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.

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!

A Weekend on Senga Hills Of Salima

The Hill Climbing Club Open Invitation

Two weeks ago, my bosom friend Chikondi Kachinjika or CK in short sent me an open invitation from the Hill Climbing Club for a weekend hike on the famous Senga Hills of Salima. The date for the event was 26 May 2018, the last Saturday of the month. Later on, another friend Alick Bwanali alias Onyamata AKB sent me the detailed program for the day.

I quickly marked the date on my calendar. This was not an opportunity to miss, for I had been trying for the last two years to find myself there. Senga Hills rise up from Senga Bay, a beautiful corner of Lake Malawi as it transverses the lakeshore district of Salima.

The program for the day promised some goodies. Admission was free. The rendezvous was the Parachute Battalion of the Malawi Defence Force. The main trail would be the same one that soldiers use for training.

Invitation from HCC to Senga Hills Hike
Invitation from HCC to Senga Hills Hike

My Preparations for the Day

I took two runs of about 7 km each in the week of the hike. I had plenty of rest, and were properly hydrated the day before the event. My supplies were simple – bottled water, one apple and some dried dates.

Unfortunately, I also picked a slight injury. What started as muscle cramps on the second run persisted for two days. I got advice from one of my trainers on how to speed track the recovery. It was very important for me not to miss the hike.

On Friday, just after lunch, in a moment of inspiration, I decided to stock up on calories the native way. I asked Cathy, my beloved wife, to prepare roasted local maize. It has never been my favourite but I thought I’d get a kick from it. Big mistake! The flinty grains destroyed my jaws and smashed my digestion. That evening was spent hunting for anti-acids in a few pharmacies in town. So much for beefing up on energy reserves the native way.

Idyllic Drive to Salima

For some reason, I could not go to bed and sustain a long sleep. I kept waking up due to excitement. At four in the morning, I got out of bed. I decided to skip my morning shower. I convinced myself that my evening bath was adequate. Ah! This was a weak line of reasoning. I gave up on it and took my hot bath – by the way, which I find relaxes the muscles much better than cold water.

I packed my essentials and started for Salima just after five in the morning. This is usually a one hour ride in a good car, but having destroyed the engine firing sequence with my recent adventure in Mangochi, I needed to take it easy. It was still dark when I left home, it was cold and as I was leaving the city boundary, it got foggy. I switched on my faulty air conditioning unit and settled in for the ride. The road was virtually empty except for very few cyclist and a lonely pedestrian here and there. At one point, a local dog, which was busy twisting its tail for the owner, lost focus and took the dance to the road. Fortunately, my speed was slow and it managed to get off the lane with a soft honk.

After a while, the fog cleared, and a soft light appeared towards the east. There was a single blueish-white star directly ahead of me. A few more stars were to my right, towards the south. Salima is a hilly district, and the road follows the contour of the area. Going up and down, curving to the left then right, the ride was getting sweet.

About half way from my destination, I could make out a flat line on the horizon. This is where the lake was located. A thin line of clouds had formed above it. It was flat at the bottom, with cotton puffs at the top. I could see a faint sky blue sipping around the clouds, with hints of light purple towards the far end on my right side.

Watching Sunrise on the way to Senga Hills
Watching Sunrise on the way to Senga Hills

Then as if on a cue, an infusion of orange started intensifying on my left side, and the cloud started getting bigger at the top. The bottom remained relatively flat. Then all at once a bright orange ball pierced through the clouds, and cast a diffused light into the morning atmosphere. I stopped the car to take it all in. This was beyond gorgeous. This was a special gift to those that were awake at that hour. It was so serene.

By the time I hit Salima Boma (the local district government centre) the rest of neighbourhood was awake. There was a concentration of bikes, people and cars. I asked for directions once or twice and finally found myself at the Parachute Battalion. I was the first to arrive, and not surprisingly, having left Lilongwe rather too early.

The long awaited hike on Senga Hills

Bit by bit, hikers arrived from all corners of the country. Some arrived from Nkhotakota, some from Lilongwe and others from within Salima. It was a good mix of seasoned hikers and rookies. We had both civilian and military officers.

We got a briefing from Captain Soko, who is second in command at the Battalion. The Chief Special Forces Instructor, Corporal Joseph Lipande, towering above everyone, and packing muscle everywhere on his super chiselled body, was introduced. Cpl Lipande gave us a detailed plan for the day. Senga hills is a collection of 12 to 15 hills. And the day’s hike would focus on the three main hills, culminating at the trig station on the highest hill. We would then descend down to the beach.

We were then introduced to the team of medics. We had an ambulance on standby that would be following us on the road parallel to the hills. And the military hospital was on alert to handle any cases of injury and exhaustion. We were immediately put at ease that we were in good hands.

Major Chimbayo, who is the Commanding Officer for the Battalion, gave us a battle cry for the Airborne Division and led us into battle – a battle with the rolling hills.

We trekked out from the Senior Officers Mess, which was our hosting station, to the starting point. The little walk warmed up our muscles as anticipation grew in the air. When we got there, ladies were asked to join the leading guides and then men came next. The medics were spread across the group, and the rear was brought up with medics and those doing Admin. Whistles were blown and then we took off.

We took a roll call, and we were 63 strong. The military is unbelievably organised and efficient to the core. The medics at the rear broke into seedy military songs. We had frequent stops to allow people to catch a breath. Everyone was encouraged to be sipping water regularly but in small portions. Not that the instruction was heeded very well as some hikers who were by now feeling very hot wished they were carrying gallons of the cool, crystal stuff. The cruel twist however was that at this point, anything heavier than a shirt would feel like it was weighing a tonne.

When we took the first major break at the top of the first hill, and were told this was the easy part, admiration mixed with deep respect spread across the faces. These hills, though, not as tall as mountains, had a serious punch. The trail was somewhat steep and the military pace, though, slowed down a million times for us, was still significantly challenging. By the way, from the beginning of the trail, to the end, the best of the MDF officers are on record to have completed it under 30 minutes. On our part, we were planning to cover the same distance in 3 hours. As a result, the military officers with us hardly broke sweat.

We started the first hill, and got to the second major hill. The trail twisted up, went up rocks, threw in a cruel practical joke here and there. By the time we reached the top, it was clear this was an obstacle course. Our guides, made sure to mix and match the trail. We got some soft parts, with a few points that required all our strength. The group started breaking up into three parts. The super fit were upfront, the majority were in the middle, and some brought up the rear. But no one was left alone. Even the slowest among us, dictated the final pace of the group. Whenever we took a major stop, we would not start again until the last hiker had shown up, flanked by medics and other military officials.

The view at the top was amazing. On the first hill, we could see the lake on the southern part of Senga Bay. The waters were a calm blue, hardly disturbed on the surface. When we got to the second hill, we could see some parts of the farthest parts of the bay on the northern side. However, the front, in the eastern direction was still hidden by the hills we were yet to conquer. Being a forest reserve used for training military personnel, the hills were well covered in green canopy. The density of trees was impressive, and in some parts almost impassable.

The descent from the second hill was the steepest. This is called Khwekhwerere or Mchombo Lende in the vernacular, and loosely translates to slippery, sliding trail and topless (you are guaranteed to take off your shirt) respectively. The slope went all the way down almost to the same level as at the beginning of the trail. Brake pads on people’s legs were smoking, and a few here and there took a slide. We were told to be five metres apart so that a falling bundle of human flesh would not take down the entire team with it. Members were openly groaning, and the guides were busy whipping up morale, by running up and down the slope. I have never seen such a display of bravado!

When we got to the bottom, we were made to rest. We took our snacks, water and listened to some music. When we were all back together, we were told that this was the last way out point. Anyone going beyond this point would be expected to complete the hike. We lost 25 members, who opted to terminate the hike. I admired their tenacity. This was a difficult trail, and they had all done very well.

Towards the Trig Point, the highest of Senga Hills

The rest of us continued towards the third hill. But in between there was a small matter of dealing with the steepest incline in the hill collection. My heart popped into my mouth, and I felt like all my energy had been sucked out of me. And with my current no-sugar diet, the body was tested to the limit to dynamically generate sugars on request. The guides in the meantime were going up and down as if they were running on a plain ground.

I remember at one point, one of the soldiers offered to pull some of the ladies. How I wished I could be offered a hand too. But my male ego stood in the way, and I forced myself forward, inch by inch. Fortunately, the temperature was alright. It was just warm enough with a lot of cool breeze trying its best to prevent our bodies from overheating. The air was fresh, and we were surrounded by sounds of the wild. Of course, at this point the singing at the back had ebbed into a grinding silence, and the DJ had broken into Gospel tunes. The timing couldn’t have been better.

We had to take a major stop before reaching the summit of this small hill. This was perhaps the most difficult section of the entire trail. Water was dangerously running low. Fortunately, those that had carried theirs in camel bags generously offered the few drops they had. Coincidentally, it was only the military that still had water on them. The civilians had emptied theirs on the way up. I was a participating student on discipline and endurance here.

When we reached the top, there was a sense of accomplishment. Although, there was still one more hill to conquer, it was clear we had persevered a hard course, and the end was nigh. One military officer told me that a victory is not sweet unless the battle is long and hard. I got the meaning immediately. In order for us to enjoy conquering the Senga Hills, it was important for us to tackle the hard parts first. I couldn’t agree more, though I doubt if my feet saw the amusement in that small talk.

Soon it was time to aim for the trig point. When we got there, we were greeted by the best view in all of Salima. The entire Senga Bay below was in view. We could see where the islands were, a few kilometres from the sandy beaches. We could see where the rice paddies were. There was a beautiful tributary feeding into the lake. In contradiction, as always, we were told it had the highest number of crocodiles in that part of the lake. So it made sense to admire it from a safe distance up in the hills.

Our pains disappeared. All that effort to get here melted into folds of satisfaction, liberally mixed with waves of accomplishment. This was worth fighting for. This was worth the pushing, shoving, towing and everything in-between. This was a great moment. If there was a technology out there to freeze moments, this would be the one place to put it into action. We took photos. We smiled. We laughed. We cheered our guides. We thanked the medics, and the rest of the military officers. There was nothing to compare this moment with anything else.

Trig Point on Senga Hills
Trig Point on Senga Hills

But like all good things, it had to come to an end. We descended and finally connected to the road leading back to the base. Others immediately jumped into the cars that were following us. Some of us, hanged back a little bit, and squeezed in a little stroll before the next pick-up.

In total, we had covered approximately 10 km of rolling hills, in about 3 hours of active walking. The rest was spent on well-deserved breaks, and view watching.

Interview with the Commanding Officer Major Mabvuto Chimbayo

I later caught up with the Commanding Officer Major Mabvuto Chimbayo. He is the officer in charge of the Parachute Battalion and leader of the Airborne Division.  I wanted to get his view of the hiking expedition. Here is an excerpt of our chat:

Please, sir, tell me about your role in the hike today.

Well, today, I was your host and facilitator for the hike. We had to provide access to the training arena for our military officers, and provide health personnel and facilities for all the members that came to participate in the hike. We had to arrange for guides, medics, ambulances and put our military hospital on alert.

We also had to make sure you had a comfortable station to start from, that is why we opened the Senior Officers’ Mess to the HCC members. This was for your refreshments, braai and relaxation.

More importantly, I also had to coordinate on the request from the Hill Climbing Club to the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri for permission to access our military base.

Lastly, for the hike to be successful, we had to provide a brief about the difficulty of the terrain, and take charge of the walks so that it would be enjoyable to the club members as you have seen for yourself.

That took a lot of arrangement and coordination. Thanks very much for that. Now tell me a bit about the trail we took today.

The trail we took today was a mixed route. Some parts were difficult, and some parts were easy. We have three main trails, and today, we sampled from each one of those. As you could see, there were moments where you had to challenge yourself. You had to push yourself. I believe this is better than going to the gym.

The most difficult routine is a hill run. We did not do this one today as it requires you to be very fit. Our officers are able to complete the trail we took today in about 25 minutes.

We also had to pick a trail that would allow you to enjoy the scenic view of Senga Bay. You can see islands to the south, and the rice paddies to the north. The trail allowed you to see the best of Salima.

What is your message to the public?

As you know, non-communicable diseases (NCD) are ravaging our communities. NCDs can be prevented or managed if one is to adopt an active lifestyle. Lack of exercises contributes to the development of these diseases like types of diabetes and blood hypertension. So we advise the public to adopt exercises. It can be fun as you saw today.

Our training facilities are open to the public upon making proper arrangements. And we are there to help support the nation to get fit, lead a healthy lifestyle and contribute to the wellness of all the citizens of our country, Malawi.

Thank you, sir.

Thank you.

A Bit About the Hill Climbing Club

Then I caught up with organising members of the Hill Climbing Club to learn more about its origin, the hike, and about planned events in the year. I had a chat with Mr M’theto Lungu and Major Lameck Kalenga.

Thanks for inviting me to participate in the hike today. It was awesome.

Thank you for coming to be with us today.

Tell me about the club. Who started it and when was it started?

Well, before we start with the history of the club, let me first of all thank the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri for granting permission to our request to come today to the Parachute Battalion with members of the club for a hiking day on Senga Hills.

This is part of Civil Military Relations, which the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri is promoting to enhance the relationship between the military and the public. As you might be aware, Malawi Defence Force(MDF) has been promoting public health by encouraging the citizens of the Malawi nation to adopt an active lifestyle.

We cannot thank the General enough for such a great consideration. We are looking forward to building a special relationship with the military, and will continue to engage MDF for support in granting access to training facilities for our club members.

Now, to go back to your question, this started as a discussion between Captain Bright Chanika and I (M’theto Lungu). We wanted to encourage people to adopt an active lifestyle. This was back in December 2017. We arranged for people to take walks on weekends in Lilongwe between Kaunda Filling Station and Bunda Turn Off. We also encouraged people to share on social media details of any physical activities that they had undertaken.

The original plan was to attempt a hill monthly. Unfortunately, weather and other factors got in a way.

Do you have a club president?

No, not at the moment. We have an organising committee. At the moment the members for the commitee are as follows:

Organising/ Coordinating Team are:
1. Major Lameck Kalenga – Technical Coordinator/ Advisor
Vice: Francis Muwalo
2. Capt. Kelvin Ezron Soko – Strategic Coordinator/ Advisor
Vice: Mimi
3. Major Bright Chakanika – Fitness Advisor
Vice: Capt. Henry Tembwe
4. M’theto Lungu – PR Coordinator
Vice: Fatsani Menyani
4. Lipenga – Associate Coordinator (Salima Fitness Club)
Vice: Andrew
5. Lt. Tiya – Gender Affairs
6. Major Gilbert Mittawa – Legal Instructor

But in the future, we will need to elect members to various positions. Especially since we are planning on involving companies to sponsor our activities. As you heard, today’s hike was sponsored by various companies. We are thanking them profusely. Such sponsorship has to be accounted for in a transparent manner. Hence the need to have elected members to take up leadership positions in the club.

Tell me about the membership.

The club has an open membership. The current members come from Malawi Defence Force and also from the public. We have members across the world. The majority are in Malawi, but we have some members across Africa and beyond.

At the moment, membership is free. And anyone can join our group on WhatsApp and on Facebook. If a member has a question on fitness, others will come in and assist. It is a dynamic group meant at encouraging one another to adopt an active lifestyle and remain fit.

Sorry to ask an obvious question. What is the club about?

No problem.

As you might already be aware, NCDs (non-communicable diseases) are killing more people in Malawi than even AIDS. This is a shocking state of affairs for the country. We want to encourage people to adopt regular exercising as part of their lifestyle to help prevent conditions such as heart attacks, types of diabetes, fatigue, obesity and so on.

Living a healthy lifestyle allows one to live longer. And it involves three aspects: exercising, nutrition, good health habits. All these depend on personal choices. We are here to encourage people to make those good choices in order to allow them live long happy lives. We strongly recommend that people should start exercising before doctor’s orders. Do it while it is still your choice, that way it will be fun, and cost effective. When you have to do the same as remedial, you will have to deal with heavy medical bills.

We also want to promote bonding with family members. Our activities involve all family members including children. If people had brought children today, we would have kept them entertained outside the Senior Officers’ Mess.

Finally, we want to promote local tourism. Why should it take only foreigners to come from the end of the world to appreciate the beauty around us? It should start with us. When we take hiking to different parts of the country, it will allow members to appreciate the many beautiful sceneries and views. We are going to achieve this by partnering with various companies.

We are asking companies to come forward and support us. Just like we have received the support from the companies that made the event today possible. We received support from Zambezia Health Drinks, McWise Prints, Skyline International, NaMEDIA and AutoBoiz of Kemstc Group of Companies.

We also partnered with different clubs including Salima Fitness Club, Nkhotakota Gym Centre, and Makawa Fitness Centre. Such is the partnership we are looking for, and are open to all fitness groups across the country.

What have been the activities so far this year and do you have any plans for the rest of the year?

This was the biggest event so far this year. We had over 60 hikers who participated today. Men and women. But this was our second trip to Senga Hills. The first one was in February.

We are planning to have quarterly events. The next big event will be a walk and run on the Khwekhwelere section of the Lakeshore Golomoti Road in Ntcheu. It will be in two categories – one will be 10 km and the other 20 km. We will start from the bottom of the road and climb up the famous Khwekhwerere escarpment. We will announce the dates, and we ask companies to come forward and support us.

In the meantime, we will continue having weekend walks and runs in Lilongwe, and members are asked to continue participating in physical activities wherever they may be in the world, and share the moments with fellow members on our social media groups.

Any last words?

Yes. We are a non-partisan group. We don’t have political or religious affiliations. We are inviting all members of the public to pick up an active health lifestyle regardless of age, profession or social status.

Not only will this be beneficial to individuals, but this will help the nation to reduce its national budget on health on remedial interventions and instead use the resources for national development.

Remember, exercise is difficult to start and exercise is difficult to stop. So get started. Lastly, once again, we are very grateful to the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri for granting us the opportunity to have the hike today on Senga Hills. This was a very successful event.

Thank you.

Thanks. [End of interview]

So what do you think?

So dear reader, what do you think? Has your appetite for outdoors been whetted up? Nature is ours to enjoy, and when we undertake such an outing, we get to enjoy, relax and praise the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the good things He has given us.

I thank the Hill Climbing Club for organising such a great event.

See you at the next HCC major event.

Rolling Senga Hills
Rolling Senga Hills

My Running Mate is Back

Running Feels Great! Andrew (right) and I (left)
Running Feels Great! Andrew (right) and I (left)

My colleague and friend from the office is back. Andrew Khoko has been swamped with work lately often knocking off in the night. As a running partner we haven’t hit the asphalt together for sometime now. Until yesterday.

Cathy, my lovely wife, came to fetch our laptop bags and office attire. We slipped into sportswear, said our goodbyes and fixed our eyes on the road.

 

Running In the Dark

I’m trying to motivate Andrew to tackle one of the routes for Be More Race. He looks to be in a better shape than I am. I’m sure he can easily end up in the top ten if he put his mind to it.Yesterday, we started off from our office in Area 43, a quiet low density suburb in Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi.

The streets were deserted except for a dog and someone who was busy playing with his phone. The lights of an approaching car made it difficult to see the road. Shielding our eyes, it became obvious that this was going to be an interesting run.

Soon enough we reached the main road and decided to run next to it. When the sun is not set yet, we sometimes take the little trails a few meters away from the road. We brush against grass, and the trail offers a few of off-road sections that are a delight to the coordination algorithms inside our brains.

But last night, we could not take those trails on account of the darkness. Perhaps, in hindsight, we should have brought along headlamps. In any case, we settled in and easily avoided trucks that were hogging their lanes and shooing us away with aggressive honking.

 

The First Three Kilometers

We took a comfortable pace to allow Andrew to warm-up and also to be gentle to my legs due to subdued aching left after last Saturday’s 21 km run with Cathy. Andrew’s chest was on fire, as expected and my Achilles’ tendon was protesting loudly.

From previous experience we knew we just had to endure the first three kilometers. After that, once the body figures out that you are ignoring the message to stop, it resigns to its fate and gives you what you want – mileage.

My estimation was that we would take about roughly an hour and ten minutes to get home. And that was alright, after all running in the dark should not be done in haste. Andrew took the lead, and the running elephant followed. (By the way, I got that title from one of the guides on Kilimanjaro some two years ago.)

There was not much to see but the air was fresh. Nature was doing an excellent job cleaning up the fumes coming out from the cars on the road.

 

Tragedy Strikes

After five kilometers Andrew dropped the pace drastically. I thought he was getting tired. I overtook him and urged him to spring back to action. Then I took off. We didn’t see each other again until after the run.

It turns out his right knee had given in. He was in pain but managed to mask his limp. Instead of stopping and canceling the run, he decided to persevere to the end. And he knew that if he had indicated his predicament that would have halted the run.

What a hero.

 

The Outcome

The Running Stats
The Running Stats

In the end, the run finished at 54 minutes 22 seconds, covering a distance of 6.99 meters. Certainly, not a record breaker in any way. But the point is to get out there and do your part. Even with a busy day, one can squeeze in a work out or two. We did it, so can you.

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.

Next Weekend in Salima

Senga Hill Hike

I got an invitation from my brother CK on WhatsApp about the Senga hill hike. The hill is in Salima, the lakeshore district next to the Capital City of Malawi.

I’m trying to get more details, but in the meantime take out your hiking boots and get them ready.

According to the poster above, the hike will take place on Saturday, 26 May 2018.

Captivating!

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.

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.