Planting the seeds… (Day 1)
We arrived this afternoon at the Lilongwe, Malawi airport to clear, crisp fall like temperatures. The trip over included a quick stop over at JKF where we scrambled to get from the domestic terminal to international with a minimum of drama with 3 adults, and 3 boys ranging in age from 1 to 10 years of age. With 1 backpack each, and 6 additional carry-on bags we helped each other out and managed to get to the gate for the flight to Johannesburg, South Africa just in time to start boarding the plane! We were told the plane had been overbooked and we would be scattered with Kimberly and the boys in a bulkhead row up near the front and John in an aisle seat in the back of the plane with me on the other side in the back near a window. As it turned out the seat next to John was vacant, so one of the boys sat with him and Kimberly had plenty of space to spread out with the remaining two boys. I ended up with a seatmate who decided to take an Ambien right after we were fed and was basically comatose for most of the remainder of the flight. The would have been fine, except every time I needed to get up I had to literally climb over him. The last time I had to do it I was sure that I was going to end up in his lap Luckily that didn’t happen and we landed without incident in South Africa. But I have to admit that it was a very long 14 - hour flight.
It was a fast paced walk (past many shops with all kinds of wonderful looking souvenirs in the windows – so I know what I’ll be doing during that long layover on the way back) to the connecting flight to Lilongwe, Malawi where once again we made it to the gate in time to walk out and board the bus that took us out to our plane. We had a very pleasant two- hour flight – with a hot meal served on china with real silverware (in economy by the way) that took me back to air travel in India. No pretzels and drinks for South African Airways thank you very much.
The airport is a small enough that by the time we cleared passport control our suitcases were ready to put on two trolleys and head out to the lobby. And yes, all of our suitcases made it so we didn’t have to live out of our backpacks for 3 or 4 days! The Africa Windmill Project Malawi coordinator, Christopher Adare and his brother-in-law, Calisto met us and took us the rented Nissan SUV that we will be using while we are here. After all of the suitcases and backpacks were loaded there was just enough room for us to squeeze in and head off to Christopher and Bena’s house. I had forgotten that because Malawi was a former British colony we would be driving on the other side of the road.
Christopher and Bena live in a walled and secure compound that is in a neighborhood of similar houses. The compound includes a building that houses the offices for Africa Windmill Project, a workshop area and a room for Bena’s brother. The yard is large and has plenty of space for the chickens that they raise – both for meat and for eggs. In addition they have a guard dog who stays outside and is about a medium sized shorthaired dog that is mostly white with brown patches. The house itself is large, with several bedrooms, a large kitchen, a powder room and a full bath. The electricity is iffy but mostly because of wiring issues, and the water supply has been unpredictable lately because of construction on a shopping center that is being built in the area. So, the flashlights come in handy and water is stored in a big plastic bin in the bathroom in case it is needed! As they used to tell us in the Army – “Be flexible to the point of fluidity”.
Bena showed me how she makes sema (sp) a staple of the Malawian diet. It is made of finely ground corn flour – there are actually 3 different grades of flour. It is added to water and boiled until it reaches the consistency of a paste – once it reaches that point it can be scooped out using a large, wide spoon in put in a bowl. The sema is eaten with your right hand only – you are not to use both hands! The idea is to take enough sema into your right hand and form a round ball, you use your thumb to create an indentation that is used to hold the relish that you will place in it and eat! The relishes are made of boiled greens or a highly seasoned beef stew like dish. The sema itself has very little flavor. It is typically eaten 3 times a day – in the morning it would be more like a porridge.
We all struggled to stay awake for as long as we could, but by 9:00 we were all heading into bed and sleep. It was such a relief to be able to stretch out in a bed, with my mosquito net securely placed around the bed. I heard the roosters several times during the night, but went right back to sleep! Being an ignorant modern American I did not realize that roosters crow at all hours, not just in the morning.