Hello and Happy New Year! 2017, wow that's come round quick.
Had a great time over the holidays, we decided to head back to the UK to visit everyone. 4 months is the longest either of us have been away so we were ready to see everyone. But rather than just jumping straight on a plane... no, now that's far too simple and sensible... we decided to drive from Malawi all the way down to Johannesburg, because we thought why the hell not, while we're here lets do something we'll never get to do again! So we drove from Malawi to Mozambique, to Zimbabwe, to South Africa, caught a plane in Johannesburg, changed at Kenya, then finally landed in London, all in 6 days! I'm sorry about how long this post is, maybe get yourself a cup of tea... or a beer before you go any further!
So we set off at 5 am on Monday 12th December just as the sun was rising, tunes on, cue 'Driving Home For Christmas' on repeat, and a crate of beer packed (along with a stack of suitcases, cooler boxes, and friend's fridge...)
Two hours in, after getting stopped by the Malawian Police over and over - now, you'd think they stop you and ask relaxed questions while actually trying to get info out of you - Not the case in Malawi; they genuinely stop you to have a chat, get to know you, teach you some Chichewa and share a Fanta!
The first day took us over the Malawian - Mozambique border: Mwanza. A border crossing was something neither of us had experienced before; and it was crazy. As soon as you pull up, your car is surrounded with locals trying to sell you currency, insurance, mobile phone chargers and chickens... One thing living in Africa has taught me is to be patient and calm. Now I thought I was quite good at both these things before, but wow, it really tests you here. Things take hours... days... you order a pizza and it might come, or it might not, so imagine what it's like at a border! But to be fair, the Mwanza border was painless and after being taken from desk to counter to office, we were let through into Mozambique no problem.
We'd heared nightmare stories about Mozambique with all the political unrest happening there currently, but once we crossed over, it was amazing. The scenery was stunning, the people were so friendly, and they even had tuk-tuks! We were in the north of Mozambique so were fairly safe from the problems mainly in the south, but even so, we didn't hang around too long. Three hours later and we'd made it over to the Zimbabwe border, Nyampanda. After having such a great drive so far, I guess we dropped our guard a bit, as when we arrived at the the Zim border, we weren't ready for what was to come. As ever we smiled our way through (it's the only way things get done here, it's as good as currency, Africans love it if you smile, but then what country doesn't?!) but it wasn't helping here at all. We were passed from official to worker and we just didn't have a good feeling. Two hours later, after a lot of very stressful hassle and bribing (or else they weren't going to let us in), we were finally let into Zimbabwe. But man were ready to get out as fast as possible.
We'd booked a place to stay about an hour from the border, in the capital, Harare. By now it was dark and raining like mad and we desperately needed cash after we'd been cleaned out at the border. But every single cash point we went to was empty. No cash back from any shops, nothing. We felt so unsafe and decided we needed to get out of Zimbabwe fast, so left at 4 am the next morning. Driving through Harare was unbelievable. Pitch black, piles of rubbish everywhere, buildings falling down, and people sleeping on the streets in the pouring rain everywhere you looked. It was heartbreaking to see. We found a bank on our way out, where there was a line of people waiting. There was no money in the cash point and we asked a local what the line was for. He explained they wake up at 3 am, come to the bank, get a ticket and wait in the cue until 8 am when they can get a maximum of $20 out. I couldn't believe it. It's just desperate, I've never seen a place in such a state. Even having to deal with that, he was the kindest man and explained to us that there was a town about an hour away with another bank. But when we arrived there there was no cash and we were just about out of petrol... and we were beginning to panic. When we left each town it was like driving into nowhere; dust roads and huts, I've never felt so unsettled. We asked every petrol station if we could pay on card, but no luck. Until finally, after manically driving as fast as we could to the next town, we found a cash point and breathed out!! We bombed it down to the South African border and vowed to never visit Harare again.
But I have to say, the south of Zimbabwe was beautiful, the scenery was breathtaking and we finally were able to enjoy the drive. (Although we did get stopped for speeding... Andy's driving, not mine! The police officer turned out to be Malawian and cut our fine down to $5 and a coke, result!)
We hit the South African border, Beitbridge, around 4 pm and although took a long time, was a breeze compare to our last crossing! We crashed out at a hotel right on the border and finally felt safe.
The next day we took our time travelling down to Johannesburg, where we drove through Musina Nature Reserve and Nzhelele Nature Reserve. And wow! The views were incredible, it was like driving on a Top Gear route up through the mountains. There were baboons all along the road side and people selling ginormous watermelons!
Driving into Johannesburg was like driving into the 21st century, shopping malls, five-lane highways and SA's version of Costa, Mug & Bean (hurray!). So strange after living in the 3rd world for 4 months. But I believe everything is good in moderation, and I really appreciated these luxuries we'd been living without, more so then I ever had before.
We stayed in a lovely area of Johannesburg called Maboneng, crammed full of bookshops, art galleries and coffee shops, I was in heaven! But Johannesburg is a strange place. The poorest meet the richest, which can be said for any city, but on an extreme level in Johannesburg. When people say to you 'it's a dangerous area' I've never really been able to imagine such a thing (I grew up in Keswick, where the only thing you encounter walking home from a night out is a lost sheep). I wouldn't say I'm naive, I've spent a lot of time in cities, but Johannesburg really shocked me. As we were driving into the city we took a wrong turn and ended up in a rough area. We stopped at some traffic lights, where a gang ran across the street and started pulling on the door handles and banging on the car windows. Luckly we'd locked the doors like we were told, but man, it was scary! The city changes on each corner, with pockets of areas being safe and patrolled by security, while others we were told to stay well away from. I've never been anywhere like it. Although steps forward have been taken in South Africa's history, it's screamingly obvious there is still so much tension between races and it's very much apparent in everyday living.
But don't get me wrong, we had a great time, and finally got a decent pizza and beer on draft after 4 months! But after a few days of feeling back in the 'real world' I guess I felt the shine had worn off a bit and I didn't miss things as much as I thought I did. I think seeing the way people live in Africa really puts things into perspective. Now, I'm not one of those who thinks you have to go totally the other way and to not enjoy having 'things'. Coming from the UK, we live a very different life and it's not just a case of comparing it to those in Africa, then feeling guilty for what you have; but it's enjoying a mix of everything, just in moderation. But when you're stood with all the shops, restaurants and bars you could ever want, I found it all a bit overwhelming, and in the back of my mind was the Zimbabwean man we met at the bank.
One person alone would struggle to change the situation a lot of Africa is in, but people can spread the word which I guess is why I wanted to write this piece from the very honest perspective of someone who is used to the modern world. And all I can do is what I know best, and try and put some thoughts, feeling and experience into songs for whoever would like to hear them. On the road I wrote and wrote and practically filled my lyric book up, inspiration at its best.
We had an awesome time seeing all our families back at home, and managed to catch a some friends too, but it was just the most manic two weeks, and as soon as we got off the plane we were full of flu... just not used to that 25 degrees drop! The time went nowhere and before we knew it it was time to say the hard goodbyes again, but we were looking forward to getting back to Malawi and getting stuck in with work. We drove our friend's car to South Africa, who we met there and passed it over, so we flew all the way back to Blantyre! No more border crossings for us for a while...
Thanks so much for reading, I really hope you enjoyed it. I think it's really cool to know some background behind the music. It was the most amazing, eye opening and heartbreaking experience, and I'll do my very best to put music to it all. The songs are going great and I can't wait to share them!