Erin and I headed towards Zomba Plateau this weekend.I met her while hiking Mulange. Parts of the road to Zomba are under construction and our driver Hassan took a number of detours over rocky and bumpy dirt roads.We passed the notorious Zomba Central Prison which is the largest prison in Malawi.It is meant to be for about 800 prisoners but it is so overcrowded that it is housing three times the number of inmates with prisoners packed like sardines in their sleeping arrangement. The prevalence of HIV and TB is not known but is believed to be high.
We did not stop at Zomba but instead drove up to the plateau. The day was hot and hazy. As we turned into the road that led up to the slope of the plareau, a sign said, "Welcome to Casa Blanca". Many women, girls and some boys were carrying heavy bundles of firewood from the plateau to the town to sell. Because of the distance they had to travel a piece of wood could fetch 50 to 100 kwacha (15 to 30 cents). Again we rarely saw any man doing this kind of heavy work. Hassan said it is cultural. Most of the heavy work is designated for women including tilling the land and if a man is seen doing the chores he is not considered manly enough. That is not to say that there are men who do till the land and chip boulders. If a man earns any kwacha, most of it goes to drinks not to the family, unlike the women who think of feeding her family. The boys we saw carrying the wood bundles are selling them for their own spending. As we drove higher we saw men selling wild berries: strawberries, blackberries, mulberries, gooseberries, raspberries and passion fruits. They were very sweet and tasty. Being Muzungus, we were charged Muzungu prices.
We asked if a woman sells the wood at the market, who takes care of her children? Hassan said the older children or the grandmother if the children are young.But I have seen women carrying baby on their back with a bundle of goods to sell atop their head. Erin thought the women here need “women’s lib” and again we asked why they even bother to get married, Hassan answered with a hearty laugh, “They want what the men can work at night.” And after a pause he chuckled, “They don’t know that they can have it any time of the day.”
I said, “They work too hard during the day.”
Ku Chawe Hotel, a posh hotel sits at the very top of the plateau. The plateau is several kilometers across, windy and cool. Queen Elizabeth and Emperor Haile Selassie came to Zomba Plateau by helicopters and both had viewpoints named after them, but the best one yet was an unnamed viewpoint that Hassan took us to, too rocky for a helicopter landing. The day was hazy mostly from the burning of the mountains so we could not see too clearly but we imagine Mulange in the indistinct distance.