Early morning sunlight filtered through fluttering leaves, played on the mosquito netting. Then birdsong entered my consciousness. More than one bird. Perhaps twenty different birds welcomed the new day. Only slowly did the absence of traffic noise register. It wasn’t a busy road, but at least two minibuses packed with local commuters from the nearby township should have passed. Silence, apart from the birds and a gentle rustling of the trees, could mean only one thing. Cars and trucks queued at the petrol stations, their drivers snoozing gently waiting for the petrol and diesel tankers to arrive. Some days the petrol drought lasted only a few hours. Yet there were stories of endless lines of static traffic stranded for weeks.
Our accommodation in Blantyre was set in delightful wooded gardens. Occasionally a monkey would dart through to rescue a wayward youngster as we relaxed over breakfast. The big steel gates swung open almost before we heard the company minivan. Waving from the window Arthur pulled up grinning broadly. “Just as well I put some petrol to one side.” He laughed triumphantly, the gap in his front teeth expanding his infectious smile.
We were in Malawi to advise a social enterprise how to set up a management consultancy. All of the Malawian consultants were graduates with management training but that didn’t mean they understood the pressures and disciplines needed to run a successful management consultancy.
Travelling around Malawi by local bus to deliver training on strategic planning was familiar ground. Like our experiences in Mali and Burkina Faso the trick was not to plan the bus journey. Of course the bus left late. Naturally we drove to the depot to get another bus, this one with a cracked windscreen and dodgy gears. The first breakdown was no surprise to anyone, nor the ingenious repairs with a bit of stiff wire. When we decamped in a remote rural village the passengers dispersed without a murmur to the comfortable shade of the trees. Intrigued children in ragged clothes paused in rolling bicycle wheel rims or dragging a stick through the dust to contemplate the new arrivals in their village. With a sharp knock from a locally procured hammer the brakes released and we clambered aboard. The generous timetable still allowed us to buy vegetables thrust through the bus windows, negotiate for delicious deep fried goat offal and for the men to relieve themselves behind crumbling mud brick walls. The women had more discrete but less salubrious mosquito invested outhouses.
Lake Malawi was a breathtaking blue, sparkling in the afternoon sun. David Livingston called it the lake of stars. Here we met Tione and Frank the leaders of the social enterprise, and would be consultants, to deliver the first part of their training. They were working with local agricultural communities in the hot dusty drought ridden centre of Malawi. It was just our good luck that the most convenient place to meet was on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in Africa.
Golden rays of the setting sun glistened on the scales of a handful of large butter fish balanced on the fisherman’s dugout canoe. Several people cast an expert eye on the catch and chatted to us about the fishing, the catch and the quality of meal that awaited the successful bidder. A sigh of disappointment flickered over the fisherman’s warm face and a breath of relief passed among the buyers when it was clear we were not bidding. Our presence would double the price as surely as the recent 50% devaluation of the local currency had cruelly slashed incomes.
As the sky deepened from blue to indigo, yellow weaver birds flew to their nests and the gentle evening birdsong ended the day.