Passing the Charmin in Malawi
Reluctantly, I left Zambia and headed to Malawi. Not planning on spending more than a few days here just to travel through on my way to Tanzania. Border crossings in Africa are always a hassle. After passport formalities, leaving a country involves walking through a demilitarized zone of about 500 yards. It’s a no-mans land that officially doesn’t exist or belong to anyone. Walking through it loaded down with my bags is always a freaky feeling, surrounded by tall barbed wire fences with the occasional scruffy dog and huge container trucks awaiting clearance. I usually have leftover currency I need to exchange and the moneychangers working the street flock to me like a farmer on a bloated cow. The rates they offer are obviously horrible and oftentimes they swindle tourists with fake notes. The most common scam is to count out the notes which you think you are getting. In a moment of distraction, they switch the real money for a wad which has been tightly rolled up with one proper note on the outside. When you get to your hotel room, you open it to find balled up toilet paper on the inside. You may not be able to pay for your hotel room but at least you can wipe.
If I thought Zambia was poor, Malawi has managed to create a whole new level of poverty. I think they have recently surpassed Bangladesh and entered the Top Ten list of the worlds poorest nations. People walk about in rags, old torn clothing, barefoot (or just with soles without the upper). But unlike other landlocked nations, they are not malnourished. They are able to get their protein from the fish in the massive lake that occupies most of their tiny country. And it seems every single one of these resilient people has a smile to offer. They are some of the friendliest folk I’ve met thusfar.
I arrived in the capital, Lilongwe, after being sardined in a taxi with 7 others, followed by a bus ride on which we ran out of gas. Spent one night at a dank little guesthouse and left the next morning heading north to the lake.