My African Travel Diary (Part 4): Finding myself and Batman in Malawi

By Tsholo Tlhoaele

In this instalment  Tsholo finds herself blown away by the beauty of Malawi’s landscapes as she begins to accept her new life as a nomad far way from home. Along the way she is questioned for her status as a black traveller in Africa, gets drenched in mud, and is taken on a local village tour by men with tongue-in-cheek nicknames such as ‘Batman’, ‘Martin Luther King’ and ’50 Cent’.

30 November – 4 December 2013

I found love in Malawi.

An eight to ten hour drive from South Luangwa National Park, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi, began early on a Saturday morning. Initially I was not looking forward to the long hours on the road in the blistering sun but a few hours on the road and I was settled. Between reading my novel, catching up with my fellow travellers and listening to the African tunes on Mama, I had finally accepted my detachment from my home country, South Africa in favour of my new found identity as a nomad.

Now, I had heard that Malawi was beautiful, but in all honesty, I didn’t expect it to be this beautiful. The clean, green landscapes were a sight.

Just after crossing the Malawian boarder we stopped at a local market for a bit of a cultural tour. Naturally, as Mama stopped we attracted a swarm of locals who held local foods and other items on sale. Besides not being able to speak the local language, I found myself having to negotiate my place in the market with the locals seemingly expecting more from me as a black traveller than from my fellow white travellers. The expectation here wasn’t that I should be supporting their businesses, but rather to provide a detailed explanation of why I formed a part of the crowd of wonderers rather than a member of their own crowd. I was poked and probed by various woman as I walked passed their stores, I had materials fitted on me and wrapped around my body to suggest that I needed them made me feel very accepted. Almost every stall had a display of dried fish with a collection of beans and various shapes of raw Cassava (a sweet potato-like starch). As much as I wanted this experience to be a fun and a daring one, I just couldn’t bring myself to tasting any of the food on the market.

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We continued on with the journey, before setting with the sun at Barefoot Lodge. It had started raining before we arrived and the muddy road that we had carried with us into the driveway of the lodge was smeared all over Mama. The air was cold but fresh. After using the bush to relieve myself over the last eight to ten hours, I was looking forward to a a ‘proper toilet’. As I opened the door, I was excited that I would be able to sit on a ceramic seat. Instead, there was a dark hole in the ground with what seemed like a plastic seat that had been haphazardly placed on it. Not only was this just as good as the bush, but the rain had covered the floor of the loo where my bum was now meant to sit!

The showers were situated right next to the loos which was far off from our bungalows, and, might I add, there was no electricity. You can imagine how the morning shower went. With a troche in hand, takkies on and wrapped in a towel, I ran to the shower. By the time I got back to my room after the shower I needed another one because I was covered in so much mud from the splashes my shoes made as I ran through the rain.

Another six to seven hours ahead and the seating rotation on the bus meant that it was my turn to sit at the back of the bus just in front of the lockers. To put this in context, the bus’s pressure was most felt at the back and this meant that any movement, hump or bump that Mama went through was amplified ten-fold when sitting on the back seats. It wasn’t the place to sit if you wanted a calm peaceful ride. You literally had to be strapped into your seat to avoid juggling all over the bus.

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I sat next to a middle aged lady named Ulrika from Germany. She was a finance person of some sort who had worked and lived in Namibia for some time and was now quite familiar with this whole travelling Africa thing. She had camped throughout the trip and was very enthusiastic about it. Like many other travellers on this trip, she was aware of the ‘rustic nature’ of the journey, namely, that it wasn’t about museums and the fluff that usually comes with being a tourist and so she she embraced the experience in a way that was quite different to how I had experienced it.

It was seven hours before we arrived at Kande Beach Lodge and Campsite, on the shore of Lake Malawi. This is the most breath taking place I have ever seen. It wasn’t the translucent blue water or the white sand. It was the simplicity that attracted me. The fishermen fishing along the shore, the site of only two tourist umbrella’s along the shore and the lonely island that stood far into the lake, the peacefulness of the beach where I could enjoy the waves, the sun and the slight wind without the interruptions of the clicking tourist cameras looking for collateral for their Instagram pages.

I was mortified that we were only spending two days here and made a promise to myself that I would return in the next few years.

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We went on a guided village walk around the town accompanied by the village locals. As soon as the lodge gate opened, a group of about 15 young men pulled over to the gate. I had a few moments of confusion and disorientation when they all rushed to us and introduced themselves. Some were named ‘Slim Shady’, others ‘Batman’ and there was even a ‘Martin Luther King’ and a ’50 Cent’. They individually took us through the village, each giving us an understanding of their village through their own eyes.

This, I felt, was the most authentic part of my trip so far. It wasn’t an animated walk through a village with one person’s narrative and agenda being pushed. We were being shown around by village locals, into their homes, around their schools, through their cassava farms and water pump points.

Once we returned to the lodge, we were met at the gate by a green python that had been killed after being found in the one of the rooms! I soon recovered from that shock as the sunset was welcomed with a cocktail in hand. Soon after supper, a two man music band set up for a performance. Now if you know me, you know that I love live music. I couldn’t see a more perfect way to end the night as I found myself on the beach with one of my fellow travellers, Lola, listening to the waves, soaking on Malawian herbs and staring into the night sky.

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The next day we left for Chitimba beach lodge, further north of Malawi, a four to five drive away. Even if you wanted to do anything different the atmosphere of this place demanded you to be calm and reflective. We only spent one night watching the sun set and listening to the wind on the Nyika mountains.

Malawi had brought me back to myself. Even with the muddy Lilongwe, the snake threatened Kande Beach and the merciless heat, I didn’t want to leave.

Yes, I was conscious of my home and family in South Africa, but a few days spent in Malawi was enough to steal my heart.

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