September 28, 2004
Driving in Malawi
The Merry family drives a brand new 2004 Nissan Hardbody double-cab four-wheel drive truck. Thank you Pittsburgh Presbyterians for enabling us to drive in a wonderful safe vehicle…since driving in Malawi is an adventure. When we end our time in Malawi the car will be turned over to the Blantyre Synod for their use. It will be a wonderful going away gift.
Driving in Malawi keeps one on his/her toes. Things that you have to think about include: driving on the left side of the road; shifting with your left hand; playing “chicken”which the 100’s of bicycles who are vying for the same patch of tarmac you are hoping to use; goats, chicken, dogs and small children darting into the road; the traffic signals that never work; the dreaded mini-busses that stop anywhere for a fare; the roundabouts where it is every person for themselves; and of course the ever present police roadblocks.
Last week I took two men from the Outreach Foundation (a PCUSA mission organization based in Nashville, Tennessee) to a meeting at Zomba Theological College which is about one hour and fifteen minutes north of Blantyre. It is a very nice drive…with just the normal obstacles to overcome. It was a warm day, so I undid the collar of my pastor shirt, and was enjoying chatting with my new friends, Rob and Hank. We came upon a roadblock and thought I would be waved through as I had been dozens of times before. Not this time. The policeman stopped me and asked to see my license. I produced my International Drivers License and he looked at it carefully. It was obvious he had never seen one before. Then he asked me to step out of the car, (why didn’t I keep my collar on?), and asked me if I had two emergency triangles. I had no idea if I did or not, but if I did they would be behind the rear seat. I made Hank, who was sitting in the back seat, get out of the car and we looked for the emergency triangles…and sure enough I had one. One, not two! In Malawi you must have two…so with a BIG GRIN on his face the policeman started to write a ticket. BUSTED!!! (Hank and Rob were laughing as the policemen wrote out the ticket.) I was handed the ticket and asked for my International Drivers License back and was told that I would not get it back until I paid the ticket at the police station which was right across the road. I was not a happy camper.
I pulled the car in front of the Police Station and immediately buttoned up my clergy collar and marched in the Police Station ready to do battle. Rob and Hank assured me that they would tell my family what happened to me if I wasn’t seen again. They were still laughing as I marched up the steps.
The young policeman at the counter was amazed to see a white person with a collar standing in from of him and asked me to have a seat as he quickly went into a backroom. I had visions of them getting the jail cell ready for me. About 5 minutes later an older policeman with several stripes on his shoulder invited me into a back office. I was rather nervous as I started back and as I glanced over my shoulder I could still see Rob and Hank laughing.
In the office marked “Commander”I had a lovely visit with police commander who was an Elder at the Thondwe CCAP Church. He shared with me all of the problems of his church and told me he had seen my picture in the paper and asked me how I was enjoying my stay in Malawi. I thought I was home free…until he told me that the fine for not having two emergency triangles was 1000 kwachas (about $10.00). But, since I was an Abusa (pastor) and new in Malawi he would only fine me 500 kwacha. I paid the fine…got a receipt…was introduced to all of his follow officers, and finally, 20 minutes later, I walked out of the Thondwe Police Station, a free man.
I showed the receipt to the policeman at the roadblock who gave me my International Drivers License back with a very cheery “have a nice day!”Rob and Hank finally stopped laughing as we pulled into the entrance of the Theological College and had a grand time telling everyone about the wonderful adventure they had while driving in Malawi.
Just another day of driving in the “warm heart of Africa”…sigh!!!!!