Look Up to Heaven and Call Upon His Name

Psalm for the week: Lord Have Mercy as David Prays for Survival

Psalms Chapter 5: A Deep and Intimate Prayer for Survival

Today, we will look at Psalms Chapter 5, where David makes a deep and intimate prayer to God for survival. When I read the Chapter again this morning, to prepare for the blog, all I could say was, “Lord have mercy!” The enemy is in deep trouble if this is a blueprint of prayers we make to God when we are in trouble. “Satan, you are in hot soup! Literally! Wait, it’s coming for you. The Lake of Fire will burn you up! And I can see why.”

November is proving to be an interesting month in the spiritual sense. Cathy, my wife, has just introduced a new model that helps one to read Psalms within 30 days. It’s a simple yet an effective method, that I keep on wondering why I was not able to use it all along. But as they say, knowledge is power. And having covered most of Psalms already, today’s Psalm has gained a new meaning.

I invite you to read the whole chapter yourself. It only has 12 verses, therefore, it will not take any of your time to enjoy it. You will see that every verse is a masterpiece. The whole chapter covers a Christian life when faced with daily challenges.

But here’s a little background first.

David is a Mighty Warrior

As we have previously covered, David is a mighty warrior king. He knows that in order to gain peace, you must fight. Fight and fight, until the enemy has been vanquished. Well, for me, war is foreign, for I come from a tiny peaceful country that has never been at war. The mere fought of war sends pangs of trepidation up my spine. Nowadays, when we talk of war, it is in the context of beating deadlines, going for new business, protecting existing business deals and so on.

Not in the case of David. War meant physical contact from faces bent on killing you. War meant engaging an enemy that wanted to obliterate your presence. Usually, war meant either the enemy survives or you do, but not both. The outcome required only one preferred state – that is, a victory over the enemy.

It is, therefore, not surprising that David turns to God for survival with such a passionate plea for God’s intervention. The enemy, must and should be vapourised by the mighty Hand of the Lord, and God’s children, must and will be completely shielded away from the vicious attacks of the enemy.

A Call for Celestial Help
A Call for Celestial Help

The wicked enemy is foolish

And for purposes of involving God in the plan to defeat the enemy, David gives distinct features that describe the enemy well. The wicked enemy is evil. The enemy has no faithfulness in his mouth. The enemy lies, though he comes in a sweet manner. Do not trust him. Rather, destroy the enemy.

Surprisingly, the enemy is also foolish. This shows that despite the enemy being fierce, he has a major weakness he cannot overcome – he’s not wise. On being fierce, well, how else would David want to involve God if it is not to deal with a powerful contender? The enemy has rebelled against God, and against the children of God.

Now, that we have put a tag on the enemy let’s bring it to the present day.

Lord Jesus, the Warrior King

We know David spoke under inspiration. This has been repeatedly pointed out in the New Testament. When he spoke about his kingdom, he was in actual fact prophesying about the ministry that Christ would have many years later. And I can’t help but think what this Psalms meant for Jesus.

Our humble Shepherd King is the best mighty warrior ever to walk on earth. Though He came as a Lamb to be sacrificed on the Cross, there are many verses that speak of Him as the Ultimate Conqueror! To begin with, he single-handedly dealt with the great weapon that the enemy had – death. He also smashed to pieces the wicked vices that sin brought to humanity. He thoroughly purged our sins, and declared the devil impotent. “Oh devil, you have it coming!”

Pray to Jesus for Survival

Therefore, Psalms Chapter 5 is our ultimate call on Jesus for survival. I hope you don’t use it to deal with your unpleasant neighbour or difficult boss. Please, don’t use it for that elusive debtor who doesn’t want to pay back what he owes you. I’d rather use it like David, who focussed on the big issues of his kingdom, and invoked divine intervention from above.

Since this prayer is more powerful than the biggest hydrogen bomb in the world, do direct it to the spiritual enemy who is behind all the strife and wars we face in life. The prayer should go to the one who makes us sick. This spiritual weapon must go to the devil who spares no one from sinning before God.  This powerful prayer is a well deserved response from the children of God when in distress.

I only hope we will not use it on a fellow human, as David was forced when wars in his days meant physical contact with wicked men bent on destroying his kingdom. Dear Lord, help us survive this life.

Lord have mercy!

Read It Again: May The Day Star Arise In Your Heart

Jesus, the Day Star

Have you ever come across the name, Day Star? The Bible is poetic beyond measure. Some of the expressions that you find in this Holy Book leave you wondering at the genius and creativity of the Author – God. Through the eyes of the scribes and the prophets, you get a glimpse of the command of the language that our God possesses.

One such expression is found in the Scripture from Peter the Apostle. 2 Peter 1:19 says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:”

Day Star! Beautiful! Simply magnificent. Jesus is called the Day Star.

Day Star Arise
Day Star Arise

The Grand Setup

Think of the setup. Our obvious choice is the world that is introduced in the Book of Genesis. Here, the earth which was covered in water, is surrounded by darkness. It’s still a great world, but it’s not in a useful state for God. He wants to turn this great piece of terrestrial rock floating in space into a masterpiece. So first things first, He commands Light to shine over it, and then the creative process begins in earnest.

The end result? You have a Garden of Eden, which man dreams of replicating. You have a place where there is no sin, no pain, no death. There’s no hunger, there are no tears, no breakups or disappointments. Inside the garden, there are no social unrests or wars. (That’s my kind of place – and I guess it’s the same for you.)

This all starts with the rising of the sun. And here the Apostle Peter captures the same vision. He says let the sun, which he beautifully calls a day star, arise in our hearts. The sun he is talking about is not the physical one. This time, it is a spiritual one, which is much superior to the one we see today. He is telling us, Jesus is the Day Star.

The Punchline

Here is the crux of the matter. Surely, there will be another masterpiece. We have been restored in all the splendour and glory of the original creation. We are going to a much better place than the first Garden of Eden, for we are going to New Jerusalem, the City of God. And it all starts with the rising of the sun in our hearts.

Day Star arise!

Read it again.

Listen: the sole reason to go out and hike, alone.

I’ve finally figured it out why I like hiking so much. This all came together over the weekend, when I was trying to get my weekly dose of meaningful TV programming. I was at home on Saturday, having failed to travel to Zomba to attend a family wedding due to other engagements. A TV host was interviewing one lady genius about our search for extraterrestrial life in outer space.

However, my two youngest sons were competing for my attention. I could hardly hear anything above the cacophony of their playful sounds. At that moment, I wished I was somewhere quiet, somewhere in the wild, up on a mountain listening to nature. Listening! That’s the word I have been searching for when talking about my adventures. It all rushed back to me in a second. The moment of comprehension was euphoric. This was it.

In a world where everyone, and everything is talking – literally everything, it has become more important to learn to listen. There is simply no way to learn anything new if we don’t have time to stop and listen. And this involves giving our total attention. It means dropping down everything we are doing, and just listen.

Country Scenery in Malawi
Country Scenery in Malawi

 

That is what I get when I hike. Not every time but most often. For I get from time to time, companions that are on a phone, or companions that are constantly talking, or asking questions. I don’t mind the last too, but certainly I don’t approve of the former. Bringing the modern world into a nature’s walk seems to me, failure to appreciate the need to disengage from the hustle and bustle of city life, and the need to reconnect with mother nature.

When you get those quiet moments, mostly alone with nature, you discover that the wild is not silent. It has a sound of its own, powerful, liberating, invoking, transporting, captivating. Nature speaks to your soul. The wild draws you into a world where ideas flow. It opens doors buried deep in your spirit. The mountains, the hills, the rolling plains, all dare you to ask more, ask longer, and obviously ask much deeper than ever before. In short, the countryside scenery allows you to meditate about life, and every point connected to the fabric of our existence.

But in order to do this, first you need to listen. And here are the baby steps:

  1. Remove any sources of distraction – phones, talking watches, music. Yes, music is good and I often immerse myself in it, especially when I’m walking alone. But often times I find that it masks the natural sounds around me. So on days when I want to maximize what I’m getting from the wild, I stop the music and listen to the birds and other animals play it out. That’s when you hear trees talk, and rocks whisper.
  2. Relax. Don’t be uptight. Really, just relax and enjoy the walk.
  3. Let the thoughts start filtering through. For whatever reason, nature likes filling up empty spaces. Once you are immersed in your walk, thoughts come back. Like sheep with a brilliant shepherd, they will follow you all the way to the summit and back. Let them accompany you.
  4. Be watchful. Be on the lookout for amazing moments. When taking a walk in the wild, I’ve often seen people miss out the goodies standing right in front of their path. It could be a butterfly, a beautiful blossom, or a beetle. Something that just untangles the cobwebs in your brain. It could be a perspective on a piece of rock. There’s just so much that unfolds from moment to moment. But you must be alert for such. It is the same with great thoughts. They come and go. They tease you with a fleeting presence. Grab them and encourage them to stay. Connect them to something that is important to you. That way you can always consciously bring them back again.
  5. Record these ideas. Not while you are enjoying your walk, but when you come to the end of the hike and are taking count of the day. I know that’s not what they teach these days. For we are told to have paper and pen ready wherever we go. But just like we are able to take a snapshot of a bird in mid flight, the brain is able to catch these ideas and keep them for you for a little while. Just download them later before hitting the sack.
  6. Think. Why are they important? To whom are they important? What will it take to get them see the light of the day. Who should get involved? Think it through.
  7. Act on them. By all means put them to test, for there’s no point in having great ideas if you are not going to act on them. It means nothing to have a listening ear, if you don’t have a talking mouth that will share these ideas with the world. And what a better way to share with the world other than to act on these ideas yourself? That way, your life will talk louder than your mouth will ever be able to achieve.

Hiking alone, somewhere quiet, surrounded by trees is nature’s way of teaching us how to listen – listen long and deep.

Psalm for the week: A humble victim of a violent take-over

Greetings to all. I have been away from the blog for a short while. It turns out that I needed a break from blogging just to find time to recharge. I’m back fresh, eager, and hopefully humble.

Today, we dig straight into Psalms. The last article in this series was about King David prophesying about Jesus being the King of all the kings of the world. It was a bold prophesy that most likely upset the giant kingdoms of the day.

Now comes Chapter Three, and David is in deep problems. He has had a take-over from within. One of his children has decided to take over the throne instead of waiting for a succession plan. Absalom has moved the people of Israel to rally behind him, forcing David to run away from Jerusalem to seek refuge in the wilderness. The story is covered in the book of Chronicles. It is a moving narration.

Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.

But this is what Psalms records:

“Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.

Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.

I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.

Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.

Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.”

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Psalms‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭KJV‬‬ http://bible.com/1/psa.3.1-8.kjv

Absalom, the vindictive

Of all the characters of the Old Testament, I find Absalom a very disturbing figure. He does not have a forgiving heart, he’s very ambitious and he’s a skimmer par-excellence. His character first shows up when his half-brother forced himself on Absalom’s sister. This shameful act caused Absalom to react. He plotted an elaborate plan to avenge his sister’s shame. He effected a 2 year plan, and finally managed to kill the perpetrator.

For taking matters into his own hands, the king banished him out of the kingdom. After some years, he was brought back but never enjoyed audience with the king. The state of affairs made him a bitter man. So he planned how he would gain audience again. And it involved setting on fire the harvest of the Army General, just to get his attention, and used him to ask David to meet him.

It worked. But this did not satisfy him. He went on to plan a super grand coup de tat of all times. He hatched a 40 year plan to take over his father’s throne. Talk about focus and determination. 40 years is equal to a generation. And that’s how long he took to implement his evil plan.

In the end, it worked just as he had planned. He took over the throne, kicked the king out of his city, slept with the king’s concubines to debase the public image of David, and had the backing of the majority of the population.

Unfortunately, he missed a point or two in his plan.

David, the humble but wise

Now, enters King David in the picture. When David fled the throne, the High Priest joined him, and came along with the Ark of Covenant. This was the ultimate symbol of God’s presence, and by extension, the spiritual proof that the king was indeed God’s chosen.

But then David does the unthinkable. He asks the priest to take back the Ark to Jerusalem, right in the domain of the enemy. He wanted to see the Ark in its rightful place, rather than clinging to it to legitimize his kingship. He does not utilize the Ark, to serve his personal needs.

And David refuses to fight the young man. Yet, he plans to set his counsel to nought. So he sends into the victorious plotter’s camp, a strategist whose sole purpose was to bring down the new rulership.

By the way, along the way, those that had a gripe or two with king David took advantage of the situation to bad mouth the king. The king’s followers were not pleased with this, and one of them demanded to chop off the offender’s head. David, not surprisingly declined, and took the insults in his stride. What a man!

In the end, Absalom got defeated, killed, and David got restored. The king used the power of humility and wisdom, to get rid of his enemies, and left a big lesson for us all.

Jesus, the more humble and much wiser

Again, this is a prophesy for Jesus. His enemies planned against His downfall for much longer than 40 years. For we are told that He was crucified before the foundation of the world. Genesis introduces the anti-Christ in the Garden of Eden that would bruise His heel. And when He came to the world some 2,000 years ago, the enemies were right beside Him, doing all they could to frustrate His ministry, and in the end terminated His life.

But just like David, Jesus resolved not to fight back. In fact, He forgave those that were baying for His Holy Blood. That’s an amazing character. He died, but that was not the end of it. He rose up Immortal, and is beyond the powers of this world. He is the most powerful person as we speak.

King David, the Brave

So here comes my favourite part:

Verse 6: I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.

Whoa! There’s more than meets the eye here. Ten thousands of people, is a huge crowd if they constituted the camp of the enemy. So King David was not a coward after all. He just wanted God to intervene. Those are the words of a brave warrior, who never allowed fear to dominate his life even in the darkest moment. He never lost sight of his God, and believed that he would return to Jerusalem in his former glory.

In our day to day life, often we get disturbed by what people say about us. It may be a mouth or two. It may not even be 20 individuals. But then, we allow this to ruin our day, our lives and even our relationships. David here says, even if they were more than 10,000 souls, it would mean nothing as long as God was in control. Think about it.

King Jesus, the Ultimate Warrior

The humble King who was struggling to carry His cross on the way to Golgotha had much more to offer than what the people of His day saw. He was not afraid to face death. He was not ashamed to be crucified as a sinner on our behalf. For He knew He would emerge a victor, having conquered hell and death.

Just like Absalom, the devil got hoodwinked. The external humility of these kings, masked the powerful wisdom that figured out the enemy’s plot, exploited the enemy’s pride, and both emerged victors. And behind that vulnerability, beat a heart that knew no fear.

Of all the prophesies about Christ, I find this one outstanding. And yes, there’s so much to learn from it on how we should deal with life, when caught in our weakest moments. We must turn to God, and not fight back the way the world expects.

When push comes to shove, try to use humility, wisdom and bravery, and see what God will do for you.

Easy Friday on Nkhoma Hill with Cathy

In mid-June there was a public holiday in Malawi, and Cathy and I decided to take advantage of it. We were looking for an easy getaway, and two choices presented themselves. There was Bunda hill, small, bare, chewable. And there was Nkhoma, a bit bigger, with more vegetation and right on the fringes of Lilongwe, the Capital City. So after a quick open invitation failed to yield any positive response, my wife Cathy and I took off for Nkhoma Hill.

Nkhoma Hill is beautiful throughout the year. I have covered it before on this blog. In fact, it was the first hill which I hiked this year. The views are incredible, the air fresh and the interaction with nature, magnificent. However, Cathy has always hesitated to go there on the account of one misadventure that took place in 2016. That time, I was preparing to go to Kilimanjaro, and Nkhoma was one of the hills I was trying to explore for the first time. I wanted to gain experience by visiting different hills and mountains. It was an excellent strategy.

Cathy on top of Nkhoma Hill.
Cathy on top of Nkhoma Hill.

When I got to Nkhoma for the first or second time, some insect sprayed venom on my neck. It created a ring of burning torture, and peeled off the skin. I was in pain for over a week, and it took months before my skin could return to normal. That spooked my better half, and since that time she has always skirted around any invitation to the hill. So on this particular day, it was exciting to see that she had finally overcome her fear for the mysterious sprayer. She happily and bravely accompanyed me to this scenic hill.

Sugar and Salt for Mountain Hut Guards

Our initial pace was aggressive. We wanted to reduce the time on the trial and spend more time at the peak. On the way up we came across the mountain hut that belongs to Nkhoma Hospital. The guards that look after the camping facility have lovely stories to tell. My favorite guard is Mr. Viremu. And on this day we had brought him sugar and salt. Unfortunately, he had left a shift earlier. Instead we met Mr. Enos Kalichero, who turned 73 in July. He’s still energetic, and was able to recall our previous meeting. We left him with the sugar, but asked to keep one packet for Mr. Viremu.

Then we took time to inspect the facility. There are two rooms each fitted with two single beds. There’s also extra mattresses in case you have brought in a large group. The rooms are at each end of the hut, and the mid section contains an open lounge with a fireplace. A pantry sits at one of the corners, and it has enough utensils for a group of ten, and perhaps even more.

It has been on our radar to bring up the little ones here for a night of camping. It will be their treat and the first taste of cabin camping. Anytime outside the rainy or cold seasons will perfect.

The Peak and Its Obstacle Course

Nkhoma Hill is small in terms of altitude. What it misses in height it doesn’t lack in character. The trail has pleasant twists and turns. However, the section going towards the peak is something else. It packs a punch and guarantees a sweat. There are boulders that must be negotiated. Thick shrubs line up the trail and offer a shade of sorts.

This is the section that makes hiking the hill worthwhile. Variety is key in keeping return visits to a hill fresh and interesting. In the case of Nkhoma, the pieces of rock that stand in your way offer a fresh perspective on each new visit. I truly wish there were many places that could hold your attention like the way this section does.

On our way up, we met a pair of foreigners making their way down. And other than the pleasantries that we exchanged, the only other thing that was expressed by one of them was how difficult this part of the hill was. We certainly appreciated sharing mutual respect for the terrain.

And as usual the peak was a beautiful reward. Cathy was beaming like a little girl who has just been given a bar of exotic chocolate. She took it all in one sweeping glance, and settled in by the trig pillar to enjoy the incredible view. The air is always fresh regardless of the time of the year. And on this day, it was no different,

German Shoes vs African Thorns

One special attention on this hike was a set of hiking shoes we had just ordered from Germany. My foot companion that I have used since 2016 is now showing signs of aging. It has faithfully stood by my feet, but now effects of the African sun, wind, and dust have taken their toil. The same story was happening to Cathy’s hiking shoes.

The new pairs were rather pretty, light and came with a fantastic grip. My pair was everything I would look for in a hiking shoe. And I was happily gliding along the trail until a sharp pain from my foot woke me from my blissful state. I let out a shriek and limped to a halt. What could have possibly pierced through both skin and flesh with such intensity?

The Angry African Thorn
The Angry African Thorn

My eyes followed down my leg that was painfully suspended in the air only to find a troop of thorns hugging the sole of the new shoe. One member had managed to pierce through what I had assumed to be the rugged base of the shoe. Its menacing tip was now lodged deep in my foot. I could not believe it. For all the great praise we shower on German engineering, the African thorn had just proved itself untamable.

Being non-discriminatory, the thorn had easily defeated the first world engineering marvel and sent an alert to me at the same time. The message was loud and clear. Despite all the advances in science and technology, the wild still remains aloof above man’s achievements. At a moment’s notice, it is able to demonstrate, rather cruelly, just how much still needs to be done to guarantee man’s safety and comfort.

I pulled it out. I examined the damage and proceeded with the hike, a bit more cautiously of course. And after a while, the pain subsided, the beauty of surroundings took over, and soon I was back into my blissful state again.

Wrapping Up First Half in Style and Looking Ahead

Come to think of it, this was our last adventure in the first half of the year. It had started with a visit to Nkhoma Hill, and ended up with a return to the same hill. The third quarter of the year has been planned to be a resting period. And once the body has taken care of all aches, burns and tears, it will be time to resume a return to the wild.

Malawi, just like most parts of the world, has a lot to offer. And in the second half, we intend to explore the northern parts of the country. There is the Elephant Rock in Mzuzu, Hola mountain in Mzimba, Misuku Hills in Chitipa and the escarpment in Karonga.

There are also a few interesting places in Ntcheu in the Centre and Machinga in the South. So let’s see how many we will be able to visit in the coming three months.

In the meantime, I’m extremely proud of Cathy for overcoming her fears, and at the same time I have my respects to the thorn that cheapened the superior German engineering.

This is the tale of Nkhoma Hill, whose turns and twists will never cease to evolve as long at the Earth stands on its orbit, and the sun continues to give us light and warmth.

Cheers!

Be More Race 2018 Awesome! Moving Forward!

Standard Bank’s Be More Race half marathon 2018 edition took place on Saturday, 9 June in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It was a great race that more than lived up to its name. To say that Standard Bank and its partners went out of their way to make this event probably one of the best, if not the best city race in Malawi, would be making an understatement. It was simply awesome! It was a great success. On Saturday, Standard Bank moved forward.

People from all walks of life converged at Standard Bank Head Office early in the morning. Everyone was there – professional athletes, club runners, wellness enthusiasts, dignitaries and the curious. It was a congregation of achievers, fighters and hopefuls. It was interesting to see the super fit mix with couch potatoes. One great thing was that all faces were wearing looks of confidence. No one was going to drop out of the race.

I was in the company of my lovely wife, Cathy. This time she was not coming to cheerlead me but to participate in the race. We both registered for the longest hit. The appeal for 21 km was too alluring to resist. We decided to challenge ourselves to the limit. It was both our first time to participate in such a big race. But one thing was for sure, we were ready for it. It had to be done. This was one item off the bucket list.

The race offered three great choices – 21 km, 10 km and 5 km categories. Each category had a different route. The starting off point was the same, but the start off times were different. Those in the 21 km hit were allowed to start first, followed by the 10 km category and lastly the 5 km hit. This was a race for everyone. Families, clubs, groups and friends were encouraged to run together. Little ones were there too.

Leading by example. William and Debbie le Roux in action.
Leading by example. William and Debbie le Roux in action.

The Main Circuit of the Race

The Start Line was placed strategically between Independence Drive and Convention Drive. I did not lose the double meaning, being that we were all preparing to move forward. The Guest of Honour, the State Vice President Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima joined the race just in time before start-off. He took part in the warm up aerobics. This was followed by the National Anthem. Then he had the honour of signalling the start time for the main event. Exactly at 6:00 am, he shot into the air twice and we all took off. Other than this singular honour, he decided to participate in the event by running too. He had done the same last year at the inaugural Be More Race.

As a blogger (ahem!) I spied on his physique and I could tell he enjoyed doing this. He is in great shape. Surely, I must be able to do something about my physical fitness too. A busy desk job or tight deadlines are not an excuse for not getting fit, and maintaining it by participating in various exercises. The list is endless to choose from, and the frequency is set at daily, with preset rests to allow the body to cope and adjust. Our Vice President joins presidents in the SADC region that are promoting an active health lifestyle, starting from our neighbor in the west, Zambia to further down in South Africa.

Guest of Honour in action. State Vice President, Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima (middle).
Guest of Honour in action. State Vice President, Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima (middle).

The fresh first trimester

Before I was at the head of the road from the Start Line, top athletes were already battling for the front line on the Convention Drive. They were thundering down the road as if they were a head of buffaloes. The spirit of competition was palpable. And excitement was in the air too. Today, I was not going to be the last one. Whatever happened, I would make sure that I could use the energy all around me to propel me forward. I had to be more.

By the time I turned into the Convention Drive, I could see that the group had split into two. The first group was out of sight, and I would not see it again till the end of the race. The second group was ahead of me, increasing the gap furiously. I was being overtaken, left, right, centre. Okay, perhaps not centre, unless one would have to jump over me, a thing I hoped would not happen. This was not a gender and age sensitive acceleration. Women, old, and a few young ones were bent on emerging winners in the main race. I could only silently admire them all.

We went up the first slope then dropped down in a descent. It was a gentle slope, as if it was an appetiser of what was to come. Just to be sure, I looked back and I could see that there was still a large crowd behind me. The colorful Standard Bank branded Be More t-shirts were shimmering in the morning light. The competition numbers, most pinned in front, and some pinned at the back, reminded everyone that we were in a serious competition. This was a day to prove one’s mettle.

Presidential Way

Just ahead of the road, Umodzi Park greeted runners as the five-star hotel stood majestically within the park. Just below it, and in front of Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) stood the finish line. Here was a truth in the saying that so close yet so far away. To get back to this spot, we would have to go round the city before returning from the opposite direction, drenched in sweat.

At the traffic lights, the route joined Presidential Way heading towards the roundabout near the Malawi Parliament building. On our right was the Masoleum, where the body of the founder of Malawi, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda lies in state.

Past the roundabout the road continues towards Area 18 roundabout. This section is currently under construction. The two single lanes are in the process of being expanded to a dual carriage way. But for now, cars are being forced to utilize one and half lanes, the rest having being taken up by construction barricades.

We added to the traffic pressure by running on the road. Others preferred using the pedestrian track that has seen the best of days. On this section the road goes up twice and down once. The first ascent goes past the Lilongwe Baptist Church on the left and the descent skirts around the Seventh Day Adventist campus.

As we were negotiating the first slope, my friend Patrick Machika appeared from behind. He’s the Deputy IT Director at Accountant General’s Department, under Ministry of Finance. I know he was recently nursing a swollen, and painful knee. And that he was contemplating on not attending this year’s Be More Race.

But here he was galloping in the wind like a stallion. He overtook me, gave me a word of encouragement and disappeared ahead. I greatly admired his tenacity. His wife, Lisnet was somewhere close by with Cathy, my wife. Cathy now had an important duty to stay ahead of Lisnet for my sake.

Gomani Road

After the Area 18 roundabout, we joined Gomani Road. Fortunately, it starts with a downhill slope, giving you a chance to demonstrate your ability to control your pace. But to those that don’t know that this is a race to run with patience, sprint down the road with consequences further down the route.

There’s also construction on this road with two places having physical constrictions. At both sites, we found cars that had left the road and got catapulted into adjacent ditches. I only hope there was no loss to life.

On this road there are about three undulating slopes. I had clocked my best running time in the first trimester. Unofficially, I took the whole route and divided it into three segments of seven kilometers each. And each segment, I called it a trimester for evaluation purposes.

My best time was six minutes and 25 seconds per kilometer. I sustained it up to the first six kilometers. But my best was not good enough. At this pace, I was still being overtaken by other runners.

I suspect that in order to have a decent run, one should run around five minutes per kilometer. Getting yourself to run below that limit will most likely graduate you into the winners circle.

I was not dejected by my performance. On the contrary, I was happy to get to experience first hand how a marathon works. It was also impressive to note that the spirit of outdoors is very much alive in the country.

Every human race was here, and performance is definitely colour blind. To the one who is committed, focused and prepared, the podium of success awaits.

Though I was doing this for fun, it wouldn’t hurt to be among the top three. I will test my ambition in the future Be More races. It will be all about similar routes, same legs and heart but a different approach. It will be about moving forward with a winner’s approach.

The second traditional trimester

The second trimester started on the same Gomani road. As we were going up the last slope, the first station came into view. A certain Caucasian lady who had just overtaken me raised up her hands and screamed, “water!”.

I affirmed. She said she was getting worried but now was clearly happy. She gladly took a bottle of water from one of the crew members and took off with renewed energy.

Immediately after the water point, the route turned into the road towards Ntandire, probably the most popular slum in this area.

The magnificent Bingu Sports Stadium dominated all structures here. And the road went downhill.

We had practiced running on this section with Cathy. By that time, she had to break into a walk just before the last slope on Gomani Road. This time around she completed the first trimester without effort, and shot down the road towards Ntandire. That is called self improvement.

At the bottom of the slope, Lingadzi River crosses the road. Beyond that, Ntandire is on the right and the low density, Area 47, on the left. This river has recently caused havoc to both areas with seasonal flooding.

A recent case that caught the nation’s eye involved a military rescue operation that airlifted two boys from Ntandire that were marooned on a makeshift river island caused by surging waters. The State Vice President was in charge of the successful rescue operation.

Traditional Touch

Just up ahead spectators lined up on both sides of the road. There was a water point too. On the left, women in colorful traditional wear were dancing to Gule wa Nkulu drums. Gule wa Nkulu is a traditional dance practiced by the Chewas, the dominant ethnic group of the central region of Malawi with historical roots from Uganda.

The Be More Race crew on the right was offering water and an energy snack. The snack was peeled sugarcane sticks wrapped in a plastic bag. I was flattered. My recent outdoors have involved experiments with local foods including bananas, roasted local maize and tangerines. Be More Race moved forward with the traditional touch.

The Ntandire Slope

Then came the first true test on the runners. The road went up a significantly steep incline. Other than this spot, there was perhaps only one more section with a similar challenge.

Mariam Matola or Mimitola in short, owner of The Sweat Factory, the famous female-only gym in Lilongwe, had overtaken me while going down the slope before crossing the Lingadzi river. Now, she had slowed down a little bit and I happily overtook her. I did the same to a few more runners but when I got to the top of the slope I tanked.

Then appeared from behind, a lanky runner and encouraged me not to stop. Micheal Baza is a lawyer by profession and he’s no stranger to half-marathons. While in Blantyre he had participated in half-marathons that were organized by an IT company called Burco between 2010 and 2013.

After a little chit-chat, and after the sting of the slope was gone, he took off gracefully. His athletic body made it look easy. He put a decent 200 meters gap between us.

African Bible College, Gateway Mall and beyond

The road flattened and traffic was on the increase. This road is part of the western bypass for road users traveling on the national road connecting the cities. Heavy goods trucks use this road to avoid getting slowed down by the inner city roads.

These heavy truckers had no respect to the tiny runners in blue Standard Bank colours. This forced us to run on the rough dirty tracks while avoiding oncoming cyclists.

There is a big campus on the left for African Bible College, which offers education, a Christian radio and both a community and top of the range hospital services. Next to it is the newly constructed Gateway Mall, famous for modern supermarkets, electronics shops, upmarket saloons and decent banking halls.

Further down the road, we reached Mchinji roundabout and turned left into Queen’s Road. Here the road is gentle, with a a slow uphill like an upturned trampoline.

Mimitola took this terrain to her advantage and overtook me again. Though, I returned the favour down the road, she maintained her lead and finished ahead of me. She has gotten herself into marathon trouble. Next year, all she will see will be my victorious back disappearing in front of her.

Mzimba Road

Down the road, Queen’s emptied into City Mall roundabout. During practice, the route was supposed to turn into M1 on the left. Instead it continued straight ahead into Mzimba Road, which separates the low density Area 6 on the left, and the semi-industrial Area 5 on the right.

This is probably the most beautiful road segment of the entire route. It is a modern road, with light traffic and plenty of tarmac running track. And as a bonus the road was gently slipping downhill. Standard Bank scored twice for this touch.

Just after the roundabout, the countdown began. There was a poster showing 9 km, meaning that was the distance remaining to the finish line. Later on, there was another sign for 6 km then 3 km.

At the bottom of the road, the route reached Amina House roundabout and turned into Chilambula Drive on the left. There was a water point there.

The grinding third trimester

Chilambula Drive offered the last comfort before going uphill. Here the effects of long distance started kicking in. I caught up with a few runners that had charged forward before.

This included Michael Baza. He had stopped to adjust his shoe laces, and I was sure he would be overtaking me soon afterwards. It never happened, and I cannot hide my glee about it. I will be rubbing it in for the next 12 months. Hehehe!

At this point I started contemplating on consistency. Consistency is a currency for all aspects of life. If you are able to do something consistently, regardless of speed of execution, your performance will be somewhat great. But if you could consistently do something with great speed, then you will performing like a superstar.

At the head of the road, the route turned into M1 and slopped towards Lingadzi bridge. Then it turned uphill. Just when the route crossed Area 18 roundabout for the second time, I stopped. My fuel tank was empty and I was running on fumes.

I broke into a brisk, power walk keeping in mind that Michael was catching up.

M1, Chayamba Drive and Chilembwe Road

This was the next tough uphill slope. Botanic gardens were on the right and high density but very popular Area 18 on the left.

In my mind, I was going to cruise past this segment. The reality was that my body was tired, my soles were burning and my right calf muscle was injured. I had endured pain from that muscle for over 10 kilometers and now, it was difficult to tolerate it anymore.

There was a watering hole ahead, and for my sake I decided to arrive there running. I forced a trot and a smile on my face. The crew was very encouraging as had been on all the previous rest points.

I grabbed my bottle of water, declined the sugarcane sticks, and proceeded on my run. As soon as I was past the point I dropped back into a walk. The rest of the way was a combination of walking and running.

Further up the road, the route turned right into Chayamba Drive and turned right again into Chilembwe Road. Low density Area 10 was on the left, and there was plenty of shade from the shadows cast by the mighty mbawa (mahogany) trees that line up both sides of the road.

I overtook a few runners and forced myself up the last slope on Chilembwe Road. Capital Hill, the main campus for government ministries was on the right.

The decision to walk, though seemingly convenient, had cost my key metrics. My average speed had dropped from the six minutes bracket to seven minutes. Hard as I tried to regain it, my tired body simply failed to cope with the strain.

I reached the bottom of the road with Capital Hotel on the left and BICC on the right. The route turned into the Independence Drive and gave the last short uphill stretch. I gave out my best, and dragged myself towards the end.

A race is about finishing it. It doesn’t matter how you started it. It’s all about crossing the finish line. That’s all. Everything else is just tantalizing details to an epic adventure. All eyes are fixed on that crossing line. So I did the same.

The Finish Line

I saw the Finish Line ahead. I looked behind to assess competition. I had been overtaken just when I was getting into Umodzi Park. I did not want a repeat.

I eased across the Finish Line with the best smile I could master, under the circumstances. An overwhelming sense of achievement washed over me. I had just completed successfully my first half marathon. 21 km of sheer pleasure, fun and effort were now under the belt.

I could only lift my eyes to Heaven and say, “Thank you, Lord!”.

I received a medal, my first one, and wore it proudly around the neck.

Cathy, completed her 21 km race and received her medal too.

My Hero

The race attracted people from all walks of life, each one with a story that could inspire us all. But the one that caught my attention was the story of Robert Kapanda, a very close family friend. He was involved in a car accident in 2008, which left him with broken bones on his legs and arm. His beautiful wife, Linda, was left with a broken left arm, and their three months old daughter, at the time, had a broken femur on the left leg.

He underwent several surgeries, and now has pins, a metal plate and screws which are permanent. He can never bend one of his knees, and has to use a pair of clutches to support his mobility.

Against all odds, Robert and Linda decided to participate in the Be More Race. He managed to complete the 5 km hit in one hour 5 minutes. Kudos to Robert and Linda.

I asked him a few questions as follows:

Why did you decide to participate in Be More Race 2018?

I decided to participate in the Be More Race in order to push myself to the unexpected limits. We only limit ourselves in the mind. And I also did it for fun, just to be part of the team.

With my injuries I can comfortably do static exercises. So I wanted to do an outdoor challenge to conquer my fears. I also knew that I would be running my own race, at my own pace – not competing with anyone.

What’s the message to those that might be physically challenged?

Most people who are physically challenged like me limit themselves in the things that they do. It’s like we are afraid of what people will say if we fail to achieve what we want to do physically. We need to accept our disability positively and to participate in the unthinkable sports activities to keep fit as well as socialising. Let us get out of our cocoon as they say. Disability is not inability.

Any last words?

I’m happy that I managed to do 5 km. Many thanks to my dearest wife, Linda, who is always there to lift up my spirits when I’m down with challenges and the frequent arthritis I experience on my left knee. To you Kondaine Kaliwo aka KK, my brother for giving me the confidence that I could do it. To my asisi (sister) Mtendere Gidala, my cheerleader and all friends and family who support me during my daily hustles.

I thank God for the gift of life, and for giving me a second chance in life. Glory and honour be unto Him.

[end of short interview]

Robert Kapanda at the finish line (left). Dr. Matthews Mtumbuka (right).
Robert Kapanda at the finish line (left). Dr. Matthews Mtumbuka (right).

Post Race Events

After this, it was all pomp and celebrations. There were moving speeches by William le Roux, the Standard Bank Chief Executive; Frank Chitembeya, Secretary General of Athletic Association of Malawi; Joseph Mwandidya, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development; and the Guest of Honour, State Vice President, Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima.

I chanced a small opportunity to ask Dr. Chilima, if he had a message to the nation. He said:

“Keep healthy! Keep exercising.”

I must say, he looked every bit of his words.

The Standard Bank Chairman, Dr. Rex Harawa and Lilongwe City Council Chief Executive Moza Zeleza graced the occasion too. They joined in the award presentation ceremony. It was colourful.

Dr Rex Harawa (right), Cathy (middle) & myself (left) after the race.
Dr Rex Harawa (right), Cathy (middle) & myself (left) after the race.

The Winners’ List

Women

  1. Too Mercy Telimo, KENYA, 1:22.33
  2. Cecilia Mhango, MALAWI, 1:24:55
  3. Telezisa Master, MALAWI, 1:26:36

Men

  1. Kafasi Kasten, MALAWI, 1:08:51
  2. Kipkogey Shadrack, KENYA, 1:09:02
  3. Chancy Master, MALAWI, 1:09:44

 

 

The Interview with Bill

I managed to get an opportunity to talk to William le Roux, Standard Bank Chief Executive. He was clearly very happy with the event.

Here is an excerpt of our interview:

I already heard from the speech that this was a success. Did you participate?

Yes, I did the 10 km race. And I see that you did the 21 km, so you put me to shame.

(We both chuckled.)

I’m going to have to do 21 km next year.

In your view, do you think you are spreading the word across? Do you think the message is getting home?

I think so. You look around, and you can see we got a bigger field today than last year. And I expect that next year the race will even be bigger.

I don’t want to preempt anything, but I think we need to look at how we can expand this. We had a number of international athletes come in. We had Kenyans, but the Malawian athletes put up a good show, and really competed well.

We will make the race broader. I have a vision for Lilongwe City Marathon. But we’ll have to look at the logistics, and see if it is something we can put together.

That was going to be my next question. 21 km is not a small thing, but Standard Bank is about “Be More”. So could we say ultra-marathon?

Hahaha! I think let’s walk before we run.

What’s your message to Standard Bank customers, the business community and the diplomatic corps?

I would say specifically to Standard Bank customers, in respect of “Be More”, there’s a lot we are doing at the moment. Our customers are going to see a lot of changes in the service delivery channels in the course of a couple of weeks and months. And they will find our main banking hall de-congested and the service much quicker.

I invite them to use our apps on USSD platforms, etcetera. Everyday we are making improvements to our service delivery. And I believe that will make a massive difference.

To our customers, I would also like to invite them to participate. I have seen a lot of our customers at the event today. And as we build up to next year’s event, we’ll be encouraging everyone to come out and share with us.

And I would like to invite everybody to enjoy the day with us. And come and have a look at the services we are offering and the improvements to our customer service that we are making everyday.

So last words?

I think that sums it up. Just again, thank you to Thoko Unyolo and her very capable team. I wish I could name everybody that made this thing a success. All the volunteers, all the staff, the media, the media companies. Guys like yourself that helped to get the word out. We really, really appreciate it.

We can’t do that on our own. And Standard Bank wasn’t on its own. We have got numerous sponsors, some of which I mentioned up on the podium. And all of them contributed to make this a fantastic success.

Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Thanks a lot.

[end of interview]

Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.
Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.

The Take Home Lesson

When all is said and done, here’s the main lesson for me. Challenge yourself to achieve the impossible, and in the process of that, so many other opportunities will show up. I’ve never been a physically active person, but at this stage, it looks like my life after 40 is going to be much more active than when I was a teenager.

Be More Race 2018 Edition opened the door to a world of possibilities. I would like to challenge myself to move forward and attempt a marathon in the foreseeable future.

What about you? What’s the greatest challenge facing you right now? Don’t look away and move back. Move forward. Be More!

Message from the State Vice President on tomorrow’s Be More Race

I have a friend who says the best can get better. It’s a beautiful conceptual model of continuous improvement. Whatever we think is great today, we can make it greater tomorrow.

Be More Race just got that kind of better. When I thought all had been said about the race, today we got an important message. The State Vice President, Right Honorable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima of the Republic of Malawi has added his timely support to Be More Race.

He is championing togetherness that different teams have shown during the preparation process. And he believes that the same spirit will help build up the nation.

Wonderful words of wisdom. Pay heed and enjoy the video below:

Be More!

Be More Race 2018 Edition is Finally Here

The day we have been waiting for is finally here. The first announcement on this blog about the Be More Race 2018 Edition was nearly 100 days ago. Standard Bank invited its customers, business community, diplomatic corps and the general public to the bank’s flagship half marathon.

The date is Saturday, 9 June 2018. It will take place in Lilongwe, and the start point will be at Standard Bank Head Office in City Centre.

Registration Details and Race Start Times

You can register for Be More Race in several ways.

You can send an email to Bemorerace@standardbank.co.mw. Indicate your name and type of race.

You can also register online at www.standardbank.co.mw/bemorerace.

There are three categories of the race. The first one is 21 km, it starts at 6:00 am and entry fee is K17,000.00.

The second one is 10 km, it starts at 6:10 am and the entry fee is K11,000.00.

The last one is 5 km, it starts at 6:20 am and the entry fee is K6,000.00.

The last day of registration is this Friday at 20:00.

Let’s Keep the Environment Clean

Standard Bank has declared Be More Race environmentally friend. Every runner, every spectator, every member of the general public is being encouraged to keep the city clean.

Do not litter!
Do not litter!

Please, do not litter.

Special Message from the Chief Executive

The Chief Executive for Standard Bank, William le Roux, has a special message to Malawi.

“Why do we exercise? Exercise is a way of keeping the weight off, keeping the doctor’s bill down and generally being more alert and happy.”

Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.
Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.

He has summed it up very well.

Global Running Day

On 6 June the world celebrated Global Running Day. “Be More” race hopes we used the day to warm up for the main event this Saturday.

Global Running Day.
Global Running Day.

The Main Route Video

Be More Race has released a video tracing the route for 21 km hit. If you have registered under this category, please, take time to watch and understand every inch of the route.

Make sure you reinforce your mental picture.

Some Goodie Goodies from “Be More” partner, Airtel

Mobile service provider, Airtel Malawi has promised some goodie goodies at the finish line. Spoiler alert – there will be free WiFi and other terrific offers from one of the dominant mobile network operators in the country with a presence across Africa.

Surprises from Airtel await at the Finish Line!
Surprises from Airtel await at the Finish Line!

Get Ready!

So when all is said and done, the D-Day awaits this Saturday. Please, consider the following:

Make sure if you have medical preconditions to get clearance first from your doctor.

Make sure you are properly rested.

Be sufficiently hydrated by tomorrow.

Stay away from liquor.

Register before the deadline.

Come to have fun with family and friends.

See you at the Start Line!

Be More!

Sleepover on Sapitwa, the highest peak on the tallest mountain in Malawi

A Great Mountain Sleepover Invitation

Few weeks ago Mountain Club of Malawi (MCM) sent out an invitation to its members for a sleepover on Mulanje mountain. This is the highest massif in Malawi and it is famous for beautiful trails, crystal-clear waters and amazing views.

The highest peak on Mulanje mountain is set in stone, standing at 3,002 m amsl. It is traditionally believed to be inaccessible and its name says the same in the vernacular. Explorers have nonetheless, created a trail to the peak but the environment at the top remains hostile.

The invitation was however focusing on a different aspect of the peak. This was an opportunity to view the most amazing sunset and sunrise in the country, if not on the continent. And the best way to enjoy both is to spend the night on the peak, and hope for the best.

Sapitwa Sleepover Adventure. Ngamise Gumbo (top), Chinga Miteche (left) and myself (right).
Sapitwa Sleepover Adventure. Ngamise Gumbo (top), Chinga Miteche (left) and myself (right).

The Preparation for the Sleepover

Having visited Sapitwa earlier this year with my brother and friend, Daniel Dunga, I already had an idea of what I was getting myself into. When we were there in January, it was cold, wet and windy. The environment was not friendly at all. But then what would you expect of the highest point from Mozambique in the East and Namibia in the West?

Therefore, it meant that preparation for the sleepover would be in two aspects: physical and mental. The former was a straight forward affair while the latter was in a different league altogether.

For physical fitness, I went to Senga Hills last week. Before that I took a 21 km run, which I’m also using to prepare for the Be More Race this coming Saturday. There was a shorter run with a running mate. And I thought this was adequate.

As for mental preparedness, first of all I removed all fear. I also used the reputation of our Mountain Leader to calm my nerves. In addition, I committed the whole trip into the Hands of God. When He created these extreme environments, He also knew His curious children would come exploring.

The History Of Sapitwa Sleepover

Maggie O’toole and Brian Lewis, the pioneers of the extreme Sapitwa Sleepover

I’ve covered the story of Maggie O’toole and her husband Brian Lewis in a different article. She’s the current president of Mountain Club of Malawi. She’s a veteran hiker with a hiking CV that spans across all the major mountains of Malawi. What I love about this power couple is that they are both unassuming, humble, very approachable, and highly skilled in organizing mountain events.

Back in 1997, she decided to spend a night on top of Sapitwa Peak. It had not been done before that. When she pulled off this jaw-dropping stunt, it became institutionalized. Now the sleepover attracts participants from across the world. It is an annual event and takes place in the month of June, which incidentally is the beginning of the cold season in Malawi.

When I once asked her about why they decided to attempt this impossible feat, she dismissed it with a brush of her hand as if it was not a remarkable moment in the history of hiking in the country. Maggie and Brian will forever be remembered for a legacy that will never fade away as long as Mulanje mountain stands.

Gordon Benbow, the Irreplaceable Iron Man and Mountain Leader for Sapitwa Sleepover

Gordon Benbow is the custodian of all things extreme in Malawi. Somewhere between 2002 and 2004, he took over from Maggie on organizing the Sapitwa sleepover. He has been to Sapitwa Peak a record 25 times and has overseen the sleepover 14 times.

At 62, he’s as sharp, focused, strong and agile as ever before and looks set to watch the sunsets and sunrises from the bare slab at the top of the mountain for another one thousand years.

Gordon also organizes and leads in the annual Three Peaks Walk. This a grueling 48 km walk around Blantyre that includes summitting three mountains – Michiru, Ndirande and Soche, all in a single day.

Gordon is the face of Sapitwa Sleepover and the Three Peaks Walk.

Gordon Benbow, the Mountain Leader (middle). Myself (left) and Charles Nembele (right)
Gordon Benbow, the Mountain Leader (middle). Myself (left) and Charles Nembele (right)

Premium Packing and Five-Star Accommodation

Two things that are usually grossed over when recounting adventures are packing and accommodation when the hiking destination is out of town. When packing is done haphazardly, it can mean a difference between a comfortable hike or not. And in some cases, it can also mean the difference between life and death.

Cathy, my beloved wife and premier organiser

For that reason, I will not tire praising the crucial role Cathy, my wife, plays in getting ready for my hikes. For the Sapitwa Sleepover, she methodically ran over the checklist and packed every essential piece of clothing and equipment. She packed my food, which for this expedition, was outside the usual.

Just like the hike on Senga, I wanted to avoid processed food, sugar and meat. Instead, I opted for fruit, nuts and water. I wasn’t very sure how far I would go with that diet, but it was worth giving it a shot. Cathy got all that ready.

On Thursday afternoon I said goodbye to my extremely excited boys and kissed Cathy. Then I jumped into a bus from Lilongwe to Blantyre. There was no looking back.

I sat next to Frank Maele in the Axa bus. He is one of the pioneers in the ICT industry in Malawi. He is the founder and owner of CompuByte. He’s also the owner of Byte Lodges in Lilongwe, both a going concern that have weathered the harsh economic climate facing the private sector. He’s a fountain of business wisdom and I learned a lot in the 4.5 hour ride between the cities.

Uncle Gustave, my gracious host

Gustave Kaliwo, or Uncle Gustave, as I love to call him is an uncle, brother and mentor all rolled into one. He’s a veteran lawyer, just like my father, George, and both very patriotic to the core about this country and its various systems.

Uncle Gustave picked me up for the night and fixed me more fresh fruits and macadamia nuts. However, by the time I was starting off for Mulanje the next day, I had nearly cleaned off the box of macadamia nuts and munched a significant amount of bananas and some tangerines. I guess it was a smarter way of packing food for the hike.

On Friday, 1 June 2018, I woke up fresh and energized. I was eager and ready for this epic adventure in every sense of that word.

Ride to Mulanje

As previously arranged, I got dropped at the pick up point. I made sure to be at the Midima Roundabout in Limbe way before 12:45. This was using the event to improve my time-management skills. Again, I wanted to make a good impression on Gordon.

Like clock work, Gordon’s car arrived first. He had left someone behind who was five minutes late. She had to catch up with him within a 10 minute window or risk being left behind.

I jumped in the second car with Jan van der Velde . He had just moved from Lilongwe to Blantyre and he had just reported for a new job in the commercial city of Malawi. We took off to Mulanje in a convoy of three cars. The rest would catch up with us later. But few had already left before us.

It’s one hour drive from Midima turn-off in Limbe to Chitakale in Mulanje. You can do less than that when the road conditions are better. Other than the broken bridge at Nkando, the rest of the road was in excellent condition. The broken bridge was a patchy affair, which needs urgent and proper repairs.

Likhubula Start-off Point

Our start off point for the sleepover was Likhubula Forest Office. We would be spending the night on Chisepo Hut, 6 hours away. Starting off at 14:00 meant we would be at the hut by 8 in the evening.

Those that did not have an appetite for walking in the dark had started off in the morning instead. That included Barbara Swarthout-tenKate, a medical doctor, Chinga Miteche and Ngamise Gumbo, a power hiking pair, one as an IT Consultant with an international company and the other a product manager at TNM, the biggest local mobile company in Malawi.

I met Charles Nembele, a friend and my personal trainer for many years; Racheal Mijiga, a director at Airtel Malawi, the other big mobile company in the country; and Humphreys Gerald, a networks engineer with Airtel, and cyclist who enjoys covering 80 km in a day between Blantyre and Liwonde.

The rest of the hikers were from different countries across the world – UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, USA and so on. About 22 hikers had confirmed the invitation and had booked a seat.

A Smooth Take-off

Exactly at 14:15 we started off for Chisepo Hut. Gordon had introduced us to the guide Frank, his assistant guide Stanford Duncan and the porters. Each one was assigned a porter according to the number of bags. I opted for two porters to carry my tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food and water. In addition, I brought along a backpack too for my torch, headlamp, knife, phone, power bank, raincoat – just in case, and a warm coat.

I caught up with Racheal’s team and convinced them to slow down. Humpreys decided to join Gordon instead. This towering giant was later to recount the hard task of keeping up with Gordon. Gordon left us the assistant guide to help with the navigation. Then he took off as if he was powered by nuclear energy. I expected no less than that from him.

Chapaluka Trail to Chisepo Hut

Mulanje Mountain is gorgeous beyond words. It has 62 peaks in all shapes and sizes. The biggest peak is Sapitwa, which is not visible from the western face of the mountain. To get to Chisepo Hut from the Likhubula Forest Office, one is presented with two choices.

There is Skyline and Chapaluka trails. Skyline is shorter, steep and a delight to veteran hikers. Chapaluka is gentler, has a river running alongside it, with a double crossing. It has pools that you can swim in. It is a tourist’s choice. For this trip we all picked the Chapaluka trail.

Once at the plateau, the two trails join together and take you to the hut via the knife edge, a trail that teases your senses.

The Beauty Of Chapaluka Trail

This was my first time going up Chapaluka. The previous time was back in January when returning from Chambe hut. That time we were descending from the top. The trail did not disappoint. The air was fresh, the canopy was green with mountain flowers here and there. Some protea had a small bloom. I’m not sure if these were early or later bloomers.

Our assistant guide kept us entertained with folklore. He has also been trained not to leave any piece of litter behind. So at some point, when I was failing to open up a packet of groundnuts, I bit off a corner of the packet with my teeth and spat out a tiny piece of plastic. He immediately reached down for it and put it in his bag. I was humbled especially considering how I promote for clean hiking environments.

A Lick of the Cold and a Touch of Mountain Pools

Our focus was to make sure to complete the first ascent before sunset. We managed to do that. And just before reaching the western plateau, we went through a rainforest section. It like walking through a cold room. I felt my fingers burn with cold. Here was a foretaste of what was to come. I said nothing to the team about it.

When we reached the top, we saw stars coming out and sun bowing out of stage. We descended into a valley where the Chapulaka trail connects with a trail from Skyline. We crossed a make shift bridge composed of a loose tree plank. There is a series of pools here, and everything just looks out of this world. This is the last major watering point until Chisepo Hut.

On the other side of valley, the trail sharply rises up. The grinding started right here. Further up the trail, there’s also another steep section similar to this one.

The Night View

Darkness set in and the moon came out. The pretty little purple flowers were radiant under the bluish LED light from the torch. The silhouettes made beautiful illusions of animal shapes. Nameless peaks glowed under the moonlight.

The Milky Way, which looks absolutely exquisite here, spanning across the sky from the eastern side, slicing away towards western south, finally gave way to the luminance from the moon. The lunar charm was in full force.

Directly in front of us Scorpion menacingly glared at us with its red star. The Dipper was to our North, apparently not bothered by the presence of this stinger. A few more constellations kept us company.

A little more walk, frequent rests and careful, measured sips later and we were over the last incline. We were greeted by flashing light from the hut. When we got there it was around 22:00, 2 hours later than the scheduled period. In any case, the relief was immense. Those that we found awake gave us comforting words of solidarity.

The Night at Chisepo Hut

Chisepo Hut is the Base Camp for hikers attempting to summit Sapitwa. It proudly seats at 2,229 m amsl. At this altitude, it is further up than the highest peak on Dedza Mountain, the second tallest mountain in Malawi.

The hut is square, with a roofed veranda and a chimney that juts out from the middle of its pyramid hip roof. It has one entrance facing north. And there are two wooden bathrooms at the back. There is a big rock in front of the hut, from which you can catch a glimpse of the rock formations that tail off Sapitwa Peak.

There was adequate space inside the beautiful wooden hut, but I decided to sleep outside. I joined a few brave souls that were wrapped in their sleeping bags on thin mattresses along the veranda. I kept my body shielded against the wind, and slightly exposed the head to get a vantage point of the following day’s sunrise.

Sunrise At Chisepo Hut

On Saturday morning, we woke up early to bright clear skies. The sunrise was soothing. The color play offered rich hues of red, orange and purple on the fringes. The moon was behind the hut. It complimented the sunrise.

The pains of the previous day vanished. The air was fresh, and the wind went away with the night. Phalombe, the next district to Mulanje lay quietly below us in the direction of the sun.

Today, was the day we would be spending the night on Sapitwa. While I was busy giving myself some pep talk, Marc Henrion took off from the hut. He was wearing, in the cold of the morning, a thin t-shirt and a whimsical shot. He went for a 7 km trail run in preparation of this year’s Porters Race. A little bird told me that he’s the top performer among the foreigners’ category. By the way, this race is an annual half marathon across Mulanje Mountain, and this year it will take place on 14 July.

To go beyond extreme, he went and took a bath in the cold stream next to the hut. At such a sight, I knew I had nothing to worry about. I was surrounded by hardcore characters and that Sapitwa was going down.

A Walk to Sapitwa

After breakfast, we all set off for Sapitwa. Those that had the intentions to return to the hut on the same day left earlier than the rest of us. The wind of the previous night had convinced a few souls that it was better spending a cosy evening around the fire in the hut than having a sleepover on bare rock above us.

I joined Gordon to have a sweet taste of super performance. With tremendous effort I stayed just ahead of Gordon until the first major break. But alas, I should have known better. At that point, I felt like the heart was in my mouth. I dropped to the rear and continued at my comfortable pace. For the record, I had already told Gordon that he was a Martian straight from Mars. I got better and told him that he was powered by nuclear energy. That didn’t daunt the Mountain Leader as he scaled up the peak.

A Glider on the Obstacle Course

The trail to Sapitwa is the most twisted and savage route I have ever seen on the few mountains I have visited in Africa. It is an obstacle course that can easily stand tall in the world. Steep slopes, sharp bends, huge steps are framed with precipices in strategic sections that could claim lives.

And at some point, after we had squeezed ourselves through a thin gap between towering boulders, we saw someone approaching us at lightning speed. It was a lady and a porter. When she caught up with us, she introduced herself as Pilirani Chuma. She had started off at 4:30 am that morning from Likhubula Forest Office. She reached Chisepo Hut at 9:30 am, 15 minutes after we had started off for Sapitwa. And here she was. She overtook us and disappeared towards the peak.

I have never seen anything like that. We didn’t see her again until we reached the peak. A small bird (another one) told me that she runs 15 km daily in less than an hour and never takes second position. I was among giants of perseverance, determination and focus.

Sapitwa Peak

Later in the afternoon we got to the top. Just like last time, the view was amazing. But it was also cold and windy. The guides and the porters dropped our bags and left us to our own devices. I overheard a few porters wondering what got into our heads to decide spending a night there in such weather conditions.

I found a sweet spot between Chinga’s and Barbara’s tents. It was like the bottom of a shallow trench, with a vertical stone wall on the southern face no more than one meter tall providing some shelter. The northern side gently slanted towards it like a grand entrance. The trig pillar on the highest point was visible from the open ended enclave.

A Gourmet Meal after Checking-in

I quickly set up my tent, unpacked and changed into warm clothes. Pilirani offered me bottled water to quench my thirsty throat and Ngamise gave me chapatti (pitta bread) and beans. That served both as my lunch and dinner. The fresh bananas that I had struggled to carry were mashed and not fit to be consumed. What a waste. But the tangerines were still in good shape.

When we all got set, we gathered on the western end of the peak for social interaction. There was laughter, anecdotes and tales of adventure between clenched teeth and rubbing hands. This was a point of no return. Sleepover mode was activated.

Sunset on Sapitwa on Saturday Afternoon

After about an hour of chatting, I excused myself and retired to my tent. At that point, I was tired and cold, which made me fall asleep easily. When I woke up around 5 pm I found the peak covered in mist. The sun was going down and was casting beautiful shades of red and orange. The mist was wispy, just enough to make the sunset look mysterious.

Then it lured me to the western ledge and captivated me with its melancholic tones. It felt like immersing in a giant, invisible bowl of whipped cream that soothed the heart and brought tears to my eyes. Something seemed to say that there’s hope to life. For even if there’s a sunset in your life, there will be a sunrise the following day. Life doesn’t just fade away. It comes back. The Bible says the same thing.

Standing alone, oblivious to Marc Henrion behind me who was leaning against a rock in a sitting yoga pose and was staring into the sunset, I went into deep mediation. Pure thoughts infused my mind, and I worshipped silently. I felt connected to the best of nature. The cold, the wind and the mist disappeared. I was reaching out. Calm beyond description engulfed me. I was grateful to be alive.

Sunset on Sapitwa. Photo taken by Marc Henrion.
Sunset on Sapitwa. Photo taken by Marc Henrion.

I watched as the sun started to sink into the western horizon. Strangely enough, instead of sitting on the brim of the sliced globe, it was somewhat inside the ring of fire. It looked like the red and orange ring behind it had nothing to do with the giant deep orange and crimson red ball.

It hesitated for a moment, then vanished out of sight. The red ring on the horizon disappeared, and dark came rolling in. I woke up from my meditative state and hurried back to the tent. This was clearly my best sunset this year. Thank you Dear Lord for such moments.

The Night on Sapitwa Peak

Then the night came. Everyone resigned to their own tents. Some slept alone, and others in groups. I was a lone wolf in a tiny, two-person domed bubble. This was the only thing protecting me from the elements. The wind went incessant and raged on furiously throughout the night. More than once it felt like the tent would be pulled off its four pins and be sent hurtling over the edge of the peak. I could hear the wind slapping the tents next to mine too.

The tent kept on shaking like exaggerated effects of old Hollywood movies. Someone had left some pots outside, and the tinkling sound of metal became the unwilling percussion section of this grand concert with powerful acoustics. I slipped in and out of sleep. I added another layer of clothing and wore thermal gloves above my normal pair of gloves. My thermal pants joined my hiking pants. I had already worn my balaclava but felt cold air caressing my neck. I rummaged in one of the hiking bags and fished out a scarf. Ah yes! Thoughtful Cathy had packed this sweet little gift for me. I wrapped it around my neck and fell in love once again with my wife from the highest peak in Malawi. A special kiss was awaiting her on my return. A kiss of love and gratitude.

Nocturnal Events

I slept comfortably on the super thin mattress against undulating rock surface. The hard bed was shaped like one of those posh chairs you see on photos of first class cabins on luxury airlines. After a while, I could feel a spongy layer from less than an inch of shallow soil and bare traces of grass thinly absorbing my weight. This comfort was only available on the southern side of my bed, while the northern side gently sloped away into a hard base. The trick here was to keep on alternating between the extreme luxuries. Truly, they don’t make beds like this anymore. Hehehe!

Despite all this comfort, I only dreamt once. It was a disturbing dream. I dreamt that I had visited a shop and the person I found in the shop dropped a bomb. He told me that my current CEO at my work place had just resigned. I have worked for NITEL for 16 years, but my CEO and Managing Director Andrew Kamkwalala joined the company a year earlier than me. He’s the bulwark of the company, and has unstoppable passion for the company and all it represents. I woke up startled, searching for meaning.

More than once, I would unzip the tent’s side window and peep outside. The view of the sky was surreal. It was clear without any trace of clouds. The moon was out, casting tantalizing lays on the peaks. I was tempted to step outside, but the cold kept my enthusiasm in check.

A clear night sky with the moon up, taken from inside my tent.
A clear night sky with the moon up, taken from inside my tent.

A Quiet, Quality Time

Having much time between the sleeps, I seized the opportunity to sing and pray. I prayed for my family, friends, church, nation, children of God, everyone on Sapitwa and myself. I was grateful that such a weakling like I could find the courage to spend the night in such a harsh environment.

Lately, it has occurred to me that I had spent my life praying to God to remove obstacles in my life. Yet the Bible does not teach that. I should have been praying to God to see me through the challenges. Let the challenges come. Let the obstacles show up. So what? As long you overcome them in the end in whatever way it really doesn’t matter how your life is shaped up right now.

The prayers on this night took that form. “God, don’t let me be a coward. Don’t let circumstances cower me into submission. Don’t let negative events quench the fire in me. I’m a child of God. I have faith, and I want to live a fulfilled life. Help your children today to know what they are, so that they can stop listening to the devil, and believe the Truth that you have given us an abundant Life.” I rejoiced my victory in Christ.

Sapitwa Sunrise, the icing on the cake

Now came the crux of the matter. The reason we were on the peak was not the sleepover. Although that was lovely in its own way. We were here for the sunrise. We had all come loaded with expectations. I had heard from Maggie O’toole that this time of the year was the best time to enjoy the sunrise because the skies were crystal clear. The only variable out of control for anyone was the weather. The weather on Mulanje is unpredictable, and during the onset of cold season, it is very easy to have showers, cloud cover or fog. So we came hoping for the best.

I woke up at 5:00 and peeped outside. There was a faint line across the eastern horizon already. I got out of my tent, woke up Chinga to my left then Barbara to my right, and Gordon to my second right. I went to two more tents beyond Chinga’s and then rushed to claim a seat on the trig pillar. It wasn’t a wise move as this was too exposed. But it was the view I was after, and not any shelter.

Within minutes I couldn’t feel my lips and nose. So I made a makeshift face cover from the scarf and settled to watch the most spectacular sunrise in the country on this particular day.

The Sunrise on Sapitwa

What I experienced about the sunrise here was my first encounter, ever. I had always assumed that during the sunrise the sun reaches across the entire visible arch of the horizon. However, that is not the case. Instead of a ring of light, there was a slit of light on the eastern horizon. The rest of the world was still covered in darkness. You could actually see how far the light had penetrated the dark.

I watched as the slice of light increased in height when viewed as a profile. It seemed to have a centre where the intensity of light concentrated. On the left of that centre, the light was more diffused as if there was a giant cotton ball that was floating in a mist of yellowish red. On the right of the phantom centre, the light was sharper and was mostly bright yellow with a subtle hint of red.

I could see that most parts of Zomba and Phalombe on my left, Mulanje on my right and Blantyre, Thyolo and Chiradzulu behind my back were still in darkness. Security and street lights were still on. This was a bizarre phenomenon.

The Magic of The Sunrise

Then came visual transformations. The right side of the slice took less prominence. The centre shifted towards the left, which became brighter than before. I was confused. Could the point of ascension shift? It shouldn’t be, but in this case it looked like it moved away from the central point.

Between the peak and the horizon, there were seven layers of silhouettes, showcasing the jagged edges of the mountain peaks. Each silhouette had a different depth of its shadow. Beyond the seventh peak, clouds simulated a similar shape pattern, making it an eighth layer. It was picturesque.

In the meantime, the ring of light on the horizon started elongating. And what had looked like land meeting the sky became a floating bed of flat clouds. Up until this moment, I had not realized that sunrise was such a complex process. It was so mesmerizing.

Then fire reappeared on the centre of the original ring. The sky lit up in colors of reds, orange, yellow, purple and blue. This is the stage I’m most familiar with. Then out came a shimmering globe resplendent with celestial beauty.

The jury was out. The verdict on the sleepover was that this was by far the best sunrise I have ever seen. The last time I saw something close to this was the sunrise on Kilimanjaro back in 2016 following the summit night.

This was a day to remember.

Group photo on Sapitwa Peak after the Sleepover. Photo taken by Chinga.
Group photo on Sapitwa Peak after the Sleepover. Photo taken by Chinga.

The Sleepover over

With a deep sense of gratitude and satisfaction we wrapped up our affairs and left the mountain. I joined Chinga and Ngamise for the descent. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep up with their pace. Chinga slowed down for me, and Ngamise would take breaks to allow me to catch up.

It was a clear day and the mountain was radiant as usual. I drank as much of the mountain water as possible. We took the Chapaluka trail and met a few tourists going to Dziwe La Nkhalamba, an amazing natural pool set below a beautiful waterfall.

They dropped me at the Axa bus terminal in Blantyre. We said our goodbyes and I left for Lilongwe.

My biggest lesson in all this was that fresh bananas are difficult to carry to Sapitwa unless if they are placed in a special container. So next time I’ll go for dried fruit.

No, seriously, this was not the biggest lesson.

The biggest lesson is that in life challenges will not go away or get any less. We should strive therefore to get better at facing these challenges. Truly, for every cold, windy sleepover on your Sapitwa Peak, there’s a beautiful sunrise waiting.

The Expedition List

Likhubula Forest Office Start-offs

(A brave attempt on the mountain)

  1. Jan van der Velde

Sapitwa Day Excursionists

(Summiting Sapitwa but no sleepover)

  1. Rachael Mijiga
  2. Charles Nembele
  3. Humphreys Gerald

Sapitwa Sleepover Hiking Fiends

(Spending a sleepover on Sapitwa Peak)

  1. Gordon Benbow
  2. Gordon’s son
  3. Gordon’s son’s friend
  4. Barbara Swarthout-tenKate
  5. Marc Henrion
  6. Ngamise Gumbo
  7. Pilirani Chuma
  8. Donna
  9. Donna’s tent besties
  10. Donna’s female friend
  11. Donna’s male friend
  12. Chinga Miteche
  13. Kondaine Kaliwo
  14. Sarah
  15. Sarah’s friend
  16. Sarah’s friend
  17. Chris
  18. And the quiet guy

(The list will be updated once the names become available.)

 

 

Read It Again: That Which We Have Heard

The Apostle John of the Bible is one of the most blessed men to ever walk the face of the earth. Jesus met him when he was a young man, and immediately took him as an object of love. He walks besides Jesus and grows in knowledge and character. He builds experience to the point that he becomes a veteran of the Gospel. In his ministry, he becomes a pastor of the Church of Ephesus, which was founded by the Apostle Paul. He also becomes a prisoner of Christ when he gets banished to the terrible and isolated isle of Patmos, which was reserved for dangerous and desperate rejects of the Roman society. John sees it all.

Light on the horizon. John saw the light in Jesus.
Light on the horizon. John saw the light in Jesus.

In the end, he gets to write one of the four cornerstones of the Gospel. Then while at the Isle of Patmos, he receives a series of the most spiritual visions ever recorded by man, and he as a faithful scribe writes the Book of Revelation, the last of the New Testament. And when John gets old, he writes the three beautiful books, I John, II John and III John. He gets to experience every facet of a Christian life first as a young disciple, then as a young Apostle, then as a pastor and as a prisoner of Christ.

So when he says that which he has seen, he’s reflecting across the entire spectrum of his Christian life. He identifies Eternal Life from the beginning and mentions it in all the three groups of his books. But he doesn’t stop there. He emphasizes that he has seen Eternal Life with his eyes, he has looked upon it, he has handled it with his hands. He calls it the Word of Life.

Read 1 John again. When he says he is a witness and that he shows us the Eternal Life, which is the Father, we better listen. Of all the people that ever walked on earth, he is the definitely the right candidate to make such a statement.

Read it again.