Saturday, July 22, 2006

Night on the town, Malawi-style

We finished our work for the week last night. We did some evaluation of the process and everybody had enjoyed it, and the project is now handed over to the researcher and project assistant we have hired. I wrote the project proposal, and designed the process we used to start it all off, so although it would be nowhere without the skill and commitment of the Malawi team (and they have plenty of both) I feel pretty proud of myself.


So much so that I chanced the red wine – ropey and Zimbabwean, but great for celebrating nonetheless. We drank on the hotel terrace as the sun went down, bid farewell to N, who is off to another workshop, and then L and I asked the porter to get us a cab to go into Blantyre proper (we are actually staying in Limbe, which is to Blantyre as Botley is to Oxford, only further away).


Okay, he said, and disappeared into the bar – not somewhere I would normally look for a taxi driver myself, but there you go. He emerged a little while later with a guy in tow: he will take you, he said. Okay, we said, how much? It was 800 kwacha, we said fine and he led us to the car park, which was full of big white shiny 4WDs and a battered ancient red Datsun coupe. Which was his. And had no seatbelts.


Earlier we had been refused use of a work car because neither of us had had our driving assessed on Malawian roads and the guy who does the assessing is away. So for safety reasons we couldn't drive ourselves, yet it's perfectly fine to get into an unlicensed cab held together with spit and string.


Luckily we'd had a few drinks, so we thought this was hilarious, and the radio mostly drowned out the noise of the engine screaming up the hills.


We arrived in the big smoke and joined some of our colleagues for an Indian meal (fish! hooray!) which was like manna from heaven after a week of pasta with carrots and green beans, and then they suggested going to the Sportsman Bar. This, we had been told, is as down and dirty as southern Malawi gets, so we had no hesitation.


And it was great – the band were cool, beautiful boys who played some reggae, some traditional songs and the odd cover, including Graceland, which was strangely moving to hear in such a place, and I drank Malawi gin on ice, which was rough as you like but seemed to fit the mood. It was mostly men, and most of the women were of the ladies of the night persuasion (and, disconcertingly, didn't bother to close the cubicle doors when they went to piss), but nobody gave us any hassle beyond a bit of dirty dancing in our general direction, and my guess is that wasn't personal.


We left as the place was beginning to slide into messiness, and our colleague P, who is a Seventh Day Adventist and therefore teetotal (and not supposed to go to bars at all, but likes the music) offered us a lift back in his big shiny safe car. So we had a proper Friday night out, curry and all, and I was still in bed by midnight. Splendid.




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