An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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First Impressions

My Malawi experience actually began with a play in some little theatre-which sounds like it should be an entry unto itself… and maybe it could have, but to be honest it would be hard to give a fair review of this Shakespeare gone Malawi production based on the short snippets I saw every time I woke from a dramatic head bob. (I blame it more on jet lag than the acting.) So I’m going to jump forward to the next day after a good full night’s rest.

The next day we had all planned out, and by we I mean Merin, the three year Malawi resident who we were staying with. It would begin with the market.

We arrived Malawi on a Friday, that’s good timing if you intend to visit the Saturday market. The market actually happens every day, but on Saturday it comes to life. I sat in the back seat with the wicker basket as we pulled into the dusty dirt parking lot lined with shacks. 

I was staring at the row of tin covered booths when-Smack, smack, smack! Off to the left a young boy started hitting the window. “See me fist! Mista, see me fist!” Within moments there were 10 more doing the same. The car stopped. I grabbed the basket and pried my door open to get out. Each small hand grabbed at the basket.

“Move Away!” Merin says firmly, then turns to me and ask which boy I saw first. The light went on-See me first, Mister. The boys were all anxious to earn a small wage by carrying our basket. Unsure, Merin selected one lucky boy and we walked towards the vendors.

I’ve been to my fair share of cultural markets, but I have to say there was something special about this one. As you would expect, the white guy with back pack and basket drew plenty of looks. Each vendor invited me to “just look”, as he or she described the produce that sat clearly in front of me. But the invitations were not overwhelming. The vendors respected one another, and each waited to describe their product until we had walked away from their neighbor.

It was organized and presentable. Booth by booth, vegetables were arranged in perfect pyramids. Bananas, potatoes, lettuce. Colorful arrangements of every spice imaginable laid out for the picking. I walked with the boy holding the basket as Merin did the negotiating.

We walked from produce to spices. Spices to bean. Bean to meat, where people picked the healthiest looking chicken from those on display. We moved on, probably fortunate before I got the cultural experience of actually seeing the fate of the chosen chick.

Then up a set of crumbling cement stairs, we stepped into another section. Interesting, I don’t even recall what was for sale in this section. I was distracted. No sooner had we entered when the colorfully adorned African women erupted into song. Loud. Confident. Beautiful.

I asked the boy what they were singing. He politely misunderstood and sang the song to me. When asked again what the meaning was, he didn’t know the English. All the better. There are some things you don’t need to know. In some ways it’s better not to.

Once we had our week’s supply, we paid our little friend before leaving the shade of the tin cover so as not to start any fights with his other friends. I smiled as on our way out we spotted a couple other assumed tourists on their way in, knowing the treat they were in for.

Merin then drove us to the other “market”, ShopRite. It was night and day. Black and white in more ways than one. This was the money market. With all the comforts of a Safeway, or any other standard grocery store in the States. It had a guard at the entrance to the parking lot and while not filled with pale skin, the percentage was noticeably high.

It was comfortable. There was air conditioning, and refrigeration. Prices were “as marked.” But one thing is for sure… there was no one erupting in song here. No, I’m afraid you’ll have to go somewhere else for that.

Welcome to Africa.


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