Ramblings about very little

Friday, November 04, 2016
Nkhata Bay, Northern Region, Malawi
We have spent the last couple of days doing very little, that is what holidays are supposed to be isn't it although this is a bit of a novelty for us as we usually plan our trips such that we do something every day.
We have borrowed a two person kayak and practised our Hawaii Five 0 skills (mostly going round in circles) and reading lots of books, I have particularly enjoyed Boris Johnson's book on Churchill with of course lots of Churchillian stories;

He was sitting next to a clean-living Methodist bishop at a reception in Canada when a good-looking young waitress came up and offered them both a glass of sherry from a tray . Churchill took one. But the bishop said, ‘Young lady, I would rather commit adultery than take an intoxicating beverage.’ At which point Churchill beckoned the girl, and said, ‘Come back, lassie, I didn’t know we had a choice!

The only serious work each day is a visit to the bank. Later on the trip I will add a blog entry all about money but for the moment all I will say is that whilst we are in a town with an ATM we have to make the maximum use of it. You can only take 40,000 Kwacha out at a time (about £50) but you can have three goes on one card. So I go through the, card in, pin entry, enter amount, do you want a receipt, remove card, remove cash three times and then Gill does the same with her card much to the annoyance of anyone in the queue behind us. We managed this for a couple of days running then today all the machines in town were off the air.
We are about to spend five days in the bush followed by four in a town with no bank and then two on a ship so it will be almost two weeks before we can get any more cash, we therefore need to stock up whilst we can.
To try and prevent fraud there are no high value notes, in fact almost the only note in circulation is the 1000 Kwacha which is about £1.20. The consequence is our visit to the bank results in a huge pile of notes (see the picture) which you need to try and stuff inconspicuously into your pockets.
The lack of smaller notes also causes problems, on the ferry the purser who sold the tickets had a big list of IOU's of people he owed change to. He owed me 200 but had no small notes, fortunately later on I bought a couple couple of drinks, he remembered the debt and was able to round the amount up to something divisible by 1000. Whilst we rich Europeans can ignore small change to the locals 200 cannot be written off so each transaction can become quite difficult for both buyer and seller. Try to imagine the train conductor on the Craven Arms express writing down who he owes change to and then making sure he is square with each person as they leave the train hopefully gaining change from other passengers!

To pay for our safari we needed rather more cash than the machines can give us (very few people take credit cards and when they do the rate is awful) so we went inside the bank to change some uk pounds. As soon as they saw our white faces we were summoned into the managers office which is rather offensive to the queue of local customers but a sensible precaution as our small pile of £20 notes was swapped for a rucksack full of Kwacha. We were pleased to quickly give it to Patrick, the German who is our safari guide, and he walked home with it stuffed in his pockets.

The power cuts continue to be a problem, rather in the same way we in the UK talk about the weather here most discussion seems to be about power or the lack of it. Some take great joy in horror stories about people in Lilongwe (the capital) who supposedly only have power for 4 hours a day whilst here at the lake side we have the luxury of 14 hours of unlimited electricity! I have no idea if the stories about Lilongwe are true, why should the electricity company discriminate against them, perhaps they spread rumours in Lilongwe that whilst they have 14 hours those poor fellows on the lake only get four! Because of the drought the water level in the lake is low which means the hydro electric power has to be rationed. The latest rumour is that Malawi will buy power from Mozambique, is there a connection between the countries and how come Mozambique has power to spare? It remains to be seen if this rumour is true. For holiday makers like us it does not matter very much so long as we have enough to charge up the iPad (my books are on on the Kindle app) and the fridges are on long enough to keep the beer cool then we are happy. If you run a business or a butchers shop and want to keep your stock fresh it is a different matter altogether. The rains are not due for a few weeks and even when they come it will be a while before the water level rises so the problem is here for some time.

We are off on safari for the next few days so I do not expect we will be able to update this blog till next Thursday - Can you wait that long, I expect so.
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