May 11, 2005
A Presidential Visit
On Saturday, we had one group from Pittsburgh leaving, and a group from Waynesburg College, where I teach, coming in, so we planned to spend several hours at the airport. As we drove down the Chileka Road, we knew immediately that the President of Malawi was in town. There were Malawian flags flying all along the highway and policemen or soldiers with guns were posted at each intersection. Crowds of well wishers dressed in blue fabric with President Bingu wa Mutharika’s portrait emblazoned on it lined the route.
When we got to the airport, it was pure chaos. Thousands of people jammed the parking lot, and bleachers were set up for additional dignitaries and officials. We did not think that we would be able to get to the special entrance (VIP) that the CCAP uses to bring it’s guests in and out of the airport. But Dan managed to get us all in through unusually tight security and we sat and waited for the plane with the elderly Chiefs and Traditional Authorities.
I wandered outside, towards the runway to take a look at the preparations. A red carpet had been rolled out, and there were traditional dancers and hundreds of people waving Malawian flags. They were also waving flags from Mozambique. The reason for all the hoopla was a presidential visit from the President of Mozambique, which is Malawi’s neighbor on three sides. Malawi’s President, Vice President and many Cabinet Ministers were all at the airport to greet him.
One of the security guards saw that I had my camera, and I was afraid that he was going to tell me to go back into the building, but instead he said, “You can go over there,” and he pointed to the area near the red carpet. So when the President stepped off the Air Malawi jet, I was standing along the red carpet, amongst security police and soldiers with guns, snapping photos. The two Presidents greeted the Chiefs and members of the crowd and strolled right in front of me. I was about 5 or 6 feet away! I could not believe it.
After they went into the President’s arrival building, greeted more hordes of people and were whisked away in a noisy motorcade, I greeted the visitors from Waynesburg, and said goodbye to our guests from Pittsburgh. Even though they did not believe us when we told them that all the excitement was due to their arrival and departure, they did enjoy all the festivities. It was a send off/welcome that will not soon be forgotten.
Later that day, we were showing our friends from Waynesburg College around the historic Blantyre Synod grounds, and the Chileka road (which runs by our home and the Synod) was shut down so that the dignitaries could make their way back to the airport. We watched as the huge entourage passed by. Then all the crowds dispersed and the colorful flags were taken down. It’s not everyday that you see two Presidents twice!