From our base at Chinthechi, Jean-Philippe and I have made forays into Tongaland, formerly West Nyasa, renamed Chinthechi, and re-renamed Nkhata Bay. Early this week, we visited Kuwirwi, Kasikizi, Tikombu; home of the late adaBanda a Kadona, Kacheri, Mbamba, where the famous Kandi beach resort is located, before settling down to a haram drink at Makuzi Beach Lodge. Old Bandawi is where the Scottish missionaries built their first mission after leaving Cape Maclear in Mangochi.
From Makuzi point, you have an unfettered view of the Sanga point and the Ngalayau promontory in Nkhotakota. From here, the Likoma isles are aesthetically tantalising. We asked the barman, Julamu, to put on some music. From my anglotonga accent, he correctly guessed what type of music I would go for. So he put on a VCD featuring JB and the Park Town Band.
We took haram drinks, mimicked the park town dance steps, laughed and cheered. Then I got a mobile phone call telling me that my cousin’s wife at Chipaika was in labour and she needed immediate transport to either Chinthechi or Nkhata Bay hospital. Suddenly my happiness turned into sombreness.
“What is it?” Jean-Philippe asked, worried.
“My cousin’s wife needs immediate transport.”
“What for? Is she sick?”
“She is due. And because there is no maternal clinic at Chipaika, she needs to get to Chinthechi or Nkhata Bay. Last week, I advised my cousin to take his wife down to the hospital before her due date, but, I suspect, due to the heavy rains, they could not cross the Lweya River by canoe nor could they walk to Nkhata Bay.”
“How far is Chapaika from Chinthechi hospital?”
“Chipaika. Not Chapaika… some 10 kilometres.”
“Only? Let’s get going.”
We paid our bill and left the unfinished haram drinks there. We drove past the Old Bandawi CCAP church and joined the M5 road. The Toyota Harriet picked speed. At Msomba, just before we reached the Lweya river bridge, I stopped the car.
“Not yet. Look to the west, the dark green natural vegetation you see after the valley is part of Chipaika.”
“That’s very close. You mean there is no road?”
“At this time of the year, it is impassable even by farm tractor.”
“Even worse, there is no bridge. So we have to go through Banga and Chombi to get there.”
We drove on to Banga. As we drove through the Vizara Rubber Estate, Jean-Phillipe asked me why Malawi does not make its tyres with such a huge rubber estate. I concentrated on negotiating the sharp bends until we got to Banga and turned west to go Chombi. When we got there, I told Jean-Philippe that the Chombe Tea brand he liked was originally farmed at Chombi; but the tea was replaced with pala, the rubber trees.
At Chombi we turned south. The Toyota Harriet “screamed” as we forced it through the mud. Jean-Philippe asked me why such a big company did not build a hospital as part of its corporate social responsibility. I did not answer. As we approached Chipaika, I received another call from my uncle advising me to drive slowly because there was nothing to rush for anymore.
“She is dead?” I asked.
“She has been delivered by a traditional midwife,” my uncle said.
“Traditional birth attendants are banned!”
“Tell the government to build a rural maternity clinic here before it bans traditional birth attendants.”