From the shores of Lake Malawi
At our first campsite in Malawi…..
“Sir, I am sorry to tell you that the children have taken the bulbs from your vehicle”, says the headman of the village. ”What?” I exclaim. “What bulbs?” Walking around the crowd of Malawian kids and adults gathered in our bush camp I look at the back of our support vehicle. Sure enough from the bottom of the two rear brake lights are dangling two sets of bare wires. I couldn’t believe it. One of the few dozen kids hanging around our campsite had reached underneath the bumper, unscrewed the bulbs and taken out the connecting wires. Astonished, I turn to the headman to give him a stern talking to but he interrupts me and says: “Sir, you requested security from 5 pm, it is only 4 pm, so this is not our fault!”
Earlier that day Allison and I had negotiated with the headman so that he would provide three security guards for our campsite at a cost of 500 Kwacha each. We had problems with theft at this camp in the past two years despite hiring security guards, so at the end of the negotiation we informed them that we would not pay them if anything was stolen from the campsite; extra care must be taken to ensure the campsite is safe. 500 Kwatcha (approx. $3.10) is a good day’s wages in N. Malawi. Understandably the headman is concerned that this incident would rob some of his community members of much needed income. Exasperated, I assure him that we will still pay the guards if they do a proper job this evening. “Can you track down the thief so that we can get our brake lights back?” I ask. “I have already sent someone to find the boy who took them,” he replies.
The Malawi Gin section of the 2010 Tour d’Afrique has us running at maximum capacity. 74 riders and 12 staff. Most of the staff had to move out of their storage lockers on the trucks to make room for the 11 additional riders who have signed up just for this section. Our cook, James, bites his nails every night at dinner, wondering if the 12 kgs of pasta or 60 kgs of potatoes he’s cooked will be enough to feed such a large group. We’ve hired a local mechanic again, Elasto, who will help our mechanic Chris manage the extra workload. Brian Hoeniger, from the TDA office has just arrived with an extra support vehicle. We’re full, but we are ready.
After a few days riding in Malawi, it’s clear why this is one of our most popular sections this year. From the mist covered mountains we climb thru out of Mbeya to the swooping descents thru tea plantations and the rolling hills of the highlands, the route through Malawi is beautiful, well paved and enjoyable. And then there is the beach… Our rest day in Chitimba Beach on Lake Malawi, one of the largest lakes in Africa, is a perennial favorite of riders. We stay at a small campground right on the lake. The sand is soft, the water refreshing and the beer at the bar cold. Long naps, dips in the lake, and relaxing in the shade with a good book are the most popular activities at this camp that offers a welcome rest for the riders and staff.
Just before dinner I see the headman approaching. “Sir, we have found your bulbs, and disciplined the child who stole them.” He hands me two brake light bulbs, wires attached. I am almost as surprised that we got the bulbs back as I was that they were stolen in the first place. “We want to make sure this place is safe, we’ve brought two more guards to help you tonight and we’ve sent messages to all the villages about the seriousness of this issue.” This is good news. I know the headman can’t control the dozens of children that stand around camp excited and entertained by multicolored tents. The relationship between the TDA and the communities we stay in is important and we want that relationship to grow and improve each year. The fact that the headman has taken our concerns seriously and is taking steps to improve conditions at camp is encouraging. Relieved, we’re off to the beach!
Paul McManus – Tour Director