Ilha Blue are upgrading to all Pashley bikes. On our trip to Malawi to get them from BeeBikes we were able to do a good deed with one of our old Heros.
Recently we received an email from friend and tour guide Robert Korea. Robert lives in a village close to the start of Mount Mulanje’s Nessie Track and we first met him a couple of years ago when he guided us around the plateau on a three day hike, we’ve kept in touch since. Robert emailed to say that he and his family were struggling after the heavy rains in January and March had destroyed their home along with most of their belongings and their entire banana and pineapple crop, which along with occasional guiding work is Robert’s sole income.
I shared Roberts’s email around and quite a few people asked how they could help. As I was planning a trip to Malawi anyway to get bikes it seemed like a good idea to put together a small support package. Four friends, three in Australia and one here on Ilha chipped in $250 to help him out. There were other offers but I just went with these as it was easier dealing with close friends (there was no loss to bank transaction fees for example) and the amount seemed right; enough money to make a difference but not so much as to cause headaches if for any reason it didn’t come off as planned.
So, bike guide Selemane and I set off to Blantyre as planned to collect six more 2nd hand bikes from Beebikes, a fantastic social enterprise that recycles UK Royal Mail ‘postman’ bikes. We took with us one of our no longer needed ‘hero’ bikes for Robert. These Chinese made bikes are the workhorse of Africa and we knew Robert would put it to good use.
We arrived at the border that night after a 12 hour drive, the last bit on some pretty rough road, and crossed into Malawi early the next morning. Malawi is one of the most friendly countries anywhere, its an impression shared by every traveller that goes there plus it’s also stunningly beautiful. This first section from the border to the town of Mulanje is breath-taking in the early morning light as the road winds through manicured tea plantations with mist settled in the valleys and the Mulanje slopes and plateau providing the perfect backdrop.
As arranged Robert was waiting for us at the ‘Nessie Mini Mini’ turning. It was great to see him again after two years, he was very excited about the bike and together we drove along the bumpy track to his village.
Robert’s village is as pretty as a picture. I was expecting washed out slopes and families huddled under plastic sheets for shelter but that’s not what I found. Instead it was green and lovely; gardens thrived, the kids that passed us on their way to school were tidy enough with books in bags and smiles on their faces. On the slope industrious men turned earth bricks out of molds to dry in the sun before firing, while women carried baskets with fruit or bundles of wood on their heads. Everything looked like bucolic bliss.
We went with Robert to meet his family: his mother, father, wife Chris and their 4 children. Their house was a little brick cottage, very neat with bare earth floors and just a few possessions; old style sewing machine, wooden table and chairs, a transistor radio and a calendar pinned to one wall. He explained that it wasn’t his house but his parent’s place. After their own house was destroyed in the floods Robert and his family, along with other flood victims moved into the church and school classrooms until his parents invited him to stay with them. He then showed me where they were living, not in the cottage but in a tiny out-building barely big enough for the six of them to stand up in, let alone live in.
From here we trekked across the valley to his small portion of land. Small! It was literally a quarter acre block on a steep slope; this is what a family of 6 survive on? His new crop of pineapple were doing ok, there was a lemon tree in one corner and a few diseased bananas plants (possibly Panama disease) shading the track. I asked about his house and he pointed to a low pile of half dissolved bricks with a discarded mosquito net on top, this was all that was left of it. Robert explained, “after the rains springs popped up everywhere” and the water destroyed his family home from the ground up. We moved to the shade of a neighbor’s tree, I explained about the money I’d collected and together we made a plan.
It’s Robert’s hope to buy a different block of land on the other side of the village, further away but off the slopes where the flooding occurs. He would like to keep this block because it is very good as a garden, just no good for building on. But if he has to he will sell this land to buy another piece. In that case I asked if he wanted to use the money to buy the new land and he replied with total certainty that he would prefer to spend it on building materials. “We should buy it now while we can, you don’t know how much it will cost if we wait until next year”. So we drew up the following budget using the $250 Australian which converts to about 83,000 Kwatcha;
Corrugated iron sheets. He salvaged 15 from his old house and needs 18 more. Cost 46,360 Kw
Roofing nails 5kg. Cost 4,750
Wire nails 5kg. Cost 3600
Bits and pieces. Cost 2,808
Then off we went into Mulanji with the car and bought and transported back as much as we could. The wood. 50 pieces he will get later. Australian Bluegum from a plantation just outside the village. It will be sawn by hand like in the photo I put up earlier. Cost approx. 25000 Kw
And that leaves him just a bit left over for school bags.