Colour and pomp punctuated the return of the illustrious Malawi Queens to their motherland on Tuesday, after making a big splash at the 2015 Netball World Cup (NWC) in Sydney, Australia.
Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe was awash with hundreds of supporters of the Queens—including parents, relatives and friends of the players.
Drama started the moment some eagle-eyed people on the packed airport balcony spotted the South African Airways (SAA) plane that was carrying the Malawian heroines from a long distance, even when the aircraft then looked like a mere speck in the clouds.
For sometime, many eyesight-challenged people on the balcony scanned the sky as they tried to make heads and tails of their colleagues’ exclamations of “there it is!” referring to the aircraft, which became less of a mirage by the minute.
Just before the plane touched down at the airport, it appeared as if members of a singing, dancing and balloon-waving sizeable ‘Our Queens, Our Pride’ group would be the climax of the reception to be accorded the Queens, apart from officials from the government and sports fraternity.
But that was not to be.
In drove First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, the surprises, and some panicking, on the faces of Sports Minister Grace Chiumia and the other officials at the airport proving that a surprise scaled-up Stately welcome was on hand for the Queens, after all.
Some parents and close associates of the Queens were allowed to be part of the warm welcome the players received at the foot of their aircraft’s stairs. So mobbed and garlanded were the Queens by the welcoming group that many of them chose to walk to the Very, Very Important (VVIP) Lounge, as they shared stories of their netball and other exploits over the past two weeks.
In the lounge, the First Lady revealed that she is a fan of the Queens, adding that she followed all the games they played at the coveted international competition, from where the Malawi players ended up sixth on the global stage and second, to South Africa, in Africa.
The Queens lost their last decisive game to South Africa, which was meant to decide the 5th ranked team globally.
“You are our pride and I love you,” Mutharika declared, facing the Queens and drawing applause from both the players and the other people at the formal welcoming ceremony.
Revealing that she kept her intention of pitching up at the airport, to personally welcome the Queens, as a secret, until the eleventh hour, the First Lady said because the players have made the nation proud, she will do her best to assist them in achieving greater netball feats.
There was another loud applause when it was announced that the First Lady had decided to be on the convoy to herald the Queens’ heroic return to Lilongwe City.
The ‘Our Queens, Our Pride’ members presented part of the over K2.7 million they raised over the past few days to the players. The members raised the money through online fundraising meant to salute the great performances of the Malawi netballers.
From the airport, the Queens were driven in a sleek, 20-seater Hummer, complete with two built-in television sets and a mazy radio set. Many people cheered the Queens as the convoy, at times of more than 50 cars, drove by. Many onlookers seemed to notice the pomp and colour put out for the Queens after the spectacular convoy drove by.
“I have driven many eminent groups and individuals in this Hummer before. But today, it was a particularly exciting experience for me to serve our own high-flying Queens, who have rocked the world, in terms of top-class netball,” enthused Nixon Muyaba, the Hummer chauffeur working for renowned businessperson Mike Msungama.n