Mad dogs and Englishmen

Lilongwe Travel Blog

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Didn't set any sort of alarm to wake me up on my first morning, and as a predictable result I found myself heading out into Lilongwe just before midday. The place wasn't a lot busier than yesterday; a succession of minibuses farting smoke along the main road, and pedestrians every couple of yards.

Got my camera out to take a photo and was immediately surrounded by a gang of about half a dozen teenagers. New to the city (and the country, and the continent) I spent much of the next fifteen minutes trying to work out whether these kids were going to be trouble or not, but they weren't. Just piss-takers. One wanted me to teach him how to use my camera - fat chance. Another encouraged me to chat up any white women we walked past. A third tried to convince me that they were going to kidnap me, and a fourth informed me helpfully that 'bankrobber' is a Chichewa greeting. "We'll follow you wherever you go," they promised, before getting bored and wandering off.

So I walked, sweating, through the old town. There was a large concentration of westerners at the supermarket and a large concentration of touts at the souvenir market. There were lots of banks, and shops selling clothes and hardware, and traffic, dust and concrete and abandoned buildings that were about to fall over. The highest buildings were a couple of minarets in a deeply Christian country. The dry-season remains of the Lilongwe river trudged through the middle.

Got in a minibus, aiming for a wildlife reserve that my guidebook mentioned. Failed to find it; missed my stop. The bus was going to Capital City, the new town that was built when Lilongwe became the capital in the seventies, so I decided to stay on the bus until it got there. Failed to find that, too: the place was like an African Milton Keynes, with nowhere that looked like a town centre to get off at. Then the town petered out. We came to the end of the paved road, where I expected the bus to turn round, and we carried on: past the market stalls and the mud brick houses where people would get on the bus solely to lug a 50kg bag of maize two hundred yards. I suppose this is what passes for suburbs in Malawi but it felt like I'd been plunged into the sticks. I recommend it.

Eventually the bus turned round and dropped me at a wildlife sanctuary thing; it wasn't a zoo, I was assured, but it looked like one (albeit a humane zoo, as these things go). Another minibus took me back to the old town.

Walking back to the hostel as it started to get dark, I made a friend. It took him ten minutes of conversation - where you from? where you staying? do you like Malawi? what football team do you support? - before he started trying to sell me some paintings. And I bought one. I'm going to have to practice my 'fuck off' face.
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122 km (76 miles) traveled
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Lilongwe
photo by: sarahsan