Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lilongwe- odds and ends

And here's the rest of my Lilongwe experience. Everything that could not fit tidily under the other two previous posts.

First, dance! Our hosts were incredibly kind and treated us to a performance of Malawi dances by none other than the national dance group Aka Kwacha. The light was not that good, and neither was the angle, but still, despite the quality, I love this as a reminder of the incredible differences between cultures - what kind of instruments and rhythms they favour, how they use their bodies to perform, what they use the dances for... 

Then - of course, you know I always talk about this! - food and drink. I tried the very local beer Kuche Kuche. Very light, not bad at all, and always in very big bottles. And I had some South African drinks too, like a Carlsberg stout (I had no idea they made stouts! and in South Africa of all places!) and a cider (an acquired taste from my life in Canada?).

As for breakfast, well, since we were sort of isolated in this fancy Chinese hotel away from the part of town where your average local lived, I can´t really say how much of my breakfast was "hotel-only" food and how much was normal breakfast fare.

Anyhow, the thing I appreciated most was the nuts! Hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamias... the best I've ever tried! so fresh and soft! I probably put way too many in my cereal, but how could anyone resist the lure of jarfuls of these delicious fresh treats?

And then there were pulses, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms... these I really don't know how local or foreign a custom they were. But I liked them. And I did get a bit of fish from the local lake. In general I'm not too crazy about fish, not even before I went vegan nor during my non-vegan forays, but that one bit was definitely 100% local, at least!

And there was this one time we had the opportunity of trying lunch at the hotel across the road, and that was fantastic! Our hotel's food was rather bland and neutral, but the one at this other place! Loved it! There was a white tamal-like thing, also made from corn (I think), but without the processing that takes place in Mexico (usually cooking in limewater), so it was soft and with a more neutral taste. Which was excellent for pairing it with the rest of the goodies! Pulses, greens, starches, sauces... I wish I could give you the name of at least some of the dishes, but they were way to foreign to me to remember. But this was good, real good. Plus, they had what looked like mini tomatoes, but which were in fact extra spicy chili peppers! A nice addition to the food.

And since I've mentioned our hotel, here are some interesting things about it. Like that one hotel I stayed at in Tianjin many many years ago, the design was sort of futuristic, and the room's bathroom had a window into the bedroom! And the temperature and TV controls were in Chinese and Chinese only. What a way to assert your cultural presence, eh? 

One thing I loved about Lilongwe were the skies. Is there something different about this country? Is it simply the open expanses? the lack of pollution? Whatever, beautiful views!

Now, this photo here... I guess it could represent the eclectic nature of my colleagues, coming from many different parts of the world and spheres of action. Couldn't say no to smoking a rollie in the incredibly pleasant cand interesting ompany of people from the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, France... right?

I didn't get to see much wildlife, since we didn't have time to visit Lake Malawi, but remember that restaurant with the delicious local food? There was this tree nearby, and it was packed with woven nests! Both hanging and already fallen down on the ground! The owners were these bright yellow birds I couldn't take a good picture of because they were too far. But I certainly could pick up a fallen nest! What an incredible design!

By the way, at the airport I also got to see some gorgeous red, yellow and blue birds. But same problem - too far away for my smartphone!

You might have read things in the news about the plight of albinos in certain parts of Africa, being subjected to discrimination and even violence due to superstitions. It was nice to see a billboard that read "United against attacks on persons with albinism and other disabilities in Malawi". Sure, the next step would be to try not to label albinism as a disability. But this is a good and necessary first step.

Finally, the road to the airport. It offered some last images of the country, some beautiful, like three women in colourful scarves and skirts walking by the side of the road. Some unintentionally ironic, like people waiting by a billboard that advertised probably impossibly expensive real estate with the line "Live like royalty". And some just a simple and easy reminder of the majesty of nature.

This was the end of my stay in Lilongwe, but it wasn't the end of my trip by any means. There's still the flight back to Amsterdam, and my - shocking due to the contrasts - weekend layover there. So, more posts to come!

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