I’ve been to Blantyre three times, once to discuss setting up a new medical school, and design the science building, once to see the first graduates, and once as external examiner. The first time was in Hastings Banda days. I stayed at Ryall’s Hotel. On the second, Banda still alive, Susan was with me and we stayed in a hospital house just off Mahatma Gandhi road with some postgrads from the US. Servants lived in a shack at the bottom of the garden. The third time was after Banda. I was on my own at Ryall’s again.
Tuesday 14 November 2000, room 33, Ryall’s Hotel, Blantyre. Sunny, breeze outside, blue sky, white clouds like Simpsons opening credits. Yesterday was thundery; the plane from Lilongwe couldn’t land and had to return to wait for an hour before setting out again. Second time lucky.
I’ve just read about the botfly that lays its eggs on clothes, then larvae burrow into the skin and after 8 weeks or so of growth and development, they wriggle out of what seems like a pustule. Oh joy. The bedroom walls don’t reach the ceiling, I’ve just noticed.
Tuesday evening. More thunder. I’ve been marking exam scripts all day and now find – quite inexplicably – a Malawi gin and tonic inside me. I seem to have sleepwalked across the road to the Africa Commodity Traders ‘superstore’ where my eye lit upon a bottle of the said substance at 414 Kwacha (approx £3) labelled ‘drink me.’ Quite delicious. Is it the gin or the tonic or both? There must be importers somewhere.
Wednesday evening. 22 candidates, mostly very good or good. Nobody inadequate. Why spend a lot of money on educational resources when people who have so little are every bit as good? Another majestic thunderstorm. No tap water in the hotel or, more importantly, no bog-flushing water. The electric sockets in the bedroom don’t work today though they did yesterday.
Thursday morning. When it rains, water pours through the roof of the hotel corridor. So they move all the pot plants under the leaks. Brilliant! Water off again after a brief window of opportunity for bog flushing. Day off today, exam conference tomorrow. Writing this is displacement activity: I should be getting on with work that I brought that must not be allowed to wreck the Christmas break (again). Never quite fathomed why, when we are so near the equator, it’s not hotter than it is. We are high above sea level – perhaps that has something to do with it.
Saturday. No thunder since Thursday. Economy grim, set to get grimmer. Racial tension mounts – not blacks/whites, but blacks with money/blacks without. Bring back Banda from the grave say some. Home soon, Air Malawi south to Jo’burg in a plane with propellers and elastic bands, then sardine tin to London with my knees in my chin. Queasy belly. Something suspiciously like dysentery gurgling away.
Monday. Jo’burg check in, asked for aisle seat so I could rush to bog if necessary. Lady says perhaps you should stay here until you’ve recovered. Had a bit of a job (no pun intended) to persuade her that I was well enough to travel. Should’ve kept my mouth shut. I must have looked better than I felt because I’m just about to board the London flight. Fingers crossed. And legs.