Court, pink crocs, and the best burger in Malawi

I spent Friday night in Lilongwe with my friend Kim. Because we were both squatting in the NGO run by a friend of a friend, I ended up setting up my new Bug Hut Pro from REI. It’s a really light mesh tent, which I am using as a mosquito net when on the road. After eating handmade tortellini and having a glass of wine at Mama Mia’s in Lilongwe (no folks, it’s not all bad) Kim and I chatted late into the night.

I was only expecting my research assistant, Charles, to arrive in Lilongwe by noon. He chose to spend an extra night in Zomba on Friday, and take the minibus into town on his own. Unbeknownst to me, Charles boarded his minibus at 2am (!!!), so he was in LLW by 6am. I had to tell him to pump the brakes, that we’d only be leaving town later in the morning. He said that was no problem, and was going to hang out at a filling station.

When Kim and I made our way over to the filling station to pick him up, I realized we were following a fuel tanker. The entire city had been clogged by people trying to get fuel – whenever a tanker cam in, there would be hours and hours long lines. In addition, people would line up before a tank had even arrived, on the prospect that one might come. So, the just happen upon a tanker seemed too easy. But, when we asked if it was petrol, and were told it was, I became the first car in line. While it took over an hour before I actually got any fuel, I felt incredibly lucky to have gotten any at all. People further back in line were murmuring that I must have gotten some kind of special treatment because I am an azungu, but I’m not sure how they thought I got my car up  and over the throngs of vehicles chocking the entrances.

After getting fuel, I said goodbye to Kim, and Charles and I hit the road to Kasungu. We first went to my favorite resthouse from last year (Domasani), but somehow $24/night seems more expensive this year than last year. So, we ended up at the Munda Wanga (translates as My Farm), where rooms are only $11/night.

The morning at 7 am, we drove out to meet with the senior chief Traditional Authority Chulu. When we pulled into his village, after driving  for an hour down a long dirt road, we were met by his messenger. After briefly explaining the purpose of our visit, he led us to the chief’s office. When we came in, there were about 10 older men sitting around the room in a circle. One of the men was giving a long speech to the rest, in a low voice. I quickly guessed this was TA Chulu. When he finished, the men all spontaneously began clapping in time, hard and first and fading over time. When the claps had faded out, they again started, right on time with each other. I found out later that this is a sign of respect after the chief speaks. From what I could make out of the conversation, the chief was ruling on a land dispute, and Charles later confirmed this. During the long discussion over the land debate, I just kept looking around at everyone’s feet – it was fascinating. The chief’s messenger, a very serious looking small man, was wearing hot pink Crocs. After an initial surprise, I realized these were actually pretty practical shoes, and I approved. Another man, a group village headman representing the man that lost his land, was wearing a pair of camo-print skateboarders shoes, with various patches with US symbolism. Finally, the chief was barefoot. As he spoke, he would wiggle his two big twos. As he thought, he rubbed his right foot with his left hand. Something in the chief’s face made me really like him. I look forward to returning and chatting with him.

We next drove for about another hour, to meet with sub-traditional authority Chisinga. On the way, we picked up a man in a three-piece white suit, and his wife, also dressed in all white. They were on their way to church, and were going to be late. So, we gave them a lift. When we stopped to let them out, the car wouldn’t crank. When I turned the key, I just heard a dull “clunk”. Luckily, Charles is a mechanic, and was quickly able to do something with the battery and the car cranked. For now, until we can get the right tool, we are having to have Charles hold the battery “just so” while I crank the car.

I’m now back in Kasungu, after a really successful day of fact finding. I dropped by this bizarrely swank (and empty) new hotel in Kasungu, to check it out. On a whim, I ordered a $6 cheeseburger (you must understand how rare cheese is here) without much expectation. 20 minutes later, I ate the best burger in Malawi (or Africa? Who knows…). When I tried to explain to the waiter that this was the best burger I’d had in Malawi, first in English and then in Chichewa, he gave me an odd look and then explained that yes, they have two types of burgers. I smiled, pointed at the burger, and then gave him a thumbs up. I think he got me.

Now, more work to do to prepare for the market day tomorrow back in Chisinga.

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