Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lusaka to Lilongwe

Our final destination before heading back to Lilongwe was Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city.
Lusaka has always had a special allure because of my dear friend and former volunteer colleague, Joan Anne.
One of the people that I admire most, Joan Anne worked for CUSO in Lusaka, coordinating volunteers in the region. This was during the time of South African apartheid, when the African National Congress (the political party which boasts Nelson Mandela as member, and former leader) was banned from South Africa. The ANC headquarters at the time was in Lusaka and she worked with them on post apartheid planning.
She would regale me with stories about Zambia’s sleepy capital city and how she would have to travel to Harare, Zimbabwe to eat at a nice restaurant.
It is against this backdrop that I entered Lusaka. When I provided Joan Anne an e-mail description of the present-day city, I could sense her shock - all the way from Canada!
Our guidebook said that Lusaka had a few shopping centres. Although I have never been much of a mall rat, the idea of a mall was quite enticing after a couple of months in Malawi. Elsa and I set out (Holly was sick and resting) not knowing what to expect. As we pull up to the mall, a strange feeling of excitement and disbelief sweeps over me. We are talking about a brand-new 3 story, Western Style mall!!!
We clamber out of the taxi and into the air conditioned building. Everything is so controlled – the light, music, temperature… We walk around stunned and keep on bumping into each other as we wander. I start to worry that other shoppers may think that we are on drugs because of how spaced out and weird I feel. After about 45 minutes, Elsa and I agree that we need to sit down and take a break. We find a corner in a fancy café, order exorbitantly priced gourmet lattes and take a breather. We start feeling a bit better and decide to brave it again. To our dismay, the stores are beginning to close.
 We rush to the closest store and beg them to let us in but they refuse, saying that they are closed. Fortunately, one store employee sees the look of desperation in our eyes and quietly ushers us in after making us promise not to tell her boss. Elsa buys a pretty dress, her first new article of clothing in 7 months. We head up the ESCALATOR and are presented with a modern looking sushi restaurant! After finishing our meal, we go to the movie theatre and learn that there is a new Sarah Jessica Parker movie playing. We select our seats on the touch screen and pay for the movie on credit card.
After this last special day, I am ready for the 12 hour bus ride back to Malawi.
The following afternoon, the border guard stamps me into Malawi with a 2011 (rather than 2012) stamp, which we eventually (fortunately!) change to the right date.
As soon as we cross the border, the scenery changes drastically. Lush greenery fades quickly and brown withered grass and plants come into view. The clothing of the people we pass becomes tattered and hole-y. When the bus pulls into the Lilongwe station, I am overwhelmed and angered by the contrast. With a wealth of natural resources and tourism (among other reasons), Zambia and Tanzania are ‘haves’ to Malawi’s ‘not’.
Any remnants of my mistaken belief that all sub-Saharan African countries have similar economic landscapes fall away. Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa, is struggling in her development. I am happy to be home and re-motivated by the privilege to be involved in development work but I can’t help but wonder… How much can one warm heart take before it breaks?

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