The sleepiest capital in Africa:

is Lilongwe. Nairobi throbs. Dar bustles. Kampala heaves. But Lilongwe snores. Nothing much happens. What does happen, happens in slow motion. Goats bleat like frightened children as they’re carried upside down to their deaths. The flame trees quiver in the afternoon heat. And that’s about it.

We walk. And sweat. Until sudden *DANGER* snaps us into wakefulness.

Oh sh*t!

DEATH AND DOOM:

Yes, an open man hole. Can’t you tell I’m terrified? I am the girl who walks into poles. An open man hole is asking for trouble. They are scattered haphazardly along Lilongwe’s walkways, both paved and unpaved. In this instance, Morten saved my life.

I vow to stay on my toes!!! I will not sleepwalk. I will pinch myself awake.

When it gets dark we saunter off to dinner at Don Brioni’s Bistro underneath the Kiboko hotel in the old town. It’s run by a old, brown and withered British expatriate. He comes over for a chat.

"Arrivals or departures?" he asks.

"Purgatory," Morten replies.  I know what he means. Time isn’t moving. It’s been a long week.

When the proprietor insists on lingering, we ask how long he’s been living in Lilongwe.

"22 years, 11 months, 6 days," he pauses to check his watch, "9 hours and 37 minutes."

He sighs and shuffles away. His precision is disheartening. We poke at our food: the ubiquitous chicken, curry and chips.  Neither one of us has an appetite.

Kiboko hotel with Don Brioni’s pictured below:

Malawi for dummies: Kwacha v. Kuche Kuche

Lesson 1

This is kwacha:

This is Kuche Kuche:

Use kwacha (local currency) to purchase Kuche Kuche (local beer).

End of Lesson 1.

Lilongwe cyclists in the lead as Malawi fuel crisis continues

Still. No. Gas. It’s a national bummer. Opposition parties and NGOs in Malawi are calling for parliamentary statements on the fuel crisis, among other crises affecting the country now. They want transparency. The outcry is making headlines. 

Along with fuel, crises include forex and the duel with Mozambique about the Waterway Project. If you want to know more, read a local newspaper.

Our friendly advice on getting around in the meantime: Always check the taxi’s gas tank if you need a ride. We learned that the hard way ;) Or make like these guys. A montage of Lilongwe cyclists follows…

You want “vintage Africa”? Fly Air Malawi.

The tourism sector in East and Southern Africa is on to the tourist desire for a vintage travel experience. Yes, they’re quite savvy. They milk it.

A postcard purchased at the Karen Blixen farm in Karen, Kenya costs $7. In Nairobi, you can get a  sit-down restaurant lunch for that price. Or 30 postcards.

We rode the advertised-as-retro Nairobi to Mombasa train. But for us, that wasn’t about retro, we just like sleeping on trains. (excuses, excuses…)

There’s also the vintage safari option-luxurious and pricey-the main difference between this and your basic expensive safari is a walking, instead of taking a Rover, and staying in a 1920s style safari lodge/tent. Everything else is exactly the same. Unless you want to hike in costume. 

We think the demand springs from the lore of old fashioned safaris hyped in Hollywood via “Out of Africa” with Meryl and “Mogambo” with Ava Gardner etc. And let’s not forget Hemingway’s jaunt to Kenya and Tanzania, although we prefer Paul Bowles’ tragic escapades in North Africa….

Now for the point: It’s always nicer to accidentally stumble on a (humorous) vintage experience instead of manipulating the scene change yourself.

If you feel the same, Fly Air Malawi and pretend I didn’t tell you this:

THE PLANES ARE FROM 1965. OKAY, MAYBE 1970…

Check out the plaid. We felt like Don Draper on a business trip, about to land a new ad account. Except they didn’t serve high balls. They served breakfast omelets in puff pastry.

The airplane interior was wall-papered in a peeling yet still hip silver design that evoked wrapping paper. Ash trays were abundant. When we finished breakfast we instinctively craved a cigarette.

Unfortunately, the sad old bird shuddered like crazy at take-off and again, at landing. Fear is part of the Authentic Vintage Experience.

On our connecting Air Malawi flight, on a smaller and possibly older plane, they charmed us yet again with a free “Peanut Snack.”

Ahh I found the Air Malawi website to check facts for you people.

"43 years of serving our community" they boast.

I guess that dates the plane to 1967…

Malawi is out of gas. Yes, the entire country.

We came to Malawi to write about maternal mortality and national account statistics. Maybe even if we had time, we thought we’d pop by Madonna’s usual hotel, when she’s here converting locals to kabballa and adopting children, and take some pictures, jeer, skulk. By the weekend, we’d head out to Lake Malawi’s Senga Bay and try to rent a kayak or two….

But we didn’t even make it from the Lilongwe airport to town.

"There’s a gas shortage," our driver Julius tells us, as we zoom past queues of cars in a cloud of red dust.

"But you have a little," Morten says. It’s a statement, not a question.

The driver chuckles. Morten chuckles.

We ask why. It’s the first we’ve heard of the situation. Julius explains that the Malawi government is out of foreign exchange reserves. Without foreign exchange reserves, they can’t buy gas from Mozambique. Either that or there is a feud between two diplomats. Both could be true.

So the cars are lining up for rationed fuel. They wait; a truck comes; and everyone gets a little.

We take the curve of a roundabout slowly. Morten and I have been up since 5 AM catching various flight connections at various cramped hot airports where airport security consists of pat downs in curtained booths, because they can’t afford a proper scanner. We’re ready for a nap.

We almost don’t notice when our vehicle glides to a stop.

"Oooooops. Now I am out too," says Julius. 

Julius gets out. We get out. Everybody pushes. Strangers help.

At the gas station we join the queue. Julius is the guy in the middle.

An hour later, Julius still doesn’t have gas. Another car comes to pick us up. Before we leave Julius asks for the full taxi fare.

We chuckle. He doesn’t.

How to call the president of Malawi, taken 1 November 2010, Lilongwe airport

How to call the president of Malawi, taken 1 November 2010, Lilongwe airport

a last look: our photo evidence of the beauty of the Swahili coast, as we start to head inland.

Four double macchiatos later…

(this post is dedicated to Lee Ann, my #1 macchiato nut)

Morten and I are sitting at Dar’s Epidor Patisserie gazing at the 20 SUVs parked in the dirt lot. We’re the only ones who’ve walked to this flowery Euro coffee shop in the heart of the Msasani Peninsula. It’s a roast-tacular 34C at 1:00 PM and the equatorial sun is blazing down.

But now we’re under the vine canopy. A giant fan blows a mist of water towards us. We’ve knocked back two sweet double macchiatos and a veggie juice. We’re goofing off; recording our cleverness on post cards. In short, we’re feeling pretty cocky.

It’s soon time to go back to our room, and the task of packing for tomorrow’s early early flight to Lilongwe, which = No Fun.

"Let’s order another round," I suggest.

"Really?"

Suddenly Morten stops laughing, fixes me with a look.

"Don’t you like getting over-caffeinated and fighting in a small enclosed space?" I ask.

He cracks a grin. He orders again.

We don’t walk home, WE VIBRATE. 

We’re standing in our doorway, surveying what happens when we live somewhere for a week. The contents of our overfull rucksacks are jumbled everywhere….it’s disheartening. We’re still not up to it. 

Morten goes to the fridge.

"Pepsi?" he offers.

Chagua! Apprehension on Tanzania’s election day.

Africa travelers and correspondents usually take pride in how many revolutions and coupe d’etats they have experienced. We witness our first election day today, and are not asking for any brouhaha. It is election day in Tanzania.

The leading party Chapa Cha Mundizi (CCM) has ruled Tanzania since independence relatively uncontested since independence in 1961. Multiparty elections were introduced in 1995. Tanzania has a truly unique political history. In a neighborhood where violence and political repression has been a recurring phenomenon, Tanzania can be viewed as a ‘garden of peace’ or Dar es Salaam, as its biggest city is named.

With the trouble experienced in the elections in neighboring Kenya fresh in mind, local newspapers are on high alert and election monitors from the East African Community and the Common Wealth have arrived and are assuring Tanzanians laws of rule and order will be strictly adhered to.

Julius Nyerere ruled Tanzania from 1961 to 1985. Tanzania and its political economic project was called ‘African Socialism’ or Ujamaa (“togetherness”). When Nyerere resigned in 1985 it was acknowledging that the socialist project had failed. Yet the ruling party remained, socialism and collectivism was abandoned and replaced by capitalism and individualism it. Despite a complete change in ideology, courtesy of the huge popularity its former leader of the party, Julius Nyerere and its well run party machinery, CCM has won elections with relative ease, also after 1995 when multiparty elections were introduced. This time there is a real contest.

The opposition party Chapa Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and its candidate Willbrod Slaa looks to be in good position to give the incumbent candidate Jakaya Kikwete a real run for his money.

"Kikwete is a thief," says our hotel security guy. 

"Slaa. I’m voting for Slaa. Tnazania is 80 percent agriculture. Kikwete has done nothing for the farmers," my nurse told me.

The polling results are divided and inconclusive. Citizens Information Bureau, a NGO, released results from a poll held at the beginning of this month had had Slaa in front with 45 percent and Kikwete behind with only 41. Earlier polls (by Synovate Group and DETER, a University of Dar es Salaam based think-tank) have put Kikwete firmly ahead.

According to the Citizen – a Tanzanian daily – there are reports of election campaign related violence in Mwanza, Musoma, Arusha, Moshi and Iringa, meanwhile according to the Express – a Tanzanian weekly – the retired general, former chief of defense forces, Robert Mboma said that it was the duty of the army to ensure that the country is not entering into civil war. He was responding to a statement from the CHADEMA chairman, Freeman Mbowe who said that blood will be shed if the election on Sunday was not free and fair. So we hope that the elections will be free and fair.

I talked to development consultant yesterday, and told him that we are leaving on Monday. He is responded dryly:

"If the airports aren’t in lock-down you mean…"

We vote yes. Or no?

Pumpkin picking in Dar es Salaam.

Pumpkin picking in Dar es Salaam.