5 Kwacha Malawi

 Take the Lilongwe Home: Supertramping from Zomba to Gumulira and "Home" to Nairobi

"Could we have kippers for breakfast?
Mummy dear, mummy dear
They got to have 'em in texas
Cuz everyone's a millionaire"

After a week in Zomba, we spent the weekend in Cape Maclear, on the southern shores of Lake Malawi. I didn't think Cape Maclear was nearly as nice as Nhkata Bay, but still, a good place to spend a night in transit. And the village we stayed in, Chembe, was interesting, with it's baobab-lined boulevard.

Chembe village

Cape Maclear

Jess and I eventually caved in to the swarms of pushy beach touts, subjecting ourselves to a boat ride with some shit-faced guy with a bad complexion and an Arsenal shirt who could barely hold the throttle of the engine open. At least we were in open water with nothing to hit. We did the "feed the fish eagle" thing, looked at the pretty blue fish, etc. Other than that, I just swam out deep into the lake a few times and learned to play mancala.

Next morning we headed to Lilongwe, a different way than the way we came, even more scenic. We checked into the Kumbali lodge, which could also qualify as a good place to hold up for two weeks and write the Malawian version of the The Shining. And it's good enough for Madonna—that's where she beds down when she's in town adopting babies and whatnot.

Kumbali Lodge is more like a farm, or at least it started out that way. It's on a huge estate, and there's these organic gardens and a dairy barn where they make yogurt. The food is top notch, most of it grown fresh on the premises. We went down to the barn at milking time hoping we could lend a hand ("milk a cow" is still unchecked on my bucketlist), but alas, we only got to be voyeurs. Speaking of kicking buckets, we saw the cows do that a few times. They weren't crying over the spilt milk.

milking it

Milking Cows


One of the reasons Madonna had graced Lilongwe with her presence was because she's the one who sponsors the Millennium Village of Gumulira. We headed west towards Mchinji, almost to the border with Zambia, where we met up with some members of the Gumulira team at the crossroads. We did the usual tour and the Spicer and Jess held a few meetings with the community (some raw footage of which I posted here). I loitered in the periphery playing with the goats.


goats in the shade of hanging tobacco

Gumulira Goats


goats and tobacco


I didn't come across any pentagrams, empty Kool-aid packets or other signs of suspicious cult activity. Though one of the teachers did ask me if she could get chai with their school meals. The nerve. And one of the cooks (who had already met Madonna twice) asked me to tell Madonna that they needed aprons. Yeah, um, I'll pass the word along. Madge, if you're reading this can you post them some aprons? And some chai for the teachers? They're working hard down there. And I'm happy to report that the citizens of Gumulira are doing well. The community is committed and invested in itself, taking ownership of "the project" by their own initiative and recognizance, which in my opinion is the most critical hurdle of sustainable development. Though someone needs to build them a clinic (Madge?). These are people that live day to day, season to season. All it takes is a bad year of no rain and they are screwed. Villages like Gumulira want to lift themselves out of poverty, they just need a little boost. They need to prime their pumps. Their problems are just not going to disappear on their own.

speak softly but carry a big machete

Machete Woman


rather hip maize farmers

couple of the corn


another goat owner we talked to



the only other thing with horns I saw in Gumulira

ox cart


cooking up the porridge (somebody give them some aprons!)

school meal cooks

I also came across these women engaged in impromptu song and dance.

women of Gumulira


shaking it



I heard some more distant music emanating from a classroom of students and went to investigate. Evidently they were prepping for the arrival of some big wig minister that was visiting Gumulira's school. I must admit, the music was kind of catchy.


Then all of a sudden, I rounded a corner and spotted some other suspicious activity, what looked like cult members. I scrambled to capture this photo. I never did get a good explanation of who they were and what they were doing there.

freakster tricksters

devilish freaksters

All this talk of food was making us hungry, so went to the crossroads near Mchinji to get a late lunch, which consisted of Coca-Cola and greasy chips—far from Jess's idea of a nutritious meal. But this was the only option in the whole town (besides some sort of dried intestine). People just don't have options here. Food is food. One day they'll eat to do more than fill their bellies, but because they are hungry for the taste of it.

Some photos I captured at the crossroads near Mchinji.



Drink O Pop


pink dress girl


Chuck Norris

Just when I thought I had been cleared of my Chuck Norris reputation (I shaved), these kids called me Chuck Norris. That's what the last photo is all about. That makes 4 Chuck Norris sightings in Tanzania and 2 in Malawi.

Sadly, this marks the end of my almost month-long East Africa journey. Safari if you will. We went back to hang out with the cows in Lilongwe, and the next morning Jess and I caught a plane to Nairobi. On the plane I finished reading Seventh Street Alchemy: A selection of writings from the Caine Prize for African Writing 2004. It's worth it alone for the title story by Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (that took the 2004 prize). Looks like he has a spanking new novel, Harare North, that Random House picked up, due out any day. I also read a story by Henrietta Rose-Innes in the KQ in-flight magazine that won the 2008-9 Caine Prize.

When we got to NBO, Jess continued on to Uganda, but I took a cab "home," through the typical traffic insanity. One thing I can say about Kenya is that no one has ever called me Chuck Norris here. Maybe it's because Chuck Norris was rooting against Obama.

Here's the loot I lugged back in my pack.

the booty: Nali Peri-Peri, Malawi Gin, canoe salt bowl, pepper shaker,
various organic chilies stolen from the Kumbali gardens and a chess set/table from Zomba
(note the three legs carved from one piece of wood)

Peri-Peri Malawi Gin, etc

Now it's time to, "Take a jumbo, across the water. Can you see America?"


(c) 2009 Derek White

5 Kwacha Malawi