As Sweet As Kande

Kande Beach, Malawi!!

On route to Zambia this morning after having spent 3 amazing nights in Malawi at Kande Beach. Malawi still remains to be a highlight for me so far. It definitely just got better and better as the days went on. If you haven’t been to Malawi yet do yourselves a favour and find sometime to do so, I promise you will not be disappointed. The lake and the beaches that come with it are definitely a good place to relax and unwind and a few days is all that you need. The few activities that are on offer are just enough for those who need a little something extra to do but the best ways to spend the days are relaxing, reading and soaking up the sun rays lying on the beach. Also not forgetting the vast fresh water lake which provides a much needed cool down or refreshing dip (also a great way to cure a hangover) as well as good views and rejuvenating sounds.

It isn’t all shoes off and bikini on for those of you concerned about the lack of work actually going on. There was much to do and very little time in which to do it. Cleaning and organising the truck, cooking the group meal and making the fruit punch definitely kept me busy for a few hours oh and don’t forget the optional activities that I had to try out so that I would be able to sell them to my future groups. Not all play and no work you know.

The first day was spent mostly driving to the Kande Beach Campsite from Chitimba so a lot of snoozing and catching up on notes as well as a stop at the lookout or an amazing view of the lake was all that really happened. Luckily the weather held out just long enough for us to get some good photos. It was then time for a quick lunch by the road and a look at the rubber tree plantations then onwards to the campsite. We arrived late afternoon so not much time to really do anything. It was actually really nice to get in to somewhere we were staying for a few days. The mad rush to get everything out and sorted then put back in again that has been going on for the last few days has been exhausting so it was so nice to be in relaxed mode and to not have to hurry to get anything done. A relaxed evening was followed by an early bed time as it was party night the following night so we were saving ourselves. And thank goodness we did actually, when I said things were going to get messy I wasn’t joking!

The next morning was an early start and a walk round the village. It’s one of the optional extras Kande has to offer. It’s a chance to see how people live in Malawi and to really find out about the people here. Even though I have been on many of these kinds of outings before it was actually nice to be out walking in the sunshine for a change of scenery and a chance to take in more of the sights that I have been enjoying from the window of the truck. I would like to say that I enjoyed the rest of the walk but I can’t say I did too much. I can definitely see why people would want to go and it seemed that the others were having a good time but as much as I tried I just felt awkward most of the way. I felt awkward because I don’t consider myself a tourist of Africa, yes I haven’t traveled around any of it before and I have never been to Malawi before either so technically I am a tourist but when it comes to the life here it doesn’t change much. I really don’t need to be paying a local to explain it to me, besides they only tell us what they think we should know. The true stories of life here come from spending much time in the place and learning for yourself. Whilst the locals were talking at me, I had a moment to look around and take it all in. The sight of us walking alone must have been ridiculous from an onlookers point of view as it was a line of tourists down the middle and on either side the strategically placed locals. All of which had ridiculous names clearly stolen from movies and I am assuming just for entertainment purposes. On either side of me I had a “Stan The Man”, “Mr Fantastic” and “Blessing” (his actual name, he decided to use it because he preferred it to any other he came up with). I had three locals with me as they all knew I was the trainee tour leader and so figured the more the merrier and that it was a good chance to get in there first with their offerings of cheap carvings and other touristy things. I Can’t say I was paying too much attention of exactly what they were offering as I was enjoying the scenery a little too much but one of them did catch my attention when he mentioned oranges. Strange I know but we forgot to buy some oranges for the fruit punch so I thought that this would be a good time to buy them. Who knew a short walk to a village could be so productive. Once all of the negotiating and explaining was out of the way we headed up to the primary school to see how things are done. We arrived just at the end of break time but that wasn’t stopping the kids. They were all fighting over who’s hand to hold and who to ask to give them the water bottles, it was hectic to say the least. After the kids were dragged away by the call of their teachers we headed in to the school library. It is nothing fancy, a simple brick building with a few shelves and donated books. A typical African school library actually except this one was one of the brightest I have seen. Thanks to much donated time and money from some very kind people this library was covered in fun bright and colourful paintings. My kind of library actually. A long with the paintings was a good collection of books too and all of them going to good use. We had a chance to speak to the head teacher to find out some more information and to get his side of the story. Before we started the walk we were given an explanation about the option to donate money and books or pens etc if we wanted to. Usually when I have been given this explanation before it is done once and not pushed down your throat all day. In Malawi they do things a bit differently. They give you the same talk and explanations etc but then as an end note they remind you that actually you don’t have to donate anything at all and It isn’t an order so we don’t have to feel obliged to do anything. This is all fairly normal but instead of getting the explanation once they drop it in at every opportunity possible. I understand that they are only trying to better their lives and the school is able to continue to function thanks too all the generous donating but surely a couple of times is enough to get the message across. I didn’t need to hear it every time I asked a question. Some of you may be thinking that I am being very un-humanitarian like by saying this but I know I wasn’t the only one thinking it at the time. One way to make it seem like something we must do is by reminding us of it at every possible chance so in this case I felt awful leaving the school having left nothing simply because at the time I had nothing on me to give. Receiving donations is great and those who are able to do so are doing a great deal to support locals and help communities grow and develop but please also understand that although at the time it seems like the best thing you can do as a human it can also cause many more problems. With this school in particular it all seemed very legitimate and it looked like indeed everything was going back to the children and teachers and yes the school was growing but in some other cases I have seen this isn’t the case. Communities often steal the money simply because the opportunity presents itself or the government takes their cut leaving very little for the people who need it more so I say this; if you would like to make a donation then choose wisely and research further. If you can, try and get as much information as possible and follow up on where your money or things are going to. In the case of the primary school we visited it was obvious that everything was being used with the children in mind so I would be happy making recommendations to donate anything you can but I will also add that there are other schools much like that one that need help too and don’t get it. Spread the love is really what I am trying to say. Why support a school that has a lot more than most when another one just round the corner could use it too. Another reason why I didn’t enjoy the walk was that it seemed the only agenda was to point out what needed to get better or what was wrong. I am assuming that this was another ploy to get us to donate but again I don’t think it is the way forward. Perhaps sharing the information about the pass rate of exams or how the students faired after leaving would be an encouragement to donate as it is a positive. Everyone seems to focus on the negative here and this became more and more evident on the walk. No wonder people have such a bad look on Africa. There are so many great things about this place, why don’t people shout out about that more than anything. Surely that will get more people coming here and a long with that more of the right kind of help.

After the session in the library we headed in to a classroom. I wasn’t too keen on going in as we were disrupting a class but once we were in I finally saw the positive sides to life in Malawi. The children were all so friendly and couldn’t wait to share their knowledge with you. One of the students I met even wanted me to test him on all the animals in a book. This did make me very happy, he knew a lot of what they were and why they were important. Education is invaluable but education on wildlife is what I consider to be the most valuable information of all. I am not going to go in to the wildlife conversation dilemmas that are all too real everywhere we go but sitting in that classroom listening to that boy I knew that he got the idea. One person at a time is all it can take to change the dire situation that is going on with the wildlife today and in Malawi I met one person who could do so much without even realising it. I tried to explain to that one kid what his knowledge could do. I don’t think he completely understood my message but he seemed happy at the thought of more wildlife equals more tourists which equals more money for Malawi and therefore more opportunities for him and so he should keep that knowledge and do good with it. After all the bombarding for the need to donate I had decided that this one kid was worth it. If I had met him before the library session I may have thought differently about the donating issue. All it took was one positive to make me rethink, I can only imagine what more positives could do.

After the school visit and the mixed feelings about it we headed to the clinic where things didn’t help to change my opinion any more. We were lead in to a small ward and again given the spiel of what is wrong with the clinic and then shown the donations box. Any good information was given to us after we asked questions. And that was it. We weren’t shown around, we weren’t told much about anything yet we were asked to donate anything. They definitely had it all wrong, there was no way I was going to be parting with anything until I really had a look for myself. No chance for that either so I left leaving nothing behind. A sad fact really. Hopefully as I come back more I will be treated less and less like a tourist and shown more of the real life of Malawi. I realise now I am probably not selling it to any of you but in all honesty at that point and time I wasn’t sold on it either. It wasn’t until after that walk when I got back to camp and had a chance to reflect on a few things that the magic came back. Being in a beautiful place and with some great people is truly the way to enjoy life. I hope that one day instead of focusing on the negatives, Malawians can truly see how beautiful this place is and start spreading that word instead, maybe then the story of Africa can change too.

The evening was spent cooking for the group whilst they got dressed and ready for the party. At this point we were the only truck on the campsite so we were slightly worried that the evening wouldn’t turn out so well. You can imagine our delight and excitement when another truck turned up but little did we know that they would be in bed long before it really got started. Over dinner much punch was consumed and many costumes were being laughed at photographed. I finally had a chance to get changed myself after most of the punch was consumed and dinner was eaten. My outfit of choice… A tusker shirt and a brown kikoi. I was going to go as a bottle of beer. I even made a hat for my bottle cap and I covered myself in dirt to make my skin a little darker. A pretty good outfit even if I say so myself. It was also a hit with the expats who live there long term and thanks to them I am now the proud bearer of my road nickname, Tusker. So original and very un imaginative but a nickname none the less, I was glad to be “welcomed” in to the truck family again. I think the real clincher was when I was the first up in the bar top dancing, it’s funny how something like that can entertain so many others. And just so we are clear, no I wasn’t too drunk and yes I was given permission to go up and I was definitely not the only one up there. From then on things just got messy. There was many sunsets drunk and much dancing done. Putting myself to bed sometime after two was definitely wise, especially after my very long shower. Scrubbing off dirt after a few drinks is very difficult work. It was a really funny night though full of loads of laughter and shenanigans. I have to say things finally registered when we were all sitting on the beach starring at the night sky crying with laughter. I was in Malawi and loving this new adventure and all the new places, I was happy to be here.

The next day as you can imagine was a mission. I had to clean the truck after breakfast which was nightmarish. The smell of old onions was enough to nearly make my breakfast reappear. It was going to be a rough day. Thankfully it didn’t take too long, I was lying on the beach soaking up the sun rays in no time In between swimming in the chilly water. A good combination to make me feel more human. Watching the rest of the group dealing with a sinking kayak in the middle of the lake also provided some serious entertainment. I was glad I hadn’t gone. I don’t think I was in any fit shape to operate heavy machinery.

The evening was spent at the house of our local helper, Rodger. His wife cooked up a storm and we spent some time dancing with his children before it was early to bed for an early start. The early start was so worth it though thanks to the sunrise. It was the final thing I needed to really fall in love with Malawi. This place really is beautiful and I will always look forward to returning.

Still though onwards and Southwards. Zambia next. Things can only get better.

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