The sun had set. No parties planned, social events, nothing. Nothing to do on yet another weeknight in Lilongwe.
Except for the usual, of course.
My roommate Des and I sat in our kitchen tuned in to MTV, a glimpse of our North American lives back home. We watch MTV not because we miss our past 16-year-old selves, or home for that matter, but for the sense of irony it evokes.
MTV juxtaposes everything Des and I love about Malawi. Africa is pure, genuine, organic and slow. MTV’s finest moments, on the other hand, feature Nicki Minaj jumping up and down while her every body part remains still because they are just that…plastic. Fake, superficial, and psychedelic. I deem her the face of MTV. Her plastic face, that is.
The fear Nicki Minaj’s face instilled in me while watching MTV called for one thing and one thing only.
I mentioned in my first blog post that “green” in Malawi is synonymous for beer. It’s called green because Carlsberg is the only brewery in Malawi and their labels are, yes, green.
I grabbed a cold one from the fridge and a pint glass from the shelf. I turned to the kitchen table and put down the pint glass. I flipped the beer bottle completely upside down in the glass.
Now, for those of you who are also from the West you are likely thinking, wow that girl doesn’t know how to pour a beer from a bottle. But, I was taught at a very young age in Canada that when pouring a pint, you tilt the glass and pour the beer on an angle to avoid a foamy, bubbly beverage.
“What on earth are you doing?” asked Des who has a broad understanding of beer and how it is supposed to be poured. Yes, she is Canadian and yes, she has worked in the bar industry for years.
“Just wait,” I responded.
I proceeded to fill the pint glass with beer. No, not holding the pint glass tilted. But with the glass firmly placed on the table and the beer bottle flipped right upside down. I slowly lifted the bottle as the pint glass filled – occasionally letting the mouth of the bottle rise above the beer line to catch short bursts of air.
And there it was. The perfect African beer, on draught.
You can’t find beer on tap anywhere in Malawi. So unlike in Canada, you have to pour your beer from a bottle in a way that will give you the same frothy beverage you get from a keg.
In that very moment standing in my kitchen in Lilongwe I had a realization: my ways have become a bit more African. I, like everyone else around me, do not fret about what I don’t have, but find ways to make the best of what I do.
In Africa, you have to make do with what you have.
I have seen the people do this everyday in Lilongwe.
Children make soccer balls out of plastic garbage bags. They bundle up the bag into a ball-like shape and use string to hold its form.
Some of these very children playing soccer have ripped shoes that have next to no soles on the bottom. Despite the fact they are wearing them, you can see either their toes popping out of the top of their shoe, or the sides of their feet. Some have one shoe, others have none.
But they still play.
Not on beautiful green fields of grass, but on orange clay with gravel and stones.
People in the villages don’t have access to fuel, or even cars. This is detrimental when people fall ill or the pregnant women go into labour.
So they use bicycle ambulances – bikes with a flat bed attached behind the bike so the women or ill can lie down while being transported.
Most people in the cities don’t even have access to their own vehicle. But they find a way to get around.
For instance, my friend Chris and I decided to see Cape MacLear a few weekends ago. The public busses from Lilongwe don’t go directly to Cap Mac, though. They drop you off in Monkey Bay, about 40 minutes outside of Cape MacLear.
When we got to Monkey Bay we very quickly realized that not many people want to make the hike to Cape MacLear from Monkey Bay because the drive does a number on your vehicle. It’s a journey through mountain range. Lots of bumps, lots of turns, and lots of cliff hanger moments.
We only found one man with a small white pick-up truck heading up the mountain. We jumped in the back of his truck, pitched him 800 kwacha, and off we went.
We drove in circles around the town. A Malawian man sat in the back of the truck with us shouting, “Cape Mac!Cape Mac!” One by one, people also looking for a ride up the mountain jumped into the back of the truck.
Three people quickly turned into 10, and 10 people turned into…twenty four.
Twenty four adults, two children, and two infants. Multiple suitcases, backpacks, and even two old tires. That is what we had piled into the back of a small-load pick-up truck heading up a mountain on bumpy, windy roads to Cape MacLear.
It gets better.
After everyone piled into the back of the truck, the driver proceeded to drive to his friend’s shop where there was a large broken-down flat-bed pick-up truck that needed towing. I guess he figured it was a good time to help out his friend because the 24 people he had crammed in the back made his truck a heavier, more powerful vehicle.
Or, maybe there was absolutely zero logic to his random desire to lend a helping hand. I might never know the answer.
His friend tied a green rope from the back of our truck to the front of his. It snapped twice. But eventually, we got the broken-down truck all the way across town to his house where he could maintain and repair the vehicle.
After, we proceeded to Cape MacLear.
Chris and I sat on the edge of the truck’s bed holding on for dear life. The ride was quite possibly the most uncomfortable journey of my life. With the sharp turns of the road, men standing fell over onto my lap. Each time I got closer and closer to letting go of the edge of the truck to end up left in the dust on the road laying flat on my back. Babies balled their eyes out. People were hot, sweaty, and smelt God-awful. Myself included.
We looked at each other with mixed emotions: terrified about falling out or even dying, but also absolutely amazed with the setting we were in and the beauty of our surroundings.
The Malawians looked at Chris and I with a certain smile on their faces. Their look translated into exactly this:
“Welcome to Malawi, this is how we do it here. Get used to it.”
And we have.
You would too, actually. Because you don’t really have a choice.
We got to Cape MacLear safely because we made do with what we had. And if we didn’t, we would not have been able to say we sat in the back of a pick-up truck with 24 adults, two children, and two babies while towing another pick-up truck in Africa.
If we didn’t make do with what we had, we wouldn’t have done at all. Period.