Written by Global Health Fellow, Carolyn
My co-fellow, Angela, has been living in Malawi for almost 3 years and I have now been here for 3 months. I have been so grateful to Angela that she has taken the time to show me around and share with me some of her favorite spots in town! When we have free time and some extra pocket change, we like to spend the afternoon shopping and having lunch.
Today I wanted to have a new dress made out of the local fabric, chitenje. So we started off by going to the largest market in the country which is within walking distance of our office. The market is so big and has different sections for clothes, electronics, produce and other businesses on both sides of a river. Usually we can quickly run there after a day at work for produce but to shop for fabric we have to cross a foot bridge which spans the Lilongwe River. To cross the bridge it costs 50 Kwacha (~7 cents) and this money pays for continued maintenance of three foot bridges. Crossing the bridge, you’ll often see workers in the river washing clothes and shoes to sell second-hand. We had to weave through many stalls (Angela said “just keep turning left and right until you find a clearing”) to find a small alleyway where chitenje is sold. These can be used as wrap skirts, which we often wear when we work in Kabudula or Nkhoma or used to make dresses. Two meters of chitenje (enough for a wrap skirt or short dress) costs about 3000-4000 Kwacha ($4-5) depending on the quality.
After picking out the fabric, we went to the tailor who is conveniently located tucked behind the produce section of the market. I just decided to have a short dress made and also have the tailor alter another dress I had made for work. He will have both of these things finished in 3 days time. Depending on the complexity of the dress or outfit, prices can vary and are always negotiable.
I needed to buy some produce from the vegetable market for dinner. I got onions, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and plums (just now in season and unbelievably delicious!) for 2500 Kwacha (~$3.50). I often buy avocados, bananas, apples, sweet potatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, oranges, mangoes, plantains, lettuce and other local greens, pineapple and watermelon. Prices are negotiable and depend on the seasonality of the produce I’m buying but there is so much available.
One of mine and Angela’s favorite places for a nice lunch is the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary which also has an amazing cafe. At the conservatory you can take a tour and see the animals (monkeys, crocodiles, owls, snakes and others depending on what they may be rehabilitating) and also walk along their nature trails. The cafe often hosts fundraising events and is a nice place to enjoy a working afternoon over coffee or lunch. I am a member of a book club and we have our meetings here too!
These are some of the typical activities Angela and I both enjoy to do together and alone in which we able to get a taste of Malawian culture and Lilongwe culture in the meantime. Lilongwe is a robust city with so much to do, this is only a taste.
*This picture of the market is to show these little fish called bonya which do not smell nice and there are always bags of them on minibuses to places far from the lake, especially so on our rides to Kabudula! The smell bothers me so much that when the minibus drivers see me coming, they always reserve the front seat for me so I can have the window and fresh air.