Monday, September 22, 2008

My morning commute

When we left Malawi in February, we sold our car (which we affectionately dubbed “the Wanker.” Had Mitsubishi done better market research, it would have learned that the car name “Pajero” means just that in Colombia.) We were sad to let it go, but didn’t think it was going to work as a baby-mobile.

Since we’re without wheels, I’ve been walking to work. It’s about 20 minutes there, and 25 minutes back (thanks to the long-@$$ hill we live at the top of.) I like the walk most in the morning. Everything has that unique African smell - a mixture of dust, sweat, smoke from burning crops, and the odd whiff of decaying garbage – and it brings back memories of long walks I’ve taken in many other African countries. It’s the dry season here and the air is so arid that it dries you out all the way up deep into your head. I feel like I’m getting a mummy brain.

My first few blocks are relatively quiet, then I join the throng of people walking along the main commercial street through town. I’m an object of curiosity most of the time, and people stare at me quite openly. Malawian women, many of whom are out walking in high heels, always check out my outfit. Sometimes men compliment me, sometimes they say derisive-sounding things in Chichewa. I give those ones cold glares.

The dust gets everywhere – into my toes, up my pant legs, coating my bag. I like walking across the bridge over the Lilongwe River. So full when we left, it’s now almost a trickle, and men and women huddle around the edges to wash laundry amidst the swirling trash. What I least enjoy about walking is crossing the streets – no one waits for pedestrians here. If it can damage, maim, or kill you, it has right-of-way. Every time I step out into traffic, despite checking both ways obsessively, I feel a shot of adrenaline, then relief once I’ve reached the other side.

I think I’ll continue walking, even after we get a car. I like being a part of the crowd, not looking out at it from within my air-conditioned bubble. And heaven knows I need the exercise.