First off, I’m sorry for the lack of updates as we have had no access to internet the last week or so. So lucky for you, you get two blog posts in one!
We have another country in the books on our journey across Eastern and Southern Africa–Malawi is now officially checked off! We had quite a few driving days as we journeyed thousands of kilometers from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania through Malawi to Zambia. We had quite the road trip on the truck as two of the days we traveled more than thirteen hours each day as we made our way across Tanzania. Despite the long days of driving, I actually don’t mind just listening to music and looking out of the open windows of the truck, taking in all of the beautiful scenery that surrounds me. Once we got into Malawi, the driving let up a bit as we spent three days on the shore of Lake Malawi at Kande Beach. Lake Malawi is the size of England and makes up one-fifth of the entire country of Malawi… wow! Unfortunately there are lots of warnings about swimming in Lake Malawi because of Bilharzia, a parasite that can cause chronic fatigue and damage one’s liver and kidneys if severe enough. As I begin medical school in just about a month, I didn’t want to risk it as the combination of school and chronic fatigue seems a little out of my league, ha! A few people in my group swam in the lake but for the most part we just took in the sunrays and spent a few days on the beach! The one thing I don’t leave at home while traveling is my football (yes, an American football) which has traveled with me numerous times abroad, including this trip. I was able to break out the football and a frisbee (that I also brought) for some fun on the beach! I taught a few people how to throw a football properly so that became our entertainment for quite awhile! We also played a bit of cricket… well, I attempted to play a bit of cricket! We laid out, enjoyed the beautiful sunsets on the lake, and met some fellow travelers. While staying at the lake we had a bit of time to do some activities. We visited a local witch doctor which was quite the experience. He really enjoyed dancing as each of us had to dance with him before he showed us his “potions” and then we were individually told our fortune… which all seemed quite similar, ha! I was told that I am strong and that I have a good future ahead with a good job and a good family. I will have two children–one boy and one girl… well, we will see, ha! To put it simply, it was an experience! We also had dinner at the chief’s house in the local village one night. The chief is responsible for all of the members of the village as he gives out land and also settles disputes. Because nearly everyone knows each other within the village, the village is a very safe place and there is rarely ever crime. At the chief’s house, they provided us with a local meal of nsima (similar to mashed potatoes but made of maize or corn), rice, beans, beef stew, and spinach leaves. After our dinner, children from the village performed for us–dancing and singing in both their tribal language and English. We were all quickly pulled in to participate in the dancing. After, it was our turn and we decided to break out the Spice Girls! The night was a lot of fun as we got the chance to try a local meal, interact with some locals, and dance under the stars (without much light pollution of course!). The next night was our big, fancy party night. During one of our long drives, we stopped in Mzuzu (Malawi) at one of the markets where absolutely ridiculous costumes were sold. We drew names out of a hat then had to buy a costume for a fellow passenger for the elegant evening. I was lucky enough to get a one-piece outfit with fleece Rudolph pajama bottoms attached to flannel straps for the top and a gold, leopard print accent piece. Our pig was roasted on a spit at our campsite for hours leading up to the fancy night as we enjoyed salad, coleslaw, and fresh pork in our ridiculous costumes. After we proceeded to the bar where we got plenty of looks–again, a very fun night as we danced the night away! We also went on a village tour where we got a closer look into life in Mbamba (the local village). We visited a home and learned about their customs and traditions. Although they practice polygamy, the man and woman must both agree to the marriage and the man must build a home for each of his wives as no sharing of homes is allowed. Marriage typically takes place between a mid-20s man and a teenage girl. Once a marriage has been agreed upon, the couple is expected to produce a baby within a year or the marriage is seen as corrupt… wow, what pressure! Their homes are made of clay and bricks and surprisingly long-lasting as they stand for about thirty years. They make their roofs of grass thus the roofs aren’t exactly waterproof so during the rainy season their homes get quite wet inside. he three-room house for seven people that we visited didn’t have any furniture as they slept on the ground made of clay and they ate outside. Mbamba had two water pumps in its village (donated by the Canadian government) for 4,500 people. We visited a local, government-funded school for seven surrounding villages which had twelve staff members for more than 1,500 children. We met the head teacher who gave us a rundown of how the school operated. They split the school day up into three groups so the children only went to school for three hours a day. Although school itself is free, children must pay for their uniform and school books. They wear their school uniform every day except for Wednesday which is washing day as most can only afford one school uniform. The classes are taught in their tribal language up to grade six then afterwards everything is taught in English. Once the children finish primary school, all of the children sit a government exam. Only the top scoring students are able to carry on with secondary school which is a boarding school as it is far from the village. In a class of nearly two-hundred, only about four students get to attend secondary school. Secondary school costs $150 each year to attend so some students who qualify aren’t able to attend for financial reasons. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and the villages seem to be far worse off than the cities. The mindset in the villages is to simply provide for their families, as they farm and produce everything that they need to live, so the idea of an income is a foreign idea for most. This becomes problematic when one tries to gain a higher education as the means simply aren’t available. Another government test is given following their secondary education to determine who can attend university. Schooling is not a requirement but most children enjoy going as they would otherwise be working at home. The school was very basic–they had some old, donated books but for the most part the classrooms were just cement boxes with a blackboard. Outside of the classrooms we met plenty of children who absolutely loved having their photos taken so we had a photo shoot before proceeding to the health clinic. The health clinic was eye-opening to say the least as the waiting area was filled with patients. We were once-again given a rundown of the clinic which doesn’t even have a doctor on site. The biggest problem that the clinic faces is malaria as individuals can’t afford mosquito nets thus aren’t able to take preventive measures. The clinic itself didn’t even have the resources to treat patients effectively as their was a lack of supplies and a lack of staff members. In very serious emergency situations, there was an ambulance… well kind of. The ambulance was shared by seven villages so if the ambulance was being used by another village at the time, the patient just simply had to wait until it was available for use. As I mentioned, Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and as you can imagine, this was quite evident during our stay. That being said, I really enjoyed Malawi–the people were incredibly nice (especially the school children!) and we had quite a bit of fun as we took up residence along the shore of Lake Malawi! We are now on our way to Zambia and then to Zimbabwe where we will spend a few days on a houseboat continuing our adventure!
Houseboats on Lake Kariba
We weren’t in Zambia long as we were making our ways towards Zimbabwe but while we were in Lusaka, I ran into a friend from Creighton in the parking lot of a shopping center… what an incredibly small world! In the short time we have been in Southern Africa, there is quite a noticeable difference between Eastern and Southern Africa. Eastern Africa didn’t really have the infrastructure that Southern Africa has including shopping centers (very nice shopping centers!), chain restaurants, and large grocery stores. Southern African cities in general look far more developed–it will be interesting to see if Eastern Africa follows suit in the coming few years! Anyways, the past few days we have taken up residence on Lake Kariba, spending our time relaxing on a houseboat. The houseboat was two stories tall–the bottom story had about ten bedrooms, the bathrooms, and the kitchen while the upper level had four bedrooms, a bar area, a jacuzzi, and a large deck area where we spent most of our time, soaking up the sun! Lake Kariba is located in Matusadona National Park so we also had two smaller boats attached to our main houseboat that we were able to take out for game cruises, fishing, and sunset viewings. We spent most of the day cruising (slowly!) around the lake as we hungout on the top deck–the sun was quite intense but luckily we had a bit of a breeze so the weather felt beautiful! It reminded me quite a bit of a mini-cruise ship! During the afternoon, we took the boats out fishing and for game cruises. From the boat, we saw lots of hippos, crocodiles, and even elephants! At one point, we stopped in the middle of the lake and we were able to jump off the top of the boat. If you know me what-so-ever, you know I wouldn’t be missing out on this adrenaline activity! The crew was a little hesitant at first (as was I) due to the crocodiles and hippos in the lake but we took our chances and fortunately we survived–with all limbs in tact. Jumping off the top of the boat was probably the highlight of the few days… except for the part where we swam back to the boat as fast as we could, hoping to stay away from any of the animals! It had been years since I’ve done any sort of flips or dives off of a high dive but I even built up the courage to do a back flip off of the boat… luckily with no injuries! We had three staff members with us who cooked, cleaned, and did most of the work so once again we were quite spoiled on our houseboat adventure. We had a lot of time to just hangout as a group (as we were the only ones on the boat) as we played cards, listened to music, talked, and simply enjoyed spending some time together (on something other than a truck, ha!). The trip has gone far too fast as I’m nearing my final days on the truck. I’m definitely not looking forward to getting off as many people are heading to Cape Town via Namibia but unfortunately time didn’t allow for the entire seventy-some day trip. Luckily we have lots of activities to look forward to before that time comes however as we are heading towards Gweru, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, and Botswana–destinations with lots of fun to be had! Again, sorry about the long update!
Also, congratulations to my best friend Jenna Ballard on her engagement–I’m so incredibly excited for you!