Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Africa: New Year's at the hippie village

Mayoka Village is my kind of place. Thatch huts, ($8 per night) and thatch hut dorm ($4 per night) were shockingly cheap after New Year's last year in Brazil. Turquoise and purple walls, a purple pool table, poetry painted on the wall - it was perfect. I ate two huge meals per day, downed more than my share of Carlsberg and Kuche Kuche beers, slept there for 4 nights and my total bill came to only $69. Everything you consume goes on some sort of mysterious tab and you don't really know how much you've spent until the end.
I met a lot of travellers from South Africa, Holland, England, Germany. Everyone kind of sunburned, sweaty and happy. There is a crowd of about 10 local guys who work/hang out there - all of them pool sharks. They all go by names like "Special", "Benjy", "G-Unit" and my favorite, "Happy Coconut". I thought about what my Africa name could be, I kind of like "sweaty Mango".

Normally I like to have a little more action in my days but I did absolutely nothing but lay around by the lake, in hammocks, on a rock, on my hut porch, for days. I entertained myself with the local Malawi newspaper, which had articles about how corrupt the Shire bus company is, and how the vice president is going on a hunger strike, (well, he's only consuming fanta). I read about Saddam's hanging and there were also enjoyable mysoginist articles such as "my point of view - Malawian women must remember their place in society" and a dear abby column that featured a lovesick teenage boy - "I miss her so much, I feel like a grasshopper who has lost his wings". The personals are good too - "22 year old man looking for god-fearing woman to live in rural area". well sign me up.

Every day I would go into town, down the path in the blazing heat to buy water from the grocery store. I line them up by my bed and go through 4 or 5 per day. I searched desperately for sunblock - a terrible thing has happened, the nurse at northwestern was correct in saying that my malaria medicing, doxycycline, would make me sensitive to the sun. I had to be cheap and buy the doxy instead of the more expensive Malarone, and now I'm burned where by now I would have already been a nice shade of burnt sienna. No sunblock in the dusty market of nhkata bay, but you can buy dried fish or tomatoes from a woman nursing an infant right at the food stand or a brown muumuu, or some "fair and lovely" cream.

One afternoon I heard singing and wandered into a little church for awhile to watch the choir. It was nice - I wanted to take a picture but felt conspicuous. Actually, there have been so many times I've wanted to photograph something but felt like an insensitive jerk - or bait for a thief. Sorry I couldn't post pictures on this one - hopefully next time.

One thing that I've noticed about Malawi that's pretty morbid - coffin shops everywhere. we passed one on the bus and I had to appreciate it's name - the "time will tell coffin warehouse". We passed several coffin shops on the way to Mzuzu and sometimes when I'd go into Nhkata bay town, a woman would be sanding away at a coffin. Death is close to these people's minds. I remember the taxi driver in Joburg was making small talk with me - I said "I'm jet lagged but I feel good!"

"as long as there is life in your body, you feel good!" he said.

Also, women here in Africa can carry anything on their heads. Everywhere they do it. Picture going to Jewel Osco, stocking up on your lean cuisines, diet coke and ice cream, then carrying it all home on your head. If you were African you would. Mostly women do this. Actually, it's the women that I see toiling away in the fields and carrying heavy loads. The men don't carry much. I kind of think the women might be doing all the work around here.

New Year's eve eve I hung out in the restaurant/bar for the buffet supper of curried beef and rice. I met Daniel and Tobias from Germany. They are travelling around Africa, camping. We had several beers and fun converstaion. We ripped on our respective countries and eachother's music a little bit and entered a pool contest. They matched each traveller up with a local, surprise surprise... And we all got our asses kicked. Later I played each of the Germans and won.

For New Year's eve, the owners suggested that everyone go into town and by a crazy african outfit, but spend no more than 450 kwatcha (about $5). I had my eye on a brown muumuu but I was so sweaty and lazy I couldn't bring myself to try it on and buy it. People started festivitites in the bar/restaurant at around 7PM. A crowd of funny peace corps volunteers adopted me and I hung out with them for a few hours. One girl, Laura from L.A, had some really funny stories about Zambia. We compared signs on the roads we have seen.


"Hygeine is important...drive safely!"
The Praise Jesus foto shop and barber
two vans with "Why God Why" painted on the front

she had a good one:

"Tiling your roof without Murphy tiles is like going to hell without your savoir"

Laura also had a man try to sell her a baboon tied to a tree, for eating. The next day she noticed the baboon was gone. She also told me some animal slaugher stories, I was thoroughly wide-eyed and entertained by them, but I will spare you. Africa is not good for the animal rights crowd, that's for sure.

Kathy arrived at around 8PM - hooray! We drank and danced with everyone, I have some really good pictures of us with some of the locals. It was a festive, happy, sweaty, perfect hippie New years. At 5AM from the dorm I could still hear Michael Jackson being played down in the bar while the roosters crowed.

I don't know if it was a hangover, or just the damn malaria meds but I woke up early to a chicken clucking outside the door, but I thought it was my friend Rob Murray. The chicken reminded me of his laugh, and I thought for a second "Oh! Rob's here!" before I came to my senses.

Finally this morning Kathy and I had to leave Mayoka Village or I was just going to stay there forever, or try to get a job there. This is one of the hardest parts of the trip - we had to get to Mbeya, Tanzania (our hotel is a hole) and tomorrow we take a (supposed) train to Dar. Supposedly it's this great train where you can see animals out the window. God, I hope I see a giraffe. We took a minibus today and talked about how much we miss McDonald's. The minibus, of course, was filled to the brim with people squashed together - and a man bought a live chicken through the window. The Tanzania countryside is beautiful - mountainous and lush. I have only eaten a luna bar and some cookies all day - we were dumb and couldn't figure out how to change money at the Tanzania border. Women pushed bananas in my face, and delicious looking pineapple, and I couldn't eat them. It sucked. The music on the bus was fantastic though. Traditional african singing, it was really catchy. The Tanzania border is filled with shady people. "Hello sister, hello friend, where you from? you have money for me?" I devised a brilliant tactic where I just say "No EEENGLEESH" "soy de costa rica!" "habla espanol?" Then I point to the costa rica patch on my backpack. It worked twice today. As if Kathy or I look Costa Rican. Oh well, if you can just get them to give up, it works.

From Dar es Salaam we will go over to Zanzibar - I hope to have some internet there.

Kathy and I got two separate rooms in this hotel that looks like a horror movie, or where a depressed person might come to commit suicide. We accidentally walked into a room where an indian guy was napping and listening to indian music. There is a cinder block bar attached to the restaurant with about as much atmosphere as the downtown DMV office or an elementary school cafeteria. We have high hopes for the "sombrero restaurant" and the "octopus bar". This town is lame. It's just a stopover though. Tomorrow morning we're back on the road.

allright, I need a beer desperately. see you all on Zanzibar


sara said...

Thanks for the funny Christmas email, Liz! I hope the hallway is doing well..

Anonymous said...

Sara - this is the first chance I've had to catch up on your blog posts. Love it! I'm so captivated- what overwhelming excitement! You're not missing anything in Chicago nearly as thrilling as your adventures in Africa! Happy New Year to you and Kathy! --Trisha

Kate C said...

Happy New Year ladies. It sounds amazing. You know - the Happy Wash is up for sale. Perhaps you can purchase it jointly and open your own venture near the Nigerian Kitchen. You can call it the "Sweaty Mango Cafe" or incorporate Jesus or God.

The only update I have is that Brit Brit mysteriously passed out during her New Year's Eve festivities in Vegas. Supposedly she's tired, but... Oh and also Michigan lost (YIPPEEE). Oh and I will have a View update later this week.

Kate Aseltyne said...

Ah, i wish i was in an $8 hut on new years...somehow Michigan just doesn't compare. Thanks for all the updates, keep 'em coming. Tell Kathy I said Hola and keep practicing good hygiene!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sara! Reading your blog has made it a good first day back a the ledge. Dominican Republic was great...but, nothing like your African adventures! The Hallway missed you at the Nordy cafe today. We had nobody to pick at our leftovers and make sea gull noises. Happy New Year!

A-Kap (aka: Natalie)

Anonymous said...

It's really strange because I typed in Happy Coconut and Mayoka Village into google and got your page. I just got home from 5 months in Africa, I transversed the continent with my sister, and out of everywhere we went, and we went a lot of places, my favourite was Nhkata Bay in Malawi. We only planned to stay 3 days, but like most ended up extending our stay to 3 weeks. And I was slightly in love with Happy Coconut! My Malawian name was Vanilla.
Anyway that;s all I had to say, it is just cool that I am reading about Benji and Special and how awesome that place was.
Happy travels x

Anonymous said...

Same as anonymous - I typed happy coconut and malawi in google and landed there. So funny this guy has been hanging around for years!