A Mzungu’s view of living in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital

When I arrived from the UK on a blistering, arid August afternoon the first thing I noticed was the vibrant sunshine and searing heat as I stepped off the aeroplane. Obviously I was shattered after a twenty four hour journey but nonetheless excited at finally arriving in Blantyre albeit a little anxious about what to expect. I had never been to Malawi or Africa for that matter. I am embarrassed to say that most of my prior knowledge of the country was from watching the news on British TV, knowing that Madonna had adopted a child from the country and reading some blurb in a couple of guidebooks.

Blantyre

Blantyre

Yet, if I had read up on Malawi and studied a few heavy text books, would I have still ventured here? I’d like to think so.

The airport was small, tatty and quite frankly uninviting. The Malawian officials herded people into an appropriate queue for passport control and as I ventured up to the desk I prepared to say my first phrase in Chichewa, “Muli Biwanji!” – “Fine” was the reply, as the women gestured me through. What a disappointment, to have spoken to my first Malawian, who replied in English!

The airport porters swarmed around me, insistent that they take my luggage out to the waiting minibus. They unnerved me and I felt very protective of my belongings but eventually gave in to their persistency, only then to feel embarrassed that I had no kwacha to offer in recompense.

Outside in the car park I was able to gain my first view of the country. A young girl was walking bare footed along the perimeter fence with a small child, about a year old, tied to her back with chijendi. She was beautiful with large doe eyes and glistening skin under the blazing sun. I guessed her age must have been twelve or thirteen and I immediately wondered if the small child was hers or if it was common for siblings to carry each other. Our eyes met and I felt uncomfortable but was not sure why; – did I reek of wealth with my luggage and clothes, or was it because I was white?I did not know it at the time, but this feeling of awkwardness was going to return many times during my stay.

The minibus journey was both exhilarating yet terrifying. The words ‘God Hopes’, was ironically written on the bonnet: I was squashed in with four other passengers, together sharing two seats, feeling very claustrophobic. It seemed that there was no limit to how many people the minibus could hold. We spluttered along with no seat belts, a cracked window screen and only our bags to cling onto as we swerved around the traffic, pot holes and numerous pedestrians. I concluded that minibus travel was a luxury for most people as the road to Blantyre was heaving with people walking in all directions. I was acutely aware that I had broken into a sweat as I was unsure where I was going and how to get the driver to stop. We passed what I believed were the suburbs of the town: squat, sprawling, square brick houses with a mixture of corrugated and straw roofs.

Outside there were women sitting using giant mortar and pestle vessels to pound maize, men transporting towering stacks of firewood precariously on a bike and so many children, playing football, sitting under the shade of trees or running around kicking up the dry dust. It was difficult to take the view as the speed limit of the minibus was either fast or extra fast.

Eventually, accompanied by a fanfare of horn honking,we entered the town of Blantyre where I recognised the clock tower, an ugly, bent incongruous concrete folly. It was evident that some effort was being made to spruce up the main drag with attractive landscaped roundabouts but it could not detract from the cracked, almost non-existent pavements, the dark and uninviting steel clad shops and blue plastic rubbish bags strewn through the streets.

The minibus pulled into a narrow alley and as all the passengers alighted, I assumed this was the last stop. Dragging my luggage along the kerb I headed towards my hotel and was able to soak up the bustling atmosphere of office workers, hawkers and shopkeepers going about their business.

As people nodded or smiled at me, my spirits lifted. I asked myself if I had perhaps been too critical. It was a beautiful day, I was in a different country and was about to start an exciting new chapter of my life.

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29 thoughts on “A Mzungu’s view of living in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital”

  1. Elisa says:

    This is probably the first- and last time this person is going to publish anything to a Malawi newspaper…
    The comments on his/her article make me feel very ashamed.
    Why – for heavens sake – take any objective opinion upon arriving in Malawi, as criticism?
    Let’s be realistic: Malawi’s public transport is a disaster.
    Malawi can’t ever be proud of being rated the poorest country in the world by the UN for 2015
    And all these comments have one message only: “Go home – leave us in our beautiful Malawi”.
    A Malawi, that’s on the verge of collapse, according to me. Donors pulled out after Cashgate; torrential rains left thousands of people homeless.
    When I read the comments, I tend to think all ‘mzungu’ should leave Malawi.
    Malawians/Malawi government can cope with all the problems themselves.
    I wish you good luck…

  2. lol says:

    Guys, mwasiya kodi kumutukwana munthuyu? Ndisiyileni ndigwire ntchito – you are a stupid writer. What did you expect from world’s poorest nation my friend? You wanted to see a city more beautiful than London? Sukulu sinakuthandizeni amwene ndinu achitsilu, mwamva eti? If you want to make sales with your article kwanu komweko, chitsilu.

  3. William says:

    Stupid Malawian writing the article as whiteman. Idiot

  4. ujeni says:

    Most of you people commenting here have never ever been outside the village called Malawi. Bush mentality, without tv coming in 2000 you would all be wearing ma flare trousers going to church with woman their best shoes being plastic malliposa , hair style combed with afro combs put in as decorations. You have a long way to go. Go outside please and learn

  5. charlie says:

    Shit article. Get a bloody life

  6. charlie says:

    Mzungu azingo tumiza aid. Basi

  7. Funzo says:

    I don’t see the point of this article. Even if it is true, so what? It may be of interest published in a British travel section of a newspaper.

    1. ujeni says:

      He is giving you a view as seen by a person from outside who comes from advanced nation and probably your customer(tourist).

  8. MANDEVU says:

    so what? even ku america amphawi alipo..even ku england kwakoko….asaaaa what do u want to tell us…ARE YOU TELLIN US THAT YOU CHOSE TO BE BORN IN THE UNITED KINGDOM….TO US MALAWI IS HOME AND WE LOVE OUR COUNTRY AND THANK GOD FOR EVERYTHING…WE KNOW THERE ARE PEOPLE IN MUCH WORSE PLACES..BOMBS..WARS..HUNGER…PEOPLE BEING KILLED ALL DAY LONG…ARE YOU TELLIN ME THEY CHOSE TO BE BORN IN SYRIA OR IRAQ…MIND YOU ..COUNTRIES THAT HAVE OIL..PRECIOUS MINERALS ETC…MY FRIEND GROW UP..THATS LIFE..DONT TRY TO BE CLEVER THAT YOU ARE A MZUNGU..AV BEEN IN THE UK AND OTHER EU COUNTRIES..AV SEEN ALL YOUR STUPIDITY OF U AZUNGU PEOPLE…

  9. womenslib says:

    The article needs some serious spellcheck, never the less the dude wrote what he saw. What he saw the next day is another matter. D not be mad because a mzungu saw your sister pounding maize near the side of the road.

  10. khamani!! says:

    Mfwe! mfwe! mfwe ! Mihawu …. But its true . We have decided to live like animals and mind you he didn’t even go to lilongwe.

  11. Guley says:

    Poorly written article. Too many contradictions and perhaps not knoeing where you saw what. This is because you lied that it wasbyour furst time in the worlds poorest of the poor country. However the rest is very true and you’ve left out a lot more in this embarrasing, full of cashgate thieves country. You forgot to mention that the clock tower doesnt work because it is too expensive to replace the battery though we find it easy to buy our city mayor top of the range brand new vehicle. The bus terminals are the worst. I don’t know where they get the designs from. This country needs Jesus himself to come down and redeem it. Otherwise, even if we take obama, chinese leader and all other good will leader, nothing will change. We are cursed beyond hades.

  12. YANKHO MAJIGA says:

    So what did you expect to see in the best poorest country in the world? Did yu not do a research of the country that yu wanted to visit bfore you left. your Azunguland. By the way, what brought you here? To redicule us or what? Whatch your mouth and your racist thinking. You even started envying our litle girls, calling them beautiful, what are yuo trying to imply? You must be a child molester!! Watch out, or I wil ban you from visiting my country again!!

  13. Atcheya says:

    Lets be honest and accept when one tells a very correct picture of ourswlves, albeit a notsogood one. Even if u are a Malawian travelling from UK or anywhere else outside Malawi, this is the exact feeling one has. It is not uncommon as well to start feeling sorry and ashamed when you compare where you are coming from and your Malawi, patriotic or not. Imagine that feeling you have when landing at KIA or Chileka where all you see down is scorched earth…grass thatched houses…some green here and there… it’s disheartening and just sums up what this ‘mzungu’ guy is saying: we have a long way to go!

  14. Tomtom says:

    I doubt the veracity of this story. From Chileka Airport to Blantyre along the main road, where could the writer have seen women pounding maize using mortar and pestle? Incredible!

  15. ujeni says:

    Mzungu,you have been too polite in your experience. Gabbage and heavy stench of broken sewage greets you as you leave the shack called Chileka Airport. The road to Blanytre town centre on the sides is squatters who have build mud houses, corrugated eroded iron sheets shacks as shops and capentry shops are everywhere, the road is ugly, tiny and with pot holes. Litters is everywhere, a market is close by the road, chaos greets you on your way to town centre. The town centre is chaotic, littre everywhere, no functioning street light, traffic lights and no proper bus station. Welcome to the poorest country on Earth

  16. ujeni says:

    24 hr journey from UK? or 24 hr journey round the globe?

  17. Chimwemwe says:

    With respect, I would want to state that I find it very hard to believe that the account as stated in this article really happened. First of all I find it hard to believe that a person let along a first time visitor to Malawi took a Minibus ride from the airport into town, was dropped at an unknown minibus station and miraculously finds his way to a hotel. If these are true accounts then he must be a very bold, nay careless mzungu. Secondly, having traveled the Chileka airport to Blantyre route several times I have never seen a single woman “using giant mortal and pestle vessels to pound maize” or pound anything for that matter. Which route did he use? Even in the remotest areas it is extremely rare for people to use mortal. Mills are everywhere and that’s what is used. Therefore Mr/Ms Mzungu, would you please tell us your real story here? I don’t believe this is a true story and therefore I would like to know your motive for writing false accounts of your experience of Blantyre.

  18. Future leader says:

    You are a stupid lier. Unless you were heading to TA Kapeni’s area otherwise you cannot see women still use mortar and pestle in the city. There are so many maize mills and shellers almost everywhere in the country. By calling yourself mzungu or whatever by other quarters of the society, it is a malawian culture that everyone one with money is called a mzungu. We actually call ourselves azungu when we have a few kwachas in our pockets. We call ourselves azungu when we eat well in our houses.
    In short it doesn’t mean you were dignified beyond malawians by being called a mzungu. It is just a stupid remembrance of your stupid grandparents who tormented our grandparents through thangata system and built good homes where you grew up.

  19. kuzukwe says:

    Amati analibe kwacha NDE minibus yathuyo analipila ma us dollar kapena ma pounds. it just shows or a stupid liar.

  20. ğyu says:

    Trying ur best to avoid all those things that you have been taught are colonialist stereotypes. they are not colonial stereotypes — the western news it’s all true. Malawi is dirt poor, little kids with babies on their backs tied with chitenje (and not what you have spelt here). Reckless minibus drivers who play with death and pack people like sardines. an airport that looks like it’s a war torn country and yet Malawi has never had war. Don’t be afraid to call a spade by its name

  21. bokhobokho says:

    This mzungu must be a poor fellow. Real mzungu gets prados from the airport. Mzungu must know that malawi is poor today because people were busy fighting mzungu wars in 1939 while they were busy developing London. Stupid mzungu

  22. Banda says:

    Good stuff but not complete. Very appetising.

  23. Malindima says:

    ……”I entered Blantyre where I recognized the clock tower” this shows this visitor had been to Malawi before and yet he says this was for the first time to visit Africa ; Malawi being the first country.He was aware before he set out on his journey that this is Africa, the continent of plenty resources exploited by the west with Britain being one of them if not in the forefront. This exploitation that still continues today has enriched UK leaving the people of Africa much poorer than before. This visitor should have known better that he could not have expected high standards of African life when his country has caused such a misery to Africa….buying our commodities with dictating prices below cost! What a shame of a visitor !

  24. g says:

    opanda ndalama awa ma TXi anali kuti kuti mpaka akwale minbus ? being first time in Malawi i doubt if this is a real mzungu or mzungu wakuda who has lived in Malawi for so long angofuna achitepo matama apa

    uko chibimu

  25. Kikikiki says:

    He’s not cynical but rather having birds view experience on his first trip to our beloved country. Stop being social critics. This is not politics but Mzungu is just spot on. Hate it or take it eeeish!

  26. gaba says:

    lier .u are not a white.

  27. Banyamulenge says:

    Stupid mzungu. This is africa

  28. sungi says:

    ‘blah blah blah blah’…ppppfffttt. I don’t get it. Poor article by a poor writer with a poor colonialist mentality.

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