The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Birds of Childhood

Birds are probably the most fascinating group of animals outside fish. The colours, the sounds, the feeding habits, the locomotion all hold sway in our endless fascination with them.

When we were young we did not treat all birds equally. Some were good, some bad and others ugly. It had to take books, magazines, wildlife movies and talks to persuade us to regard them differently.

Here’s the list with an example from each category, not exhaustive for the sake of brevity:

THE GOOD

The good included the mighty fish eagle, the versatile kingfisher, the dashing falcon, the dainty sisisi, the feminine phingo, the ruthless mpheta, succulent pumbwa, the powerful tchete, the mysterious mwiyo.

If I’m not wrong, the biggest eagle in Malawi is nkhwazi the fish eagle. It adorns the official emblem for Malawi Police Service. It is majestic, has a sharp eye and its white plumage puts it in a class of its own. I first saw it at Blantyre Zoo then in the wild in Mangochi.

Urban legend raised its status even further. “It never misses a catch!” So we would often be told in our childhood circles. And when we learnt about refraction at school and realised that the eagle has to adjust the position of the prey on the account of bent light rays, it established itself as the ultimate predator of the skies.

THE BAD

Way before I could mention a dozen names, one bird had already stood out for being bad. Owls have very bad reputation among the locals in Malawi. They are connected to witchcraft and superstitions.

Its position of the eyes – in front instead of being on the sides – did not help its cause. And we were told it can twist the neck round and round, following your every movement. One time there was a big owl on the street light two houses away from ours. I shooed it, and it dove straight at me. I had to duck before it pulled back and flew away.

That fixed it as a bad bird. Only to be boarded by literature from the west that calls it wise. Old wise owl? I’m not so sure about that. Give me an eagle any time. Admittedly, owls have fascinating facts top of which is their ability to remain quiet while in flight. The feathers on their wings act as silencers.

THE UGLY

I hesitated coming up with this category least I may be misunderstood. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so the saying goes. It is indeed true. However, looks or habits might contribute to the beholder thinking otherwise. For example, bats may be interesting birds however the looks department is highly compromised. Their flight pattern makes it worse, and perching on a tree trunk upside down seals it.

Then there was this bird that loves to feed on tadpoles. It likes to stand in muddy or swampy waters. It has a dull brown for a coat. Its neck assumes a terrible posture. Then it decides to have the ugliest nest ever built by a bird. That is not helping the cause Mr Natchengwa. It’s called hamerkop in English.

Here is the thing, in life we cannot all be eagles soaring in the skies above storms and worries of life. Some may very well be the other birds. Don’t feel bad, just praise God for what you are. Don’t try to stick in feathers that don’t belong to you. If you are a hamerkop, build the best ugliest nest you can manage regardless of what one child who grew up in Blantyre thinks of you.

But more importantly, if you are an eagle don’t try to blend in. Reach out for the skies. Let out your scream and hunt for fresh food. Don’t try to please brother hamerkop by scooping out a few tadpoles – they will give you serious indigestion. Don’t dye your wonderful plumage dull brown to fit in.

Let’s remember to stay humble, for the mighty eagle might fly very high but he cannot twist his neck like an owl, or fly quietly.

Life, seen in the beauty of birds, is fascinating.

An Easy Weekend

My Recorded Performance

This Saturday was about taking it easy after a hectic week at the office. So what better way to unwind that waking up at 4 in the morning and heading out for a run. Cathy, my lovely wife, was by my side as a companion and cheerleader number one. She knows how to nurse back my bruised ego to perfect health.

Sampling The Goods

I’ve been following the preparations to the Standard Bank Be More Race slated for 9 June in Lilongwe. The routes for the three categories are out. So I thought of sampling the main route and experience it for ourselves.

Since the main dish has not been served yet, I’ll reserve the detailed narration for later. Suffice to say whosoever settled for the route has a taste for finer things in life.

Walking parts of it, and running the rest of it, the experience was awesome.

The Recording Glitch

I had wanted to record every inch of the way. I set up the running app and got going. After playing the first power song, everything went quiet. Nearly two kilometers later, the system went back online.

Fortunately, Cathy’s app worked smoothly. So we have a perfect record of the distance covered, thanks to her alertness.

Cathy’s Perfect Record

The Verdict

I intend to sample out the remaining routes in the days to come. But for the main route all I can say is it is JUICY, ENGAGING and totally SUCCULENT!

You cannot afford to miss the day. So keep the date: 9 June 2018.

See you there.

Know Where You Are Going

Not long ago adventure meant stepping into the unknown, riddled with untold dangers. The possibility of not coming back alive heightened the feeling of the ultimate sacrifice but nowadays we take it differently. Yes, we cannot remove all dangers from an adventure but we take precautionary measures and prepare – a lot. One such preparation is taking mental pictures.

Take Be More Race for instance. Update after update has been shared with Standard Bank customers and members of the public to allow everyone adequate time to prepare. There’s no need to show up with muscles that are stiff and a chest that can hardly heave up and down. Hit the gym now. Hit the road every week in the morning or early evening.

And here is one more weapon in your sports arsenal. Standard Bank has shared the routes ahead of the race. Take time to go through them and relate routes to the road networks in Lilongwe. If you happen to be in the Capital City then take the time to drive through the route for your run category. Then get to walk through sections of it. And if possible get to jog portions of it.

This will allow you to build a mental picture for your route. It will help you on 9 June to deal with twists and turns of the race.

Here are the routes:

The 5 km Route

The 10 km Route

The 21 km Route

A Tiny Little Detail for Professional Athletes

Consolation for Your Sweat!
Consolation for Your Sweat!

 

So far my coverage about this year’s Standard Bank Be More Race has focused on the casual runner on a quest to achieve physical fitness and wellness. But Be More has more to offer.

As the race is open to professional athletes, financial rewards await for those in the 21 kilometre heat. Like the promise of a treasure at the far end of the rainbow, Standard Bank too has dangled a total of K2.9 million at the finish line for the first three to cross the line.

Winners will receive cash prizes in ranges of K550,000, K900,000 and K1.5 million on third, second and first positions, respectively.  Now that’s something to smile about! It is commendable that Standard Bank has considered rewards for athletes. Apart from cash prizes, all participants will receive a bag stuffed with branded Standard Bank goodies. That is the way to go.

Many professional athletes out there have been crying out for motivation and the more sponsors like Standard Bank come forward with prizes, the better for the sport. The bar has been raised.  These cash prizes should motivate more athletes to get back on the track, and new ones to join. Ultimately, standards of the sport will improve.  The overall picture of success looks bright. We can now look forward to the moment when more than just the regular local athletes participate at global competitions. Surely the gold medals are coming on home soil.

Be More!

Childhood City Adventures: Kunkha (gleaning the harvest)

Some things we do as kids later on tend to be seeds of greatness or phenomenal success. However, there are other things whose intricate value is difficult to ascertain, other than that they were moments of pleasure. One such thing was the practice of gleaning. Whenever the sweet potatoes would be harvested in the fields just outside our neighborhood, we would go and glean after what was left. Usually, these would be little tubers too small to be worth the effort of getting them off the ground. We would glean with pieces of sticks, instead of the usual hoes. Nonetheless, from time to time, one would stumble upon a sizeable tuber.

Occassionally, we would be given a chase by owners of adjacent fields whose harvest was still full, and who would mistake us for thieves. At one point, a field owner who had a sugarcane field nearby gave us a chase while wielding a sharp panga knife. We later made peace when it became apparent to him that we were not after the sweet grass. In a way, this was fun – dangerous fun , if there’s such a thing.

After the exercise, we would put all our “harvest” together and head back home for a night of feasting. As indicated in the previous article, we would set up bon fires at the Lisimbas, who happened to be my next door neighbours in Nkolokosa, a high density location in Blantyre. We called our sweet potatoes kunkha, which simply means gleaning after the harvest. And it’s an expression not restricted to sweet potatoes. It can apply to anything that is picked up after the harvest.

Gathering around the fire, we would put the kunkha on the hot ashes, and wait for the sweet aroma to signify the roasting was complete. The potatoes would become soft to the touch and when poked with a piece of grass or wire, it would easily pierce through the skin. Again, ash was always nearby, so the face would become painted in strokes of grey and black, while we indulged.

As I recall, this was the practice year in, year out until one day the Lisimbas came up with a brilliant innovation. Instead of throwing the tubers on the direct fire, they put them in a tin and sealed it with a thick plastic cover. Our prized harvest suddenly became a steamed affair, and the improvement on taste was through the roof! No more ash on the face, no more burnt skin, and there was much consistent texture all around the tubers.

Come to think of it, years later, Kondwani Lisimba went into food production and is now a renowned chef, food production manager and owner of a food production company. So maybe after all, everything we do as little ones serves as tributaries that come together to form one gushing river further down in the stream of life.

Kunkha, both the old and new ways, gave us a first glimpse of camp cooking while in the comfort of our homes.

Lilongwe City Race: Done and Dusted

Lilongwe City Run - Be More!
Lilongwe City Run – Be More!

It’s all a matter of perspective. 10 km passed in a modern plane at cruise speed will be fleetingly small. In a car, on the open roads 10 km is nothing. In busy cities like Lilongwe, it will be noticeable. But on your feet, pounding the hard asphalt to the rhythm of your heart, 10 km becomes 10, 000 metres!

PREAMBLE

As covered in previous articles, the city run was designed to bring Standard Bank customers, staff and the community together. It was a day where runners were encouraged to come along with their family and friends.

THE TURN OUT

The turn out was great. I made out a few familiar faces including Walter Nyamilandu, the current president of Football Association of Malawi (FAM). I couldn’t resist getting a photo opportunity with him. And his deep baritone voice helped set the mood for the race. I met Kelvin Mphonda, an old friend from college days. He’s an Assistant Director of Roads, Ministry of Transport and Public Works. There were peoples of all races, ages and gender. The youngest was 8 years old and the oldest perhaps was in his 70s.

THE START LINE

After signing the indemnity forms and getting the race number, we all gathered at the start line. This was a proper affair with the modern square arch marking the spot. There was an ambulance and lots of Police and race officials. Then a trainer appeared in front of the crowd and took us through a warm-up session. It was more like a dance-aerobic session. I felt the warmth of blood surging in all the four corners of my body. I was ready.

When it was 2 minutes to the starting time, Malawi National Anthem played on the loud, high-fidelity speakers. Some runners cheered, and others stood at attention of sorts. Exactly at 6:00 a whistle was blown and we all took off.

HERO OF THE DAY

I decided to take a comfortable pace and watched a sea of faces run past me. Steady and Easy was my strategy. What’s more, there was a high chance of catching up with some of these runners later on in the race. As I was busy fiddling with my phone, an athletic pulled up next to me. He looked like a smaller version of Bolt. We struck up conversation and got to learn that he was Ian Msampha. He was a survivor of a nasty car accident that left him with a broken leg – in three places, and a broken left hand. The accident occurred off Lilongwe City limits in September 2015. After surgery, where they inserted a metal bar to support his femur, the doctors said he would never walk again unassisted. The family then decided to involve a physiotherapist from Blantyre who had strict routines, some starting off as early as 4:00 am.

Bit by bit, he started going to the gym. He started bench pressing a 50 kg bar, and went as high as 140 kg. And here he was actively participating in the race. To me he was the hero of the race.

THE ROUTE

The route that was selected was very scenic. Starting off from the heart of New City Centre, the part of Lilongwe without dust, it went past the majestic Reserve Bank building, the only structure that is thin at the bottom, and wides out like an inverted stepped triangle. At the far end of that road, the route brushed shoulders with the boundary of Lilongwe Sanctuary, where wild animals are rehabilitated and released into the jungle, if they are still capable of fending for themselves. Then the route turned north and went past the American Embassy, the new South African High Commission complex and the DFID offices (Department For International Development). On the opposite side, there was a forest composed of indigenous trees. It was green everywhere.

At the Malawi Parliament roundabout it turned west. The Parliament buildings were in sight, and this architectural marvel does not disappoint. The route had been steady until this stage. It sloped down a little bit, and then started going up. Further down the road, it turned north again at Area 18 roundabout. This is where the first challenge emerged. The slope was considerably significant. In the mornings when going to work, it is not uncommon to see loaded trucks that have broken down on this section. People and machines alike find this section difficult to navigate. The road from the Parliament roundabout and this road bordering the popular Area 18 form two sides of a rectangle housing the Botanic Gardens. This is a favorite spot if one is looking to pray, study or reconnect with nature.

Further up the road, the route turned right into the low density Area 10. The road sloped down and offered some respite to the now tired runners. An undulating pattern led the road to a junction between Area 12 and Area 11, and the road turned right. This section, thankfully eased on the ankle, offering a gentle negative angle. In front of the road was The Golden Peacock Mall, and Golden Peacock Hotel in the background towering everything. The mall is one of the biggest in City Centre and boasts of shops, restaurants and office space.

At the bottom of the road the fun abruptly vanished. The route turned right, and up, and up and up, towards the finish line. This was the last challenge meant to test the resolve of both the experienced and the uninitiated. Capital Hotel was to the right, and Mungo Park further up the road. The latter has the only five-star hotel in the country, and also has the prestigious Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC). All these are beautiful compounds, but at this point, it was likely that the runners were not noticing these, only focusing on completing the race at BICC.

There was three watering points along the way, and at each junction a race official would pair with police members showing directions and controlling traffic. The preparation that went into this must have been massive considering the attention that was given to the details.

THE TOP TEN

Then came matters of ranking. The first position went to John Waldron who clocked an impressive 47:22 minutes, and the second position went to Jochebed Mpanga who did 53:55 minutes, followed by Maya Kachenga with 54:29 minutes. Here’s a complete list of the first ten runners to hit the finish line:

Joni Waldron 47:22

Jochebed Mpanga 53:55

Maya Kachenga 54:29

Cynthia Mahata 57:49

Lindiwe Nkhambile 57:51

Rose Chapola 1:00:08

Iris Borsch 1:02:47

Orama Mwase 1:03:06

Racheal Shilup 1:03:29

Nyasha Vera 1:05:59

Other than the first three positions, the top ten list was dominated by valiant ladies who sailed through the route as if on the wings of swans. A big congratulations to the top ten. You did us all proud.

THE INTERVIEW

Between the first and second booths, as we were negotiating the slope of the Area 18 road, I spied a towering figure pumping up the slope without effort. He could easily be twice my size, and than fascinated me. He was accompanied by a companion, whom I assumed was a wife. When I got close, I decided to introduce myself. I assumed he was the CEO of Standard Bank. He was gracious enough to respond to my questions while we were still in stride. After introducing myself as the blogger for Be More, I reached deep within and tried to increase my pace. I mean, I thought it was important to make the right impression being our first meeting.

I took off and left them in the distance. But by the time I was negotiating the last slope towards BICC I spotted the pair approaching with strong intent to overtake. I reached for the dregs of any energy reserves that were left in the tank and took off awkwardly. I silently promised myself that the only thing left that mattered was to be ahead of them, even if it meant just a metre separating us. I crossed the finish line with a short distance between us. I don’t think he knew there was a competition at play here.

Later on, I got formally introduced by Thoko Unyolo, the Head of Marketing and Communications and the chief engineer behind the Be More Races. I was fortunate to be granted a short interview. William and Debbie le Roux are a power couple, having participated in the Mzuzu City Race already. Debbie is a kindred spirit having a passion to hiking. She has already been to Mulanje Mountain, our famous and tallest massif in Malawi.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

Kondaine: “What is your message today?”

William le Roux: “We want to see more interaction between our customers and the staff. We want to see our customers and staff spend more time outdoors than being in the banking hall. For that reason we have introduced Digital Channels, and with it a digital app that is best in its class. It is linked to Airtel Money. It is an App 247, that will allow you to easily access your account anytime, anywhere. Together with online banking, you can easily access the bank services from the comfort of your bedroom, or anywhere.”

He paused. After a brief reflection he continued.

“We believe that wellness is good for business. It is good for the community. We believe that wellness is good to our customers and to our staff. And we would like to encourage everyone to embrace the outdoors lifestyle by participating in the Be More Races. That’s the message today.”

We shook hands and parted our ways. I must say this was a classy appetizer. Time and opportunity willing, I’d wish for a more comprehensive interview that will tackle a wide range of issues concerning Standard Bank, the athletics and of course the Be More Races. But for now, this was a timely glimpse into the most powerful man at Standard Bank, participating, and engaging with customers and the business community.

William & Debbie le Roux (left & right), myself (middle)
William & Debbie le Roux (left & right), myself (middle)

 

THE STARS

The stars for the day were all those that showed up, without whose presence the City Race would not have been a success. This was fun, and to say that it was an achievement would be making an understatement. The run/walk has given us all an idea of the scope of the main race. Be More Race on 9 June will be twice the fun, twice the challenge, and twice as long.

Be More.

Childhood City Adventures: M’bulitso (grain popping)

The series on childhood adventures continues.Something inside each one of us wants to do more than merely just existing. This is best illustrated when we are young. And this could be because at that age there are no constraints yet on one’s thinking. Reality has not turned into an inhibitor, which is commonly the case when we grow up.

As parents were busy buying what they assumed to be quality food to keep us at bay, and jerseys for cold evenings after the maize harvest, our minds were drawn to something else. This was the season of open bon fires made from piling up dried maize stalks, twigs and dried grass.

Sometimes we could make the fire at the Luphales, where Chifundo and Henry lived, or across the street at the Mkorongos where Gloria, late Joseph, Nebiot and Yotam domiciled. But the “baddest” ones were built at my next door neighbours. The Lisimbas had natural leaders in Chikondi, Fred and Kondwani.

One day we made one big fire whose flames overtook the power lines. When someone suggested that this could cause a huge electric fire, we all took off to our houses leaving Kondwani and Fred to sort out the mess. Fortunately nothing happened and one by one, soot covered faces reappeared to continue with the pleasures of the evening.

Amidst the dying embers, with wild stories making rounds, the highlight of the evening unfolded. The Lisimbas threw maize grains on the ashes and eager faces gazed intently on the fire. As soon as a popping sound was heard, someone would pounce on the pop, rake it off the fire, pick it up quickly, blow off the ash and toss into his/her mouth.

Since it was still hot, the pop would be chewed with the mouth open, pumping the cheeks at the same time to fan cool air into the mouth’s chamber. All this would be done in a fraction of a second, too fast for any outsider to comprehend the sophistication involved in eating local popcorn.

Put this on endless repeat. For whatever reasons the reflex of the big boys was as fast as lightening. After a few futile attempts, as the faces of the younger ones showed despair mercy would come with a pop extended to you on dancing palms. Holding it still would burn the hand of the benefactor. As soon as the transfer was made, the dancing of palms would switch to you before popping the food gem into one’s grateful mouth. Fanning the pop while smiling at the same time cemented the deal.

One pop at a time, with story after story while warming ourselves on the open fire, soot all over our faces, we passed many a pleasant evening. We used to call the pops, and the popping process, m’bulitso in the vernacular. A transliteration would be popping. No amount of modern popcorn purchased from the grocery could replace this fun.

Oh by the way, to the m’bulitso connoisseurs, they always knew the maize grain was about to pop when it would start hissing then whistle. Seconds later, there would be the familiar popping sound not unlike the sound of the opening of a champagne bottle. And within that second, the pop would be in the mouth. Any delay in retrieving the pop from the fire would burn it, sucking up its succulence.

Now, I look back at the bon fire on many nights, having forgotten all the stories that were shared. However, I can still see the reflection of the dying embers in the eyes of my friends, and watch in my mind once again the joys of m’bulitso.

Go ahead. Try it around a campfire with family and friends. It may offer a native alternative to roasting marshmallows.

Lilongwe City Race Is Tomorrow

If you happen to be in Lilongwe over the weekend, look up the calendar and you’ll see you had put a small cross on 12 May. That’s because that was a day reserved for Be More City Run/Walk.

Come and join the athletes ,families and fitness enthusiasts who will breeze through 10 km as an appetizer for the main race in June. The rest of us will run – at our pace or even walk. Some will run a little bit, and walk some more. Whatever the strategy, it will be important to participate.

The race will start promptly at 6:00. These races are known for time keeping. So it is best to show up early. You can register online or via Whatsapp for free . Check the details on the poster below. If you are busy, you can also register tomorrow. Just make sure you give yourself enough time for the registration.

To all of us, remember to have plenty of sleep and hydrate ahead of the race. Dehydration is a show-stopper. So drink lots of water and other fluids. And as usual, stay away from the hard stuff.

See you at the start line. And remember the main race is coming on June 9, 2018 in its inaugural city, Lilongwe.

Be More!

Childhood City Adventures: Nature Trails and Wild Fruit Harvesting

Part of Soche Hill
Part of Soche Hill

 

For a balance, it might be better to highlight a few adventures that were endorsed by the parents. This is in sharp contrast to the ones that have been covered by the last two articles. These articles are about fond memories of the yesteryears when as a child growing up in the Nkolokosa neighbourhood in Blantyre, I had plenty of pleasant afternoons with fellow boys spent exploring nature around us.

Nkolokosa has two parts – A and B, or 1 and 2. We were staying in Nkolokosa B also called Nkolokosa 2. Our house was House KS/302, and just across the street, it was facing Houses KS/2 and KS/3. Behind these houses was an open area with a perennial stream that separated the two parts of the neighbourhood. I was born across the river but moved to the other side as a 5 year old. This was our backyard, and a stage for many games, adventures, explorations and hunting sprees.

My favourite of all was taking a nature trail walk along the stream. This was 100% endorsed by the parents. We started with exploring part of the stream around the pedestrian bridge that connected the two areas of our location. This was a makeshift bridge that took all sorts of shapes. Sometimes it was just a couple of logs put next to each other. Sometimes it was a rickety wooden affair. And at other times, it was a row of huge rocks with ominous gaps in-between. Whatever the shape of the bridge, the waters below offered hours of fun. Sometimes the stream would be allowed to flow unabated. And at one time, it was partially blocked and a pool was created. I don’t recall the purpose of this exercise, only that it provided more surface area for us to explore.

I took interest in catching tadpoles and keeping them at home. There was no sign of any fish, so the tadpoles were just fine. Then this expanded to catching crabs, water skitters, and water scorpions. However, the best catch was nsambi-nsambi. These agile swimmers, also known as water boatman in English (or perhaps water beetle), were the most difficult to corner, as they could easily dive, turn and twist at a moment’s notice. The best way to catch them was to lower down both arms into the water with capped palms facing upward, and gently let them swim into the trap. Then once within range, you’d have to quickly excavate the water – the faster the better the chances of getting them. Using palms was much better than using a plastic bottle cut open on one side, which would then be lowered into the pool upside down.

Then slowly we started venturing out in both directions of the stream. Soon our curiosity got ahold of us, and prompted us to hunt for the source. Eventually, we found it outside our neighbourhood at some swampy bog. Having satisfied our curiosity, we turned in the other direction and followed it downstream. It turned out this part was more dangerous than the swampy source. What had started as gully erosion became a yawning chasm that could easily swallow a two story house. It took a couple of attempts to determine the best way forward. We could either walk above the trench – the most obvious choice. Or we could walk next to the stream or in the stream. The latter proved scary at some point. We reverted to the obvious choice.

All this was not a one day affair. It took several iterations, and each cycle had its pleasant surprises. The vines, large crabs, super high-jump frogs and other fascinations held our attention. There were also moments of fright. As a result, I had to change a few partners until one day the entire stream was traced to where it joined Naperi River as a tributary. Naperi River ran as a boundary on the other side of Nkolokosa. And when I tried to explore it with my cousin Richard, we came across a human skull that had been exhumed from an old cemetery by flush floods. We took off like startled gazelle and the scare managed to quench our curiosity for a while.

And then there was wild fruit harvesting. Despite having bananas and other fruits at home, the appeal for wild fruits held sway. I think it was a romantic idea that allowed us to escape the city life and let us imagine ourselves foraging like the ancient men. The best of the fruits were monkey sweets, which are also called masuku in the vernacular. These brown round fruits with a thick kernel have a tasty yellowish cream paste, sweet to the tongue and packed with a melancholic aroma. Monkeys and people alike enjoy having this seasonal fruit, and when in season it is found in many local markets across the country. In our case, we did not want the ones bought at the market, no, we wanted to venture out in the wild and harvest them ourselves.

The best spot for monkey sweets was Soche hill, the nearest high elevation to the south of our neighbourhood. At that time the hill was covered with beautiful indigenous trees. Alas, it is not the case anymore these days. Wanton illegal harvesting has cleared the hill bare. The few trees trying to come back hardly reach teenage years before meeting the cruel end of an axe or a machete.

The other wild fruits included mpinimbi, which looks like the poisonous fruit from Gmelina arborea or malaina in Chichewa. But these ones, when ripe are black inside, sweet and taste like violet (I imagine that’s the taste of the colour violet). After indulging, mpinimbi would leave your mouth, teeth and tongue pitch black. It was a sight of amusement, and endless laughter. Though it was easy to find wild custard apple at the village, it wasn’t an easy hunt in the forests around our neighbourhood. Then there was jakjak fruit, or matowo. This fruit with a thick grey hide, has to be chewed in order to release an oozy snail slime stuff. Once the fruit is inside the mouth, it is best not to take it out during mastication. Focusing on the sweetness, rather than the feel of the slime was and still remains the best approach to enjoy this local treat.

And the list is endless: katope, mkuyu (fig), maula (common in villages), malambe (baobab – found at the market, from lakeshore areas), bwemba (indigenous tamarind) and so on. Some were very elusive to find. Some ended up remaining on the shopping list from the local markets – disappointingly so. But the quest to hunt them nevertheless was as pleasant as having a buffet of wild fruits.

This one time, Fred Lisimba, one of the leaders of our group chanced upon a scarlet fruit loosely shaped like a pear. It looked menacing, and though we were all curious to identify it, we kept it at a distance. And then Fred just grabbed it, and munched it with gusto, white seeds like those from a gourd flying out of his mouth. Shocked, we asked after its name. Between a mouthful he said it was a “mchuchuchu”! I had never heard of this name. And after pestering him about it, later in the day, he admitted that it was a made-up name. He had never seen this fruit before, just like the rest of us. In a single act of bravado, he proceeded to devour it. Fortunately, it didn’t lead to his last breath. And luckily too, I don’t like using the word silly on old friends.

Nature trails along the stream in Nkolokosa, and foraging of wild fruits in the forests surrounding our neighbourhood gave us many a pleasant afternoon under the harsh African sun. I wonder if future generations will have the same privilege to interact with nature just like we did in our childhood? Let’s hope so.

Spankable Adventures: Abandoned Mining Holes and a Dumping Site

When you are young not every adventure is endorsed by parents. Some places are clearly labeled “out of bounds” and a visit to such a site will earn you a spank. Hence the title of this article. But how can you stop a curious fresh mind from exploring the wonders of this world? It’s like setting a keg of gun powder on fire and expecting it not to explode. It will go kaboom, for that is its nature. The world, with its marvels, is meant to be explored, and that should be encouraged from a young age.

However, though our parents understood the need to explore the land, they also knew of the dangers posed by some of the physical features in our neighborhood. Take for instance the pool in Njamba, behind the Malawi Housing Corporation Headquarters. This is a scenic view set behind the Njamba Freedom Park, the largest park in Blantyre City, and perhaps in the country. Anyone worth their salt in swimming skills would want to prove their prowess at this pool. It was cast in rock, with jagged edges and famed to be deep. It was said there were pieces of broken glasses at the bottom. You therefore had to keep afloat and never sink to the bottom.

The sight of scrawny legs flashing in the air as young boys jumped in, not unlike frogs, caused a splash of glee in our hearts. The noisy paddling as the more older boys bravely swam across the pool were great moments of achievement unmatched by anything else in the world. Since I have properties of lead when it comes to aquatic activities, I stayed out of the water, and frankly only visited the pool once. It was an exciting adventure that could have earned me a whip if it was disclosed at home.

Later on in life, we learnt that this site was an abandoned mining site that left a gaping hole in the ground. This was filled with the surface runoff and was basically a giant puddle with stagnant water. This however, did not stop us from turning it in our little minds into an Olympic Swimming Pool with a great depth.

Another site was the official dumping site in Blantyre called Ntaya or ku Ntaya. This is where all the waste collected across the city was dumped. The people that stayed and worked there were rumored to be capable of torturing little boys, or even smothering out their little lives. We were told to never go there. However, when the appeal for locally assembled toys reached critical levels, the lure to this haven for broken engineering parts could not be resisted anymore. Once again, the older boys made a maiden voyage of discovery. We held back our breaths as we expected them not to return from the grand quest.

As the sun was setting, our heroes returned with a treasure trove of limitless worth – pieces of malleable wire, empty tins that could be turned into wheels for our cars made from the wire, and so on. Their brave stories of courage were even more captivating. It was enough to prompt me to follow them one day and see it for myself. I got a chance to meet the men who were scavenging for loot. I was told not to stare or look them in the face. Their faces were covered in soot, with bloodshot eyes. It was a menacing sight, but they looked like they were more absorbed in their world, and were totally unaware of our presence.

There was a sheer wall on one side of the dump, and at the bottom of it there was a ditch that stretched across the entire perimeter of the wall. It had green waters that looked devilish like an oblong pool of toxic chemicals.  We were told that this was the deepest trench in town, and that if you slipped into it, it would take weeks before anyone could locate your corpse. Now, I wonder where the older boys googled that information from.

The maize that was growing around the dump had the greenest leaf I had ever seen. The stench though was very overpowering. However, we were warned not to be seen pinching our noses as that would attract the wrath of the scavengers. As I was new to the fine art of scavenging, I only managed to pull out an old piece of wire suffering from rust and decay. The empty tins were no better than the ones we could find home. The fabled piles of machaka (mechanical bearings) were nowhere to be seen. Apparently, we had come on the wrong day. Again, this was my last visit to the supermarket of broken toy pieces.

Later on it transpired that this was an abandoned mining site that the Blantyre City Council later adopted and turned into a dumping site. Waste Management was still a crude science, and dangerous chemicals were allowed to seep into the ground. And though the maize around the site looked deep green, I pity the souls that were eating from its harvest.

A third visit was near an active mining site on Soche Hill. A bomb would be triggered at 4 O’clock every afternoon, and we were reliably informed that the shrapnel that would be released by the explosion would fly high in the air and come raining down like a shower of miniature missiles. And if you were caught up in the shower, your body would be terribly pierced like you were a victim of a thousand bullets! There would be no chance for survival.

Our quest for catching birds, or seeking for adventure in peri-urban areas drew us to the mining site one day. Since no one was wearing a watch, we could only estimate the time. One of the older boys, having observed the setting of the sun, declared that we were dangerously close to the setting off of the mighty bomb. We took off as quickly as our little legs would carry us. Soon enough the bomb set off with a mighty boom. With nearly tears in our eyes – for the small boys – we scrambled away from the danger expecting to be engulfed with a shower of sharp life-ending missiles at any moment.

Nervous laughter later broke out once we knew we had narrowly escaped with our lives. Of course, in reality we were far away from danger, and the fabled meteor spray could not travel far from the demolition site. Though this was not an abandoned mining site, its presence fueled up our imagination and fertilized our sense for adventure – endorsed by parents or not.

As I look back, this could only have been done at this tender age, and I hope that modern management methods strongly discourage leaving behind gaping holes in the ground after a mining project, or having a dumping site without a proper waste management system. As for the sense of adventure, it has not diminished with time. My heart yearns to seek for the most amazing physical features, creatures and natural activities across the world. I hope you do too.