My mum and dad had some friends who lived in the Central Region of Malawi. It was, in fact, not too far from Lilongwe (the capital) but may as well have been a thousand miles away considering how different it was. Bob & Mary (not real names!) lived on a tobacco farm, which was run by Bob.
Mary was a teacher at a school in Lilongwe, but went back to the tobacco farm at weekends and holidays. We used to go up and stay with them. For us kids (me and my cousins) it was great because they had a motorbike which they would let my mum take us on. Also, there was so much space around so we took our bikes. I think it was probably more fun for my mum and dad to stay with their friends, but we made sure we had fun too.
Bob took us to the drying sheds – where they hang the tobacco leaves after they’ve been picked. There are several ways of drying tobacco and in Malawi they hang the green tobacco up on strings in the drying shed over red hot pipes The smell of those sheds will stay with me forever. Every time I open a new packet of cigarettes I am transported back to the sheds and I remember the smell.
Tobacco counts for more than 70% of Malawi’s export income, and the worldwide limitations on smokers and tobacco products is severely affecting that income.
That’s why I smoke. I am doing my bit for humanity – keeping millions of people in work! OK, it’s not much of an excuse for a disgusting habit, but I’m sticking to it! It makes me sound as though I’m doing charitable works for others, when really I’m just ruining my health! Also, it's a great answer for when those ex smokers (who are much worse than those who have never smoked - with a few notable exceptions) nag me to give up!
Sounds good though.
Along with tobacco, Malawi’s other main export products are tea, coffee and sugar. The four products together make up more than 90% of the country’s export revenue.
As luck would have it, we also had friends who lived on a tea estate in the south called the Naming’omba Tea Estate in Thyolo (pronounced Cholo). We went down there quite often too! Our friend was the accountant for the tea estate. The company also owned a cottage on the lake shore, and we went up there regularly with them. It was the wife of this friend who broke her hip when we were staying there (see Childhood Days Part 5). We did visit a tea factory. After the leaves are picked, they are dried, rolled, fermented and dried again (for normal, black tea). Apparently, what falls on the floor during these processes goes into teabags, and the rest goes to make loose tea. Hmm, maybe those Tetley or PG Tips teabags ain’t that great after all eh, tea drinkers?!
We also used to go way down south to a sugar cane plantation. No, we didn’t have friends down there, but we used to go to a club where we had use of the managers’ swimming pool. I have no idea how my mum and dad managed that, but we had this massive, wonderful swimming pool to ourselves! It was fabulous, and the smell of molasses is another one I will never forget! The area around the pool backed onto the big river that runs through Malawi – the Shire (pronounced Shiray). It is a very big, very fast moving river, and is full of crocs and hippos. Luckily it was a very different colour from the pool, so there was no making a mistake – you’d get towed away by the current anyway if you fell in, unless the beasties got you first.
Sometimes we would get pieces of sugar cane, which were wonderful. Sweeties were not exactly common in Malawi, so the fresh, beautiful sweetness of the sugar cane was a real treat.
NB. Photographs not my own work.