Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Transport to Lilongwe

Planning always has limitations. No matter how hard you try, there are always factors that cannot be accounted for. At some point you just have to run with what you have and hope for the best. Murphy had a pretty pessimistic take on this kind of approach, but I on the other hand opt to “not even worry about it” most of the time.

So there we were: Graham, Mafayo, and I. Two white guys, an entrepreneur, and 140 kgs of cassava flour at the side of the road trying to hitch a ride the 300 or so kilometers to Mafayo’s customers in Lilongwe. Hiring private transport was far too expensive for such a small load so we decided to test the waters with alternative transportation methods. The only thing we could really plan on was a learning experience.

A couple of hours passed before a suitable truck came along. We agreed on a price and piled into the cab while the cassava flour rode in the back with an ever increasing number of other hitchhikers. It’s pretty common for drivers to pick people up for a fare in Malawi and we were doing so every few kilometers. It was only when we encountered a police roadblock outside of the next major town that I learned this is illegal.

We were able to continue to Kasungu, the next major town, where the truck was supposed to report to the police station. The truck had not been planning on going past Kasungu so our plan hadn’t been too dismantled by this development. The only issue was that we somehow had to get 140 kgs of flour from the police department to the bus station.

No worries. “Musadandaule” in Chichewa. Mafayo and I headed off to the bus station to hire a minibus that could pick up the flour while Graham waited at the police station with the truck. We found transport and shortly after we were headed back to the police station. We arrived to find that Graham, the truck, and the flour had disappeared. I called Graham and found out they had waited for a police officer to turn up but eventually left when no one did. He was back at the bus station with the cassava flour.

But instead of the bus turning around and heading back, we were soon traveling well out of town and back out on the main road. In a long, circuitous arc we were traveling around to the far side of the town and I, only catching snippets of the rapid dialogue in Chichewa, had no idea what was going on. I asked my traveling companion.

Mafayo: “Oh, this vehicle is also in trouble with the police.”
Me: “So, we’re running from the police?”
Mafayo: “Yes. We are running from the police.”

Okay, so maybe not quite the brazen, siren blaring, high speed, stunt ridden pursuit you might be thinking of (don’t worry mom), but the situation was nevertheless a little exciting. I, for one, had definitely not planned on fleeing the law when we began our day. In the end, we found Graham and the flour, reached Lilongwe and the customers safely, and returned home without having to post bail.

Most importantly, we learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t with transporting cassava flour and have since found a private vehicle for deliveries.

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