I’m going bald and so is Malawi

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For anyone vaguely interested in what I’ve been writing, I’m sorry for such a gap in the posts. Internet hasn’t been great recently. On the plus side we met another couple cycling close to the Tanzanian boarder and they tell us internet is cheap and reliable on the other side.

 

Malawi is nearing an end, we are staying in a small guest house called boarders to boarders. Not sure the name would work anywhere else but the boarder. Very nice though.

We’ve enjoyed the warm heart of Africa, the roads have been very easy, little traffic and almost no one tries to rip us off. The women in the markets sometimes give us an extra tomato now and again.

early morning...
early morning…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our route has taken us from the western side of Malawi all the way south and then all the way north, by now I feel I can comment on Malawi pretty well.

It’s been given the title of the poorest country in the world. Not sure the how stats give Malawi this label. I can only assume its income. Although poor, they are often seen smiling, laughing and never too busy to say hello. If modernising destroys that, I’m not sure they need it.

 

Where there’s electricity, TV goes all day in Malawi, football is big and everyone I meet wants to go to England. Like its some sort of magical football land and money is everywhere. I suppose it probably looks like that on TV. The part you don’t see is the hard work people put in. The long hours. The stress. The lack of time people have, or when they have it don’t know what to do with it. Thinking back to the London work place, depending on where you are I guess. When ever I have returned from a long trip, it takes me quite a while to re adjust to the pace again. I guess until you leave it, you won’t understand what I really mean.

 

 

Apart from bad nutrition, poor education and lack of medical facilities. Malawians seem pretty positive. I’m not sure if the people don’t plan for the future because they think god will plan for them, but the people inside the country seem a lot less concerned for their well being than the people outside.

It’s charity central here. Every other car has a logo on it. Most of them are new land cruisers. Toyota must watch the news carefully, and boost their production lines every time there’s a famine in Africa. I say this jokingly but it might not be far from the truth.

 

On a few occasions we’ve met someone on the road, got chatting and asked if we can pitch a tent at their house for a night. It’s defiantly an interesting way to see how the locals live. I guess you could compare it to meeting someone in the queue at Sainsburys in Wallington and asking them if you can sleep on their sofa for the night. We haven’t been refused once and always treated well, so I’d be very interested to see what the results are at home. We’d been given a tip from a couple we met in Lilongwe that sleeping in churches was also a safe bet. Back on the road we thought we’d give it a try.

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All was going well, children were smiling and playful. No one was asking us for money.

However as soon as the adults disappeared and we started to set up inside the church, a few of the children started getting very nasty. I had to put some benches against the door as they tried to kick it in, boom boom boom.
Constant shouting and tormenting. Asking for money and sweets. Even after the door was shut tight with all the weight from the benches they just continued to kick. It was really stressful, we tried to do the whole, ignore them and they will leave thing.

But 20mins of abuse and I was ready to explode. Not sure Id ever be able to handle any sort of military interrogation. I decided to take down the blockade of benches and went outside. Everyone scattered, scary angry Azungu is coming. But I refrained from chasing after and smacking one of the little shits. And did the sensible thing. I went to the village and got one of the adults, I explained in broken english, and we walked back to the church together. As soon as the kids saw me with an adult they bolted. From then on we were left in peace. Although I was never really one for churches I’m sure we will try again.

stayed at orphanage centre
stayed at orphanage centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is turning out to be a fairly long post, and I’m just getting started. So if you need the loo I’d go now.

 

Titled ‘I’m going bald and so is Malawi’ is something I wrote in a note pad some weeks back. I’ll be honest I was feeling a bit low, but I am going to type it up anyway because I think its quite entertaining. It’s focusing mainly on the amount of trees being cut down, and destruction of the natural environment to feed the ever growing number of people in this country.

 

Not sure exactly when I began to admit defeat, and realise that my hair was thinning and that one day I would be bald. And really once it starts, it seems there is no going back. I can remember thinking about my Mum’s side of the family, and still seeing some hair left on the elders. However when it comes down to the bald gene, its Dad you need to look to, it’s his direction I’m taking. I’ve even got a brother three years ahead, so it was pretty obvious what was install for me.

Apart from some sort of elaborate Rooney procedure, I felt there was little that could be done about it. On the plus side the more it thinned on top the more it would bush out in other places. And lets be frank, a real man is a hairy one. Still, it’s a bit patchy in places and not exactly the long blonde locks of my youth.

So my body is changing, but my hair does continue to grow, but how long will it?

Maybe the day comes when the hair on my chest begins to grey and even that will eventually start to fall out.

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Malawi hug a sweet boy

So call me Malawi and my Dad England.

I am in the early stages of deforestation and my Dad in the latter. I’ve only been going bald for the past few years. I can see it in pictures, people checking my passport are often shocked that we are the same person. Even in the short period since it started, I have almost forgotten what it felt like to have hair. It’s only photo evidence that brings me back the feeling, ‘ahhh those were the days’. I know every 5 year old I meet, thinks I’ve looked like this for my entire life. If only they knew what a dude I was.

I’m sure if you let the kids decide. I know what they’d choose.

 

Option One: Lush green forests, cool temperatures, abundant insects and animals to play with. Clean water, plenty of rain evaporating from the vegetation, making it easy to grow crops.

Option Two: Dry, hot landscapes, Void of greenery. Very few animals apart from the farms stocked with the same things over and over. The natural habitat has disappeared, leaving monoculture farming in its place.

Id take opt 1 any day!

 

So what happens when I get older. When I get to my dads age, I suspect he has almost forgotten what it was like to go bald in the first place. It’s even difficult to find pictures of him with hair it’s been so long!

Ever since I popped out of Mum, Dad hasn’t had any hair. There was a short stage of him sporting funny moustache, but never was there any hair on his head. So naturally when I saw a rare old photograph of Dad in his youth, with long flowing locks. You’d understand that I was a bit skeptical.

 

‘So you’re telling me, that years ago. England was once covered in thick forests and impenetrable marshes. And now, nearly all of that is gone’?

‘Yes Elliot, as hard as it is to believe that is really what your Dad used to look like’

‘Bloody hell! I hope that doesn’t happen to me’

Unfortunately, history often repeats its self, and it is happening to me. I don’t really notice it with Dad, because it’s something of the past, been and gone. Never to return. But in Malawi, along with other parts of Africa, you can still see the stumps.

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I ask you the reader. Have you ever experienced a true wilderness?

Where the natural world is seemingly untouched and dominating the landscape. Where people and the traces they leave are few and far between. Have you swam in rivers, high in the mountains so clean and clear that you can drink them? If you haven’t I suggest you go and seek it out. I hope you’d agree that it tops a big mac and fries. Because that is essentially why the natural world is fast disappearing. To feed our modern day conveniences. Humans are consumers, and consume we do.

 

 

Mayu and I are drifting between places. We spend weeks and weeks getting from one tourist hub to another. Seeing a contrast in the way the locals act in local places and touristic places. In the touristic places, I am always the vendors friend. At least that is what he tells me. ‘My friend my friend, come and look at my shop’

Everywhere else we are just laughed at, as strange Azugu’s.

On the road, more often than not it is a constant barrage of shouting. ‘Azungu Azungu, give me money, give me money!’

It was funny for the first 5 minutes. A month in and you really know what kind of mood you’re in, first thing in the morning. Call it the Azungu money morning test. Some days I don’t even bother taking it, I just put the headphones in a pretend all the kids are smiling and waving at me.

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Can you hear their voice??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some mornings I wonder why we are even doing this, the idea that its still an adventure wore off a while ago. Now I simply feel we are just slowly pedalling through the realities of life. If someone asked me to sum up Malawi in a single word, especially at the time of year we visited. I’d say ‘charred’

 

 

I’ve yet to see any of the tourist brochures urging people. ‘Visit Malawi in the dry season, enjoy long drives through rural villages. See fields on fire and smoke filling the air.’ Unfortunately the landscape is being endlessly burn’t to clear vegetation in the field for next seasons crops. To further damage it by ploughing. When I challenge people about what they are doing, be it logging, burning and throwing away valuable resources. I often get a blank reply. No one really knows what they are doing wrong, or how to do it better.

 

When we have the energy, we stop at one of the villages along the way and preach. But not the word of God, like so many are doing and have done in the century gone past. We preach the word of compost, protecting the topsoil and looking after the natural environment.

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I’ve been shocked at some people by their responses to some of my questions. I asked one man carrying a lot of wood on his bicycle down a mountain road. How long he thought it would take for the huge tree we were standing in front of to grow.

He replied 8 to 10 years. This thing was massive, maybe 30m high, maybe more. How can think like that? There seems to be no education on the importance of the environment in Malawi.

What is done, cannot be undone. What is destroyed by man in a decade, takes nature a millennium to recreate. I have been feeling pretty negative about the situation on our planet recently. For months now we have been riding from one deforested area to the next.

 

 

Feeling pretty tired of the site of tree stumps, we thought we’d do a bit of research and try and find some sort of mountain retreat. In Botswana we starting searching the net. We had to find some mountains to hike. The last strong hold on earth that man had not destroyed. Where water is clean and the forests untouched. We found a promising candidate. Mt Mulanje. A protected area in the south east of Malawi.

I got very excited about the prospect of getting naked and jumping into an ice cold river. Although Mulanje did not disappoint me of this. It did deny me of the other pleasures of hiking in the mountains. Being alone, seeing wildlife and walking through seemingly untouched nature. In contrast, Mulanje was charr grilled!

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Trains of people were carrying indigenous Mulanje cedar planks on their head. The landscape a blaze in every direction, people hunting dear with dogs. Id have a better chance seeing wildlife in croydon than I could on the mountain. We saw kids as young as seven carrying wood on their heads. What message does this send to the future generation?

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You may be wondering what the point of all this negative writing is about, especially on a Monday, a time when we need it the least. Well in our daily lives we make choices. We choose what to eat and where we go. I can’t get my head around the amount of choices we have living in our first world environment.

Could you imagine today, someone in England hacking down a 300 year old oak tree so they can use it for fire wood to cook their potatoes for dinner. Yet we did. I know that because its happening here, and we used to be like Malawi. Now days, we don’t need to chop down trees, partly because there isn’t many left, but also we have other means of generating our cooking needs. Ways that Malawians are yet to afford.

 

But I want you think about your environment, what its like today and what you want it to be like in the future. I for one, want to take more responsibility for my actions and the choices I make. And understand that everything I do has an effect for the good or the bad and that chains connect, and go long out of our sight. I’m understanding through travel and reading. That its not those people, in that country doing the damage. It’s us. On one planet.

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Oasis in Mt Mulanje

3 Responses

  1. Amaka
    | Reply

    Hi Elliot, just stumbled across your blog. Really interesting to read about your adventures. Sometimes one gets disillusioned, I recall my visit to the Atlasountains in Morocco, where our guide told us not to give money to the kids as some of them had died running into the road to beg and getting hit by cars. I guess the shows on TV do give them a wrong impression.
    Anyhow, it is nice to hear about your whereabouts and I will keep catching up…
    Take it easy and big hi to Mayu.
    Amaka

    • twoislandtravellers
      | Reply

      Hey Amaka,

      So nice to hear from you :-)

      Just spent a nice evening with a German couple, I guess there is a coincidence there.

      Tourism is funny thing, I think it gives local communities a warped view on the visitors coming to see a place. Sometimes it does positive things, but for the most part, from what we have seen so far. The impact has been negative.

      Its making me think twice about heading to a ‘must see place’

      Hope all is well with you, Mayu and I will be sure to cycle by and say hello to you and Eka when we are back in town.

      All the best

      Elliot

  2. Mavis
    | Reply

    Hi Elliot and Mayu,
    We are in Segovia and just read your two September writings, laying on our bed before going to sleep. You have sure given us things to contemplate before sleep! Not that we havent thought about these things but havent experienced them like you. Will write more when we get home but meanwhile our love and thoughts are with you.
    Love from us both G and G xxxx

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