the traffic in Dar es Salaam is, well…take a look for yourselves.
Despite the traffic, there was a lot of interesting activity happening on the streets so we were thoroughly entertained.
Before reaching our camp we had one last hurdle to overcome and that was getting our truck across the water on a ferry.
You saw the traffic so you can imagine how long it took to get on this ferry, but Karis pulled some serious moves, which enraged practically every car on the road. This rock star move was critical, as it shaved some time off what was going on our 15thhour in the truck. Whatever it take, Karis. Make it happen, my friend. Get us off this freaking truck!!!
At long last we reached our camp. Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.
If you like exotic, then you are going to lose your mind over the next post, my friends. Can you say Zanzibar? Oh yeah, it‘s time to get fired up for white, sandy beaches, turquoise water, fishing boats, Maasai warriors strolling along the beach, and spectacular sunsets. I am giddy just thinking about it. I promise I’ll update soon. Zanzibar is without a doubt one of the most spectacular places I have visited in all of my travels so I cannot wait to share it with you.
See you soon and thanks for reading. I appreciate all your emails to let me know you are still reading and enjoying the ride. Your emails always bring a smile to my face so keep ‘em coming. Talk soon!