Doomed From the Start

Do you ever have one of those days where it seems like everything is just doomed from the start?  We had a weekend like that here in Malawi.

Last week we were planning on heading to the Zomba Plateau in Southern Malawi early on Friday morning.   On Thursday we went to our schools to visit our kiddos and check on our clubs.  Everything went pretty well and I think all of the kinks are now out of my neck after hours of driving on the bumpy dirt roads.

Friday morning we woke up bright and early and headed out on the road to Zomba.  Andrew is pretty good at driving on the left hand side of the road while dodging people on bikes, goats, cows, and kids.  The speed limits here in Malawi aren’t very clearly marked. Sometimes you will see a sign that says “60” with a line through it and we’re still not quite sure what that means.  Driving in Malawi is a completely different experience than driving in America.  In America all of the cars on a highway almost move as one big unit, and here in Malawi it is extremely chaotic with cars passing each other, honking at each other and quite literally trying to not run over goats.  Anyway, we were driving along minding our own business when we came to a traffic stop.  This happens pretty frequently.  Sometimes the cops just sit and watch you drive by and other times they want you to show your license.  This time one of the police had a speed monitor and caught Andrew speeding.  After trying our best but still having no luck at getting out of the ticket, we paid our $10 fine and kept going.   Luckily we had cash on hand and you won’t be seeing Andrew on this season’s Locked Up Abroad.

About four hours later we reached the Zomba plateau and unloaded our car at the cutest little cottage.  We were getting to stay there for free since we knew the owners and no one else had rented it out that weekend.  We ate some lunch and decided to go for a walk to see the beautiful plateau and views.  On our way back from our walk there was another car parked next to ours.  We went inside and before we could even look around a woman approached us and said, “You have taken our spot! We have a wedding and you are in our spot and this is a huge problem!  You told the cook that you were us!”   Andrew and I have kind of gotten to the point where nothing in Africa really surprises us anymore, so we weren’t very upset.  After politely asking this crazy lady what in the hell she was talking about, we figured out that the cook at the cottage, in attempt to not get blamed for the mishap, had told this couple that we had said we were them.  I told the woman that this was not true, I had never heard of them before, much less tried to impersonate them!  I got my ipad out and showed everyone our confirmation of booking the cottage.  At this point the woman was almost in tears and told us that it was HER son that was getting married tomorrow!  I told her that we were willing to help them out, but that we didn’t have anywhere to go.  We were able to find a place at a hotel just a couple of minutes away, but only for one night as most of the rooms were booked for the wedding the following day.  If it were our parents we wouldn’t have wanted them to leave (they also had another couple staying with them at the cottage) so we packed up our stuff and left the little cottage.  When we arrived this woman was absolutely furious and by the time we left she was crying and hugging me, thanking me for helping.  Yikes. Wedding stress!

Hiking to the Waterfalls

Hiking to the Waterfalls

So we checked into the$180 a night Sunbird Hotel on the owner of the cottages tab since it was their fault for overbooking.  We weren’t very impressed with the hotel.  They charged high American prices and paid Malawian wages, so I’m sure their balance sheet looks quite nice.  The service wasn’t that great, but the room was clean and we got to watch TV for the first time in three months!  There was a Malawian sitcom that took place in a village on TV, so we had to watch that for a bit.  Pure entertainment.  The travel company also paid for our dinner and bar tab, so that was a plus.  This was the first time we have stayed in a hotel since we’ve been in Africa, and we were reminded why we prefer a more local accommodation.

Waterfalls

The next morning we packed up (again) and checked out of the hotel.  Before we left we decided to rent some mountain bikes from Sunbird Hotel to explore the mountain.  Little did we know, this was an extremely bad decision.  We took our rented bikes and set out on a trail.  For almost two hours we were going straight uphill on a road that you had to have four-wheel drive to get up!  We had to walk a lot of the way since the handlebars on Andrews bike kept rotating and my gears wouldn’t change.  By the time we made it up the hill my legs were shaking and we were drenched in sweat.  We ran out of water at the top and by then we were more than ready to get back.  The views almost made up for the fact that my entire body felt like it was broken.   Unfortunately for us, the way down wasn’t much easier.  The brakes on my bike didn’t work very well, so that forced us to walk a lot of the way.  (By the way, this is the second time in two weeks I’ve been quite sure that the mode of transportation that I have been on was going to kill me.  See last post concerning the boat ride and hippos.)  By the time we got down the mountain I was literally on the verge of tears.  I would consider Andrew and I pretty active people…we love to bike ride, run, swim, work out…Basically, we aren’t wimps!  But this mountain biking left both of us never wanting to see a bike ever again.

Toughest mountain biking of our lives

The second night of our displacement, the owner of the cottage had arranged (and luckily, paid) for us to stay at a nearby campsite owned by an Italian couple.  Basically, we were camping at an Italian restaurant called Bella Rosa.  A very good Italian restaurant I might add!  We stayed in a tent on site and they had bathrooms and showers and everything for us to use, so it was like a normal campsite that just happened to come with a fantastic dining experience!  We were starved and traumatized after our biking, so we sat down and ordered lunch as soon as we got there.  I ordered tortellini and it was easily the best food I’ve had since I have been in Africa.  Andrew got crocodile spaghetti and we both agreed it was good!  I don’t really like to eat meat for ethical reasons, but I also really like to eat meat for taste reasons.  Yep, I’m conflicted.  Andrew was pretty proud of me for eating crocodile after he convinced me that they are not endangered by any means.  We also ordered croc bites as an appetizer for our dinner later that night!  After finishing up our lunch, we sat on the porch and looked over the beautiful plateau and read and talked.  The owner of the cottage who had royally screwed up our plans had told the owner of Bella Rosa that they were paying for our dinner, accommodation, and a bottle of wine.  The Italian owner selected the most expensive wine he had and set it on our table!   Not a bad way to spend the day.

Beautiful Zomba View

After a crazy weekend that forced us both to just go with the flow and stay positive and be in the moment, we were able to finally relax and just enjoy ourselves and the view.  This was definitely one of those weekends that you have to look back and laugh at.  Africa always keeps us on our toes and it is always an adventure.  I’m not sure how I am going to adjust back to normal American life, with all of its luxuries and predictability.  I have learned so much from Africa and from the people we’ve been blessed to meet along the way.  More and more I realize that God has a plan, unique to each of us, and when we stop making plans and start trusting, that’s when we can really see Him work.

Three Weeks In

This week is our third week in Malawi!  So far things have been really good.  We haven’t ventured out of the city yet, but that will change this Sunday when we head to Zambia for 4 days of safaris and relaxation!

The past three weeks have been consumed with work.   This past Friday it finally hit me that we had been going nonstop and I was so thankful for the weekend.  Since we’ve been around the house and city a lot, we’ve gotten a lot more settled in in Lilongwe.  We’ve found some favorite restaurants and cool cafes.  We have found a good running path that takes us through the neighborhood behind us.  We’ve gotten used to the power going out every once in a while.  (So far we’ve been lucky that it has only gone out twice and only for 20 minutes or so, so it hasn’tbeen an issue at all.)  We’re getting used to seeing people carrying huge loads of firewood, buckets of water, suitcases, and the occasional chicken in a box on their heads.  All in all, we feel much more settled here now.  I think yesterday was the first day since we’ve been here that I didn’t feel homesick at all.

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The house & rovers

Now that we are settling in, the fun is also starting!  While we will be working during the week, we have a lot of exciting adventures coming up.  This weekend we will go on safari in Zambia and I have to say I am thrilled to be going back to Croc Valley, the same lodge we stayed last time I was here.  We are planning a short visit to snorkel and enjoy Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi, Liwonde National Park for another safari and to see the Zambezi River, and the Zomba Plateau for some hiking!  The great thing about Africa is that once you are here, travel within is pretty inexpensive, so we’re going to be able to do a lot of fun things!

While we’ve been getting acclimated the past few weeks, we’re also seeing the great need that is present Malawi.   We’ve had a friend with a sick daughter who could not see the doctor because they did not have the $35 that it took to admit her to the hospital.  Luckily, Andrew and I were able to help our friend and his daughter, but it is a somber fact that many people die because they can’t afford medical treatment that is much less than $35.  We have had employees ask us for a pay advance so that they can buy their children’s school uniforms when the price inexplicably went up to around $60.  (School fees are a huge issue for many families.)  We’ve had employees ask for a raise and tell us that they don’t have enough money even for lunch.  We’ve listened to Malawians tell us about the many problems in the education system in Malawi and how it is actually perpetuating the cycle of poverty.   We’ve also listened to Malawians tell us about their concerns of corruption in the government and how it seems that no matter who is in power, the people are still hungry and don’t have enough to put their children through school.   We’ve seen first hand how women are still second-class citizens in Malawi.  We’ve just seen a whole lot of people that are struggling and hurting.

John & his wife, Monica

John & his wife, Monica

But we’ve also seen a whole lot of beauty.   The people here are so eager to help us and to know us.  Our guards who are at our house 24/7 are kind and hard working.  Our cook/house manager extraordinaire, John, goes out of his way to make sure we are comfortable and have the food that we like.  Today his wife is at the house doing our laundry, and she is so happy to have a small amount of income.

The Malawians are so grateful for what they have and it is truly an example for me.   I have been thinking about the Bible verse Phillipians 4:12 a lot since we’ve been here.

“I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”  Phillipians 4:12

 Many Africans seem to live out what we always seem to be talking about.

20 Days!

I can’t believe that in only 20 days I will be in Africa!

I was just thinking of all of the adventures I have had while traveling, and thought it would be fun to do a little post recapping some of my more recent travels.  While I was in high school I traveled all over Europe with my family.  I was able to see some of the places that my grandmother lived and that my mom grew up visiting.

And then when I came to college I really caught the travel bug.  I’d like to do longer posts about each of these trips so I can truly document all of my travels, but for now, here is a little synopsis…

First I went to Jamaica to do service work, and got to spend time with these precious children.  I think Jamaica was my first love and set my heart on fire for travel and service work.

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Then I was off to Cochabamba, Bolivia where I got to work with children of incarcerated parents as well as other children in the community.  Bolivia’s legal system is set up so that if a mother goes to jail, any children she may have go with her.  Talk about a cycle of crime.  Luckily, there was a community center that bussed the children out of the jail during the day so that they could work with tutors and learn in a safe environment. I still pray for these children and think of them often.
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My next trip was an academic study abroad to Greece. I was there for most of the summer and had an amazing time.  The people of Greece were so interesting and friendly.  I was in Athens during some of the riots that were happening due to the economic crisis, which was interesting and even a little scary.  Either way, I’m happy that I could be there to witness that part of history.

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And now in only 20 short days I will be on my way to Africa!     I can’t wait to see what this journey has in store for me!

Summer landscape