Monthly Archives: November 2014

HOSP-SMOKALITY

“Give me five,” called out a voice from across the main road leading into Nkhata Bay, a beautiful little slice of paradise on the beaches of Lake Malawi.

“Five what?” I called back at the young local sitting in the shade of his gift-ware shop, escaping the midday heat. I immediately suspected that he suspected that he had a suspected business opportunity and would try to sell me some trinkets.

“Five fingers,” he grinned, “because when you shake my hand it makes ten.”

I like that.

This guy ain’t about business. He’s just doin’ what Malawians do best; greet, smile and have a chat just for the sake of chatting. I crossed the road and introduced myself, giving him five fingers to make ten as we shook hands.

“I’m Bom-X,” he introduced himself. “This is my brother, Lucas,” he indicated to the Rastafarian braiding the Rasta colours of red, green and yellow on a black background to make flip flops (also known as thongs).

We all pumped fists and tapped to our heart, one of my favourite ways to greet people.

“You like to smoke?” Bom-X asked, rolling a joint. “Here, we don’t have rizzla, so we roll with paper. Is it OK?”

Is it OK? I’d smoke from a flip flop right now if I could. “Not a problem,” I grinned. Is it OK, pff.

“Please, sit down. I invite you,” he indicated to the bench where I parked it. “Me, I’m from the village,” he began to dictate his autobiography, “we are very poor –”

“It all depends on your definition of ‘poor’,” I cut him off.

“What do you mean?” he frowned.

“If, to you, poor is being without money, then you are just financially poor.” Shit, I feel a rant coming on. “But if you have somewhere to sleep, something to eat –” How do I stop myself? – “and people to call family and friends that always surround you and help you, then, my friend, you are one of the most wealthiest people I know.”

His frown turned upside down. His eyes lit up and he pumped fists with me.

“I like that. Yes, I am a rich man,” he was laughing and Lucas was grinning.

I grinned back, pumping fists as I explained my penniless ways. “I’m working at Big Blue Backpackers,” – which was right next door to their shop – “in exchange for food and bed and I play guitar.”

“Lucas is a musician,” Bom-X proudly stated of his brother.

“Awesome,” I said. “Come down to Big Blue and we’ll jam.”

He grinned, pumping fists with me as Bom-X lit the happy stick. Back home it was socially customary to adhere to the puff-puff-pass rule. In Africa? Take your sweet African Time, hold that taste in, breathe it out slowly and enjoy the journey. No rush to pass it on.

South Africa had good cheese. In Namibia it was South African and Zambia’s local ‘erb just didn’t cut the cheese (see what I did there?). But in Malawi?

“Swaziland has the best weed in Africa,” Bom-X explained. “Malawi is second.”

Wow, I exhaled. He wasn’t kidding. “I’ll bring any guests we have to your shop,” I offered.

“Ah, thank you, bro,” he pumped fists. “You are welcome any time. Malawi is free. Just feel free.”

Indeed, I was feeling extremely free. I thanked the brothers for the smoke and headed back to the backpackers.

***

IMG_6408“Where are you going?” Bom-X asked a few days later, bumping into him on the street.

“Into town,” I said.

“I want to show you where I live, in my village,” he offered.

“Sweet, let’s go,” I grinned.

We walked along the road then down a staircase roughly carved into the rock wall, across a bridge that didn’t look like it might hold out for the next rains, up another off-road track, passed the government hospital – “It’s free, for everyone,” Bom-X played tour guide. “Even for you” – kept hiking up into the beginning of his village, Shindoza and then,

“We must stop and have a smoke first, OK?” he said as we stopped by a shaded thatched zula full of local men.

“I wish to be President of Zimbabwe,” Dave introduced himself, stoner eyes glistening back.

There was also Black Moses, Titus (who I renamed King Titus) and James. “I’m a bush doctor,” he said. “I sell ganja for medicine. I am Bom-X’s uncle. You are most welcome in Malawi. Please, feel free.”

“I have a long-running prescription,” I grinned as he laughed.

“I want to give you a gift,” he reached into a blue plastic bag and pulled out a little squared paper packed package. “Smoke it, welcome to Malawi. Feel free.”

This day just keeps getting higher.

“Thank you very much,” we pumped fists.

I was offered some local whiskey that is sold in a plastic sachet. The kind of stuff that you could run a car on and should avoid as it probably can burn a hole in your intestines. Then an extremely drunk local stumbled in. The kind you could immediately tell was looking for a fight. He picked on a younger fella and a scuffle started between them. Being stoned, most of the guys just lazily called out for them to stop.

Even I threw in an, “Oi! Come on now, guys,” but there was no way I was getting physically involved.

The scuffle ended and among the many warnings the man received I could make out one that might have meant, “We have a muzhungu guest here. Don’t embarrass us.”

Or it could also have been, “Touch the muzhungu and we’ll kick your ass.”

Or simply, “You’re drunk so just fuck off.”

I felt safe, even when the drunk picked on someone else outside the zula and you could hear every punch hitting a target with loud slaps from beyond the wall where a crowd gathered to watch.

“OK, let’s go,” Bom-X suggested

I hate violence. And it blows my mind how it’s obvious that alcohol just brings out the evil in some people. Never had a violent incident on marijuana (too stoned to do anything).

We hiked up the hill and I was introduced to his grandmother.

“Timon-eh,” I greeted her. “Mwe-uli?” I asked to her well-being. “Te-u-mam-pa,” I answered her question to mine. “Tawonga,” I thanked her in the greeting ways of the Tonga people that Bom-X taught me on the hike.

Then he yelled everything I had said to her, making it echoing clear that she was partially hard of hearing.

“Let’s go meet my sister,” he suggested.

IMG_6405is family is huge. On their land alone there were about 12 families, all related. Bom-X’s cousin scampered up the mango tree. He picked the fruit and threw it down to me. We went back to his grandmother’s house for my first traditional lunch in Malawi – nsima (which is Nshima also known as pap in South Africa) with a relish of rape leaves and usipa (small fish that resemble the Zambian capiente) cooked with onions and tomatoes.

After the feast we went back to his sister’s to eat the freshly picked mangoes.

“This has to be the best mango I’ve ever had,” I said, sucking on the succulent juices as I tore into its fibrous flesh, well aware that I’d be picking my teeth later but it was worth it on a level that no hallucinogenic drug could ever replicate. This was even better than the mangoes in town.

“How do you feel?” Bom-X asked.

“I feel amazing,” I grinned, my beard soaking up most of the juices as I used my teeth to peel away the mango skin.

“After we will go jump off rocks into the lake,” he casually stated.

This day can’t get any better.

IMG_6418After devouring three mangoes each, we hiked down to the boulders where I immediately demonstrated my infamous Aussie cannonball, leaping off a 9-foot high boulder into not-too-deep-not-too-shallow waters.

Repeatedly.

By four o’clock we had trekked back to town. I thanked Bom-X for a great day.

“Later we’ll go to Mayoka Village,” I suggested.

Mayoka was notorious for a great night out.

“You pick me up,” he pumped my fist as I turned to hop down 70 steps and reflect on the day’s high.

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DEVELOPING IN DEVELOPMENTS

The term ‘Third World Countries’ appears to have been replaced by the term, ‘Developing Countries’.

Developing Countries.

What does that even mean?

Who is anyone in the Western World to determine what nation should be classified as a ‘Developing Country’?

Because their highways and roads are only fit for SUVs and trucks yet they’ve perfected driving skills that would impress Kent Block and The Stig?

Because not everyone has the ability to finish high school? Indeed, primary school (for whatever reason) yet most laborers and tradesmen are more skilled in building, plugging and installing than anyone whose gone to study their trade for four years plus the few years of slavery – I mean, apprenticeship – that they’ve endured? That they can improvise better than anyone else in the Western World no matter what the job at hand is?

Because marriage and children are prioritized above all else? Even completing school?

So what?

They’re still the happiest bunch of people you’ll ever meet.

How developed is the Western World, when everything from climbing ladders to climbing corporate ladders needs a license and rules and regulations policed by feds and law folk who break the law themselves?

When kids are policed to not stay out on the streets for fear of bacteria to their love for video games.

I’m not trying to sound self-righteous (I know how self-righteous that sounds) but in the consumerism lifestyle we’ve been brainwashed to believe is the ultimate way of life, how can we declare that countries that don’t follow Western World norms are ‘developing’ and therefore presuming they are under developed?

We are so fixated in having the latest gadgets, the newest smartphones (even though your last upgrade was probably three months ago) and everyone is heads down in said smartphones and plugged out of the world surrounding them via headphones (supplied by said smart phones) that human interaction will soon be a thing of the past.

We’re brought up in such a competitive manner from the day we’re born – even between siblings – and told that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and to survive, you’re better to do your best to fuck each other over to get ahead in life.

No one even says ‘hello’ on the streets of the Western World. Try it. Walk in your city or town and count how many responses you’ll get from complete strangers (except if you go to a small rural town). Don’t be surprised if you get looks of ‘What are you crazy?’ and a possible police cruiser following you from behind.

In ‘Developing Countries’? People go out of their way to greet you with a smile. From lines like, “Give me five.”

“Five what?”

“Five fingers, cause that will make ten when you shake my hand.”

Where in the Western World would you ever hear a stranger say that without thinking, That the guy’s gotta be crazy. He’s not. He’ll even share a smoke with you.

These greetings are called at from across the street, from atop a hill, from the middle of a lake. Your arm will tire from waving so much. Your cheeks will be stretched from smiling all day. You’ll be shaking so many hands that, depending on the grip, it might be crushed by the end of the day.

Siblings are taught to share everything, and not just between them but between all the kids in the village.

Huts are small because people only use them to sleep in. They are always outdoors working, playing or even just sitting with their neighbours and friends by the side of the road, waving at cars and trucks.

George Carlin once said that, “Houses are buildings to put your stuff in. The more stuff you have, the bigger the house you need.” (I may be paraphrasing).

And why do we even need stuff?

Remember the outdoors? That place that’s just outside of your door? It’s full of stuff, the good stuff – nature and other people (I know I’m contradicting a little here by investing ‘indoor’ time to write this, but if it counts, I’m outside on the balcony of Big Blue Backpackers, overlooking Lake Malawi in Nkhata Bay getting eaten alive by mosquitoes).

Who are we to judge that they’ve not yet developed to an extent that they’re happy with? Just cause they’re not as far-advanced in technology and corporate takeovers of every little aspect in life that we’re accustomed with?

No.

The ‘Developing Countries’ have it down pat. Sure, you get those that see the westerner as a walking bank machine but like everywhere, you get the good with the bad.

It’s just that there’s so much more good than bad in the places I’ve visited.

Where in the Western World would a taxi driver take you for free? And I’m not talking 2-3 K’s. I hitched with four taxis for free from Chipata, Zambia (20 K’s west of Malawi’s border) to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, a total distance of 200 K’s.

And every time I’d ask, “Are you sure it’s OK?” the response was always the same, a huge smile, a pat on the back followed with, “I’m just happy to help. Welcome to my country.”

Developing countries? I think they’re already developed.

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EBOLA-UTION

My arrival on the pounding shores of the African continent was coincidentally timed with the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus. My original plan was to head up the west coast of Africa, up to Morocco and then break east across the north by the Mediterranean coastline to reach the Middle East.

Upon learning of the Ebola outbreak when I was in South Africa sometime back in March, I re-routed my route and decided to head north to Namibia, break east across Zambia and Malawi before turning north-east to Tanzania and Kenya until shooting straight north to the Middle East through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

The countless messages of concern regarding my well-being and ‘watch out for Ebola’ has been overwhelming. Well, not really overwhelming. It’s mostly from my immediate family and then further messages passed on by other relatives and then a few friends registering their concern.

The media, as usual, has hyped the Ebola outbreak to extreme levels to make it seem as though the whole of Africa is under siege. A lot of people in the Western World who failed geography, seem to assume that Africa is one big country.

Well it’s not. There’s only one continent that’s a country and that’s Australia. Africa, like other continents, is made up of different countries housing different cultures, languages, dialects, food, nature and eco systems. There are deserts, rainforests, jungles, savannahs, pristine beaches and wild coast lines (same as Oz just that Australia is under one flag).

Africa is made up of 57 countries. Out of the 57, only four countries are affected by the Ebola virus to a point where travel there is not recommended: Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia.

4.

All in the tiny region known as West Africa.

And the Ebola outbreak, in its current locale, is closer to the European continental shelf than to the rest of Africa.

The hyped up media reports have made tourism drop significantly throughout Africa, which has a huge economic impact on this usually forgotten continent (until they’ll strike a huge oil reserve and then everyone will be Africa’s best friend). Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi – too name a few – are so far detached from the Ebola outbreak that they may as well be on Mars.

In fact, to give you some perspective, here are some of the biggest killers in Africa that will kill you without proper medical attention way before the Ebola will get you (according to http://answersafrica.com/diseases-in-africa.html. All figures are deaths annually):

Tetanus – 200,000 Africans.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) affects up to 30 million Africans and kills up to 300,000.

Measles – 242,000 Africans.

Diarrhea causes 8% of all deaths in Africa, I shit you not.

Malaria, a parasite passed via mosquitoes, is responsible for about 1.2 million African deaths per year, mostly because they don’t have access to the required medication that can rid your body of the parasite that most hospitals in Africa have.

AIDS\HIV kills about 1.5 million people in Africa. HIV is easily prevented through sex education and if the Catholic Church can get it out of their asses that condoms save lives.

Pneumonia – 800,000 Africans.

The Ebola virus – currently – has taken the lives of over 5,000 unfortunate souls out of the 15,000 that have been affected.

Why all these deaths? Due to lack of health care facilities. And it’s usually the poorest of the poor in Africa that are affected and subsequently die. Meaning, people that can’t afford airfare to travel and unwillingly spread the disease.

The Ebola virus is not an air-born virus (although future mutations might change the battle fields). It is carried mainly by bats that infect bush animals that in turn are hunted and killed and their meat consumed by humans who then contract the virus (posters and adverts in Africa suggest to avoid eating bush meat and bats).

Contraction is via body fluids and the blood stream.

So in the immortal words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype. Africa is safe. You stand a greater chance of getting hit by a car on any road on the planet than getting killed in Africa – a continent, not a country – and contracting any of the above-mentioned killers.

So if you’re about to plan a vacation for Christmas and New Year’s, I can recommend no better place than Africa to enjoy your holiday. The people are kind, warm-hearted, friendly, open and love to smile, sing, dance and laugh. The wildlife is everything you could ever dream of. The food is great and the weather varies from warm, hot to too fucking hot (depending on your locale).

And it’s cheap. Your dollar and Euro will be stretched for miles with beers at a dollar or less, spirits at $2, local food prices range from $2-$5 for huge servings. The fruit is fresh and grows on trees on the street. Most of the tap water in south and eastern Africa is safe to drink.

As with every travel destination, use your common sense, wash your hands, do your research and have fun.

Just don’t let the media kill off Africa. It’s a beautiful and magical place waiting for you to explore it.

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