1992 – December; the official exchange rate was 4.4 Malawian Kwatcha to the SA Rand. Roadside blackmarketeers would pay 5.
Sheila and I crossed the Zambian – Malawi border on Monday, 21st. It rained, on and off. Although the road to Lilongwe was good, onwards to Selima was dangerous; under construction, of slushy mud. Sheila forecast doom and gloom for our holiday and wanted to be flown back to Botswana. We wound down off the plateau to Salima where the road improved and on to the Wheelhouse camp-site on Lake Malawi. There, despite the rain, we pitched our tent and had supper in the round pub on stilts, and Sheila cheered up. The following day we moved our tent to higher ground and bought a Chambo fish from one of the groundsmen, steaming the Chambo for breakfast. An “Overlander” truckload of tourists flooded the Wheelhouse, making us go and look at other neighbouring campsites at Livingstonia Beach and the Carolina to see if they were any improvement, but eventually we stayed where we were until Christmas day.
Only the following day, as we went shopping in Selima, did we catch up with our friends, Keith Spackman, his mum, his sister, Tish and her husband Rob Phillips from Francistown. Paul Walker, friend and workmate from Maun, was also there.
Christmas dinner, prepared by me, was tinned ham with mushroom sauce. Tinned sauerkraut and gherkins. The only fresh stuff was onions and eggs which I combined with instant smash-potato to make cakes to stand in as roast spuds. Not as bad as it sounds, actually.
On Boxing Day we packed up and headed 105km north to NKhotakota, crossing several bridges flanking the Chia Lagoon which is separated from Lake Malawi by a narrow spit of land. Roadside vendors waved their fish at us. I declined when seeing the amount of flies waved off to reach the food, but Sheila declared her sample to be good. We were supposed to meet up with Keith and co. and Paul Walker at Nkhotakota, but, although they did not arrive, we stayed on in the guest house at the church until 29th. Looking back, it was the highlight of our holiday.
Originally a group of villages in the 19th century which served as a market for Swahili-Arabian slave traders, Nkhotakota was famous for being the place where. David Livingstone convinced Chief Jumbe to stop trading slaves under a tree there, still called the Livingstone Tree. The only tourist accommodation was the Anglican Church guesthouse, a residence for visiting ministers or guests of the mission, where we were invited to stay by the resident minister, Archdeacon Mchingwa, a tough, jolly-looking man who showed us around. His church was the enormously long stone building there, built around 1898. There was no glass in the windows and the congregation sat on the floor.
The nearby St. Anne’s Mission Hospital’s maternity section fascinated Sheila being, herself, a nurse and midwife. They made do with very little in the way of modern appliances. Their incubator was a shoe-box and a light-bulb.
The local chief school inspector, William D. Bondwe, introduced himself and welcomed us.
The following day, a Sunday, found a man called Dziko at our door with a Bawo board game that had hollows in four rows in the wooden board, and a bottle of Namo (beans). He spent all morning teaching us how to play the game, eventually selling us the board for a paltry sum. Then two local youngsters turned up as we went for a long walk to voluntarily act as our guides around the village. These friendly cheerful youths took us to the Mwira hot springs which have bubbled out of the ground there for as long as anyone could remember. Locals were bathing at two different screened locations; one for men and one for women, of course.
No arable ground is wasted in Malawi, and every house had its own garden of cassava and vegetables, so densely packed that it was difficult to see where one property stopped and its neighbour began.
William Bondwe invited us to his home for supper – fish, of course, and rice which we ate with our fingers. He was to be the MC at his friend’s 25th wedding anniversary the next day, and invited us to join them!
The friend was a lovely little man, Nicholas Kachusa, the school headmaster, as well as an Anglican minister. For the occasion, there was a church service held by the Venerable Fr. Mchinga. Sheila and I, out of a sense of duty to our new friends, attended, really enjoying the harmonious singing in Chichewa. Thereafter, we went to the Lay Hall for the party. We were spoiled by being invited to sit at the main table with Mchinga and the Kachusas. William was a born MC, bonding the guests with warmth and humour. Mchinga said a prayer, then we has ghastly tea and cakes, more speeches, then lunch – a selection of rice or mielie-pap with spinach, and mutton, or chicken or fish. The food was indeed tasty, but not as special as the hospitality of those delightful folk.
I shall never forget them. I corresponded with William for a time thereafter, but, as these things do, it regretfully died out. Both Sheila and I agree that our few days in Nkhotakota were the best of our holiday.
We caught up with Keith and his sister Tish at Monkey Bay, on Cape Maclear. We snorkelled there, astonished by the variety and brilliant colours of the little fish. (There are apparently some three hundred species in Lake Malawi.) We walked to Otter Point. The water was so clear we could see at least 15 species there without even getting into the water.
From there we headed to Nkapola Leisure Centre where we camped for the night. After a swim, we left for Zomba in convoy. Setting up camp on the Zomba Plateau, 8 of us then drove to Limbe, near Blantyre, to organise visas for Mozambique to cross the so-called Tete Corridor. Returning to Zomba Plateau for the night, we all went for a walk to the edge of the escarpment. There were beautiful views all the way to Mount Milanji. The following day being New Years Eve, Tish and Rob walked to the hotel to see if there would be a dance, but found that the hotel had burned down during the previous night!
We left on New Year’s Day, 1993, through Blantyre and Mwanza to Zobue in Mozambique. From there to the town of Tete on the Zambeze, the country was eerily quiet. We saw a bloated, fly-ridden body at the side of the road. It was with some relief that we arrived at the border post into Zimbabwe, although, due to a long queue, it took two hours to get through. It was dark by the time Sheila and I got to Harare and booked into the luxury of the Cresta Jameson Hotel.
The next day, I persuaded Sheila to phone her sons, Nicholas and Timothy Simkin, to wish them a Happy New Year. When she did, it was to hear that Nicholas was just surfacing after a week in a coma caused by a motorcycle accident. That same night she was at his bedside in hospital! I had luckily gotten her on a flight to Johannesburg, where she managed to get a connection to East London.