On the ground in Malawi …
We find wet, and warmth, and bird calls, and humanity everywhere. We’ve already filled the camera and the video camera once with our initial impressions of Blantyre, Malawi, Africa, a city of 1.5 million. It feels as though we may have seen most of them on the streets and in the malls and restaurants. Why stay indoors when outside is so just right?
Today, escorted by our very accommodating host, I shopped for fabric to have a dress made for myself by her dressmaker. On the street men sewed on treadle Singer Sewing Machines; boys offered handmade mahogany pens; umbrellas, raincoats, bananas, peanuts, guavas, cassava for sale, and empty hands opened before us as we passed. From out of the brilliant sunshine, blue sky, white clouds we entered three different shops to compare prices of cotton prints … elephants, giraffes, turquoise background with gold stars ranging from 1900 kwatchas per 3 meters to 13,000 kwatchas for one meter of golden silk. Overwhelmed as I was yesterday by the 36,600. kwatchas we helped spend for groceries, I reminded myself to divide by 200 to bring the price to my level of understanding. Usually I adjust easily to foreign currencies – the price is what it is – but 36,000 anything takes me aback. I think it won’t take long to stop recalculating, but for now it’s lucky I have ten fingers.
I settled on two, two-metre pieces of turquoise triangled background with a black, gold and white border of flowers and leaves. “How long do you think it will take your dressmaker to have a dress and a jacket made from this,” I ask. “Could it perhaps take two weeks?” My host nods, “Uh-yes, I think so. If it’s for a special occasion. You can ask.”
Visions of self, blending effortlessly into the colourful outfits of the streets of Blantyre override my concerns of the loss of a piece of luggage on our trip from Amsterdam to here. A new dress!
Huge rain drops 1/8th of a cup each (scout’s honour) interrupt the daydream and we crouch under the store overhang, decide to take a taxi home, settle in to wait…. I’m starting to see a pattern of waiting. By the time the taxi comes, the torrential rain has ended. The sun beats on us and the sidewalks, drying sweat and run-off into a steamy scented mess. We climb into a very clean taxi with working windows and defogger and ease into traffic to wait, thinking …. We could have walked faster.
Later, on the way home from retrieving aforementioned piece of way-laid luggage at the local airport, the two lovely daughters of our friend tell me … you know about Malawi time? It will be a beautiful dress … in one year.