Social class... no class
In Malawi they have a game called Bao. The board is often polished teak that is intricately engraved with Africa’s big five. The playing surface is thirty two small bowls carved into the wood. Two players move their seeds around the board and the objective is to obtain all the seeds. At the market in Lilongwe there was man with a sign that said “if you win Bao, I’ll give you a chicken”. But just down the street there’s an ATM where you can withdraw three million Kwacha. Although we don’t spend much time here the segregation of classes is obvious.
I met two different men on two different days. Abraham Banga was eating lunch alone in Kusungu and so was I, so we decided to share a table and a conversation. He was 84 years old. I have met very few Africans who have lived to such a wise age. In the course of my chicken and chips I heard his whole life story. He spent his youth traveling southern Africa finding work in the hotel and restaurant industry. He returned home to Malawi, married a woman from his village and raised a family of eight. Now he is an Evangelist and travels the country from prison to prison bringing the word of God to those he feels need his help. He funds his work by selling cookbooks that he has made. It only has about fifteen recipes, which include French toast, banana fritters, and chocolate cake, all made from scratch. It was a very cool conversation until he asked me about my beliefs. I don’t like to discuss religion with locals. Although I don’t share his beliefs I have great respect for what his faith has done for him and I would hate to say something that could dissuade him. At the age of 84 his wife is no longer with him and only 3 of his children remain. He was lonely.
The second man I met was fat. He was standing in front of me in the thirty person ATM queue, where I was about to draw three million kwacha. Concerned with having to fill all of the pockets of my shorts with cash I was watching the locals carefully to see where they put their money. But no one was taking out any money. I asked the man in front of me what everyone was doing. He said they all just line up to check their balance, which probably doesn’t change much. As we continued to talk I found out he was an agricultural chemist, working in the tobacco industry. I asked about the agricultural food crops that the people depend on. He said you can’t make a living as farmer unless you export your crop. He was a successful business man, paying for all three of his children’s university educations simultaneously; even his wife had left to pursue a Masters degree. A different situation, but he too was lonely.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries we travel through on the Tour d’Afrique. A place victimized by the AIDS epidemic. If you look at their population’s age demographics, it’s a trough. There is no working class. In all the villages it’s mostly children and the elderly.
The other day I decided to ride with the racers. I’m not sure why I do these things to myself. Usually I like to start the day easy and build up my speed. We weren’t far from the start when I was already wishing I had more gears. About 10 km in I was holding to Jos’s rear wheel. It was a subtle incline but I was cranking with everything I had. At which point He just sat up riding free hand. He took his jacket off, put it away and had a drink. His cadence never faltered, perfectly smooth. I let him go and just shook my head in disbelief. Each year I think this tour draws stronger and stronger athletes. Perhaps I’m just outta shape.
Our first rest stop in Malawi was Chitimba Beach, a personal favorite, but that has nothing to do with the lakeside cabana bar. Things got a little festive on our first night as we devoured a giant pot of spirits and local fruits. And there have been many other great stops; Mabuya Camp, Chipata, South Luangwa Bridge. At this point of the tour countries start passing quickly. We are now in Zambia and would appear that we have left the rains behind us. Tomorrow we will arrive in the national capital of Lusaka and in less than a week we hit the adrenalin capital of Africa, Victoria Falls, “Mosi oa Tunya”, the smoke that thunders, where we will get to enjoy the might Zambezi by raft, tiger moth or bungee.