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Meet Me in Mzimba

October 4, 2010

I realize I’ve been writing mostly about my thoughts, and experiences, what’s on my mind at the moment, but I thought I’d take a little break from that, and show you around my new Malawian home town.  I’ve spent a few weekends now finding my way around and meeting people, and I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on the place, so let me take you on a little tour.

There’s only one road coming into Mzimba (although road construction is underway to build a second), so it’s not hard to find.  As you travel along, the first real clue that you’re coming into a town, is Mame motel.  You’ll see the sign on the right.  After you pass it, more and more houses will start popping up.  Continue over the bridge and after the bend in the road to the left, and you’ll find my house.  It’s on the right, the one with the cornstalk dog house out front, across the road from the large abandoned airport (I’ve never even seen a person there, never mind an airplane, but rumour has it that the old president used to like flying up to Mzimba to get away from the bustle of political life, and he used to stay in the house that has now been converted into the District Assembly office).  Lacking air traffic, the air strip does provide magnificent sunset viewing, and a good place to go for a run.  If you look behind my place, you’ll see a view of a large valley with three mountains in the distance.  Quite nice, if I do say so myself.


View of the sunset over the abandoned airport across from my house


To head into town, keep on going down the main road to the BP station and make a left.  You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction this time of year, because the road will be lined with beautiful purple flowering Jacaranda trees (Its spring right now on this side of the world!).  You should probably pause for a moment at the first side road you come to (the one that heads to my office on one side and the District Assembly on the other) to take in the view.   The town is nestled (there really isn’t a better word for it) in a low lying area, and from this spot, you can see the ridges/hills on the other side of town with the silhouette of lone trees smattered across the top.  I like to stop here and take it all in.  Proceed down the hill, and shops will start appearing on your left.  As the road bends to the right, you’ll be entering the main part of town.

View from the top of the hill before you descend into town

“Town” is about a kilometer of road, lined with stores, markets, bottle shops, the bus depot and transit yard.  If you’re there during the day, I might say it is busy, but not fully bustling.  There’s no one heckling you to get in their taxi when you get off the bus, because as far as I can tell, there’s only one taxi in the whole town.  In the stores, you can find pretty much everything you need, and not a ton that you don’t need.

There’s such a small ex-pat population that there’s virtually no market for any sort of post-card/wooden trinket pedaling.  Although yesterday I did meet the first Rasta-esque youth I’ve seen here since I arrived.  A nice young artist, named Pumpkineater.   Western food is pretty much limited to spaghetti, chocolate bars, and very expensive cheese.  I still haven’t found tomato sauce, although I’m told that it does exist.   I like it that way.  You don’t feel as much like a tourist when tourism just doesn’t exist.

Stop and greet some people, they’ll be interested to find out why you’re here and where you’re from.   It’s the kind of place where people know one another, and visitors stick out.  Rarely do I make a trip into town and don’t run into someone that I know.   Normally it’s two or three.  People wave as they drive by. I also often run into people who know of me, even though we’ve never met (“My wife’s, sister, comes from the same village as the mother of your housemate”.)  Shop owners recognize and greet you, if I haven’t stopped by for a while, they’ll want to know where I’ve been.

Keep going through the main part of town and you’ll come to some more residential areas smattered with shops, a small vegetable market, or workshop.  Before you reach the city limit (at the single lane bridge, over the now dried up river, where the road turns to dirt), you’ll see signs for the hospital and pass one of the two secondary schools.  Of course there are a few other side roads off the main one.  None of them are paved.  Most go into residential areas. One leads to the post office, radio station and internet café.  Another will take you to the town hall and the bakery.  One heads up the hill through residential areas to a large community hall.  A few more at the other end of town I haven’t really explored much.  One leads to the prison I believe.

And that’s about it.  Welcome to Mzimba.  Right now is the perfect time for a visit (although I don’t have much to compare it to). Besides the previously mentioned blooming Jacarandas, the rains haven’t started yet, so it’s beautifully sunny every single day.  It’s warm but not too hot (although apparently October is normally a scorcher).   The winds and dry weather are keeping most of the mosquitos away.

If you can’t tell already, I really like it here. This is my kind of place. It’s peaceful, and calm, friendly but not forceful.  It’s big enough to have everything I want, but small enough to get to know it easily.   An owl sings me to sleep most nights.  A rooster wakes me in the morning.   I feel safe, I feel welcome, I feel at home.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2010 1:44 pm

    PS I have lots more photos to go along with this one, but no time to upload them at the moment, stay tuned, i’ll do the best that I can!

  2. Pat Dunstan permalink
    October 4, 2010 3:23 pm

    Wow!!!! I LOVE to hear from you ,Alyssa. Your blog today lets me put a face to a picture in my mind and I’m so glad you’re content there. I do wonder how your friend’s problem got resolved (the truck episode). The youth choir from St. J. sang at a 40’th anniversary function of Sleeping Children Around the World last Sat.and I thought of you in Malawi. SCAW distributes bedkits to several countries in Africa and I really have wished for a long time that I could go on a distribution- not feasible or realistic I know. Take care of yourself and good luck with every endeavour. Love, Pat (still think of you and Reiko as the Angels who visited my Mom!)

  3. Brian permalink
    October 4, 2010 4:09 pm

    Hey Alyssa!

    Mzimba sounds beautiful! Thanks for sharing 🙂


  4. Hannah permalink
    October 4, 2010 9:06 pm

    Hi Alyssa!

    I know it’s my first comment but I loved hearing about your new town 🙂 I can totally picture everything as you describe it. It sounds like you’ve been settling down well and I think you a lot and pray for you. Keep up the great work in what you’re trying to accomplish there and can’t wait to continue to hear more about it!

  5. Anne Tipler permalink
    October 5, 2010 1:49 am


    I’ve been really enjoying your posts! It’s great to hear about your work and how it’s moving forward. Today it was fun to hear about your town and living conditions. It’s really good to hear that you are and feel safe and happy. Just as it’s turning cold here, it sounds like it’s warming up in your part of the world! Enjoy it!!! Keep blogging!

  6. Don McMurtry permalink
    October 5, 2010 9:18 am


    This sounds too nice ! 🙂 We need to have you visit Balaka where the forecast this week is of course sunny and 34,34,34,34 and then 36 C. And most people agree the nights are getting progressively warmer. Roosters are of course ubiquitous, but the owl will be replaced by psychotic howling dogs that are normally hard to hear given the noise of the visitors at the guest house.

    That all said, I like it when the baby goats come past my office door on their daily circuit around the water office yard. And I look forward to the rains in November which will transform the landscape from brown to green and at the same time make the roads unmanageable.


    • October 9, 2010 2:24 pm

      haha, we have dogs howling through the night as well. At first I found it really creepy/eerie, but lately (maybe now that I have my own dog) I’ve found it actually kinda comforting. I like the goats as well. still on a mission to get one of my own.

  7. October 5, 2010 1:11 pm

    Ahhh – roosters waking you in the morning brings back memories of my childhood. Glad you are feeling at home with the owls at night and the roosters in the morning serenading you. Remember though that the cottage has loons to sing lullabies and song birds to chirp you awake which also makes one feel happy, content and at peace. Great directions to your home – one day we may just come knocking. Great blog and so happy you are content and happy and enjoying your great adventure. Much love. Mom

  8. October 5, 2010 2:19 pm

    Lovely post! Your town sounds charming. Hope I can visit one day : )
    I’m going to send an email your way very soon! Look for it.
    Chat soon,

    • October 9, 2010 2:25 pm

      Come visit! I’ve been thinking about you guys over there as well, and you’ve been on my email list for ages. We’ll see who gets to it first – race ya!

  9. Ashley Raeside permalink
    October 5, 2010 5:01 pm

    You had me from Mame Motel…..oh man I miss Mzimba, Alyssa. Thanks for taking me on a tour of town. I just texted J – it’s terrible. Please greet everyone from me. Especially at the water office and Patrick C if you see him.

    Wish you all the best,

    • October 9, 2010 2:28 pm

      Thanks Ashley, please know that you are remembered and talked about often here in mzimba! My easy entry into town was in no small part related to the great relationships that were built by previous ewb folk here. Might be heading north sometime this week, will definitely greet Patrick for you.

  10. Karen Forgrave permalink
    October 5, 2010 8:21 pm

    Wow – you are a wonderful writer, and make it all sound very picturesque (sp?!). I’m glad that you are finding lots to enjoy there, along with the trials!! I guess every place you go, the world over, has it’s ‘negatives’ and it’s ‘positives’. Thanks for sharing this beautiful ‘positive’ picture of your current home!

  11. Kelly Braiden permalink
    October 6, 2010 4:30 am

    Alyssa as I read your commentary on your new home – I felt I was walking beside you! Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience – miss you so much!

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