$3,321 | My worst day in Africa (so far)

MONKEY BAY, MALAWI. Every 4th of every months, for the rest of the year at least, I want to remember this day as the worst day I can ever think of. I want it to make me realize how wonderful my life is, how lucky I am to be living in a first world country, because it’s too easy to forget and to start complaining in luxury.

I was sitting in that dirty bus not knowing what to do anymore, why did I end up there, why was I doing that to myself. It was hot, I was sweaty, hungry, I was fed up of being there, clearly wasting my time while I could be doing something useful, anything really, than sitting in that freaking old bus waiting for the driver to decide that we could finally set off. Here it’s not like Europe. You don’t check the bus station’s website to know the routes and schedule. You don’t even call the bus station. There no website, there is no number, there is no schedule. The buses leave whenever they want to, whenever they are satisfied with the number of passengers that have hoped in.

Lilongwe Bus Station (and its Chaos)
Lilongwe Bus Station (and its Chaos)

I sat there for 4 long hours. Now that I am thinking about it I don’t even know how I handled it. So at 4 in the afternoon, they finally decided that it was already too late to wait for more passengers (it’s a 5 hour drive to get to Monkey Bay), so they got the clever idea to move us to a minibus who would bring us there instead. At first I was happy because I thought that we would finally get going, what a fool was I, I could never imagine what was about to happen. They decided to pack all of us, 23 people, in a minibus that could only transport 15. So I jumped in there, trying to save a spot for Schatz who was staying outside to make sure that they would load our backpacks in. I didn’t want them to turn us down (which is actually what happened to some of us who will have to come back tomorrow and try their luck again) and finally have to find an accommodation in Lilongwe after having wasted the whole day for nothing and come back again tomorrow to live the nightmare. I waited another hour in that minibus. They were busy trying to fit all the huge bags and boxes in the truck that could possibly carry only 10% of it. They tried hundreds of different combinations before they got something that could potentially work out, then they tied everything with ropes (closing the truck was obviously not an option anymore at that stage). Everything that was remaining got stuck under the seats so that we didn’t even have space to put our feet anymoreand some more on the people’s laps. One lady behind us even had a bucket staying on her head. When we finally started driving (after a total of 5 hours), it was getting dark and my butt and my knees were already painful.

The very efficient packing!
The very efficient packing!

We didn’t drive more than five minutes before they stopped, the driver went down, started discussing with some dudes on the street, bargaining about the ride apparently. I called him through the window and told him “my friend, I have a driver license, I can drive”. I just wanted to GO!! He laughed and ignored me. I could have slapped him. I could have slapped everyone. But I was too stuck to move anyway so I just had to shut the fuck up, and show patience and resignation.  We got another driver. After ten minutes we got stopped by a policeman. Anywhere in our western world, they would stop the whole load, arrest the driver and send everyone home. Here, in a land of corruption, he just got paid a bit and we could get going. This happened three times. I am sure now that the “policeman bribing” is included in the ticket price.

We could finally get some kilometres behind us, and I kept on feeling more sweaty, more hungry, and more uncomfortable. We stopped somewhere  for a pee break that was much welcome. We all had to get out (which took around 10 minutes), and I looked around, the ladies were just peeing standing, they were wearing a skirt and didn’t feel the need to squat. I was wearing pants, I needed to undress somehow, to hide somewhere and it kind of pissed me off because I didn’t have so many options. I walked to a tree and felt probably what was the first relief of the day. We went back to the minibus, too soon, I had almost forgotten how uncomfortable and smelly it was in there. We got a food stop about an hour after that in a kind of village. They were selling tomatoes, onions and cabbages through the minibus window. Some of the people were selling those kind of donuts (basically a fried ball of bread). We asked for the price, the guy said 100 kwacha (around 0.20€), we asked for three of them. He got incredibly excited and gave it to us with an unusual hurry (especially for this part of the world). A minute later someone else in the minibus bought one, for 50 kwacha. I got mad. Not because of the price, it’s not that much of an issue to pay 20 cents instead of 10. But it’s the principal. Because you’re white, they lie to you and charge you the double price. They just see you as a cow to milk whenever possible. They have no idea about sustainable business. They rather make 10 extra cents today even if they’re risking to lose 5000 for the next month. They have a hand to mouth way of thinking, everything is about today, tomorrow is another story, another battle.

IMG_3597.JPG
Our new friend Sam! Squeezed with us.

We drove like this for four hours which seemed to be an infinite drive. Towards the end, they started to stop more and more often to let people out. They had to untie all the bags at the back, take the one concerned, and tie everything back again. So it took for ever for something that could have been sorted in thirty second in normal conditions. When we finally reached the expected number of passenger for this vehicle, I started to feel comfortable. I was lying down on Schatz’s laps, trying to get some rest despite the bumps and the rough drive. It didn’t last very long. They stopped and told us that they were not going further, that we had to hop on that other minibus that would take us to our final destination. I was tired of all this, it had been too long already. 5 hours waiting in a bus station, 4 other hours of an awful drive, 9 hours of infinite struggle for a distance that could have been driven in less than 2 hours in our world. We off-loaded our backpacks, loaded them in that other minibus. The truck was pretty empty which gave me the hope of a comfortable drive. Again, I was such a fool. It was full in there. As full as the one we left Lilongwe with. And it was smelling like hell! Someone in there was traveling with a huge bag of dead dry fish. We forced ourselves in there. Then that guy jumped in (when I thought nobody else could possibly fit) closed the door and was leaning on me. I couldn’t stand it anymore. My eyes got wet. Those moments when you don’t want to cry but you can’t hold it anymore. I’d had enough.

We finally arrived at 9:30 at night. The minibus driver asked us for money. We told him that we had paid for the whole journey already, and that he should have arranged with the previous driver to get his share of it. Of course that’s what they do, but he would still try to rip us off, starting to get mad and trying to enhance pity and empathy. We said that we were fed up about their stories, we didn’t want to hear anything anymore, that next time, he’ll check with the other driver, lesson learned. For that reason he didn’t drive us all the way to town, so we had to get our bags and walk quite a bit, we met some people who directed us to the backpacker where we wanted to stay. We asked to see the manager, told her our story and (almost) begged for her generosity. She was very kind and offered us a double room (thank God! For the last two nights we were sleeping on a carpet under a mosquito net at some locals…). The only thing I wanted was a hot shower. They didn’t have hot water so I had to satisfy myself with a cold one. Then I didn’t feel like being social anymore. I went straight to the room and lied down on the bed, my eyes opened. I unconsciously was waiting for more crap to happen. Anything. As if I didn’t want to lower my guard and admit that the nightmare was over and be hit in the face by another crappy event. I finally fell asleep. The day was finally over. The most awful day I have spent so far in Africa that has definitely taught me the value of time, organization, comfort and honesty. I want to remember that for ever so that anytime I complain at home, I realize how ridiculous my problems are, and how tougher my life could be.

February 10, 2015

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