Friday, July 2, 2010

chapter 1

My African diary
16th June Set off from Doncaster station on 14.17 , a bit apprehensive, and not feeling too well, thought it might be the Malarone but actually probably a bit of flu, just what you need ahead of a 6000 mile journey into the unknown, why was I doing this crazy thing?
Rickety journey to Heathrow on the tube didn’t improve things. Getting signed in at Terminal 3 was no problem, Ethiopian Airlines tucked away in corner of area F, a pit of a poor relation. Hung around lounges for 2 hours watching a bit of football, very exotic mix of passengers from all over the world. Tried the multi-faith room which was obviously designed for people who liked to use mats and pray on the floor. At 8p.m. joined African world of Eth. Airlines, slow security processes and chaotic boarding .300 people stuffed into an ageing aeroplane, leg-room, 20”, would have make Easy Jet blush. Met my fellow passenger for the journey, Alise, a trainee nurse on her way back to Uganda to see her sick grand-mother. The first of a number of fascinating meetings with African passengers. Very slow boarding, apparently an EA speciality, which made us miss our take-off slot, so we ahd to wait a further 1 hour dawdling down the run-way. Flight best forgotten. Meal served at 2p.m. GMT which seemed to set off a group of Africans off into high spirits and they proceded to talk loudly for the next five hours, so sleep impossible. You go into a kind of trance and it didn’t seem too long before we were greeted by an African dawn. The coffee and Genoa cake(!) eased the descent into my first African city, Addis Ababa., a strange mixture of half finished buildings, skyscrapers, and a patchwork of fields.
AA airport very quiet, so had a doze and then got talking to a guy from South Africa who was working with the UN as an Avionics engineer and was flying to Chad for 5 weeks. SA was going down hill and was becoming very dangerous was his verdict.
Rush to get on plane as they seemed to have decided to leave earlier than announced, then we hung around on the runway for another ¾ hour for some late passengers. So there we were again an hour late – seems to be a EA speciality. Nice flight south a cross the Equator in a modern plane, not full, so much more comfortable. My fellow passenger Jack, prayed as we took off. Nervous flyer. Congolese, brother a pastor . He told me that he had never tried Christianity. Just returning from a business strip to Manchester. We talked a lot about Africa, faith and the Congo. He is a new breed of African in their 20sand 30s, the post AIDS generation, the mobile phone generation with ability and skills but frustrated by the lack of opportunities. We landed on a horribly bumpy runway at a rickety Lubumbashi – formerly Belgian Elizabethville. Airport buildings looked like those ones being taken over by rebels in 1970s news reels. I thought that we might get a move on, but that is not EA style instead we had a one hour wait while the air hostesses sunned themselves and chatted, definitely the most stunning hostesses I have seen , akin the Queen of Sheba serving your little pre-packaged meals. You can see why King David got so excited. A man came on with a hoover to the clan the plane – a first. Eventually we bounced down the runway and headed east to Lliongwe, ¾ hour later into Malawi, landed at small modern airport with crisp lawns and lovely trees. Lots of people looking important in uniform doing Custom jobs and searches, perhaps they don’t get too many planes.
Great joy to be greeted by Jumbo and Mthwalo, Kennedy and Johann. Into SU minibus with blackened windows for first harem-scarem drive in Africa. Lots of people just walking around, just missed a goat, people out selling things, digging holes. First impressions of Lilongwe is off a dusty chaotic place with huge potholes, you seem to be able to drive just about where you like. Don’t worry about cyclists who appear oblivious of imminent death by motor vehicle. The complete opposite of our orderly roads, I will never complain about lane changers again. Mthwalo drove like a cross between Russell Crowe, gladiator, and Louis Hamilton, up close, then accelerate, overtake hoping that there isn’t much in the way in front i.e. children, bikes, the odd lorry ect. We visit the SU offices which are quite tumble down. Obviously neatness and finishing things isn’t a strong point. Dropped off SU workers and then went along more crowded roads, huge potholes to the Lutheran College and its rather grandly styled Cathedral. Large dusty compound with a gate-keeper.

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