Greetings From Lilongwe, Capital Of Malawi!
This past week has been another fantastic week on Tour. We passed into Malawi and cycled to a beach camp on the shores of Lake Malawi which occupies quite a bit of the country. At the border, I exchanged about $150 into their currency, the Kwacha. The wad of bills was enough to choke a good sized elephant. Incredibly, when I got my SIM card at the border station, I left the wad sitting on a desk. Fortunately, one of the other riders found it and returned the wad to me. That is just the kind of careless actions I have done on Tour as my mind is always racing ahead. This morning I almost left my only travel plug converter in a socket. That would have been very hard if not impossible to replace here in Malawi.
The cycling has been strenuous but not impossible. I always cycle alone and am often the first cyclist to arrive in a village especially if I have start from the lunch truck – usually 60-75km ahead of those who are riding the full day, which is often everyone but me. I have also chosen not to cycle on days where I will have to push my bike up long stretches of hills. What would be the point? To say I am a tough guy? Who cares? I am more interested in interactions with locals than miles cycled.
Interestingly, the roads throughout Africa are loaded with rumble strips often only a few hundred meters apart and often in the middle of nowhere. I can only think they are present wake up the drivers who are foolish enough to drive at night . How do you see that 3 foot deep, 6 foot across pot hole at night at even a slow 50km/hr. speed?
Each day the women of Africa congregate at the village water pump which may be a few kilometres from their home. They hand pump these 50-60 litre tubs which they then place on their heads to carry back to the village. I stopped by to watch one day and asked to pump a tub full of water. Guess what? That is hard work and furthermore I could not lift the tub. This diminutive women laughed at my efforts to simply lift the tub off the ground then proceeded to lift the entire tub without spilling a drop then place it on her head for transport. They do this every day.
Last week I was the only rider who took advantage of a village walking tour. I visited a school where I learned that basic education is free except the children must buy the uniforms, about $5 in total. The school concentrates on reading and English. After apologizing to the headmaster for my unkempt appearance, he then proceeded to place a huge box on his desk clearly labeled in big letters “Donations”. I begged off saying I had brought no money but I did agree to take iPhone photos of his donation sheets filled with complicated instructions on how to donate.
I next proceeded to the orphanage where I was absolutely mobbed by over 30 children who wanted to hold my hands, hug my legs and, most curiously, touch my hair (more about my hair later). Most are orphans as their parents have died of AIDS. Their kitchen consisted of a pot over a coal fire. They slept on concrete floor . The entire building was the size of a small wood shed. I wept. Again, the fellow operating the orange asked for donations and I again took iPhone photos of his pages on how to donate.
Next up was the witch doctor . He came out of his hut in full regalia then proceeded to dance for me with his wife shaking all sorts of cowbells to encourage him. He then asked if I wanted to dance with him. You bet! So, we danced together for a few minutes.
Next was the local clinic run by a medical assistant. No physician ever comes to the clinic . I politely declined to be tested for malaria which seemed to be the main point of the clinic. Except, there was a maternity ward. The medical assistant delivers babies in what can only be described as unsanitary conditions. The only woman I saw in the 3 bed room was lying on the concrete floor possibly because the beds were filthy. So I asked what happens if there is a bad auto accident. The nearest ambulance is over 40 miles away and may or may not come depending on whether it has any gas. No, the clinic has no x-ray or really any other equipment for that matter.
My hair has been a topic of interest amongst the riders and staff. I am blessed with very thick, rapidly growing grey hair. I get a lot of attention from locals especially children who have never seen a ‘muzungu’ (white man) with that much hair. I receive a lot of comments about being an old man and grandfather as I walk in the villages. When asked, I tell them I am 84. I had my last haircut in early December and do not plan on getting another until well after we reach Cape Town on May 5.
See you down the road.
Don Holshuh, TDA 2018