Friday, March 14, 2008

A Ride in the Countryside

This past weekend I brought one of our new volunteers, Jean Paul Portelli, out to a village. He wants to spend two weeks there to learn more about rural life in Malawi. I would have liked to stay for longer, but unfortunately I only have two weeks left of work and there’s a lot to do to wrap things up. Megan Campbell has just arrived to transition in to Concern Universal, so I’m starting the process of disengaging myself from CU.

In any case, I stayed one night with Jean Paul in Kabindiza village in Dedza district. The next day (Sunday) I made the long trek back to Dedza, going by bicycle taxi and then mini bus.

My bicycle taxi ride was a memorable one. Our friend in the village, Gift, arranged for a bike to take me to the roadside. My driver was named Mufutu, a kid about 16 years old who wore a collared shirt and blue flipflops. His bike wasn’t actually a real taxi: it wasn’t registered with a licence plate. And it didn’t have the standard padding on the rear passenger seat, or foot rests for the passenger. But it had two wheels and could move – and with remarkable (but terrifying) grace, as I was to discover.

We started out along the long dirt road that links Kabindiza to the village. I was told the ride would take about an hour. As we began our journey, I began to worry about this length of time.

The road was bumpy. Heavy rains and passing mini buses had resulted in deep ruts in the earth. Mufutu skilfully wove his way along the road, picking the smoothest spots but terrifying me with his sudden changes in direction.

We began to chat. He spoke at great length and with energy, looking back and smiling. Unfortunately he spoke only Chichewa, so I didn’t understand what he was saying. I responded in great length in English. He smiled and nodded his head, but I came to realize he had no idea what I was saying either. We continued like this for several miles, hitting it off quite well. At least, from my perspective we were. Who knows what he was saying about me.

Ten minutes into the ride, we came to a fork in the road. He gesticulated to me, asking which way to go. I had no idea, so I randomly pointed to the left, expecting us to follow the road in that direction. Instead, Mufutu veered sharply, taking us off the main road onto a narrow path, where women were walking. They jumped aside as we flew by.

Because there were no foot rests on the bike, I had to struggle to keep my sandals from bouncing into the spokes of the rear wheel. At least I had braking power, if I so needed it.

We suddenly began to move down a sharp hill. Mufutu stood on the pedals and pumped his legs furiously, aiming to build up enough speed to take us up the next incline. My feet struck the pedals as they dangled limply there. I hung on to the back of the seat until my arms ached.

Thirty minutes in, we rounded a bend around a large hill and I gasped at the vista that was revealed. Rolling green fields dotted with beautiful grey-rock mountains, covered in pine and indigenous trees greeted me. Dedza is a truly beautiful district.

I noted that we were approaching a town, based on the number of people and animals that start appearing on the previously deserted road. Mufutu’s riding was truly skilful, if somewhat frightening, with all its bobbing and weaving – like a champion boxer. By my count, we nearly struck the following things:

• 1 cow
• 1 goat
• 4 deep patches of mud
• 1 group of women standing in the road chatting
• 1 other bicycle taxi, complete with driver and two passengers. I’m sure they were playing chicken with each other.

But somehow we always stayed up. It was as though Mufutu was a gyroscope. We moved gracefully through the small town as people stood by smiling and laughing at the white stranger who was zipping through their community.

Fifty minutes in, we passed over a bridge and I knew this to be a landmark. We were almost there.

At this point I’d knocked the bike’s chain off twice with my sandal, and become convinced that I’d never be able to have children as a result of the metal seat and rutted road. But I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the M1 highway.

Mufutu dropped me off, and I paid my $1.85 fare with an extra 40 cents for a fear factor bonus.

As I stood waiting for a passing minibus, Mufutu spoke at length, saying goodbye in his native Chichewa. At least, I think he did – it was a lot of words, so maybe he was angry at me for knocking off the chain twice. I waved to him, and he sped off into the distance, significantly lighter.

Mufutu, the driver.
Some friends along the way.

The rutted road.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic description! I'm a little worried about the no kids thing though - Mom

gwadzilla said...

great photo of the young boy with the bicycle

Caroline said...

Keep up the good work.

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