Blantyre and Beyond

Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Blantyre, Malawi
The day after we visited Nkhotakota, we awoke early, packed the van, headed to the office for a brief stopover to print a few things and buy a few road trip supplies, and we headed off towards Blantyre and the southern region of Malawi. Our trusty navigational system told us that we would have to actually head west through Salima before heading south toward Blantyre. M1, one of the main highways that runs through Malawi, runs near the border of Mozambique, but doesn't actually go into the neighboring country at that point. Our digital map wasn't aware of the facts, but we were and disobeyed in favor of a shorter, more direct route southward. We stopped off in Dedza so Brennan and Michala could also enjoy the paper company and the pottery that we had ourselves only recently experienced for the first time. We had a delightful little visit to the mountainous area and then headed off to see Chiku's grandparents in Ntcheu.

Again we found ourselves in the mountains . Ntcheu is a small town up on a hill halfway between Lilongwe and Blantyre. Down a narrow side street near the end of town, where the roads turn into a creek when it rains, live Samuel and Esther Chilopora. A doctor and nurse respectively, the Chiloporas have been pillars in the Church of God for quite some time, even coming to understand the truth years before there was a local congregation. We arrived just in time for lunch. Esther had prepared a wonderful meal for us all. We sat and talked, ate some delicious food, and then talked some more. We listened to the story of how they met, how they first heard about God's Church, and a little bit about their working life. There were times when they were separated from each other and their children in the early years of their marriage as each was sent to a different country to study in their field. The country of Malawi was trying to better itself under the hand of Kamuzu Banda. People had to be trained so they could build the country and ensure its steady growth for the future. That's the country that the Chiloporas remember.

There are some really nice, smooth roads and highways in the South of Malawi. Many of the small trading centers and villages look much like anywhere else in the country, but different areas are known for their own unique produce. There was one nice long strip where makeshift wooden racks were filled with watermelon. I love watermelon! We stopped and bought one melon at the fifth stand down . We stopped at what we thought was the last stand and bought a small yellow melon that turned out to be a very old cucumber (the cucumber may or may not be the culprit that made three of us feel sick the following day - we may never know). We also found out that we had overpaid for our mediocre melon.

Although we never stayed in one place too long on this particular trip, it seemed we were falling quickly behind of schedule. We ended up arriving in Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi, just as the sun was setting into the Sabbath. Traffic was heavy and it took us at least four times as long to cover the same distance once we were in the city itself. The drivers behind us were terribly impatient and would pass in no passing zones quite frequently in unsafe manners with oncoming traffic. Sad to say, it was a sad first impression of the city that so many love. The landscape was quite beautiful. The city streets lined with palm trees and mountains in the backdrop reminded us of some cities in California . In many ways it was like many big cities in the US with businesses and restaurants lining the main streets, tall office buildings and shopping centers throughout, and plenty of traffic in every direction most days of the week.

Gracious Mpilangwe met us at the Shoprite near our guesthouse so he could show us where we would be staying since we were so new to the city. He had to rush off to save his wife from the rain and we got comfortable in our home away from home. The next morning we ate breakfast, got ready for services, and were greeted once more by Gracious who led us just around the corner to a school where the congregation rents a small room for services while their new building is under construction. We were greeted by the congregation with a song. Lena was presented with a bouquet of flowers and I was given a boutonniere to wear. It was a very warm welcome and we could feel the love from the brethren. We heard a fantastic message from a long time member of the church . We had special music, and I gave the sermon, aided in translation by Osborn, a deacon I had met a few years back when we were both in Zambia. It was lovely to see a few people we had met before and to meet others for the first time. The congregation in Blantyre was very welcoming.

The next morning we were again met by Gracious who led us to see the church property where the new building is under construction. The piece of property isn't too expansive, but the space is large enough for a good size church hall, parking space, dormitories (for camps, feasts, visitors, etc.), a water tank, and a small guard house. The property is fenced in by a brick wall, but the neighboring mountains can still be seen from nearly any spot on the property. That particular area used to be a forest filled with trees and shrubs. Most of the trees are gone due to over cutting by locals who burn the wood to cook their meals and keep warm, or sell the wood to make money. This is not the only place in the country where this happens . It is sad to see, especially for a retired forester, like Gracious, who helped plant many of the trees that line the streets in Blantyre. We walked through the building, enjoyed the view, and then talked with Gracious and Dickson (a church member who acts as the foreman on the job) about the church in Malawi and some of the difficulties that members, especially the youth, have in keeping God's laws and living His way of life. The afternoon had been set aside for members to come visit us at our guesthouse if they could make it, but no one came. It was probably due to the torrential downpour that began just as people would have arrived, and didn't end until after we left the Mpilangwe's home after a delightful meal. Loney and her mother and two sons took good care of us while we chatted with Gracious about life. After our meal we asked Gracious and Loney how they met, talked about sports with Andrew and Junior, and enjoyed some soccer cup finals.

The next morning we got up early, said goodbye to Gracious (who again came to meet us as we left) and headed south to an area called Thyolo where tea plantations cover the landscape. We drove through the countryside through small towns and tree lined highways to an area that reminded me of driving through country roads in the US in places where wheat fields grow next to forests. The forests and trees were lovely and beautiful, but the rolling hills of tea were absolutely breathtaking! We had chosen to visit the Satemwa tea and coffee plantation which is actually one of the smaller tea plantations in the country . It has a long history of producing tea and maintaining an absolutely gorgeous plantation. There is a large guesthouse on the grounds, acres of natural forest, fields and fields and fields of tea plants, blue gum trees used for preparing tea and coffee, and a huge variety of coffee plants. We toured the tea and coffee fields, walking through the fields with a guide who new all the facts we could possibly want to know about processing tea. Afterwards we sat and enjoyed some tea and coffee on the grounds before driving back to civilization on the long winding road through forests and tea plantations. Thyolo is a wonderful place to visit. Not only is there tea and coffee, but nearby are conservation areas filled with mountains and wild animals.

We stopped for lunch in Blantyre, got lost on a few of its streets, and took a short accidental side trip which nearly led us to Mozambique. We had taken a wrong turn and (being new to the area) hadn't noticed that the scenery had really changed since much of it looked the same. There was a road that appeared to head in the right direction and connect back up with M1 without crossing over into another country, but a friendly police officer at a checkpoint told us we had to turn around and go back the way we came because the road did in fact go through Mozambique. It was another long evening of driving in the dark of night through the highways of Malawi. At least the roads were dry and God protected us all the way home. And I only hit one chicken (actually maybe just his tail feathers).

Today we leave for Zambia.
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Beverly Kubik

Thanks for all the news! Much appreciated and always looking forward to the next entry.

Denise Dobson

Such descriptive and interesting blogs and photos! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with us!