Village Visit

by Cerue Richards
July 05, 2016

The first to even come near were the young children, who were not in school, like the others who would come later. We were all making attempts to communicate: hand gestures, games, song, and after a short time, we had befriended these kids. They enthusiastically copied our movement, and replicated the smiles we aimed at them. We toured the village, and were all intrigued to see the crafted homes equipped with dirt floors, (homemade) brick foundation, and thatched roofting lined with plastic bags to protect from rain. The only power source, available to a fraction of the homes, were solar panels (no bigger than a sheet of binder paper) which were used to power stereo.
After the tours, we were taken over to a different area of the village where dances, accompanied by songs sang in a form of lost language, were performed. Reaching the conclusion of our visit, Bayana made an announcement to the villagers.

The Americans have brought gifts,“. The shift in energy could be registered by anyone within a 10 mile radius. The dolls had sparked a flame within the people of the village.

Hiking on Mount Mulanje

by Shane Regan
After a 3 hour drive from Blantyre, we arrived in Mulanje, at the base of an enormous mountain. Looking out of the car window as we approached we could see how the massive rock formation filled the sky. Upon arriving at a restaurant up the mountain a ways, the rest of the youth and I took a short 1 hour hike to the first viewpoint of the mountain trail. Immediately after starting on the trail we found ourselves at a crooked bridge, half of which had no guard rail because it had broken off. The bridge, although broken was sturdy, and held us as we walked over a river pouring down a small waterfall. Just after the bridge was an expansive view of Mulanje, along with bushes of tea stretching down the side of the mountain. The trail from there on was very overgrown, for about a mile after (with a clearing in the middle displaying a second beautiful river crossing) we were constantly needing to push away the branches of bushes that were taller than us. Finally we came to a large Boulder that the trail split off towards upon climbing it we were given a stunning view which included a gorgeous waterfall trailing down from the steep mountain above. We sat on the boulder soaking in the scenery for a good 10-20 minutes. Watching the waterfall, admiring the view of Mulanje, spotting the monkeys jumping in the trees we had just walked out of, and trying to find the mountain’s peak hidden in the clouds before we started back down the trail to the restaurant and our highly anticipated lunch.

by Elise Quick
At the Mulanje mountain we went on a hike. We had to cross a bridge and rocks in a waterfall to get to the first look out point, we only went to the first one because it would have taken too long to go to all 5 look out points and to the top. Once we got to the lookout point there was a huge boulder we all climbed on top of and sat and looked at the view. We could see monkeys in the trees and a amazing waterfall. It was a beautiful and everyone had a lot of fun.

Kwatcha Gonna See Today?

by Steve OkonekAAqRtOAgQB-IMG_7673
The Kwacha is Malawi’s unit of currency, and befitting a country with an ‘er, not-so-great economy, boy does it fluctuate!  Omer expertly plays the role of lender of first resort with Bayana’s help.  Every few days they drive into towns to exchange money, and return reporting that day’s rate.  The basic bill we all center on is the 1,000Kwatcha note, and its value sways around 1.30US$.  All of the participants take their US dollars and exchange them for Kwatcha’s from Omer prior to dealing with the ever-present African keepsake hucksters. Thankfully, Bayana and Shingi offer their expert advice on what is a reasonable price for an item, and one NEVER pays list price. Sometimes though even the list price is so ridiculous that why bother?  Example: Our camel rides on the beach at Lake Malawi cost 1000 Kwatcha per person  — or $!.30.  Where you gonna find that in the U.S?  At church services the collection plate is so piled full of currency, but the value in our money probably less than $50.  But generosity comes from all denominations, not only religions, but currencies.
Smaller denomination notes are also plentiful, and we typically get them as change in our various transactions for keepsakes.  Coins allegedly also exist, but I have not seen any; probably so close to being worthless that wishing wells would spit them out!

Majete National Wildlife Reserve

Thursday, July 7, 2016

By: Steve Okonek

Destination today is Majete National Wildlife Reserve, about a two hour drive from Blantyre, virtually all of it downhill through  the Malawi section of the Great Rift Valley of Africa.

after sitting in the car we all enjoyed a bit of activity

We stopped at a vista to look at the final descent segment through lush hills.  The last downward push for the van takes us to a bridge crossing the Shire River, a substantial, wide waterway that ultimately flows into the Zambezi.  Hydro-electric power is the backbone of Malawian energy supply, and ESCOM has a plant nearby.  It is 17 km from the bridge to Majete, the first straight road all day.  We accelerate considerably to make our 9:00 a.m. slot.  Obvious at the gate is a tall electrified fence to keep the 700 km sq area enclosed. WTP_4556 The reserve, founded in 1955, faced immense poaching in the late 1990’s, and nearly closed.  A mass translocation of wildlife began in 2003, and the Big Five are now all back.


WTP_4409We divide and climb into two Jeeps riding high with ample space.  Directions include keeping all limbs inside, no cell phones, and not shouting.  A roller coaster ride ensues with humongous pothole produced bumps and brushes with branches.  Indiana Jones country!  Chris’ glasses fall off and we circle back to retrieve them-lenses survived-frames did not.



WTP_4439First sightings in the brush: kudu, grysbok, and impala.  Heading toward the Shire, we encounter our first elephant herd intently returning from the water.  We pass numerous signs identifying creeks, but dry creek beds are all we see. Flash floods must occur during rainy season (November through February).

WTP_4521(1)Jimmy, our guide, is comfortable with English, and a fount of all sorts of minutiae.  Is that warthog a male or female?  What kind of crocodile is basking on the sand?  Is the elephant left or right tusk dominant-like us being left or right handed.

We watch an adolescent elephant efficiently tear apart a massive tree limb, making loud cracks with each break.  Three groups of hippos crowd together and occupy large stone blocks near the shoreline.  I bet these are submerged in rainy times.  Further down stream suns the largest, most lethargic hippo I’ve ever seen and Jimmy suggests she is WTP_4478WTP_4479

pregnant and way overdue.  The coup de grace is another larger herd of elephants meandering closer to us, especially the moms with the tiny but energetic babies.


Delightful viewing!

We dine at the park’s Mwembezi Restaurant, and spy a few monkeys down at a waterhole.  Our uphill return coincides with a period of showers and many semi trucks take on the hills toward Blantyre as well.  Sometimes people ride atop the trailer.






Pentecostal Christian Church at Lake Malawi Welcomes American Guest Preacher

by Sharron Thompson
July 10, 2016

This morning we attended church, but with a twist!  We decided to go to a Pentecostal church about a 10 minute drive from the Skinny Hippos Lodge where we are staying.
5fieAz2gD7-IMG_3042Bayana got up early and scouted out several churches for us: Presbyterian, Catholic, Anglican & Pentecostal.  We chose Pentecostal for a few reasons: it was different, there would be contemporary music, and they had an English/Chichewa translation so we would have some idea of what was being said.


We were greeted by the bishop of the church who was happy and surprised to see 12 Americans, 2 small Malawian children-Kwamara & Watonda Chunga calling Omer & Sharron “Papa and Nana,” and Bayana & Shingi Chunga.  When he recognized Bayana, he was astounded that such a well-known Malawian personality was visiting his church!
The bishop then met Lisa Warner-Carey, and promptly asked her to preach the sermon for the day-now Lisa was astounded that anyone would turn their church over to a complete stranger.  Plus, she now had to come up with an impromptu sermon!
The church was a long building with a tin roof and the pews were plastic garden chairs. The front of the church was decorated with fabric, a pulpit, a man playing guitar and a young man playing electronic organ. On the other side was a choir singing beautifully.  Not only did we sing but we danced and raised our arms in praise.

The service began at 10:00 a.m. We were introduced to the congregation; people were especially impressed when Bayana was introduced.  The music was loud and contemporary with a lot of “Hallelujahs and Amens” shouted out. We even sang a Beyonce song!

Lisa gave a wonderful sermon that was translated by Bayana into Chichewa.  The focus of Lisa’s sermon related to both Americans and Malawians: how we share a common faith and love of Jesus.  She preached that instead of being divided into different denominations, we should all work together as one in the name of our Lord.  Many “Amens” were shouted out by the large congregation, including those of us from CUMC.

5fieAz2gD7-IMG_3040People around the village must have heard that an unusual group  was visiting the church as more and more people arrived during the service.  Once Lisa completed her sermon, Bayana got up and preached in English with a church member translating into Chichewa.  He expounded on Lisa’s sermon and told how he met Sharron at a wedding in the U.S. In 2005. He also received many “Amens.”


After the service was over we mingled and shook hands with each other.  The bishop thanked us for our unexpected visit. We returned to The Skinny Hippos Lodge for lunch after an exciting and adventurous morning.

Malawi and Guns

editor’s note: we have been unable to access WIFI for a few days, so we have some catching up to do on blog posts.  This will explain why our posts may not be in chronological order and may seem a couple of days behind the news.
by Steve Okonek
Gun violence is nearly nonexistent in Malawi.  Thus, the Dallas killings were a sad topic this morning, even among Malawians.  Gun violence is not among the major problems this African country faces, and the residents are clearly perplexed at the easy availability of firearms in the States. They are well aware of all the mass shootings in the U.S.  Our contingent eyes their smart phones even more than usual, and Bayana is particularly interested in the topic on our ride to Majete Park Reserve.  Guns are priced well beyond the means of the typical Malawi resident, he explains, and a person wanting to get one faces a long registration process.  Once a resident finally gets approved, a shotgun is all she can own.  After five years without incident, the shotgun owner can apply for a pistol.
But for the few who need to pack heat faster than this, Malawi’s Finest are your go-to-guys.  Last year saw several armed robberies, leading to several police being killed.  After long investigations, it was determined that the weapon used in the killings belonged to: the police!  (Sound familiar?)  Bayana suggests that much of this is due to the dismally low wages earned by law enforcement.  Why bother owning a gun when you can rent one from a cop looking to supplement his income?  Sadly, some of the rented weapons came from police who had already been dismissed from the force.

Driving in Malawi

written by Steve Okonek
This is the van that we are using during our trip to Malawi.  It was purchased with funds donated by CUMC last year when Bayana visited.
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!