Driving, Drinking and Bollards

I’m still here !!!

How time flies !  Every morning when I get up I say I’m really going to write something, and every evening when I get home I think – definitely tomorrow – Procrastination love it !   Done it all my life why should I stop now ! The only trouble is it doesnt get things done ! So it was a toss up – should i stay in and write a blog piece or just go to the local bar and have a drink.  Well as you can see the blog won.  Now if the bar had have won let me try to explain what its like. Im not sure I have any photographs of it, so here goes.

First of all its on the main tarmac road of Mangochi. In the picture its just behind the tree, which I agree is a bit rubbish but its the only one I have, so hopefully you get the picture – (no pun intended but if you want it you can have it !)

It is just by 2 excessive speed bumps.  And when I say excessive I mean huge !

On all the roads there are speed bumps which are preceded by rumble strips, generally 3 sets  but occasionally 4 sets.









The picture is a typical Trading Centre.  If you look carefully you can see the rumble strips. Trying to negotiate the “Rumbles’ at the same time as the people is not an easy task – and try doing it at night when there is no light whatsoever !

The cars, and they are mainly public transport mini buses or trucks laden with bags, sacks and people, slow down at these rubble strips at a quite ridiculous pace. They almost come to a halt, as you go over each rumble at slower than walking pace.  This results in you feeling every rumble as you go over each one.  Now my philosophy is if you go over them a little faster you could get the bump all at once. But I guess the Malawian mini buses know what they are doing as they look at me aghast as I take the whole set of strips at running pace !   These strips are before every town and trading centre, after every town and training centre , and in every town and trading centre – Get the gist – there are a lot of them, and when you go over them on the motor bike thats another story.

Then of course there are the Speed humps which really are vicious, and the good old Mini-bus drivers slow down even more, almost where the passengers have to get out and push the minibus over the hump.  But having said that I have met a few too many humps at probably a greater speed than I should and thought …….. Oh No ……… but its too late now as my front wheels take off and the contents of the car end up on the floor and again when on the motor bike its generally a shout of  “Geronimo !”


I digress ……….. as ever …….The bar  as I said is situated on the main tarmac road    Its called Sun City ‘ with Peace and Love Bottle store next door ……… 

Its a room that you never really go into. Well I have seen one or two disappear into there but you never see them come out again !   You sit outside on plastic chairs that have a tendency to have a broken leg so that when you sit on it the fourth leg tends to spray out and it feels like you are like a baby giraffe with its legs sprayed out .  To over come this the bar staff, who wait on outside and give you one of these seats to sit on, generally as soon as you sit down give you a second chair to place over the first chair to sit on which if you’re lucky has a different leg that is broken so that you can manage to sit without sloping too much.  In front of you is a bare wooden table that looks a bit like a trestle table from the local church.

The clientele is predominately male; sat around the tables in groups of 3 or 4 .  Now in between the bar and the Tarmac is what I would loosely call a car park, but there is no order to it at all, and the cars just park and in some cases drive in between the tables!   And no one bats an eyelid.

Normally when I go, which is usually about twice a month, when I’ve plucked up the courage to walk into this group of people on my own.  I get the usual inquisitive looks as I am the only ‘masungu’ there.  A member of the bar staff comes up gives me the obligatory 2 chairs next to a table which probably  has people already sitting there.  I order the customary “Green” which is a bottle of Carlsberg lager.  This is the main drink for everyone, or if you really want to live dangerously you have a “Special” which actually to me tastes exactly the same just costs 400 Kwacha more !

Most of the time the people on the table will engage you in conversation, curious about where you are from , what you are doing, where you live etc.  You can pretty much guarantee that you will get a conversation of sorts every time. However, I do on occasions seem to get targetted by two groups of people, and as long as you know that its fine.  The response to both these groups is pretty much the same.  There’s the gentleman who Im sure just waits for me to sit down before he pulls up his two chairs and says in a slightly slurred but extremely loud voice (which reminds me of the “Nutter on the bus” sketch where every looks and thinks Please dont let him sit next to me, Please dont and then thank goodness he’s not sat next to me ! ) ” Welcome to Kenya, Im from Nairobi !”  …….. well he sits next to me !

This is kind of strange as I’m in Mangochi in Malawi, but  if he thinks he’s in Kenya, who I am to worry.  He has now started to welcome me by shouting “Hello Scotty” because he thinks Im from Scotland.  I just merely agree with him and try to look away as he just talks non-stop telling me about Kenya slurring his words on a regular basis.   The other group are the ones who come up and because you stand out from everyone else come up and tell you their life history, quite soberly, but they do so just to practice their English.

And talking about practicing their English – there is another group that is really keen to do this but it’s not in the bars its out on the roads……… ….. and thats the Malawian Traffic Police.  Now I definitely don’t have a photo of this after my last little escapade with them but on all roads there are Police road blocks.

Actually I risked life and limb to day and sneaked one as the usual transportion laden with bags and people went through.

Sometimes there is a barrier which can be lifted or more commonly it consists of three oil drums, one  in the middle of the road, and another at either side of the road.  Across the two of the oil drums is a bar that pretty much remains static.  The bar just stretches across one side of the road.  On the other side is a traffic cone. By the side of the road are generally four or five Traffic police.  Some are in Uniform, others just dressed casually, not sure who they are but they all do a similar job.  One at least carries a gun. As you approach this road block, you come to a halt.  Very often you cant even see the police.  Sometimes they are in a small hut or generally just sitting on the ground.

At this point, they exert their authority !  They never ever rush. After what can seem like hours, they walk very very slowly towards the barrier.  At this point you are thinking, please, please……… go on walk to the cone and kick it to the side!.  If this happens they kick it 2 or 3 times to the side of the road and you are free to drive/ride on through, generally giving what is probably quite close to a salute as you go through.  However if you are unlucky, as I was last week the following happens ………….


Im happily going through a trading centre called Masuku,….. a route I take almost daily, but this time  there was a temporary Road Block.. True to form I stop and wait for the “kick”   I get the slow walk, but this time he walks to the car, ………  thoughts ” Really?     Just kick the cone twice !” but no he comes up to the window.  I wind it down.  First words after exchanging the only greeting I know – Muli bwanji  ( How are you – sort of !! ) Ndili bwino, Kai enu ?zikomo ( I am well, How are you?  thank you ) and then after that Im lost.  As in all foreign languages after the first few phrases Im generally lost, and just keep repeating yes in what ever country Im in – Oui, oui has got me through a lot of really complicated discussions in France – havent understood a word but Im the only one that knows that !  So in Malawi I’ve been saying “Ai”  which sounds similar to the Scottish Aye meaning yes.

Until only very recently I’ve discovered I’ve been saying ‘No” to everyone as “Ai” actually means “No” !   I mean who’d have thought it ! No wonder they look at me strangely !

Anyway, after exchanging the customary greetings, out come those famous Traffic Policeman’s words …………  “We’re thirsty”

Kind of stumps you – so you respond with – Oh dear or words to that effect. Then he repeats it several times.  I respond with “That’s a shame” Oh dear”  “So am I ”  “I havent got any drinks!” and so the conversation goes round in a circle, until eventually he gives up and kicks the cone not in frustration but thats what his left foot is for .

I carry on with my journey to the school.  On my return I stop at a Trading Centre and think Im sure they will still be there, so i buy 2 bottles of Fanta.  Now in Malawi you have to understand that Fanta is a generic term for any fizzy drink If it’s Sprite or Sobo or Coca cola – its all Fanta ! So I buy my 2 bottles of Fanta and set off.  And sure enough the temporary road block is still there.

I stop.  Wait the customary 3 minutes and along he walks a bit like an umpire when he goes to consult the other umpire in a game of cricket ( no idea where that simile  came from  …..must be my English heritage ) and up he comes to the window.  I wind it down feeling particularly pleased with myself and before he can Mulli my Bwanji I say Ive bought you 2 drinks !!! His immediate response ………………….   “There’s four of us !” ……… Damn I never thought to look !   Anyway I say something like I’ll remember next time and drive on. However, only yesterdayI was told that when they say they are thirsty, it actually means they would like some money !   No wonder he looked disappointed with 2 bottles of ‘Fanta”

I carry on my journey back home, only to be stopped again some 20 km further down the road ……. a police block with oil drums and cone!   And over walks a rather portly gentleman who I recognise from previous encounters, dressed in Traffic Policeman’s uniform. “Muli ……….” and “Indili …….” given.  He greeted me like a long lost friend.

“Where are you going?   I saw you going out this morning”

“Yes I saw you too.  Im going home to Mangochi” I replied

“Will you give me a lift to Idrusi as I’m in need of some chips?   I am hungry !”

Now did that mean he really was hungry or does he just need money for chips ? I decide on the latter, and reply in a most positive way …… “Of course I can give you a lift.”

“Thats great,. Can you give me a lift back as well?”

Well when a portly Malawian Officer of the Law asks a question its normally best to answer  “Of course I can …….No problem !” …. as he tucks his rifle under the car seat and off we go …..

It’s all in a days work !

And talking of a journey home just had to take these photos as an example of a journey home from work – beats the M6 at rush hour !



Next blog and definitely no procrastination  more about working with  and training Head Teachers and Teachers as part of the Project – fun times !











10 thoughts on “Driving, Drinking and Bollards

  1. Hi Mike, brilliant, informative, fascinating, entertaining, moving, funny, amazing…..as usual. Love your blogs!! Great!! Lots of love, Anne and Rog xxx

  2. Good to see you’re still there! Loved your first photo of the local bar behind the tree – classic drive-by pic 😉 You’re interactions with the friendly traffic police were very funny to read – such a hungry/thirsty lot!

    1. Lovely to hear from you Olivia. Hope you’re ok Cant quite believe how quickly the time is flying by !
      Got loads of drive by pics that only I understand haha !

      Thanks for comments and take care

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