Thursday, 17 January 2013

Christmas in Malawi

So, is there snow in Africa this wintertime? What do people eat? Do they celebrate Christmas at all? For all these answers and more, continue reading*
*may or may not all be answered

So I decided to spend Christmas in Malawi. Many of you may have heard of my other possibilites which were Zanzibar/ Zambia but in the end I decided that since I couldn't leave Mzuzu until the 22nd of Dec going anywhere too far would result in undue stress in trying to arrive before Christmas Eve.

And so after postponing my departure from Mzuzu due to a Carlsberg induced decision until Sun the 23rd, I strapped on my backpack and Sanchia and I left on the Axa bus at 7am for Lilongwe. Now for those of you unfamiliar with Malawi, Lilongwe is the capital, appromiately 4 1/2 hours drive from Mzuzu. Once we arrived in Lilongwe we had a quick lunch before we parted ways- Sanchia to spend a night before flying home for Christmas, me to walk to the local bus station and catch a minibus to Monkey Bay. After about another 4 hours on a crowded minibus (transportation in Malawi is a whole other blog post), stopping so people can buy onions and mangoes, I arrived in Monkey Bay sweaty and craving a cold beer and a shower. Here I met up with Kat (who came armed with a cold, open beer) and we went to Mufasa's Monkey Bay. It's a "rustic" camp so no electricity and when I arrived the water had run out so thoughts of a shower were put to the back of my mind and setting up my tent became the priority before it got dark. 10mins and a beer later the tent was up but it turns out it had a bit of a battering in a previous life and now resembled a teepee! Kat and I gave up and headed to the bar to finish a box of wine! Next morning due to my tent resembling a sauna I was up at 5am! I lay on a hammock (I do love a hammock) and watched as baboons stole food from the kitchen. If only I hadn't left my camera in the tent.

The following day we all decided to go to Cape Maclear. Cape Mac is the southern version of Nkhata Bay. A backpacker's paradise with a long beach dotted with lodges and beach bars. Getting to Cape Mac can be a bit of an issue as no mini buses go there. Your options are a share taxi from Monkey Bay, a matola or a motorbike taxi. As Tennus, the owner of Mufasa's, and a few of us were going to Cape Mac we got a matola to come pick us, 10 crates, 5 tents and approx 15 people up. This did not stop the driver trying to pile more people into this rickty old pick up. So much so that it struggled to make it up the hills and we had to pile out!

Breakfast on Christmas day
Once we got set up and tents erected, to the bar. It was Christmas Eve after all. Now having spent a previous Christmas in Sydney, I have experienced hot weather at this time of year. This does not mean I will ever get used to it. To me Christmas is fires, wooly jumpers, scarfs, hot whiskeys, Baileys coffees, chats with the neighbors and a big roast dinner. This year I spent Christmas Eve barefoot at a beach bar,drinking cold beers and laughing with the local beach boys. It was also the first year I did not go to Mass at Christmas. Christmas morning broke and we celebrated with a full English and some Buck's fizz. Start as we mean to go on. Later that day we took a boat trip to a point in Lake Malawi National Park called Otter's point. It is basically a big area of rocks and deep water, cue lots of rock jumping. We had beers, music and snacks. A great afternoon. Christmas dinner was a tad different to what I've had before: Pizza, fish and chips and a roast pork dinner. Don't worry, not all for me. Kat, Justin and I shared.

Mufasa's beach bar.

Christmas dinner
Another day at Cape Mac and one final day at Monkey Bay before beginning my long journey north for New Year's.

Getting from Monkey Bay to Lilongwe was a chore. For future reference, the minibuses leave Monkey Bay for Lilongwe before 7am, so, if like me, you show up at 10:30am, it's a tad more difficult. The journey involved a private taxi, a matola and a minibus. Don't ask!

When I arrived at Mufasa in Lilongwe, craving a shower and a cold beer, I was greeted with a power outage. I nearly cried. However, the lovely receptionist informed me that there was still water and I had the nicest shower I've had since I got to Malawi! Then the next day after a bit of an issue with a possibile non availability of space on the bus, I made it back to Mzuzu and was never as happy to see my little house!

And so to answer the questions:
-There was no snow in Africa this Christmas time (well in Malawi at least)
-As Malawi is a mainly Christian country, Christmas is a big deal here. However, as the country is so poor, Christmas is not about presents and fancy dinners. According to any Malawian's I spoke to, it's about spending time with your family and being thankful for what you have. Sometimes we forget about that in the commercial aspect of Christmas and it was refreshing to be reminded of it.
-What do people eat? Why the same as always, nsima. Walking down the street in Cape Maclear, it seems that the dinner on Christmas is a community thing. Pots of food being cooked and lots of families sharing the food.

Quote for the season: "Christmas....... is not an external event at all, but a piece of one's home that one carries in one's heart." Freya Stark.