Into The Less Known Malape
Copyright 2022 by Martin Nyondo
Photo of Malape Pillars courtesy of the author.
though the sun was way past its overhead mark and was diving into its
expansive, western horizon, the sweltering blanket of the heat
swathed Liwonde township, melting both my mental and physical
strength. I had trekked all the way from Zomba city, some fifty
kilometers away, to visit a place that I had heard and read and seen
many a time in the media. A place wrapped in secrecy and mystery.
While in the minibus, I was completely absorbed in thoughts about the
place, and I would be brought to reality by the frequent stoppages
that the driver made to allow passengers in and out of the vehicle,
according to their respective destinations.
took about two and half hours before finally reaching Liwonde bus
depot. Alighting from the minibus at the bus stage, the vast stretch
of the township radiated out almost infinitely and it seemed to push
its bound each time I walked away, towards the four-way junction
perched in the middle of the township.
township is at the central point of an alluring set of natural
attractions. In the west, clothed in splendor and naturalness, there
is the effervescent Mawira hot springs; up north, the roaring Shire
river meanders along the border with the neighbouring district; in
the east, Liwonde national park lies noisily with its multiplicity of
wildlife; and down south, obscured from the picky eyes of tourists,
it’s where I was going.
buzzing sounds plastered the township with the towering presence of
humanity, and it filtered out from everywhere; of vendors running
amok with an assemblage of various merchandise, trying to catch the
attention of prospective customers along its many streets; of minibus
drivers who snapped out of the fence of the bus depot, hoping to find
customers outside. These ones were spectacularly marveling to see as
they drove their cars with an interesting finesse, much more like the
way snakes move when trapped in an enclosed setting.
my line of walking, I could see fleshly built buildings that jutted
out along the tarmac road on both sides, marking the place with some
appeasing newness while at the very same time erasing some bits of
memory that I had of it; it was casting a
new layer of memory within me. Previously, the whole line of
buildings was laced with patches of an overgrown bush.
was not new to the township, having lived there for about four years,
but the place that I was going to was new to me since I had never
traveled there, save of course in my wild imagination which had been
brought to the fore as a result of reading many stories about it.
Even when I was living there in the past, I didn’t know that
there was such a place. And as I sauntered along the old road which
was being renovated, I dived deep in my mind, racing through the fine
and intricate details I had seen and memorised. With flashes of some
vivid visuals in my mind, my body was now tingling with excitement
that seeped out and morphed into a smile on my face. I now realised
that I was at the junction, coming back from the forest of thoughts.
Earlier on, I had made a good decision by boarding a cheap minibus
according to my budget, but I overlooked the cost of making that
decision. Time. Had I booked an expensive vehicle, I would have
arrived an hour before. Maybe more than that.
at the junction, I was now trying to figure out how long it would
take to reach my destination with the help of the google map app.
Another terrible setback cropped up. Within the vicinity, there were
no cheap cars that were going directly to my destination. After
failing to find the remaining time for the journey on the app, and
after realising that there were no cars to take me there, the first
thought that crossed my mind was the cancellation of the journey
altogether. And from the map, the place was quite far from where I
was getting late. I had to make a final decision. A thump blasted in
my heart, and a lump floated in my throat. I was dripping wet from
the heat inside and outside me.
how far I had travelled, how much I had spent to finally reach in the
town of my destination, and the special longing I felt for the place,
I brushed aside this thought and quickly jumped onto other viable
alternatives to beat the odds of returning home late. I twisted my
neck around, and from the corner of my eye, I saw some saloon cars
swelling up on a certain spot, and I realised that this was a taxi
rank. Immediately, I rushed to the spot.
moment I came in proximity with the cars, the drivers came forth and
swirled around me, outdoing each other in fare bids even before I had
not told them where I was going. I smiled silently. The moment I
conferred to them them about where I was going, they all cowered in
silence. Their faces turned into shades of doubt. And then they all
exuded ignorance, backtracking slowly from where I was.
A thought then popped up in my mind. Breathing heavily, I flipped my
phone for the umpteenth time, to find some hidden clues on the map. I
smoothly spread out my two fingers on the screen. I looked out for
more prominent features. Satisfied, almost feeling exhausted, I
finally told them about the name of the ring of the hills that was
close to the place. Their faces relaxed and brightened. Then one of
them came closer to me, again.
mean the place where white people frequently go ? a short guy with a
big belly said.
know the place. I have never been there, but I know the route. Hop
in. That will be MK1,500 (USD1.5).’ Slumping in the front seat,
I felt anxious about the waiting time. I didn’t wait for a long
soonest passengers were packed to the brim, the driver horned and
drove the car out of the parking spot. As the car cruised through the
straightened road and slowed down around sharp bends, my eyes were
glued to the icon of our movement on the map, and fifteen minutes
into the journey, the car hunched back and finally let out a squeaky
noise through the tires. The driver crept out and motioned me to
follow him. He handed me the balance of the money I had given him
earlier on. Pointing at the dusty route that sliced through the few
houses near the tarmac road, he shouted to me that I should take the
route to continue my journey. The car sped off immediately.
the icon on the map that showed my location pointed in the opposite
direction of my destination. I started walking back.
found solace in a young boy who was passed me while on a bike. I
stopped him. I asked him. And then he confirmed my doubts. He offered
to take me to the right route that connects directly to my
destination. The boy refused to take me directly to where I was
going, and instead he offered to take me directly to one of the men
in the area who is into the business of ferrying people to the place
on a bike. Luckily we found the man at his house.
a series of negotiations with the man, we started off.
calming breeze wafting from the trees that lined up on both sides of
the earth road drowned my tension in the same measure as the cool air
that blew on me from the speeding bike. We passed through a bridge
where a group of children scooped sands and threw at each other, in a
playful mood. We passed a group of women balancing some pails of
water on their head with tied babies on their back, going in the
opposite direction. We passed a group of men who sat down on the
earth ground, playing some traditional games. All along, I noticed
that people beckoned our attention with their curiosity and I thought
deeply about what they were thinking. There were many bicycles that
were going in both directions of the road, but their curiosity was
fixated on us. Perhaps they were wondering why I was visiting a place
that made no sense in visiting with less pomp and grandeur. To them,
maybe those that were better qualified to visit the place were those
that were on a vehicle. To them, maybe travelling to touristy areas
was reserved for the insanely rich. The elites. Maybe, just maybe.
About this, I remembered what the driver said earlier on about the
place; it was a place that white people love visiting with their
reaching the rear side of the village of my destination, the biker
rider, who doubled as my tour guide, took me to the chief’s
house of the area to do some paperwork. I was also required to make a
small payment. The chief, clad in an oversized jacket, studied my
face carefully and asked me a plethora of questions before handing me
a visitor’s book. Before signing, I took some time in perusing
through the names of the visitors of that day, and I then made a
confirmation of my surmise as regards why all the people seemed
astounded by my scintilla of interest in visiting their place. After
handing me a receipt of the payment of which I had already made, I
was permitted to go. My heart shook with joy. I felt triumphant over
the double thoughts that I had. I felt triumphant over the heat that
was intent in melting my determination. Instead I had melted all the
worries and frustrations that I had undergone into the nothingness of
forgotten memories. As we neared the place, I bubbled out a few
incoherent words to my tour guide, and my guide just gave me a cheeky
smile which he sustained for a long period. We were all inundated
at the vast expanse of the bristled trees, the place peeked out with
its brownish outlining, jostling for our recognition. Its base seemed
to be buried in the hollow of what appeared to be an overstretch of
an eroded terrain. The upper part of the place almost brushed with
the leaves of the trees that sprung from the ground that sunk deep
into the rugged surface of the place. On a closer inspection, the
place looked more like anthills but with a more striking, gigantic
stature. More or less, it carved out the semblance of the famous
is Malape pillars,’ my tour guide fished me out of my thoughts.
He then motioned me to descend into the the cave where the
strange-looking structures sprung from. Heaving one foot after
another downwards, I delicately dodged the steep and slippery wall
that rounded the area, and to give myself total balance, I firmly
held onto the roots of trees that protruded from the wall while
descending slowly. On reaching the lower level of the ground, where
the bases of the pillars were, I looked back to see the zig-zag trail
I had left. With my tour guide in front pointing at the structures, I
then trotted to massage the surface of the pillars.
is where our forefathers used to pray,’ he said in a bid to
catch my attention that had drifted away from him.
used this place to pour out libations,’ he finally said.
curious me then took out a camera and snapped every minute detail of
the place for future reference and deference.
I am Martin Nyondo from Zomba city in
Malawi. Currently, I am studying computer science at the
University of Malawi, and I am also taking an online creative writing
course on coursera from Wesleyan University(USA).
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