Rob Pfeiffer Blog 1/21/2016
In the U.S., we have pretty stringent rules to follow about inspecting vehicles before they go on the road. I’ve mentioned the ancient pickup we use from time to time. It was inspected this week in Lilongwe without leaving Ntchisi. Money changed hands and so did a sticker. So, I drive with a bit of trepidation.
Then, as I needed a crown glued back in, I had to make a trip to Lilongwe. That meant climbing on the back of a motorcycle and jouncing for an hour before picking up public transport to the big city. Independent contractors have vans with which they carry people about. They change the cardboard signs depending on where they are headed. The choices out here are pretty slim so I hopped in one which was loaded and ready to go. As I got in. I noticed no tread whatsoever on the left front tire, a badly cracked windshield which looked like someone’s head had hit it hard (someone who had been sitting where I was now perched), no padding covering the seat I was in, one side window missing, and a horde of people. This is a minivan where we seat eight or possibly nine. There were 28 people stacked in there plus luggage of various sorts. We shuddered to a start and almost immediately stopped to pick up another rider. There was a guy yelling out the window trying to attract more riders — and he did not stop the whole trip. This is a three hour ride with tons of stops. One was pretty creative as they saw a police blockade ahead and stopped half a mile away. There was some clunking around and three people rode by on one bike. After they had passed the blockade, we set off, were allowed through, then went a little further to pick up the three riders. As far as I could tell, most everyone was a stranger to the rest of the crew but we were pretty intimate on that ride. I’ve been squashed in subways in New York and Boston but this was far tighter.
Once in the city, we approached a tuk tuk — the local three-seated taxi. Immediately, two other tuk tuks approached and a fight broke out between the drivers over who would get the fare. I intervened and hopped in one and off we went. As we went up the first big hill not one half mile from our starting point, we ran out of gas and started to roll backwards into traffic. This entire trip was a huge challenge. The crown was a breeze. Then reverse the order to get back and you have the picture of accessing health care here. All they do nearby (one hour) is extract teeth. Most people don’t have the money for trips like mine. And, the next time you feel put out about an inspection, please remember this story. That’s a bit of news from Malawi.