Wherethemalawiarewe?

It is hardly a secret that I relished the constant mental challenges of academia. Challenge is part of the reason I felt drawn to Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature. There is something a little beyond the norm about that field, the extra language hurdle that offers insight into the words I am writing right now. I hope to reenter the university world eventually, whether in further Medieval studies or creative writing, to approach these challenges again.

It is part of this love of a challenge that led me to fear travelling before I left. It would be easy for me to treat these next nine months as a highly extended vacation. And while I am relaxing and appreciating all that these next few months have to offer me, I promised myself one thing: to continue to stretch my mental and physical limits as far as they can take me, to search out challenges and to approach them head on. I feel a little closer to that goal after this week.

Travelling itself, perhaps especially in Africa, is a mental challenge. There is so much culture colliding with us head on. Every transition from country to country brings a different perspective. I find myself right now on the shores of Lake Malawi. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet in many ways the average person seems better off than in Kenya. The border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania was like light and day. In Kenya, the roads are pitted and pot-holed, almost impassable except by the most manic of drivers. In Tanzania, the roads are better than Canadian – smooth black tarmac with neatly painted yellow and white lines. They say that roads are the pathway to civilization… and a fine indicator too, of a country’s wealth.

Yesterday, in Chitimba, Malawi, I fulfilled part of my promise to myself. I hiked from Chitimba to Livingstonia, a town dedicated to Dr. David Livingstone and his Christian mission in Malawi. The hike left at 7am. Only four of us – Eric, Ben, Tania and myself – decided to take on the mission. I don’t think any of us realized just how physically taxing it was going to be on our systems.

The Malawian sun is relentless. At only 45 minutes into the trip – the walk to get to the mountain, let alone the mountain itself – I was ready to give up. What was I thinking? I did not voice this concern aloud, but rest assured it was going through my head. Then I remembered that promise to myself. How about my vow to conquer physical limitations as well as mental? I bucked up and put one foot in front of the other. And then we reached the mountain.

Without the support of the other climbers, I’m not sure I would have made it up. Through the steepest part of the hill, I took it one section at a time, taking plenty of rest in between and convincing myself to go forward. PMA: positive mental attitude became my mantra. It was worth it indeed. The first part of the hike took us to a beautiful waterfall, and then a watering hole where we swam and tried to gain back our energy. There we met a couple, one of whom is a DJ at the Lake of Stars festival that I will be attending tomorrow. We then hiked further up to the town of Livingstonia, where a museum dedicated to Dr. David Livingstone has been set up. From the very top, Malawi spread in front of us like paradise. Lake Malawi is a giant glisten of water in the far distance. Bright greenery is beneath our feet, lowering into dusty red earth and sand. In Livingstonia, we encounter a chameleon, a poisonous snake and tall pine trees that stretch toward the sky. It is more that worth the climb.

By now it is one o’clock, and it has taken us 6 hours to reach the top.

We break for lunch at a little restaurant in Livingstonia. Ben asks the owner of the restaurant: “Do you have a menu.”

The answer is curt. “No.”

“Then what do you have to eat?” I step in.

“Chicken.” There is a pause. “And rice.”

“Anything else?” Tania is a vegetarian, and hopeful. The rest of us have not seen chicken in weeks, and it is a welcome, if forced, change.

“No.”

So chicken and rice it was.

The problem with hiking is that once you go up, you must come down. The way back down was much quicker, but much harder on the joints. My knees and legs ached with a dull throbbing pain that I knew would intensify over the next few days. But we were all exhilirated and happy. It was the first real exercise of the trip and we felt satisfied, healthy and above all – that we had experienced some “real Africa.”

It seems I cannot have a day of relaxing, for the next day I went scuba diving in Lake Malawi. It was a totally different experience from the Indian Ocean, but just as worthwhile.

Now I’m getting into rugby and England have just won against Australia. Let the celebrations begin!

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