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.