The trip to Malawi was a long one but worth it. We’d have to cross through Mozambique and needed a visa before doing so, which cost $30 at the border or $110 at the embassy in Harare so you can guess which option we chose. Rushing to the front of the bus at the border though quickly caught the eye of just about everyone else aboard with them all wondering why the mzungu (swahili for foreigner) was cutting the line. Having been the first people in the office and the bus still waiting for us a good 10-15 minutes, everyone was soon thankful we’d cut in front.
Once inside Malawi we were greeted by some of the warmest hospitality we’ve encountered on this trip. The minister sitting behind us helped us to find both accommodation and transportation upon our arrival in Blantyre going so far as to walk me to the nearest hotel and allowing me to use his cell phone to call a second when mine ran out of credit. We made it to the one we called on his phone and when it was time to leave had a hard time saying goodbye to the staff, who were eager to see more of our pictures of lions and hyenas…we gave them about 6 gigabytes worth.
The strangest thing about Malawi was the currency, and I say this having just come from a country that printed $100 trillion notes. The exchange rate quoted by the street money changers was between 170 and 180 kwacha to a single US dollar. This was about the same as at the legal and legitimate banks and exchange bureaus in Blantyre, the business center of the country. At the ATM however, we received K150.05 to a single dollar, making the currency about 20% more expensive. Clearly the border rate wasn’t a black market rate given that the legitimate banks and foreign exchange bureaus were giving the same rate- how strange then that the ATM would give such a different and lower rate. Luckily we’d hit the ATM’s in Zimbabwe had some excess USD to change rather than rely on the ATM’s as we usually do.
There was no end to the kindness of the Malawi people though. We decided to send all those stone sculptures home as the post here wasn’t too expensive and the postal clerk gave us her cell phone number in case it does not arrive on time. I’m not sure what she can do, but she just eagerly wanted to help. In posting it took only minutes to find a store owner willing to give us a free box for the shipment as well. I asked one store owner, when he gave me a 5 kwatcha coin as change if he had any smaller ones I could have instead to add to my collection, he quickly produced a full set of coins (nearly impossible to find in circulation because of their low value) and gave them to me. When Jill purchased a photo album from a local development project’s paper recycling/production workshop, her hand was shaken by every person working there…thanking her for her visit and purchase….as we walked out. Although we’ve met genuine and warm people in every corner of the world we’ve been too, the Malawi people as a whole take the cake!