lima, peru
In the Warm Heart of Africa
June 17, 2015
0

Worry does nothing but steal your joy and keep you very busy doing nothing.

I have been traveling across Southern Africa for three months now. Country by country, my journey has led me deeper into “real” Africa and after each border crossing it felt like the locals have became even more welcoming. All along the way I was told that the Malawians were the friendliest people in Africa; the travel guides nicknamed Malawi “Warm Heart of Africa”, and I discovered that it had been the only African country to make the list of friendliest countries in the world. Naturally, I had high expectations when I arrived in Lilongwe at the end of May.

Grocery shopping in rural areas
Grocery shopping in the rural areas of Malawi

Malawi only ranks #131 on the annual World Happiness Index. From Cape Town to Lusaka I had managed to get by just fine with English, which is also among the official language of Malawi. But when I approached the Northern area of my 6th Southern African country, I started to encounter the first major language barriers. Around Livingstonia and other rural areas of one of the world´s least-developed countries the kids´ vocabulary seemed to be limited to their all-time-favorites:

“Give me bottle, give me money” – Who was the first tourist who started this…?
“Take picture” – I have never seen that many sparkling eyes before I got out my selfie stick 🙂

Hiking around Livingstonia
Hiking around Livingstonia

I find Malawians to be particularly peaceful and respectful people. They never seem to raise their voice and start any conversation with a friendly “Hello, how are you”, even when only being asked for the directions. It did happen to me a few times that I was being asked for money in order for the locals to help me out. But anytime I declined their request and simply moved on, they would follow and and usually provide me with the directions anyways.

No better place to chill around Livingstonia
No better place to chill around Livingstonia

People have been very helpful all across Southern Africa, and maybe even more so in Malawi. I stopped twice in Nhkata Bay, the most peaceful town I have stayed in on this trip. One Sunday evening at the local bar it didn´t take long until the locals decided that the only white girl needed to adapt her dancing style. Next to the pool table aka the middle of the dance floor I became friends with Happy (what a great name!), who made it her mission to teach me some African dance moves. I do love dancing, but let´s face it: Europeans are not exactly born to rule an African dance floor! Here the womens´ dancing style mostly consists in shaking their booties in a way that would could even make a Latin American lady look like a beginner. Happy and I laughed a lot that night.

Downtown Nhkata Bay
Downtown Nhkata Bay

I know I should stop bragging about this, but I am able to drink twice as much as anyone else before I need to pee. This excellent innate skill becomes extremely handy when traveling. Later that same night in Nhkata Bay I eventually had to pee really badly and asked a woman where I could find the loo. Her name was Victoria. She led me out of the bar and to the corner of the building, where I barely detected a small dark hole in the wall. I just shook my head. Mission impossible, I am a girl. Victoria seemed to understand, and I figured she was going to show me the restroom next. Instead she only pointed to the ground. I didn´t react at first, and she must have thought I just didn´t get the idea. All of a sudden she pulled down her pants and squatted, right then and there, next to entrance and with half the population of Nhkata Bay just walking by! Well, what was I supposed to do? The next day someone at the hostel told me that the bar actually did have a restroom in the back.

Waiting to leave Nhkata Bay
Waiting to leave Nhkata Bay

I had to take a ferry from Nhkata Bay across Lake Malawi to reach Likoma Island, my last stop in Malawi. From there I would head “directly” to Mozambique Island (a decision I came to regret badly a few days later, but that´s a different story). It was already after sunset by the time the capitan decided to park the ferry, unfortunately almost 2 meters off the island´s harbor bridge. Yes, everyone just jump the gap! While the first people already struggled to get off the ferry, I was still reaching for my headlamp. After 11 hours on the ferry I felt exhausted and almost considered spending the night on top of some rice bags. Just when I was about ready to fall into Lake Malawi with my tent, grocery bag and two backpacks, a young Malawian, who barely spoke English, offered his help. He tossed my tent and grocery bag to his two brothers, who had been waiting for him to arrive. I could barely watch when he jumped across with my 15-kg backpack on his shoulders.

Sunset on Likoma Island
Sunset on Likoma Island

The three young brothers insisted in accompanying me all the way to the hostel. I gladly accepted, and Justin, Leonard and Ruben started taking turns in carrying my luggage over the sandy tracks of pitch-dark Likoma Island. They were wearing flip flops, except for Ruben. His sandals had just fallen apart, so he was walking barefoot. I could barely keep up with them, even though I was the only lucky one with proper shoes and able to see anything. Just before the end of our 45-minute walk I suddenly heard Ruben shout. I immediately pointed my light in his direction, but I could only see him jumping back. Just at the second glance I understood what was going on. He had almost stepped on a Puff Adder (barefoot!), a venomous viper species that causes the most snakebite fatalities in Africa. They all just laughed and carried on until we reached the hostel, where everyone said good bye.

Likoma Island
Likoma Island

I didn´t stay long enough in Malawi to judge whether the Malawians were indeed friendlier than their African neighbors, but I can´t imagine a better place to slown down the pace and just be. Hakuna matata!