Ascending Mount Malawi

Yesterday I hiked up the smaller mountain that is in my back yard. Locals call it Malawi Mountain. It is not a spectacular mountain (certainly nothing as epic as Mount Mulanje) so I’m not sure why it gets the distinction its name entitles. Sampson, my landlord, says it is merely a triviality — that the name was given to the mountain to indicate that the mountain was part of Malawi and not the boarding Mozambique, of which I am only 15 kilometers away from. The name is just an extension of some past boarder dispute between the neighboring countries.

The mountain reaches a peak of approximately 3,500 feet. It is out of place in the surrounding low-lying Shire River Valley, which is part of The Great Rift Valley. Nsanje (the district in which I live) is the lowest point in Malawi at 200 feet above sea level. The range is approximately 15 kilometers long. There are two-track roads that wrap around the mountains base.

Other than for just the adventure and seeing natural beauty in all its grandeur, my purpose of the trip was to see a small village that perches itself on the top of the mountain named Chididi. Some friends from local NGOs had visited here recently and I wanted to see what all the chinwag was about. There are environmental concerns related to the illegal harvesting of wood to make charcoal (what a defeating endeavor and purpose!) in the protected land in the Matandwe Forest Reserve in which I live and Malawi Mountain is a part of. I had to see the cut trees myself, as well as the pits where the charcoal is made.

I left the house at 8 o’clock to meet my friend Nedson at his house. After some boondoggling about, we tightened our laces and headed out.

It was quite a hike to the base of the mountain. We made our way up, passing villagers bringing wood down to the trading center to sell. The traverse wasn’t grueling but certainly challenging at times. I remarked to Nedson a few times how incredible I thought it was that folks shimmied about the mountain on the jagged rocks with no shoes on, carrying nearly a 100 pounds of fire wood atop their heads. He just smirked and replied that it was just a way of life — these people were used to it and just saw the endeavor as a means to an end. I was impressed and in awe but also unnerved at the deforestation that was happening before my eyes.

The mountain is the most pristine I have seen Malawi thus far. Though there is extensive tree harvesting for firewood, the land is mostly untouched. When I think of the African bush, I think of what I saw yesterday. I was excited to see a whole mess of baboons darting from tree to tree!

The beauty was astonishing. From the top, the Shire River Valley unfolds in front of you. You can easily see the boma (main trading and government center). The Shire River kisses the boma at one point at Nsanje Port. The port is not completed but with the new president, the citizens of Nsanje are excited that the port will be finished, hopefully opening up trade to the Zambezi River many kilometers south down the watershed. Banana, papaya, and palm trees dot the landscape as well as the majestic baobab. Small streams trickle their way down. Birds of all colors, shapes and sizes chirp to the soundtrack of my life.

Once we had reached Chididi, we turned back down the mountain, making sure to fetch a bunch of sweet bananas and ripe, juicy oranges. They were just the energy I needed to make it back down!

It was 4 o’clock by the time we made it back to Nedson’s. His girlfriend prepared us nsima, okra, and pork, which was an absolute delight because I was both famished and protein destitute. Nedson and I rounded out the night by meeting with a Ministry of Health medical assistant named Jonea. We chatted about projects, namely a music project that I’m helping collaborate on geared towards empowering youth with HIV/AIDs. We delighted in a couple cold beers at a nearby lodge before parting ways.


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