Last Day at the Lake

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Cape Maclear, Southern Region, Malawi

On Saturday and Sunday in Cape Maclear day trippers come out from Lilongwe to swim in the lake, drink in the bars and jam up the internet connection so I have only just managed to post the pictures for yesterdays blog .Our last day next to the lake was spent people watching from our veranda with a short walk along the beach for a couple of beefburgers and a beer.
Malawi is supposedly the poorest country in the world or so we have heard from several sources. I am not sure how this is measured, if it is just average dollars per day income then this might well be true as a very high percentage of people earn next to nothing. They grow their own food, catch their own fish and sell any surplus to be able to buy vital commodities like a bar of soap, clothes and a mobile phone top up.
Certainly the people are very poor, their homes have earth toilets (as do many of the lodges incidently), no electricity or piped water. There are lots of communal water taps installed by charities and you see fewer people walking long distances to get water than in Tanzania. The lake is used for bathing, washing up and laundry by almost everyone. The low earnings were brought home to us by one of the rangers in the park. He was telling us about someone he caught a couple of years ago poaching . The man was fishing illegally, and using snares to catch antelope, so poaching for food. The judge gave him a fine of 250,000 kwacha or six years in jail. He could not afford the fine (no one expected him to) so he went to jail. 250,000 kwatcha is under £300 so less than £1 a week of his sentence.
Almost no businesses are run by Malawians, all managers seem to be white, either Dutch, German, English or South African. The bar next door is run by a young guy from Essex. He is not the owner and did not give me confidence that he would be capable of running a whelk stall in England but here he is managing 20 or so local staff most of whom seem quite competent so why don't they get the job?There are lots of clinics and welfare projects run by NGO's, it is hard to judge how effective they are although clearly some provide the only proper medical services for miles around. Almost every place we have stayed emphasises the good work they do in the community funding schools or helping local cooperatives. There is supposedly serious corruption at high levels in government but we have not seen or been affected by lower levels such as dodgy policemen or awkward officials. Malawi prides itself as “The Warm Heart of Africa” and this is certainly true, everyone is friendly and has time to talk to you. All transactions start as follows:
“Hello how are you?”“I am fine thank you, and how are you”
“I am very well, thanks for asking”
This is before you can ask the barman for a beer or before the checkout lady in the supermarket even thinks about scanning the first item in your basket. It is great but perhaps this inherent niceness means they are hopeless in running anything.Before arriving in Malawi I read an excellent book called “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba. William must now be in his late 20's but the story is about his upbringing in a village where his parents could not afford for him to go to secondary school and in fact at one stage were starving because of a drought. He built a windmill out of scrap and as a consequence changed his and his familys life for good. But the most interesting aspects of the book are his description of a typical village in Malawi and the amazing hold over people that witchcraft and tradition have.

Malawi has a very different feel to the other African countries we have visited. It is less geared up for tourists which suits us fine although sometimes it would be nice to be able to hire a car (almost impossible and very expensive) or get money out of a bank. The lake is an amazing place which they hardly utilize for visitors, the only sailing centre is at Cape Maclear and it has one big boat for hire and perhaps ten dinghies. Apparently in the 80's Malawi was on the backpacker route but with the troubles in Zimbabwe and coutries further north this tourism dried up and they have not worked out how to market themselves since then which is a shame.
Tomorrow we move inland for a day before setting off home on Wednesday.

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