Up before dawn, even before the Mosque call to prayer today. The group is splitting up and we are headed separate ways. Kari and Matt are going on a trip to Tanzania and Dick, Lee, Alynne and I are headed to Malawi.
My throat was tingling when I went to bed last night, so I know I am run down from the pollution, the long days and early mornings and the lack of downtime. I went to bed early as my stuff was packed and prepped earlier, hoping a good nights sleep would do the trick, however this morning I woke having swallowed razor blades, and feeling like I drank too many beers. Buckley’s cold pills to the rescue! They would come to be my best friend every 4-6 hours….
We headed to the airport with some hugs and goodbye’s to our new Ethiopian friends/drivers/bodyguards and piled into the airport lobby waving goodbye to Matt and Kari as they were staying on one more day on Ethiopia.
As soon as you walk into the airport there, you are subjected to security screening and X-ray scanners of your bags. Enter first hiccup of the day. Apparently in this airport you re required to carry medical documentation to prove you have a pacemaker/defibrillator. Having the scar and a palpable lump isn’t good enough when explaining why you can’t go through the metal detector. There were six requests made to walk through, and six times of declination of same. I had to resort to pulling my shirt and bra away from my chest, pointing to the scar and standing in the line up, refusing to let anyone else pass by me before they took me seriously. Even after that, I was subjected to extra screening and bag investigation in case my device was a remote detonator or something! My powers of persuasion finally won and I was allowed to pass.
We then checked our bags and headed down to the gate, passing a second security check. Enter hiccup number two. They were more forgiving in terms of my lack of documentation, however, they went straight to the body cavity check, including the removal of my Fitbit. When I got through to the other side to collect my backpack, phone etc, I grabbed my stuff and we went downstairs to wait and check things out. Shortly after being down there, I realized my Fitbit was missing. I hadn’t seen it in the bin when I got my stuff, so didn’t put it together until I went to check my watch for the time. Alynne and I went back to get it, and when we approached the security gate we had gone through, I said to the guard that my watch was missing. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled it out. Nice. Trying to rob the Chinese. I could tell he had been diddling with it as my stopwatch had been started 16 minutes earlier, exactly when it had gone through security. Plot failure on his part. Thief:0, Annie:1
We had some time before our flight to cruise the airport, and in doing so, discovered the coffee pot I bought for my new love of a good coffee ceremony was priced much higher there than when I bought it on the street. EXACT same pot. I paid $5US, and here it was being sold for $78US. Nuts. Smoking deal for Annie! We had a chance to eat a yummy breakfast (Alynne’s mouldy toast being the exception) with even yummier of a milkshake before lining up to go through yet another security checkpoint. (This one, no hiccups.)
While waiting for the flight to board, Alynne and I had a front row seat to some trauma and lept into action with our ITLS training, and were able to save a young boy from haemorrhaging to death after he fell from the seat and suffered a small lac to the forehead. Between my emergency toilet paper roll and Alynne’s bandaid, we provided supplies tp the Mom to staunch the flow of blood. The medical staff who were called by the gate staff were going to be disappointed when they got there, as there was no more saving to be done. Yay us. Pat pat. (On the back.)
We were hoping for a smooth, uneventful flight but alas fate had other plans. To start with, the seatbelt in my chair was freakishly short. I know I’m not a tiny person, but I have always fit in an airplane seat and been able to do up the belt. Always. This particular seatbelt was nearly 8” too short! I had to ask the attendant for a seatbelt extender. I knew there was nothing to be embarrassed about, but it was a first for me. Sitting in the row in front of us were some (actual) Chinese men who decided we should be a part of their human zoo. I’m not sure what their fascination was, perhaps it started with the seatbelt thing….but the one guy was practically sitting backwards the whole flight so he could eat with his mouth open, crackers spilling out as he slobbered and cackled to his mates while staring at us. Perhaps he had never seen amateur supermodels before (I confess Alynne and I were looking smoking hot in our travel outfits and hair ties, so we deserved all the fanfare we were due…).
I asked him point blank what he was staring at. He just laughed and cracker-spilled like a fool. The man across the aisle from me must have had some previous experience with these jokers, as he commented that they didn’t speak English and gave them a dismissive look. A sneer actually. He could see them for what they were, just as we could. Well after a few hours of this, Alynne was at her breaking point, and as “The Coach” from CJ92 in Calgary used to say when he was a radio announcer, she “lost it.” She accosted him from her seat, demanding to know what he found so fascinating, and that he should turn around as more crackers dribbled from his chin. When her shrieking was unsuccessful, she knew the universal language of charades would need to be employed. We had graduated beyond English. She started gesticulating wildly with her hands motioning to them to not only turn around, but to turn-the-f**k-around-motherf**kers!!! Luckily for them, the flight was nearly over or I am certain the Bruce Lee in her would have emerged next.
We made it through customs with no problem and secured our bags while Dick greeted our greeters who where there to greet us. Lol Aaron and his friend Gideon were all smiles to meet us. I saw a real Jacaranda tree upon exiting the airport and immediately thought of the walk-in clinic in the mall named after it. Even their color scheme was the right shade of purple to match the tree.
My cold pills were starting to feel like tic tacs, I was popping them so often. I was starting to sweat like a beast and feel like garbage. Speaking of that, while there was waay more garbage here than in Canada, it felt quite clean in comparison to Addis.
We arrived in Lilongwe and went to a parking lot of the grocery store, and just sat there. We waited. People begging for things came to our window, asking for money, demanding money…until the store security guards came and surrounded our truck to make a perimeter to keep them a cars length away. They weren’t having this sort of behaviour, it was bad for business. Whose business though….? Shortly, a man came to our window that our driver knew, and it was here we changed our American money for Kwacha, the local currency. In a mall parking lot, sitting in our truck with the windows rolled down like we were doing a drug deal. $300US each translated into $222,600 Kwacha. Wanna feel rich? Have literally wads of bills in your hand wrapped in paper like ransom money. 742 Kwacha per $1US. Then we drove away.
The only thing that could have felt shadier about it was if we had been in a limo, and this strange guy stepped in. In this scenario, we would be wearing black clothes, gold necklaces, white hats and have at least one gold capped front tooth, hands folded in front of us with a cane between our legs, with a duck’s head as the brass handle.
We were told if people here go to the bank to get American money for travel, the banks ask a lot of questions. Snoopy type questions that aren’t any concern of theirs, but big brother wants to know. Something to do with American money being used to fund terrorists. Spin off entrepreneurs now operate out of this parking lot as money traders (?Launderers?) to undercut the banks fees and control over the masses and as such, give better rates. Did we unwittingly just play a role in something nefarious?
Aaron then took us to a little lodge just outside of town and I immediately lay down for three hours to try and gain the upper hand on my cold until Alynne woke me.
We ate about 19 fresh mangoes between us on the step in front of the hotel before supper. It is mango season, and there are nearly as many that rot as are eaten. 40% of all the fresh food either grown on purpose, or as a volunteer crop, rots here. In what is supposed to be the poorest country in the world, that statistics was shocking to me. If there is so much free food everywhere, why are there so many people starving to death!?!??! The answer I was given was because of the lack of ability to process it, or store it (ie refrigeration) or transport it. I still haven’t figured out why the rest of the world doesn’t know this, or act on it?
We had supper and I went to bed straight afterwards, sick as a dog, sweating through my Jammies. Nice.