So as part of a little side-project (on top of everything else!) I figured it would be fun to join a month-long blogging challenge as suggested by Rosalilium – mostly to give me some inspiration and a well-needed kick up the bum to get better at doing regular content! That’s not to say I’ll keep blogging every day forever more, as I don’t think I’m interesting enough to blog about that much!!
Each day there is a particular topic in mind, so I’ll tag all the content under the same category, making it super-easy for you all to not to have to miss out. If you’d also like to make sure you don’t miss out on future content – click here to sign up for my newsletter
Ahhh, adventure. Would I say I’m adventurous?
At one point, I may have owned a top that said “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!”
Funnily enough, yesterday I decided to try and clear some clutter from our garage, and came across zillions of photos from the days of yore when I used to travel.
Coming from a fairly nomadic-minded family (having lived permanently in three different countries in my life thus far) I knew I’d get bitten by the travelling bug. It was only a question of when.
Once I finished 6th form, I decided to take a gap year as I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Interior Design hadn’t even entered my mind at that point. I couldn’t draw, you know. Still can’t. But that’s beside the point.
Two friends of mine and I decided to go and do something completely different – travel with Africa and Asia Venture. By the looks of their website, it’s changed a lot since I went, but back in 2001 you had only very expensive mobile phones to run (hello, Nokia 3210! Didn’t even have a colour screen!) so of course bringing one of them was out of the question. My poor parents had no idea how to express their worry and fear for my life. I was 18, going on 19, about to set off to the deepest darkest depths of Africa. Malawi, to be exact.
I was to be a volunteer teacher of English and PE (hah!!!) in St Anthony’s Catholic School, for one class of boys, and one of girls, near a place called Thondwe. Not even Google Maps car has ventured there to this day, it’s that remote.
Our house was a small brick-built shack on the site of the boys’ school (the girls’ school was a 2km walk away at a convent), complete with a kitchen (two tables for storage complete with two hot rings), a dining/living room (complete with a ceiling light) a spare bedroom (used as walk-in wardrobe), the main bedroom (where we put our three tent beds together, complete with sleeping bags and mosquito nets), a courtyard (for washing and storing the big water bucket that was replenished daily), a shower room (don’t. Just, don’t.) and a toilet (long drop decorated as the inside of an aquarium).
We had a night guard called “Nyson” but pronounced “Nice One”, we had a giant spider we called Polly (who spun a yellow web so was poisonous and laid like a thousand eggs shortly before we left!) and a singing gecko that would appear out of nowhere jumping on our mozzie nets each night and sing to us as it caught the mosquitos.
Teaching 80 children at a time turned out to be surprisingly easy. The 80 children in the girls’ class were the naughtier ones, of course. Despite being the second to last year of primary school, some of the boys were even older than me. They never questioned my authority though, and were so incredibly lovely.
Some of them decided during my PE lesson (consisting of frisbee rounders, as we had no bats or ball) to run off. When they came back, I scolded them only for them to present me with a green stick. About an inch wide in circumference, and about a foot long, I thanked them with a puzzled look on my face. Always up for a laugh, they had a good giggle at my expense of not having realised it was sugarcane. They showed me how easy it was to eat – all I had to do was to bite into the stick, and tear away at the skin, have a chew and then spit out the remains. Looked super-easy, so bite in I did.
…I definitely proved that “azungus” (whites) had much Much MUCH less strength in their jaws and gums that day. I didn’t even have a second bite.
Another time worth mentioning was when I got to see the late Colonel Gadaffi’s hand!
Teaching the boys’ school English lesson one morning, the school was located on the main motorway from Lilongwe (the capital) and Blantyre (second largest city) so was a major thorough-road. I think rush hour was pretty bad, with about 5 cars an hour going by. It was a single track, no road markings and worse pot holes than Cambridge roads has after a winter.
As I was writing on the blackboard with my chalk, I noticed someone looking at me from the door. The boys who were normally chatting between themselves had gone silent.
In the doorway stood an armed guard with an AK-47 in his arms.
I didn’t even have enough time to see my life flash before my eyes.
The soldier spoke to the students in the local language (Chichewa) and they silently went out of the door. Despite being in a Catholic school, I’m not religious in any way but at that moment I remember looking at a picture of John Paul II blessing an African child and thinking “HELP!!!!!”
The armed guard motioned for me to go out of the door too, so I grabbed my book and chalk (they’re like gold dust there!) and I walked where I was motioned to go.
The students, I realised, were walking happily and jokingly towards the road. I had no idea what to expect, until another teacher saw me look white(r) as a sheet and asked if I was OK. I nodded, slowly, but my “rabbit in headlights” look must’ve given me away. He asked if I’d read the local paper recently. I pointed out that although I could speak formalities in Chichewa, I couldn’t quite read it yet.
By the time we reached the side of the road, I noticed that all of the school children were standing there laughing and happy. At that moment I questioned their sanity, and whether voodoo (which was still practiced alongside catholicism) had finally taken over. More armed guards were standing expressionless every ten metres or so.
Before I knew it, a convoy of cars started to appear.
It transpired that Colonel Gaddafi was on an official visit, hoping to persuade the president at the time Muluzi to join in Libya in creating Africa’s new Big Five.
Car after car drove past. Police cars, armed cars, ambulances, army trucks, each carrying a dozen or so people. Each blowing the horn as they went past.
The children were all whipped up into a frenzy, and my buddy the terrifying armed guard motioned for me to SMILE and wave my hand to the convoy. So I did. Because, well, my ninja-skills I’d purposefully left behind that day…? I mean, who am I to argue?
Soon enough, I’d counted up to 90 cars when two black limousines went by. One carrying President Muluzi, and one carrying Colonel Gaddafi. Each one had the window rolled down just enough to stick their hand out to wave at the adoring crowds, and disappear back into the distance followed by an additional ten or so vehicles.
I’ve never experienced anything like it. I do wonder what Colonel Gaddafi had hoped for as Malawi’s input – it was the third poorest country in the world at the time, with one in three people HIV positive.
The native people, however, were amazing. Truly some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.
Have you had any travelling adventures? Feel free to share in the comments below.