My Blog List

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Of Nkungu and Bwatu - Impressions of Malawi

Africana Votes & Views #22

Chileka Airport could be anywhere in tropical Africa. The overwhelming impression is sticky heat, a maelstrom of perspiring humanity and shabby buildings. The immigration and customs people are courteous, and entry is painless; my host’s air-conditioned car awaits. We wend our way through haphazard, undesignated roads – some seriously damaged by a recent downpour and looking more like riverbeds than streets. Where the jumble of business premises and market stalls don’t line the roads, there are brick walls or high fences – except the few that have been undercut by the floods and have tumbled down.

The house is halfway up a lofty hill, which from afar shows the scars of human cultivation, as well as the havoc of erosion, with a few patches of primeval forest between. At first we drive on a public road – the Old Zomba Road – which still sports the odd patch of tar between boulders and gullies; bordered by sprouting fields of mealies and pumpkins. I am told each Malawian gets a free allocation of fertilizer and seed – they find their own spaces where they can plant their subsistence crops. Then the private driveway, of exaggerated rounded profile to shed the water, and to capture the washed-out sand and gravel – it snakes through natural forest with manicured lawns beneath. A mountain stream roars down a contained, granite-lined ravine, rolling large boulders in the spate; or trickling musically between pools when it doesn’t rain. The house is impossibly large, lofty, intricate – consisting of many afterthoughts and alterations. There is a bamboo forest at the rear, an attempt at a vegetable garden stepping up the slope, and a bougainvillea which has destroyed the pergola in front of the house, and which is now growing in and out of the cool, dark verandah, with a muscular stranglehold on a pillar within the structure.

Three large dogs and one smaller one roam the grounds. They sleep in a miniature stable out at the back of the kitchen. Occasionally during the day or night, one hears the baying of the pack in the woods. In the not too distant past it was hyaenas and leopards that made their occasional appearance. Now it might be a jackal, or even a stray bitch on heat. The deadliest animals around could be the snakes, of which there are plenty in the thick undergrowth and trees – but actually they are eclipsed by the mosquitoes. Despite smoke coils, insect repellents, mosquito nets and industrial-sized fans to blow the pestering hordes out of the windows, the question would seem not to be if one gets malaria – but rather, when?

On a cooler and cloudy day we take a drive to Mount Mulanje. This part of the country seems to consist of a gently convex, fertile, green valley, stretching as far as the eye can see, interrupted by scenic humps and spires of inselbergs interspersed between the tea and coffee plantations and maize fields. Mulanje is a brooding, majestic eminence grise, with its very own patch of climate draped over the peaks, slopes and tables – whimsically dumping a shower here and there to feed the foaming cataracts that streak the grey and green cliffs. Three times the height of Table Mountain and reputed to have a fiendishly difficult climbing-face of over a kilometer and a half in height. In winter frost is not uncommon on the higher plateaus, and snow has been seen.

The countryside bordering the road (and indeed all of Malawi that I travelled through) is suffering from a peculiar mania. There are brick kilns everywhere. Like Mayan temples and pyramids, each little brick building has its own pile of bricks, or an unfinished or a burnt-out stack next to it. Millions upon millions of bricks made with the rich red clay and the lush forests of hardwood, of which there are only odd trees remaining in the watercourses. It should be called “Bricklandia”. Not that the houses are that grand. The impression is of more half-built and ruined edifices than completed ones. The style is simple in the extreme – mostly single brick construction, with the odd flying buttress to support an unsteady architecture. Cement is expensive and often unobtainable, I am told, so this industry must have been one of the misplaced skills passed on by the early missionaries after Livingstone – and taken to extremes by the locals.

There are goats everywhere; often tethered in pairs, with a long thong between them – to slow them down if the urge took them to run into the road, perhaps? Strangely enough there are no cows to be seen in the south and I am told that there are still sporadic outbreaks of the bovine disease spread by the tsetse fly – nagana – as well as human sleeping sickness in some spots. Dogs also are largely absent and by the end of the day I have yet to see more than half a dozen skeletal pi-dogs.

Wherever there are no fields of sprouting maize interspersed with houses, there are villages. Under a huge fig tree in the main road, a horde of bicycles is parked .On the roads there is much two-wheeled traffic; anything from bikes piled high with elongated bags of charcoal, to a three metre length of rolled-up roofing sheet seeking a catastrophic conclusion with a passing motor vehicle. But most often these conveyances have a passenger or two – or three aboard. Housewives with children strapped to back, hip or front; bags of fresh produce or groceries dangling on either side and holding the occasional parasol providing a little oasis of shade. These are taxis. The luggage carriers are often tailor-made by the local smiths – but not for comfort, since they are spartan in the extreme, with a thin, plastic-covered foam padding providing some relief during the excruciating ride. The odd taxi even has a number or name at the back - or would that be the name of the perspiring pedaller?

A wild kaleidoscope of colour by the roadside – a clothes-market – known locally by the charming name of ‘Bendown’. Because the wares are mostly spread out across the ground, on sheets of cloth or grass mats: to shop, you have to ‘bend down’. These markets are not only useful to the locals, but even the well-off Europeans find the odd cast-off treasure from the noted fashion houses of Paris, London and Milan there, since the wares are donated in bulk by foreign charities, and have spawned a whole industry in Central Africa. Obviously China is also making inroads into this marketplace with their lookalike Nikes and Rheeboks, as well as synthetic tops shrieking American catch-phrases and brand names.

We buy a full rattan lounge suite from a young man by the side of the road. Two double-seaters, and two singles; well-crafted on a hardwood frame, in the style already popular in Victorian times. I am told through an interpreter that these have taken him about four to six weeks to make – he’s not too sure, as one day is very much like another. The asking price – about R800 ($113) for the lot. Maybe they grow the raw material themselves, but it still seems an awfully meagre reward for so much work.

Back at the house the thunder rolls over the hills and short, sharp showers fall. The dance of the fireflies commences at dusk, and I am transported back to the Transvaal Lowveld in the 1950s – the last time I can recall seeing this magical display in numbers. One static light signals frantically, suspended in mid-air, caught up in a spider’s web. Then as if by prearrangement, all is darkness out there and only the clicking of tree-frogs punctuates the murmuring of the brook.
Some days later our heavily laden caravan departs north, towards Chinteche. The lush landscape changes subtly, from the city’s urban sprawl to the almost ubiquitous scattered settlements that seem to line all main roads. The traffic, mostly pedestrian, manpowered and animal, is staggering. All of the nation appears to be on the move. The roads are quite good, but heavy rains inevitably erode the verges, and sunken bare ‘bays’ appear, ready to wreck the unwary travellers’ suspension. Best to be wide awake and ready for evasive manoeuvres.

Along the road thousands of strange bundles are stacked, tall plastic sacks, with a basketry bonnet to extend the capacity, filled with charcoal, each probably representing a sizeable chunk of hardwood tree – the National Energy Commission of the poor. There are unthreatening police roadblocks every now and then. They ask where one is going to, and where one hails from, but have no real interest in your answers. It is their task to control the movement of charcoal into the cities, I hear. A wise move; since complete deforestation of the rural regions is the likely alternative.

The landscape changes from scattered forest, to canefields, to cultivated lands dotted with innumerable Baobab trees. We cross streams, rivers, broad wetlands and eroded gorges with a trickle of water at the bottom. I am told that more than two hundred streams enter the lake, loaded with silt and nutrients from the highlands that loom not far from the lacustrine borders. This is an unexpectedly mountainous country, gashed by the southern end of the Rift Valley, which descends to more than two hundred metres below sea-level at the bottom of the lake, while the plateaus tower over two thousand metres high. We get our first glimpses of the lake. On the horizon the light cloud in the sky blends with the water. Low gallery forest sweeps down the slopes of Kuwirbi mountain, right down to the lakeshore. Sweeping white beaches, a few rocks looming like prehistoric monsters from the waves.

Seven long hours and over five hundred kilometers later – Chinteche town. We enter along the main road – and if you close your eyes as you sneeze, you've missed it. Yet if you turn off, there is a typical small African village; a bustling street, with 'fresh produce' markets, a warren of rickety stalls and steep alleyways; carpenters and tinsmiths working on their projects and further on the street is lined with shabby shopfronts. The preponderant impression is overcrowding; too many bodies jostling each other; too many products competing for display space. One emporium is truly noteworthy. One could call it a hardware store, yet clothes compete with toiletries, car spares are not uncommon and sit cheek by jowl with plumbing gear. Only two customers at a time though – there's no space for more – but you could stand on the veranda while the tailor shortens your trousers, or another repairman fiddles with your appliances or bicycle. We buy some eggs, a few more potatoes, some paraffin (kerosene). Then on to the house on the beach.

We are greeted by white-clad servants; the major-domo, Mr Chirwa, his apprentice son, Noel, and the gardener Hannock. While they unpack, I wander through the huge lounge and straight onto the beach and into the water thirty metres away from the verandah. My hostess, a friend and I walk along the long, curved beach; straight into the setting sun. Dugouts lie scattered on the sands like blackened, overripe bananas; the tang of spicy hardwood fires pervades the air, occasionally interrupted by the gagging stench of fermenting cassava drying on a flat rock. Fine seine-nets are laid out neatly to dry under thatched shelters; these are legal, with mesh of about an inch. From the size of the whitebait on sale at the markets, one knows that nets with a mesh that mosquitoes would have trouble getting through are also used.

Speaking of the latter, they are ubiquitous, voracious and seemingly on duty 24/7. My hosts use industrial-size fans which sound like Cessnas about to take off to 'blast the little bastards back onto the lake'. The theory sounds good, but I see no diminution in the numbers of hungry beasts circling us as we sit having our sundowners by the light of evil-smelling hurricane lamps. The much-praised repellents, coils and both spray and sticky gunge stick, seem to be greeted with roars of approval by the hungry hordes. Two fireflies greet us with joyous gyrations and the fat geckoes scurry over the white walls, snatching a rich harvest from the patches of light. Out of the dark penumbra of the hurricane lights, three indistinct spectres shuffle closer, each holding a lethal-looking machete. The security squad – average age about 75 at a guess. They pay their respects to the ‘bwana’ and ‘dona’ and deploy their forces over the property. These old men are minor chiefs, whose efficacy lies in the respect in which they are held by the locals, not their physical attributes or their lethal weapons. A novel idea, or maybe just an ancient convention from a kinder age.

Morning – and the first sight that greets me is a bloated raider, sitting on the inside of the mosquito net. I take revenge with the can of insect spray after donning my reading glasses. The battle lasts ten minutes and I harvest twenty fallen as evidence – but there may be more dead under the bed. You are always thirsty; only nine degrees south of the equator and at six a.m. the sun is already blindingly high and it feels like high noon as you sit, drinking your first cup of coffee on the veranda. Kids, barely into their teens, paddle past, perched precariously astride their distorted dugouts – the hollowed-out section of the tree-trunk far too narrow to accommodate their bodies. A group of shrieking naked black waterbabies tumble in the minuscule waves. This morning, out of a placid, unruffled lake, long rollers appear. In no time at all the roar of the surf is too alluring – I go body-surfing in four-foot breakers – lovely. The water is warm and you need to wade out a hundred metres to immerse yourself up to your chin. Lenses of cooler water pass over you as the swells pass. Distinctly soothing, but in the back of one's mind lurks the memory of a sixteen-foot croc patrolling the beach some years back, as does the image of a hippo rearing out of the depths behind an unwitting bather. You relegate those dark thoughts as you dive through the crystal-clear waters.

It is easy to morph into a lotus eater. Wake, drink coffee, watch the sun rise over the lake and the hint of blue hills on the Mozambique side of the water, watch the villagers fishing. Read a book or two, have lunch under the trees in front of the cottage next door, nap a little, go for a walk, cool off in the clear waters, make a slight contribution to cooking supper, do some serious damage to a bottle or two of wine and drop off again to the muted roar of the wavelets on the beach outside your window, listen to the patter of rain and the rumble of the thunderstorms as they pass. Twice a day sleek herds of picturesque Nguni cattle are driven past to and from pasture. If the weather is favourable, a crowd of villagers row out a seine net and pull it in for a few fish. If they are lucky, they come to offer us bunches of chambo for sale, as the local tilapia delicacy is called. The tropical evenings are spent on the veranda, overlooking the dark lake, bejewelled with coronets of moving, winking lights that the fleet of fishermen use to bring the fish to the surface. That is the pattern of the day.

We rouse ourselves to go on an excursion to the ‘capital of the north’, Mzuzu. The road northwards to Nkata Bay is a pretty, sun-dappled drive through rubber forests; tall, slim, trees, each with its oblique tattoo of cuts and collecting cup attached to the trunk. Children offer balls of raw rubber to the passing traffic – but who needs to break a toe on one of these? And yes – I saw a bunch of barefooted kids playing soccer with one of these toe-crushers in a village along the road. We drive up into the mountains. The vegetation is jungly; the slopes steeper, but everywhere the rich brown fields of cassava and maize are bandaged round them - until the next heavy rain washes away the terraces and the chocolate brew lands in the lake, leaving another furrowed hillside to erode further with each rainy season.

Mzuzu is reminiscent of what the Indian hill-stations must have looked like. It is cloudy and cooler. The streets are chaotic but a number of newer businesses are springing up between the myriad government agencies, Indian emporiums and all the tatterdemalion micro-industry that belongs to an African town – pardon, that should be ‘city’. We meet a friend of a friend at an establishment known as the Zoo - as in Mzuzuzoo – an establishment where voyagers meet, sleep, live, eat and especially, drink – while nights are probably blue with the smoke of chamba-weed. 

The place is run by a skeletal, barefooted, grey-locked man in a tatty, faded kikoi; he has many miles on the clock and his eyes stare vacantly through you .Or maybe the boss could be his slightly more corpulent sidekick who keeps on rushing in and out for better reception on his cellphone, to hold loud conversations. Then there's the man staggering unco-ordinatedly about, half a pair of glasses held on to his head with a rubber band - or even the Rasta type with the only lively, wide grin in the place. The staff and clientele are indistinguishable to the casual observer – all seem to be doing duty behind the bar and in the kitchen as well as drinking and eating. The food's not too bad and has the added attraction of being cheap. ‘Sorry dudes, no mince today, the butcher's bust his mincer’. A lanky black familiar, the cat, occupies the last vacant chair at our table. Since we don't dish up anything in front of him, he sneaks onto our laps and plays interested spectator to the action on the plate. He is rewarded with a few short ends of generic sausage; after the meal he laps up leftover mash and crunches chips. Times are tough.

The walls are painted in gaudy, often discernibly mixed patches of leftover paint. Graffiti in many languages, pop art images, the odd photo of favoured passers-through. The furniture has graced many different habitations before. The toilet's plastered with flyers of places to go to – with inevitable comments added, ranging from ‘supercool’ to ‘bummer’. The sleeping accommodation varies from camping in the long grass out back, to an elderly caravan, a bed in a dormitory or the full luxury of a room. The friend's friend we met arrived ten years back from Burundi in a clapped-out 2CV Citroën, which made it as far as the corner of the yard. He and his girl lived in it for a month before scratching together some funds for better accommodation. Now just the faded red wreck remains hidden by man-high weeds, sinking lower into the red clay at every rain.

On the way back we buy some mushrooms from the kids at the roadside; the size of small dinner plates, R8 (just over a dollar) for five. They also have bowls of red bulbous ones, up to the size of a fist, but they don't look quite as appetising as ours. Just afterwards in the middle of nowhere we pass a long, low building proclaiming itself to be the Eassy by Day Grocery on one end, while the other half sez it is the Eassy by Night Bar. Stores and businesses in rural Africa have endearingly naïve and sometimes unconsciously humorous appellations.

We return tired out by the day's drive; my host has a moment's inattention to the track less than a hundred metres from home, and the truck slithers off the soft, sandy, raised road into the ditch. The 4x4 solution just doesn’t make the grade, and the vehicle digs itself deeper into the soft sand.Even some herculean efforts of roadmaking, pushing and a last-ditch attempt as night falls doesn't do the trick. The vehicle has to be left teetering on two wheels for the night, guarded by an ancient watchman, nodding the hours of darkness away, since it doubles as a cashbox for our finances. Next morning some innovative thinking by Mr Chirwa sees the truck back on the road.

We make another trip to Nkhata where rumour has it that a Honey Producers Co-operative is operating. With much difficulty, we locate a man who takes us there - a clearing in the jungle, right next to where a square kilometre of raw, red earth, and gargantuan piles of primeval forest logs are stacked to make way for a hospital. A bright young man greets us and explains his business to us. We stand in a room literally buzzing with activity – hundreds of bees trying to lick up each last trace of their stolen supplies. There are hundreds of litres of honey; most of it comes from the flowering of the ubiquitous mango tree, with a dash of jungle produce during the off-season – but this latter source of nectar is now threatened by the clearing and probable further development. We get our containers filled, and during this process, two bees do the Kamikaze thing by diving straight into the descending stream entering the bottle. Like a fly in amber they float entombed in their precious food.

We return, and for the first time I encounter roadkill; a dead dog. We nearly contribute another when a young goat makes tracks for our radiator – but is saved at the last millisecond by a smart about turn. I am told that road deaths for the country are higher than in South Africa – that’s some record to beat! Though villages and roadside settlements often have a faded 50 km/h sign posted, as well as having pedestrian crossings with stop signs – no one takes a blind bit of notice. Cars charge through at speed, children, animals, pedestrians and cyclists scatter in the dance of death. On the open road the speed limit is 80, but only the overloaded, elderly, smoke-belching matatus (minibus taxis) observe that; most others seem to travel one and a half times that speed. This on roads that follow the contours of a hilly terrain, much like an irrigation furrow; often with a colonial-era tarmac surface, which has crumbled under fifty years of tropical sun, not to speak of innumerable potholes and subsidences. Repair work is certainly in progress - large squares of surface have been excavated, ready for filling in – but when? Each completed patch has a number painted in white next to it – I am told this is to make tendering for the work easier, and it obviates false claims for work done.

Back at the house the new area chief comes to introduce himself. An unassuming, slight man, who takes off his sandals before joining us on the terrace – a hangover from the colonial era, still practiced. He sits down with us and is offered a Coke. A stilted conversation ensues, a trial for both parties, as we desperately search for common topics. The health, marital condition, number of children, previous career (greenkeeper at the bowling club in Blantyre) are explored; next the status of common acquaintances, a regrettable number of whom have 'passed', some due to old age, but many because of malaria, complicated by the high incidence of AIDS. As soon as decently possible, the ill at ease chief departs with mutual expressions of esteem.

Ominous mini-tornadoes of nKungu (minute lake flies) erupt from the lake after the passage of a light thunderstorm. Trillions of them form dark clouds, visible over the lake at a distance of several kilometers, which swirl, peak, subside and then reform, all the time preyed on by squadrons of swallows and martens. The chief had told us they would come ashore after new moon, but none of us knew exactly when that was. Another plague of insects looms. When I return to my room one night, my wet swimming shorts I had hung to dry outside the window are covered with what looks like pink sand. It is a mess of tiny flies. The nkungu have arrived. During the ensuing days, women and children run through the lakeshore woods, holding shallow baskets, which are swung in wild swipes to capture a caking of the tiny, nutritious prey. These are prepared and preserved in different ways. When asked whether nkungu are a blessing or a curse, Mr Chirwa said 'they are blest'. Another way in which the lake feeds the people on its shores.

We visit a carpentry shop in Chinteche. Massive panelled doors everywhere; window-frames, cabinets; quite well-made considering the basic tools that are used – all hand-tools, it seems. There are small anomalies and imperfections, of course; some joints though well crafted are not a snug fit, nor is the right angle unduly revered. The variety of local timber makes an old lumberman's mouth water. There is a wealth of tropical hardwood as well as softwood like rubber, casuarina and the odd cedar. Shades are from almost dead white through yellow and green-brown and reds to the darkest mahogany. My hands would itch to get stuck into some furniture creation again if I lived here. One drawback – none of the wood has been seasoned properly; your door might still have been growing a month ago, so some warping and the occasional split is inevitable. The speed with which these unsophisticates can work out a relatively complicated design's price, is breathtaking. The item is reduced to the requisite number of standard-sized planks required (of which they know the price off by heart) a ridiculously small amount is added for labour, and you have your quote in minutes. You agree to it. No written contract, order or signature – just a nay or yea, and if the work is not too large, you are told it won't be finished today – but you can come to collect it a day later. We take the main man along to the house to give us an in situ quote for some kitchen cupboards, window frames and a gargantuan outside diner. Our man quotes quite laughable prices and a seemingly impossibly short delivery time. When asked about this, he admits readily that a number of his competitors/co-operators are going to help – it will be a village effort.

Our afternoon swim is a bore – the lake is dead calm and warm though there are storms all about. Later a soft rain starts which cools things down and for the first night at the lake I need a sheet over me. The morning is cloudy and dead calm. Over breakfast I pluck up enough courage to get Mr Chirwa to ask the gardener, Hannock (who has some connection with the little fishing settlement a few hundred metres down the lakeshore – and thus usufruct of a bwatu, as the dugouts are known hereabouts) to give me an hour of his time as well as assistance should the inevitable capsize occur.

In no time at all the matter is arranged with the explicit promise of a payment of R8 (a little more than $1) to the boat's owner, and the implied carrot of a 'prizie', as a tip or bonus is known hereabouts, for Hannock. A few minutes later the (thankfully) largest dugout appears with the diminutive gardener at the business end. I gird my loins for action and prepare for several dunkings. He invites me to step INTO the bwatu, and to my surprise it doesn't immediately turn turtle; more credit to Hannock's seamanship. We head out and though, inevitably, I make the boat wobble, the water is so dead calm, that after a few strokes I boldly call for the paddle. No problem; I sit astride the leviathan and paddle away lustily. We zig-zag, we do a clockwise circle, then an anti-clockwise one for good measure. 'Concentrate', I say to myself; I alter my steering technique to wide sweeps with the paddle; the circling stops and we are off towards a small archipelago of rocky outcrops a few hundred metres away.

Every now and then the Titanic gets a whim to veer wildly, but I'm getting the hang of it and steer the beast through the perilous waters with only a minor bump and scrape over the submerged reef that has probably claimed dozens of lives. We return in triumph. Just prior to landing I hop overboard – just to see how difficult it is to get back again. No problem. Hannock gives me the reassuring news that capsized bwatus do not float. Malawian fishermen do not swim as a rule, yet on this Friday morning, the lake is full of naked squirts in dugouts, who should be on school benches – and the wind is rising. With such diversions it's no wonder that playing hookey is a national pastime.

Nightfall brings a heavy thunderstorm, the power cuts out repeatedly following lightning strikes on the electricity grid and the nkungu, while not in choking masses, are round us, omnipresent, in swirling swarms that make us flail, snort, spit and scratch. On the walls the geckoes rush about, tails lashing with excitement, bats and martins swoop round the lights and a lonely leaf frog vocalises his pleasure from the depths of a large potplant. Our table is littered with tiny corpses; it is best to overlook the contents of your wineglass as you drink – and to pretend your food has had a generous grind of black pepper. The alternative could be to get angry, go mad or hungry. You creep into bed by the light of a tiny headlamp, which you extinguish pronto and ignoring the somewhat gritty feel of the sheets, you determinedly go to sleep under your entirely useless mosquito net. In the morning the air is thick with the smoke from the ineffective mosquito coils and the fact that all windows have been shut for the past day; your mouth tastes like a rubbish pit in Bophal and you can hardly get your eyelids up. There has to be a serpent or two in every paradise. We saw several real ones, but it was more a case of insects in the ointment that proved to be trying.

A holiday has to end. We leave on cool and cloudy Sunday; the lake was just another grey expanse blended into the sky. Farewells over, largesse distributed, we hit the road, already crowded with worshippers returning home from the hundreds of churches belonging to dozens of denominations, including a few home-grown varieties, it seems. Revellers, either leftovers from Saturday night or the early Sunday barflies, staggered dangerously along the ragged edges of the tar road. Trade seemed brisk in most villages, but there were few tillers in the fields.

After a few hours I took over the wheel and my host could rest while I concentrated on my task. While the human traffic behaved sensibly in the main, some of the goats, cows and chickens displayed suicidal tendencies, seemingly hell-bent on ending up as Sunday dinner. Barely through the town of Salima, I saw what looked like a bundle of black and grey rags lying in the middle of the road. I moved over so as to straddle the obstruction, which the high-clearance 4x4 could easily clear. To my horror it suddenly morphed into an awakening goat, raising its head. A bump followed by several more; I slowed instinctively and looked in the rearview mirror to see the corpse rolling across the road. 'Don't stop – drive on', came the advice from my co-pilot, 'you only stop if you hit a person, in which case, contrary to urban legend, the locals won't kill you.' He related an incident in which he had killed a goat during an official trip while accompanied by a local politician. As he was unsure of what protocol to follow, he stopped the car and turned to his companion in a panic to ask how they would find the owner. That worthy told him to open the boot of his car, slung in the carcass and remarked blandly that 'it looked like a ministerial goat to him, now.' End of problem. An animal fatality, from chicken to cow, is best left to the locals to convert into fast food – the alternative could mean endless delays and inordinate claims for compensation.

A few more days on the steamy hillside above the city, then I am on my way ‘back south’ and the ‘warm heart of Africa’ is just a warm memory in this southerner’s heart.

(The above are personal impressions, with an odd explanatory note, nothing more. I saw a little of the lovely country, met a few people and much friendliness. I looked at a third-world country from the perspective of another, slightly more developed third-world country, which had very similar conditions a mere half century ago, and which I experienced then. It was a journey back in time.)