Liwonde, like many parts of the country, is flooded by bicycle taxis which have become handy as the fuel crisis continues to bite. Emmanuel Muwamba had a chat with Daniel Isa, a bicycle taxi operator at the township, who shared with him the thrills and agony of the business.
At Liwonde Township, bicycle taxis with padded passenger seats fashioned onto their metal baggage racks line the road waiting for customers to hop on for a low-cost ride â€” Malawian-style.
There are about 1 500 registered bicycles in the township but the figure is steadily increasing each passing day.
This is where Daniel Isa competes for customers everyday to earn a living.
Nowadays, it is fashionable for bicycles to ferry anything from giant stacks of firewood to iced lollies and even patients in special detachable wagons.
â€œI used to work as a cook, but cooking was a hard job, that is why I decided to switch. I make about K1 000 a day,â€ said Isa, 31, who has been in the bicycle taxi business for two years now.
â€œI am used to doing this. I am able to carry big-bodied people,â€ he said, unfazed at potential heavy loads. â€œWe donâ€™t mind, so long as there is a customer.â€
Isa has to remit K200 everyday he has been on the road to the owner of the bicycle he uses to ferry people.
A typical day for Isa starts at 4am and he returns home at 9pm. He makes at least K50 for a trip, but sometimes goes home empty-handed due to the influx of bicycle operators and at times owing to the unavailability of customers.
Sometimes he returns home with just K400 but as per their agreement, he has to part with K200, remittance to the bicycle owner.
But Isa is still making ends meet from the bicycle hiring business.
He is now able to pay for his spouseâ€™s education. His wife, 18 year-old Katelina, who dropped out of school while in Standard Eight after falling pregnant, has enrolled in Form One.
Isa pays K3 500 per term for his wifeâ€™s education.
â€œShe is still young and I think she has a future if she pursues education further. It was unfortunate things happened that way that she had to drop out of school.
â€œBut we look forward to the day she will realise her dreams of becoming a teacher,â€ said Isa on Tuesday last week after cycling for about 15 minutes from Liwonde Roadblock.
Katelina, who comes from Mbingwani Village, T/A Kaphuka in Dedza, said she has always wanted to be a teacher but the future looked bleak after she fell pregnant.
After losing her parents at the age of eight, she went to stay with her grandparentsâ€™ family friends in Lilongwe where she doubled household chores and school for about seven years and earned K1 500 a month.
She met Isa in 2010 and because of the pregnancy, she was forced to return to Dedza but she went to Liwonde to join Isa where they stay as husband and wife.
Isa now has to take care of his wifeâ€™s education and other family basic needs from the bicycle taxi business.
However, he cannot save anything from his earnings because the rising prices of commodities have pushed the cost of living beyond means.
â€œI can hardly save anything because I also have to support my mother in the village from the money that I earn. The little I earn hardly takes us through in a day,â€ he added.
Sa came to Liwonde 20 years ago then he was only 4 after his mother fled Mozambique during the civil war that killed thousands of people.
Because his mother could not afford to pay his school fees, he opted to drop out. As a coping mechanism, Isa started doing piece works to fend for himself and his mother.
When he was 14, a businesswoman employed him as a houseboy and eventually took up cooking as his career for almost 15 years.
As a cook, Isa has also worked for several other people in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Liwonde.
But the career had to come to an end one day due what he describes as excessive heat from the burners which affected his health.
â€œThat job affected my breathing. It was like I smoked pipes but I have never had one,â€ he said.
Isa describes the bicycle taxi business as very challenging because some people refuse to pay after enjoying a ride.
â€œOthers disappear in bushes. We donâ€™t follow them because some people have lost their bicycles that way. They are attacked.
â€œNowadays, we also avoid those who are drunk. They donâ€™t cooperate on payment,â€ he said.
A female client, Mary Shaibu, a resident of the township, described the bicycle taxi as very handy.
â€œI really like them,â€ said the 21-year-old woman, comparing their ease and availability to the public transport system with the withdrawal of most vehicles from the road due to fuel scarcity.
â€œYou just hop onto a bike taxi if you want to get around,â€ she said.
â€œIt is surprising. There are like 10 to 20 bicycles for every car that you see going to or from Liwonde. It makes sense, though I guess it is because of the fuel crisis,â€ said Shaibu.
The bicycle is very popular in Malawi because people cannot afford a motorbike due to souring poverty levels, said Joseph Mulotiwa, a pastor who also runs bicycle taxis.
Malawi, a poor, mainly agricultural country of about 14 million people, registers about 3 000 vehicles per month, according to official figures.
However, motorists are crippled by the unprecedented petrol and diesel shortages that have also affected the availability and cost of public transport.
This is where the taxi bikes step in. Not only can they skirt the fuel costs, they are able to reach more places and people in an impoverished, rural, land-locked country.