A few days ago I went on the hunt for a sugar plantation, with Sue, a retired nurse from Britain who is over in Malawi doing six months’ voluntary work. She is based several hours’ north of us, in Salima, helping local nurses caring for and visiting people who are dying. At home Sue buys all her sugar from the charity Traidcraft – so we were looking for the co-operative who their white sugar.
Kasinthula is a couple of hours’ drive south from Blantyre. We found the village and, with my very rudimentary Chichewa, asked the way to the cane growers co-operative.
People from the village farm the sugar, but at this time of year – when the rains are approaching – many of the members were waiting at the main offices for a delivery of maize seed. As well as working in the plantation, each household plants what they can on their own plot of land, ceded to them by the local chief.
As the co-op is small, their sugar is processed, bagged and shipped by Illovo, an international sugar company - a good example of a FairTrade project.
Last weekend we camped at the house of someone who served as a British policeman when Malawi was still a British protectorate in the 60s and who now has Malawi citizenship. He has a traditionally-styled house in the middle of a Yao village, near Mangochi, at the southern end of Lake Malawi. He travelled as part of the group of 12 just for the weekend, as he is normally based in Blantyre.
The aim of the visit was to walk three miles up Mangochi mountain to Fort Mangochi, a stronghold built in 1896 after the British forces had quelled insurrections from local chiefs. Why were they fighting? Because in 1891 Malawi officially became a British protectorate and the new commissioner was determined to halt the thriving slave trade from Malawi to the east coast, now Mozambique. The fort was in use until the late 20s but now is in ruins, though there was pleasing evidence that the area was being managed by the Department of Antiquities. The elephants certainly liked the mountain plateau – we saw some in the distance.
Three days after we left, our host emailed to say his bunk house had been broken into. Someone had obviously spotted people staying and thought we’d left behind rich pickings!
Now I know why we employ guards outside our flats and why we always park in an official car park, with patrols.