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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Lilongwe City Run.
Lilongwe City Run.
Lilongwe City Run.
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.
Top Three, John to the left.
The Youngest Troop
Ladies in the Top Ten
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.
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.
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.
My childhood years were never boring. Treasured moments abound. Having grown up in Nkolokosa Township in Blantyre, adventures were at every turn. As shared in the previous article, parents understood the need for us to explore our world. But they were also aware of the dangers that some places or events posed on our little souls. Despite being strongly discouraged to go to the so-called forbidden land, our incessant itch to discover was too much to ignore. In the end, the curiosity prevailed over the possibility of getting a reprimand, being grounded or occasionally getting a lash. In our little minds, it was worth taking the risk.
One such forbidden land were the city dams. Blantyre City, being hilly, has many rivers and over the years, the city council constructed dams for various purposes. The closest to us was Chimwankhunda down located at the bottom of Soche Hill. As a matter of fact, the dam stood between us and the hill. The second dam was much further away. Chiwembe Dam (it has another English name, which I can’t recall at the moment) was towards the east of Soche Hill, and was at the boundary of the Chiwembe neighbourhood. The last dam of interest was Mudi Dam, the official reservoir for Blantyre Water Board. It was located in Ndirande, probably the most popular township in the city.
No one was allowed access to these dams, and security patrolled them day and night. The older boys, from time to time, would dare a breach and venture into the restricted areas. On one occasion, we witnessed some boys going merry-go-round with the guards. They made sure they were constantly moving, and kept the guards on the other side of the dam as much as possible. It was silly but it was fun. We could only watch the proceedings from a safe distance away.
Then for whatever reason, the guarding services at two of the dams became erratic. This was a lifetime opportunity to visit the aquatic paradise. As usual, the older boys – Kondwani and Fred Lisimba, who happened to be my next door neighbours – went for an exploratory trip. They came back with stories of fishing, swimming and water games at Chimwankhunda Dam. What’s more, they managed to convince my mom that there was a shallow side, where little ones like myself could partake somewhat of the goodness of the dam. Reluctantly, my mum let go with strict instructions to Kondwani.
Chimwankhunda was indeed a paradise. Partly covered at the inlet by a type of reeds that gave off a sweet powdery fruit, it boasted of clear waters and had plenty of fish. Others ate the fruit as a snack, but the one I sampled was not sweet at all. The fruit was shaped like a double lollipop. Apparently, the sweet one was the one at the top of the stalk, but then boys from other neighbourhoods had an early entrance to the party and had wiped out the sweet ones before we showed up.
We went there several times, and I gave a try at fishing. When I accidentally dropped my line near where I was standing in the shallow waters, a little fish caught my hook. I yanked it up, and it was a tiny silver shimmering tube at the end of the fishing line. Being so lucky early in the day, I awaited for a bigger catch. The catch never came. And when we got chased by a guard, I became a little reluctant to return the following day. I think the tiny, little detail of guards chasing us as trespassers was left out when Kondwani was getting permission from my mum.
One Saturday morning the weather was perfect for a fishing trip. I wanted to join the older boys for another day of fun at the dam. Unfortunately, there was a day trip to the village, and that opportunity could not be missed. Thondwe, my dad’s home village in Zomba, was a house of plenty. There was a dambo (valley) full of sweet, sweet sugarcane, and grandmother always let me eat to my fill. There was bananas, guavas, mangoes, pomegranates, pawpaws, avocado pears, and nthema (wild round fruit). And then there were stories from my one late uncle, Uncle Gerald, and lots of cousins (led by George) of hunting mice and birds, and the occasional illegal traps for village chickens – told in secret with glee like someone returning from a trip from Mars.
On my return from the village, I was met with shocking news. Someone from our neighbourhood had drowned at Chimwankhunda Dam. Permissions were stripped off, and once again, it became a forbidden land.
After some time, our quest turned from fishing to keeping fish in makeshift, outdoor, local aquaria. We could also keep the live fish in bottles made from empty plastic juice bottles. Those with little talent would use used cooking oil bottles, but these were difficult to clean in the first place and usually small. That changed when Kukoma cooking oil started coming in 5 litre bottles. Then those with super talent learnt how to thoroughly clean the bottles, and made sure there was no layer of oil floating in the water. We had already figured out that the layer of oil was killing the fish. Actually, before Chimwankhunda Dam became briefly “accessible”, keeping live fish was much preferable to fishing. So this was basically returning to our roots.
In comes Chiwembe Dam into the picture. Again, the elder boys, led by the versatile team of brothers, Kondwani and Fred, opened the grail and found their way to the mouth of the outlet of Chiwembe Dam. By all accounts, this was a much more dangerous place to visit even by our standards. The dam was covered in namasipuni. This species of water hyacinth had commandeered the entire surface of the dam, and made it difficult to gauge the depth of the waters. And others added to the perceived threat by claiming that the weeds would trap its victim by engulfing you, sucking you under and suffocating you to death.
However, the outlet had terraced steps with mostly concrete surface. The few places where the water had dug through, were usually visible, and generally not very deep. There was plenty of fingerlings. So when the first party of the scouts came with the tales of the new adventure, and backed by solid evidence, there was only one thing to do. I jumped into the bandwagon the followed day and started off on the longish journey to Chiwembe. This time we didn’t even bother try to seek for permission. We knew what the answer would be. For some reason I took off my shoes, and later on stepped on a fallen branch of vicious thorns locally called chiwomba muluzi. These guys turn white when fully grown, and will easily pierce through even a tough cloth. Given an exposed skin, they did a mighty job and forced me to sit down with my foot hanging in the air and tears in my eyes. Kondwani or Fred did the honours of taking off the army of thorns, and after a while I wiped off the tears on my face, and happily resumed our quest.
Chiwembe Dam was everything I had dreamed of. I had never caught so much fish before, and even since. We packed them in as many bottles as we could carry. We returned home triumphant. We dug a communal pool at my neighbours’ house and deposited all the fish in it. Later on I sneaked, and helped myself to a few fingerlings for my private collection. Being successful at it, I went for it again and again, until Chikondi, one of the sisters, caught me in the act. I talked out of it, but no one was convinced with the alibi. This is one of the very few cases where I stole something from anyone. Such was the allure for keeping fish in an aquarium. This perhaps was the most successful adventure we ever took in our neighbourhood. It gave us many days of pleasure, and the fish looked gorgeous in the makeshift pool that the Lisimba boys had made in the ground.
Mudi Dam was much further away, heavily guarded and only available to those who were looking for fishing big fish. This was above our punching weight. Without parents speaking against it, we had already declared it a forbidden land. I suppose anyone caught going there would have earned himself a thousand lashes – so I think.
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.
We may not have an ultra marathon yet but as far as extreme sports is concerned Malawi is not far behind. We have the Yacht Race on Lake Malawi, we have the Porters’ Race on Mulanje Mountain, we have the Be More Race in Lilongwe. And we also have the Three Peaks walk in Blantyre. These are all annual events.
I have been covering the Be More Race, and I’m planning on attempting the 21 km race. I expect nothing but fireworks and fun. I’m not so sure about the Porters’ Race. Perhaps that could be sampled next year. But I’m having an irresistible temptation to try the Three Peaks walk this year as well.
The Three Peaks walk covers 48 km in a day and that includes hiking three mountains in Blantyre and reaching each summit. The mountains involved are Michiru, Ndirande and finally Soche, in that order. To say this is very challenging would be making an understatement.
One family friend of ours gave it a try last year. Esnat Chilije completed all the three mountains. It’s no wonder that this year she attempted the City Race in Blantyre organized by Standard Bank as a runner up to the Be More Race. It took place on 14 April. We were inspired by her accomplishments and are planning to follow suit.
In the meantime, I’m reaching for the straws and trying desperately to assure myself I can do this. The only comfort is that I did several long walks in Cape Town back in 2012. I could take almost the whole day to walk 34 km from the end of the train line in Simon’s Town to Mowbray.
And in 2016 (I’m not so sure about 2015) in Lilongwe I walked several times from Bunda Hill to Area 47 covering a distance between 34 and 36 km. That included reaching the summit of Bunda Hill. Besides that I have also done Three Peaks in Lilongwe, but drove in-between instead of walking.
Not much compared to what is to come, but somehow that should count a little bit. No? Cathy my sweet wife is eager to participate in the Three Peaks walk and I can only reflect the enthusiasm. Ahem!
So keep June clear and start preparing for the Three Peaks in Blantyre and/or the Porters Race in Mulanje. The City Race for Lilongwe will be on 12 May at 6:00 am at Standard City Centre and the one for Mzuzu already took place on 21 April and the main Be More Race, again in Lilongwe, will be on 9th June.
I haven’t had time to research about the Yacht Race in Mangochi, but keep an eye on it too. (I only hope it hasn’t taken place yet! 🙈)
To all those that love outdoors, extreme sports and nature, now is the time to get active. Get started!