written by Steve Okonek
Bonnie, Sharon and I get to drive in an auto today, driven by the lovely Shingi. This perspective offers us a clearer look at driving in Malawi as we head for Mount Mulanje and the tea fields. As a former British colony, driving on the left side of the road dates back to early times. Apparently which side of the road you drive on wasn’t a make-or break issue in Malawi’s independence, and the practice stuck.
Pedestrian and cyclist traffic flow in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic, and Shingi frequently toots the horn to warn them we are approaching. This send the pedestrians scurrying further to the side of the road. And boy, do Malawians walk, even with baskets or pails on their heads. If any are wearing Fitbits, I’m certain their scores would shame Americans
But without a doubt, the wildest and craziest highway denizens are the bicyclists carrying sugar cane, tall grass for animals or matted products of one sort or another. From a couple kilometers away I exclaim, “Dang, that’s the biggest tumbleweed ever!” Driving closer, I spy bicycle wheels beneath all the produce, but the cyclist’s head can only be seen through the rear view mirror. The biggest challenge is when the cargo is horizontal, extending well into the roadway. Here, one passes in the right lane, hoping there is no oncoming traffic.
City traffic is a crap shoot depending on whether a market, with booths abutting the highway. Here, driving resembles steering your Prius through the frozen food aisle at Safeway, with the people pushing shopping carts all smiling and waving at you. Another English tradition, the round about is popular in Malawi too. Omer, who has traveled here more than the rest of us, has already named some: Tea Cup, Giraffe, Sugar Cane, and the popular Clock Tower. It sports several clocks all showing different times, none of which approach reality!
Hours of time from the passenger seat allow me to hone key insights that the average traveler might miss, such as the lack of sidewalks. Malawi driving is an acquired taste!