Transportation

Tales of Transportation in Malawi

I’ve been given a lot of advice about commuting through and around Lilongwe. Advice is great however the truth is when you find yourself in need of a ride, there usually isn’t a lot of options to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

MUSCCO's 'trusty' company car

MUSCCO’s ‘trusty’ company car

Most of the time I’m on foot, walking on wide well beaten paths around Area 3 and Old Town. For work I’m often in a company car or on a coach bus going to Blantyre or Mzuzu and the surrounding SACCOs. For an evening out it’s a taxi, for a day of exploring it’s a mini bus, for a work function it’s a small green hatch back with my coworkers Violet and Zione.

I’ve had a lot of funny moments in the last two and a half months, so without further ado please enjoy these misfortunes and unanticipated adventures.

That time our taxi ran out of gas…

In celebration of my birthday I decided to go out for Indian Food at Country Lodge (HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT if you’re ever in Lilongwe). One of our regular taxi drivers Johnny had suggested the place to us one night about a month ago when we went for Indian at Bombay Palace and they had no tables available. So we called up Johnny again who for once came quite quickly to pick us up. After dinner when we were almost home, instead of going all the way through the round-about Johnny branched off left. I was starting to question if he was taking us home ‘the long way’ so he could charge us more but then the car died…
We coasted to a stop and Johnny did his best to turn the key over… next thing you know he was getting out and trying to push his van, with Kelly and I still in it. I asked if he’d like help and he set his pride aside, a little embarrassed and said yes please. We got out in our skirts and flip flops, Kelly and I in the back, Johnny at the wheel and driver’s door and we pushed the van all of 5 meters when we decided this just was not happening. After some standing around on a dark abandoned street and trying to push some more he grabbed a small container from the back and said he would just run and get some fuel so we could carry on. Victory.

That time I hauled my drunk ass into the back of a truck…

The type of truck we climbed into it might not look that big but believe me it is.

The type of truck we climbed into in the dark haha it might not look that big but believe me it is.

One night I ran into Gift and Moses at Mabuya Camp and we ended up drinking a 2-6 of “PowerNo.1” which is some horrendous vodka meets gin concoction that puts you in the dancing mood. The guys invited me to go to Culture Club for the first time… a huge bar that is always packed and pounding good tunes out in the village. Sure, sounds fun.

We left Mabuya and walked to the road, to hail a car you just stand on the side of the road and kind of put your arm out and flap your hand. Sure enough, it wasn’t more than five minutes and a truck stopped. Moses climbed in quite easily. With my small town girl pride, I stepped up onto the tire, grabbed onto the box, ready to pull my skirted self into the truck when I lost a shoe, lost my balance, started laughing, lost my grip and fell off the parked truck. I moved to the other side of the truck to try again, feeling like perhaps the truck was slanted to one side… again – fail. Embarrassed, intoxicated and keeping the truck driver waiting I moved closer to the cab so I could grab on to something. Next thing I know I am pulled by Moses from inside the truck, pushed up by Gift on the ground and am pathetically hoisting my leg over the side to get in before flopping inside the box like the classy lady I am – and off we go to the club. #TIA

That time I was proposed to on the bus…

Selfie on the coach home from Blantyre

Selfie on the coach home (from Blantyre)

The first time I traveled by coach to Mzuzu, a 5 hour bus ride through beautiful hills and plenty of police check stops – I received my third or fourth marriage proposal. Waiting for district police to check the bus, it happened.

Many people with candies, sodas, cigarettes and other goodies wait along the road for travelers and take advantage of this pause in their journey to make a sale. As I opened the window  to buy a bottle of water, my snack-man took off his flat beak baseball hat and looked up at me with nothing but love and endearment in his eyes and asked if I could please be his wife. It really was a cute gesture until other bus passengers got irritated with how long this young guy was taking to sell me a water when they were also demanding service. I laughed and we talked and when he finally had to walk away the other vendors thought I might have softened up and they also tried their luck. It was short and sweet.

That time I got on the minibus at 5:45am in a village… 

IMG_4053The minibus is a great place to observe all kinds of Malawian culture. After an extremely late night of birthday dancing at Culture Club I had taken up a room at a village rest house because it worked out to be less expensive than cabbing it home. In the morning my friend Gift met me at the guesthouse and escorted me back to town so I could go to work. At 5:45am, in a very busy area of the village we found many minibuses half loaded with passengers and found ourselves a spot in the back of a van.

A minibus is just a big van that carries about 15-20 people. There are few designated stops and there’s certainly no schedule but anyone with any kind of cargo can jump on. At this time of the morning there was a young woman breastfeeding a baby, two old guys telling jokes, an old woman with a massive bucket of potatoes, a guy with a bundle of firewood, an older gentleman with live chickens, the driver cranking reggae on the radio, a few others and myself and Gift causing all kinds of rumours about who I was and what I was doing there en route to town so early. Even with a chitenje and t-shirt on all evidence pointed to ‘racey’ rumours I’m sure.

the traveling salesman

the traveling salesman

IMG_3297

Posted in Africa, Lilongwe, Malawi, Transportation, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday John Banana

Just sending a shout out to my friend John Banana
who celebrated his birthday today!

Today’s Sagittarius horoscope:

Money matters are on your mind today. It is time to find ways to increase the income and you know you are worth it. It could also be that you realize a career change makes sense now. Do not wait for success to come to you–reach for it. Through your words and ideas, you will make a difference in other people’s lives. Psychiatry, poetry or perhaps art may be a part of this. Conditions are perfect for self-expression, wherever you find yourself.

John Banana and Me  (JB's friend creeping in the back)

John Banana and Me
(JB’s friend creeping in the back)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Holding Hands

Cultural Faux Pas  – uhh yup, guilty

Freckles (left) and Kelly (right)

Freckles (left) and Kelly (right)

Saturday was easily the best day I have had in Malawi. I learned how to play the bou game, not well but I learned and I drummed with some rasta guys. We chilled all afternoon, there was lots of time to sit and chat about life and freedoms. I brought the guys some homemade chocolate chip cookies and made a deal with Freckles (yea, we’ve actually nicknamed the wives-tale guy Freckles and everyone has agreed to start calling him that) he’s going to teach me to play a bongo properly and hook me up with my own before I leave in exchange for some more cookies.

When the day was winding down we started making plans to meet up later for some dancing. We didn’t know where we would end up but we exchanged numbers then him and Max headed off. Kelly and I ended up leaving the craft market with John and Gift, easily two of my favourite Malawians and the friends I’ve had the longest.  We had meant to do some shopping earlier but time crept up on us so we headed for the only important errand on Saturday’s list which was Malawi Gin.

The football match was just ending and the streets were rocky waves of blue and red jerseys and scarfs. I guess the stadium was not too far away. Gift asked one of the guys waiting to cross the street with us “who won?” and the guy just hugged him and said it was a tie game so everyone was happy!

John (left) and Gift (right) making sweet beautiful music Saturday afternoon

John (left) and Gift (right) making sweet beautiful music Saturday afternoon

As if I could not possibly have understood how awesome this tie game was, Gift turned to me as joyful as a kid who was just told he was going to his first live match, and said this  was going to be a great night and everyone was so happy. We noticed how drunk and distracted everyone was around the same time we saw our opening in traffic from the side of the curb.

Gift grabbed my hand as we were crossing the road and I was thankful to have someone making sure I was not run down by a drunken mini-bus driver waving a scarf out the window. I held on and we crossed 5 lanes of people, bicycles, cars and flatbed trucks – loaded with happy drunks.

When we finished crossing the major intersections in Old Town I “let go” of the hand holding but my new friend did not. At first I thought nothing of it, I honestly love holding hands and I think Gift meant no harm… you see men of all ages holding each others hands here as a sign of friendship and respect all the time.

Gift’s fingers were laced in mine and he was walking at a good pace for a Malawian. We were heading toward the vegetable market and the path was packed with people. It was also loaded with deep holes and the occasional stick of rebar and plenty of uprooted chunks of cement; it was really hard to watch where you were going and not run into anyone without rolling an ankle or getting struck by a bus or bike.

My friend Gift from the craft market.

My friend Gift from the craft market.

I had only been walking for maybe a minute, when it became apparent people weren’t just looking at us, they were gawking. People were giving themselves whip lash and putting pedestrians in danger for all their double-takes. I was causing a spectacle. Gift and I were holding hands and it was bigger news than the edge-of-you-seat football game.

Some women were giving me the dagger death glare that lets you know if looks could kill, you would die a thousand painful deaths right then and there on the street. Men were hanging, full torso twisted looking back two or three at a time, out of vehicle windows to make sure their eyes did not deceive them. I am realizing all this now… at the time I was in a bizarre daze.

I was looking at people from behind my sunglasses, but I wasn’t really seeing them and I certainly wasn’t turning back to get a better look. I wasn’t sure if this was just a strange sight or if this was something madly taboo. What if laced fingers meant something different than the regular palm to palm hand holding? Did a pinky link mean the same as other fingers intertwined? Is it because I’m white chick? Is it simply because I’m a woman? Wait… was this? This wasn’t – oh no is this PDA and not friendship? Wait though… waaaiiiiittt…

I am feeling fine about what is happening, the hand holding in a large crowd and having someone who deters others from grabbing my bag. But it is all happening so fast. Most of the foot traffic is coming towards us and I know people are noticing but he doesn’t seem bothered at all and no one is really confronting us about anything. Holding his hand doesn’t bother me. Everything is fine… but we might as well be parading an elephant down the road with us.

John and Kelly, and me... with my Fanta bottle full of Malawi Gin and bottle top shot glass

John and Kelly, and me… with my Fanta bottle full of Malawi Gin and bottle top shot glass

I learned from my roommate later that guys were jabbering on to John about it in Chichewa clearly blown away, almost in a proud sort of sense.

There were far less women than men the closer we got to the market and the walk was not more than 4 minutes total before I was away from the crowd.

We cut through a windy path turning right into the market between some shacks. Their happy hour spot was this large dugout ‘hut’. It overlooked the little river valley that was very green. Skinny benches lined the perimeter of the shack which had half-walls made from salvaged materials. About 8 people were inside enjoying the local beer Chibuku which comes in a small milk type carton.

Gift let go of my hand when we got there. He got some chibuku and gin and I sat down. Ken, a tailor who I bought my handbag from, was in there happily intoxicated and friendly.

Ken’s friend, me and Ken

The night carried on as if we were in the craft market, well with the addition of doing shots of gin and continuously being on a mission for gin. There was great conversation, not a lot of hand holding. I have to admit it was nice to be outside after 5:30pm and while maybe some people might have said it was unsafe, I had a great time chilling with my local friends experiencing life as locals would, well at least as the boys would.

*\err bad camera setting/* Gift and I in the happy hour hut with our fanta bottle of gin

*\err bad camera setting/*
Gift and I in the happy hour hut with our fanta bottle of gin

When the sun set and the first bottle of gin and carton of chibuku was gone happy hour was over. It was still kind of light out and there was still lots of people on the streets. We walked back up towards area 3 where I live and Gift told us we could get packets of gin at this mini market close to our office, and then suggested we go to Mabuya camp.

It all sounded like a good plan… we were again lead down a path between rickety shops (in a different, smaller market) and stopped at a candle lit stall. John and Kelly were ahead of us but we stopped for the gin and I was slightly satisfied that I wasn’t the only one who got bad ‘service’ when I wanted to buy something.

After standing behind two guys in this crowded tight alley we moved around to the corner of the shack and Gift leaned over with his money and “Hey-I-Say”ed himself some service. With 1,000 kwacha we bought 6 packets (probably 2 oz. each) of gin and had change.

From there we had a great time at Mabuya, met up with some other friends, played some pool and the night was said and done by 9:30 where I returned home to no power, large bugs and taking contact lenses out in the dark with no running water to wash your hands.

Gift, me and John at Mabuya Camp

Gift, me and John at Mabuya Camp

Posted in Africa, craft market, Lilongwe, Malawi, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coffee

The Coffee Has Been Located!
I repeat, the coffee has been found!!

One of my favourite ‘last days’ in Canada was the day I headed to the airport. I had spent that morning moving out of my place (haha nothing like waiting for the last minute) and then was en route to the airport.

When I got to Edmonton I met up with a friend and we spent our last half hour together walking down Whyte Ave and in true Canadian fashion found ourselves at Tim Hortons grabbing a double double to-go.

at a coffee farm 2012 in northern Uganda

at a coffee farm 2012 in northern Uganda

I know Tim’s coffee is good but it’s by no means the gold of all java. I love my Tim’s but when I came home from Uganda last year… I was sadly disappointed by it because it just wasn’t the glory in a cup  I had found in that beautiful small African country.

Heading back to Africa a year later, just two countries south of Uganda, what I looked forward to most (at least as far as food and beverage goes) was the coffee.

This was not the case! For two months, with the exception of a trip to Mzuzu – I have been without a decent cup of coffee! But, with some Lilongwe Chat, Internations Forums and some advice from past CCA volunteers and random ex-pats coffee has been located (for a price).

Enjoying the WiFi and coffee at the Mzuzu Coffee Den back in October

Enjoying the WiFi and coffee at the Mzuzu Coffee Den back in October

I am sharing this blog in hopes that any future travellers coming to Lilongwe, Malawi may have hopes of finding coffee in their first few weeks rather than first few months. Prices as of November 2013 range between 500 – 1,000 kwacha and well worth it if you’re an addict like me. Note for price comparisons: you can buy a single slice of pizza at Ali Baba’s for 350 kwacha and a beer in most restaurants would cost you 600.

BEHOLD COFFEE HEAVEN:

Where I’ve found Mzuzu Coffee (easily the best)
– Bombay Palace, Indian Restaurant in Old Town in Game complex around corner from Papayas … hours of operation can make it hard to get to if you’re working a lot. Sidebar – they have fantastic Indian food, seriously so delicious, and good food is hard to find here.

Second best place for coffee
– The Sunbird chain of hotels, usually noted on the menu as Sunbird Coffee (unless you’re in Mzuzu then jump all over that!!)

Other places to try
– Kiboko Hotel in Old Town
– Papaya in Old Town in the Game complex… not always available but it is on the menu
– Mamma Mia, Italian Restaurant in Old Town Mall (haven’t tried yet but comes highly recommended)
– A bistro type place at Crossroads, name unknown (haven’t tried yet but comes highly recommended)
– Living Room Cafe in area 4

Common coffee easy to find:
Ricoffe Instant requires four heaping teaspoons per mug and drink quickly while still hot, it’s not good but it’ll help you at least feel like you’re getting some of the start you need to your day.

Note:
Please, if you find good filtered coffee do yourself a favour and avoid the cream/milk (if that’s even what it is) you will thank me.

Best of luck fellow travellers and coffee lovers, Lilongwe isn’t exactly the coffee capital of Malawi but it is possible to get your fix, just be prepared to sit down and enjoy it as there are no to-go cups here. It’s worth noting the cup size, if you’re like me and used to a 16 ounce extra large… well actually… just let go of all your hopes, dreams and expectations in the coffee department and you’ll be fine!

Posted in Malawi, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voice for Women

Am I A Feminist?

I’m from rural Alberta, oil country, where men easily outnumber women 3:1. I have a high tolerance for inappropriate comments, sexual advances and ignorant beliefs. I sometimes even wonder where my passion for social justice comes from being raised in a town where people proudly refer to themselves as rednecks.

Note: by redneck, what I mean is country folk who work hard, play hard, get dirty to make a living and to have fun, people who actually have ‘red necks’ from being in a field all day.

If feminism is defined as:

the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes or the doctrine advocating social, political and all other rights of women equal to those of men.

then yes, I am a feminist. Maybe I’m a more passive or quiet one, but I believe in walking the walk more than talking the talk. That is, until I made some intern friends like Bonnie who have opened my eyes up to all kinds of worldly women’s issues.

Before I turn you off from reading this, yeesh it’s sad that I have to even say this  because people sometimes hear the word feminism and automatically think, run for the hills they’re going to throw their flaming bras at us…before you quit reading, first watch this video.

I am thankful to be a Canadian, not just for my freedoms but for the multiculturalism, the landscape and the diversity in everything. I am often judged because I’m from Alberta, because my dad is a pipeliner and almost without exception everyone I’m friends with is employed by the oil and gas industry. I am a proud Albertan because I believe my gift for words can help me advocate so many important issues and because even though I am a woman, I am taken seriously because I work just as hard as any man. Because I grew up in Alberta, I have a different view than most of my intern friends but it doesn’t matter because we are all working towards building a better world.

Every project I am a part of through my internship with the Canadian Co-operative Association has an element of gender equality in it. This means that our partners whether in Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda, Mongolia, the Philippines, Peru or anywhere else, must make their programs accessible for men and women.

The interns I have met are taking that challenge a lot farther. Each young person I know in the co-op movement is working so hard to do something that as an Albertan I know can seem almost impossible. Changing attitudes and reflecting on beliefs.

I have been so frustrated for so long. I am a WHY person. I always have been.

Growing up was confusing for me, with my heart in social justice. I wouldn’t understand why people thought racist jokes were funny. I wouldn’t understand why people would watch other people get bullied or beat up. I wouldn’t understand why mothers would allow their sons to grow up to believe women are less than them.

There are a lot of things I think Canadians can learn from Malawians but…there are a lot of things I believe Malawians, particularly male Malawians, need to be honest with themselves about. One of my largest frustrations is watching someone nod, agree and even preach without practicing.

I believe in walking the walk. I believe that is what makes me an influential communications professional and a powerful public speaker.

This blog post is not intended to provoke you into thinking a certain way.

I just want you to know, I am a quieter feminist who is finding my voice through my frustrations. I can’t speak about something I am not very knowledgable about but I have a hunger to learn, and I am experiencing things every day that make me want to work harder for the women’s movement.

Please share the youtube video, and if you cannot be the voice for women of all ages, races and hardships please show some respect for millions if not billions, who gave birth to everyone in this world and still in 2013 have no voice.

–     –     –     –     –

Note: This post and proclamation does not change my sense of humour or my tolerance for those who are ignorant. I am by no means an extremist because I work really hard to be empathetic and relate to people on a personal level. So if you see future posts from me with subject material you may consider controversial to this post, please don’t go pointing fingers at me. My blog is about my life and discovering myself through lessons and interactions with people in Malawi and that involves ups and downs of all kinds and I’m just thankful to have readers who are interested in learning about my experiences.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Freckles

The Old Wives Tales

What I’ve Been Told About My Freckles

I have joked a few times that I don’t know if I’m finally getting a nice tan or if my freckles are just filling in. I think it’s a bit of both but my freckles have without a doubt exploded all over my face, arms, chest and even my legs! I’m not complaining, I’ve learned to love them, they make me unique and sometimes even become a conversation piece.

Today as I was leaving work I ran into my friend John and a few of his friends as I was walking home. Although I don’t really know the other two guys yet, I’ve seen them around and we’ve always been friendly. Today one of them admitted he didn’t talk to me before because he was drunk and didn’t want to embarrass himself.

After joking about this and that, the guys commented that I was starting to get a little browner and looked a lot healthier than my ghostly arrival. SCORE! When a black dude notices you’re not as white, it’s a definite win in the glowing complexion department. Who needs lotions and make-up, all you need is the African sun! Instead of taking the compliment though, as most girls do I rebutted with a ‘that’s not entirely true’ and we got on the subject of my freckles.

(continued below)

Shameless selfie from a few weeks ago

Shameless selfie from a few weeks ago

John’s friend (the one who likes to get day-drunk) told me there are a couple old wives tales about freckles, and never having heard any of them I was very curious. He said there were two that he knew but he was only going to tell me one and all the guys started killing themselves laughing. In an instant they were completely hysterical, one of them turned his face away from me and was doubled over just chuckling with his arm wrapped around his stomach in stitches laughing.

I love a good story, and you know it’s going to be good when grown men erupt into a case of the giggles.

The first wives tale goes that God one day had some extra time on his hands and was looking for more ways to shower his love on the earth. He was looking down from Heaven and decided to send hundreds and hundreds of angels to lay kisses on a few select people. So in short, my freckles are a beautiful gift from God and each one of them is a kiss from an angel. Touching.

Knowing that this couldn’t possibly be what the guys were still laughing over, I prodded for more. I was happy with this explanation, who wouldn’t want to be told “Hey God spent a little extra time on you and while you’re here in Africa you’re being kissed by angels every day.” But I knew there was more and I wanted to see how much these guys trusted me to share their inside joke.

After just a couple of minutes of repeatedly telling the guy I wouldn’t be offended I wanted to know what was so funny and assuring him that we’re all friends here, he agreed to open up as long as I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t be offended. He started to tell me but before he finished his first sentence he was cackling again and could not even look me in the face. I started laughing. I couldn’t help it, it was so contagious, everyone was giggling.

He was clearly so nervous to spit out whatever the other ‘wives tale’ was about my many freckles but in a single breath he straightened up and glanced at his friends and then turned to me but looked right past me and he just spewed. “Some people say it’s a sign that a girl likes to get f*^cked from behind.”

As soon as it was said he clapped his hands over his mouth and had the most surprised look on his face, as if he couldn’t believe he had just told a white girl she may possibly love to take it in the ass.  There was a split second pause where the other guys quit laughing and I took over. Oh my gosh. I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. Everyone started laughing again. Wow. Hahaha wow. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but that definitely wasn’t it.

I was so taken aback and amused. I laughed and laughed and told him “well I’m really sorry if you’re talking to me only because of my freckles but I can assure you that is certainly not the case, maybe the first one but the other is just not my thing” we laughed and he apologized profusely for being so crude. I attempted to tell him that my friends back home were much more disgusting and he had nothing to worry about but he was so embarrassed and I guess to me that was his way of trying to show some respect afterwards.

So there you have it. Two wives tales, a world apart on the meaning of a girls freckles. Hahahahahaha!

Oh yea and I’m sorry if this post has offended anyone and you can’t share my sick sense of humour.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Community of Crafters

Craft Market Culture

Everyone knows I’m a sucker for unique earrings. I have a sick obsession that is likely inherited from my Aunty Karen’s need to collect broaches.

Photo on 2013-11-07 at 3.41 PM

sporting some earrings I picked up in Uganda

Last year in Uganda, I picked up at least a dozen different pairs of earrings from the craft market in Kampala. After realizing how excessive that was, I gave most of them away to my closest friends and immediate staff team.

Now living in Malawi, I have once again started to recollect jewelry from the craft market across from my office and I’m embarrassed to admit I plan to keep almost all my earrings.

Becoming a frequent shopper in the craft market has it’s benefits.

  1. Understanding the real cost of goods and improving your bartering skills
  2. Asking crafters to custom make something for you and your friends/family
  3. Finding amusement in watching ‘new’ mzungus get haggled and harrassed
  4. Making friends with unique individuals life Gift, Innocent, Chiko and John
  5. Having said friends step in when you’re being overwhelmed with sales pitches or walk you part way home when it’s getting late or people are being particularly pushy

A couple Saturday’s ago I walked down to the craft market just for something to do. A few weeks before my new friend Gift invited me to come by, not to buy anything but just to swap stories and learn how to play one of the traditional ‘board’ games so I had finally decided to take him up on it.

Market across the street from my office

Market across the street from my office

When I got to ‘his tree’ Gift wasn’t there but I was still warmly welcome by Chiko and the rest of the gang. Slightly hesitant, I stepped off the street and onto the little path that led  past the displays of carvings and up to their own little under-the-tree-fort. They had a small walkman style radio and were listening to the football (soccer) match between Lilongwe and Blantyre, I was told Gift was actually at the stadium watching the game.

On Saturdays business is slow for the boys because most of the tourists are at the lake or out on some excursion.

I sat on a hand crafted chair in the shade with Ken, a tailor, Innocent, an ‘apprentice’ and John, a carver. There were a few other older men around who didn’t say too much but happily listened to our jokes and smiled.

Chiko, a rasta looking dude who is always wearing a combination of yellow, red, green and black and a large toque over his dreads even on the hottest days, was easily the most outgoing in the group. I met him on my very first trip to the craft market when I was surrounded by market men like a slab of high quality road kill among starving scavengers. Gift, the friend I had come to see on Saturday had come to my rescue that day and helped me find what I wanted and at a reasonable price. Chiko who had noticed me eying up some carvings, pipes, masks and paintings came to offer me something to smoke. I politely declined but we quickly built up a good rapport and became friends.

So, there I was sitting in a circle with some hilarious local guys a few Saturday’s ago; trade the shade tree for a shop and I could have been back in Alberta with the boys from my hometown. We got to talking on various topics but the one I found most interesting was:

 Craft Market Culture

IMG_3597

post office (pink building) is on the corner lot of a busy intersection

The craft market stretches about half a small city block long and kind of wraps around the corner of a heavy foot-traffic complex, in between a mall, a major mzungu hotel and various shops and restaurants. There must be at least 60 different craftsmen who sell everything from fabrics to carvings to jewelry to artwork.

There is no formal place in Lilongwe for them to set up shop and earn a living, but their work certainly deserves to be showcased and sent around the world in various suitcases. In the other local market which is much larger and primarily intended for groceries, some of the fruit and vegetable vendors actually have little shacks where they can keep their stuff. The craft market men (and yes, they are all men) have their items displayed on rock piles usually covered with cardboard or another repurposed material. The post office allows them the space on their perimeter of their lot and does not charge them rent.

According to Chiko the effort to form a craft market only started a few years ago with about a dozen locals coming together to form a committee. They have since grown and

At the fruits and vegetables market crossing over to the second-hand clothing 'shops'

At the fruits and vegetables market crossing over to the second-hand clothing ‘shops’

each crafter contributes 500 kwacha (or about $1.25) a month to do business there. They all pay their dues to the committee and most of it goes to pay the three watchmen they hire to guard their stands at night. Some of the money goes to helping each other buy new files, chisels and other tools and some gets saved.

The crafters, who truthfully are all in competition with each other, really have a sense of community. I was told that if one of the craftsmen is involved in an accident, gets very sick or has a death in the family some of the savings will go to supplement his lack of income. A small handful of the experienced craftsmen, like Chiko, will also welcome some

Maurice, a painter who recently moved from Blantyre to Lilongwe where business is better

Maurice, a painter who recently moved from Blantyre to Lilongwe where business is better

of the underdogs to come up to their little area when there are buyers around and encourage the shoppers to buy from the young guys first as they need the money more.

Chiko, a charmer and true salesmen was narrating this craft market culture to me in between telling these underdogs to back off as today we were telling stories and making friends, not selling.

After a few hours of swapping stories and learning about the inner workings of this place I had come to love, I decided to take my fruits and veggies and head home. I had (as always) walked away with a bracelet. Chiko being the smooth talker he was, accompanied me as I gathered my groceries and the guys started teasing him in Chichewa.

I have to admit, this situation is easily the hardest to navigate. While I’m happy to make conversation and friends, I’m always uncertain just how to tell someone “please don’t help me or walk me home.” Chiko said he was just going up the road to grab a soda and it was along the same path as mine so in true gentleman fashion he took my heaviest bags and we walked on together.

Manyana, myself and Peter painters and jewelry makers from Mzuzu

Manyana, myself and Peter painters and jewelry makers from Mzuzu

He politely suggested we exchange numbers and while I was hesitant I obliged because I felt like declining would be a bad way to end a great afternoon. I also had my own selfish motivations of wanting to have a local I could text should I ever find myself wondering something about the city or a certain situation. Chiko bought his soda and walked me about halfway home. He admitted he was surprised, but pleased that I bought and planned to cook my own food, and that I was walking ‘so far’ with them to go home. I think I earned some street cred for chilling with the locals and trying to live like one too.

I’ve been back to the market twice since our Saturday chat, and while I’ve supported local entrepreneurs and artists, I also feel like I’m starting to make friends. Chiko and I have texted a few times and on my way home from work tonight Gift and I exchanged numbers and he too walked me part way home.

The craft market is a cool place to find out about Malawi, you meet people who have moved to Lilongwe from all different parts of the country. They always want to tell you where the best places to go swimming, fishing or dancing is. If you’re open to it, you can learn a thing or two like the language or where the cheap beer is.

Craft market in Kampala Uganda where crafters have shanty-shacks

Craft market in Kampala Uganda where crafters have shanty-shacks

Posted in Africa, carvings, craft market, ethnic jewelry, keepsake, Lilongwe, Malawi, shopping, souvenirs, travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment