I woke up my first morning in Lilongwe with one thought in my mind - I AM IN AFRICA. Now this may not be a big deal for the well seasoned travellers, but for someone like me, who had until then ventured only to parts of the US and Cuba (loved it) I was still pinching myself. I knew from a brief glimpse yesterday afternoon, i was going to be confronted with feelings of being the 'other'. Let me explain. Being in a foreign country (just realizing) overloads the senses and makes even the smallest simplest tasks seem insurmountable. For instance, it took me 20 minutes to purchase a train ticket in Amsterdam using one of those automated machines because of language barriers - and before you wonder why in the world i didnt just walk up to real station attendants - i was directed to the machines by an unsuspecting police officer who thought he was helping by directing me to the auto machines. Anyway, if that was difficult, imagine me in Lilongwe. All my senses were engaged. New scents, sights, textures, sounds assailed my senses. I hadnt gotten to the tastes just yet but i knew that would be different as well.
As the day wore on, my uncle decided to take me to 'Old Town'. I loved it. Lots of hustle and bustle compared to the relatively quiet and tame majority of Lilongwe (see picture of the people packed on the pickup truck). I believe Lilongwe was built with the principles of apartheid in mind - thus, there are only 2 classes (it seems) here - upper and lower class. Old Town has many shops and until very recently, vendors that sold any and everything. As conspicuous as i tried to be - i was soon identified as the expat i was (obviously). My ever lasting impression of Old Town (and many other parts of the city) was of how physically strong the women were. They easily what looked to be about 50 kilos on their heads in baskets, had a baby strapped on their backs, carried another load in their arms, and guided a toddler all at the same time. My uncle had to hold my hand as i gazed at them wondering how they did not drop their baskets. I tried getting pictures of this but only managed to get a pic of a woman with a basket on her head and baby at her back. The other impression that struck me was the level of poverty. How sheltered and naive i was in Canada. To see people beg for money in the streets of Toronto is common. To see people beg for a basic necessity like food was (at least in my experience) an unseen phenomenon. Here, in Lilongwe, (and i'm sure many parts of Africa) you will see both.