Friday, October 12, 2012

On the road to Dedza

Contrary to what our friends and family may think, our lives are not entirely composed of fun-filled hours of jollity. We actually have to work. Indeed, the whole purpose behind coming to Malawi in the first place was to work. However, one of the perks of the job is being able to travel. So it was that we found ourselves on the road from Lilongwe to Dedza, a small town an hour or so's drive to the south of the capital and on the western border with Mozambique.

Now before you rush to get out your Bradt guides and wait with eager anticipation for descriptions of the rock paintings and cultural artifacts for which Dedza is famous, just let me remind you - we were working. So, no rock art for us (Stuart was distraught), but all the pleasures of a lovely drive and the chance to learn a bit more about education in Malawi (though for that you'll have to wait until the next post).

Dedza is on the road to Blantyre, to the south of the country, where a number of teachers from Glasgow have recently spent time in local schools. I am not going to pretend that there was anything remarkable about the journey (by African standards, that is) except, for someone coming from Uganda, the astonishing quality of the road.

Oh, and the landscape, of course, rugged rocky hills rising straight from the plain, with villages huddled round the lower slopes.

The grass-thatched houses merged into the dry sandy-coloured earth so that at times they could scarcely be distinguished. Being the hot dry season in Malawi, many of the roofs were being renewed. Here you can see the bundles of grass in the middle, and the house on the right with grass placed in position ready to be tied down.

Somehow they seemed a bit shaggier than their neatly tied Ugandan equivalents.

The road carried relatively few vehicles, motorised at least, but fulfilled an essential role in enabling traders to get their goods to market, and much more easily and quickly than their crater-filled equivalents in Uganda.

The bicycles were often crazily over-laden.

However, it wasn't always the cyclists who took their lives in their hands. We met this young man on the outskirts of Lilongwe.

The roads were often as busy with pedestrians as with those lucky enough to have some sort of vehicle: women doing their daily chores, carrying shopping, washing and firewood and children going to and from school, sometimes carrying their precious shoes on their heads.

People carried out  their day-to-day activities by the side of the road, here queuing at the pump for water.

Again, different from Uganda: nice bright plastic buckets rather than the recycled jerry cans which are used in Uganda. But also a more significant difference: there were NO lines of women and children walking for miles between villages to collect water on the road to Dedza. One of my abiding memories of Uganda will be of the troops of children, some quite small, carrying heavy cans of water on their heads before and after their long days at school. In Malawi, as far as we have seen, there seems far less of this drudgery. Villages all appear to have their government-supplied pumps and the distance women and children have to carry water seems relatively short.

As usual, roads are used for livestock as well as humans, here herding precious cattle, unperturbed by the traffic passing by.

And, of course, the road provides precious opportunities for trading: outdoor butchers' shops on the left, a pile of sweet potatoes on the right.

What we shall remember of the journey, however, are the fantastic shapes of the mountains, towering over the burnt brown plain.

We eventually reached an avenue of tall trees: Dedza.

The town spreads out over a wide area, a mix of the new and the traditional. In a country with fuel supply problems, ox and donkey carts make sense.

If you're ever in Dedza, a visit to the pottery is obligatory. We did even better: we stayed there. The pottery's comfortable rooms, lovely setting and excellent food make for a very pleasant stay.

Another added bonus is that you can spend a fortune on their products. We might have missed the rock art, but a few painted jugs, mugs and teapots never come amiss. Even now a box full of tableware is wending its slow way back to Edinburgh. And in case you forget to get your order in, there are plenty of reminders around you: on the walls...

... and even on the tables.

And, of course, there are the views, by day...

...and during the short African sunset.

Yes, we can recommend Dedza, even if we didn't manage to see the rock paintings. Perhaps next time....

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