Back to Malawi

I don’t know if I will ever have the courage to cross any Malawian border ever again. Remember the situation Andrew and I faced when we left Malawi on June 19th? Today was worse. When we left Malawi, despite the fact that we had spoken with the embassy and they told us we were fine, the Malawi border post refused to let us leave the country because we had overstayed our Visa by one day. We ended up paying a 20,000 kwacha bribe, equivilant to about $50 so that the border officials didn’t hold us overnight and take us to court the next evening.

This time the situation wasn’t much different. When we left Zambia, the border official decided to put a large visa sticker on the last page of my passport, leaving many blank spaces on other pages but using up the last free page I had available.

Little did I know that the Malawi border officials would demand an ENTIRE page to place their small and barely visible stamp in my passport. They escorted me into the backroom (once again) and began to lecture me on how I would be breaking the if I entered Malawi without adding additional pages to my passport. The nearest place I could add passport pages was in Lilongwe which was just on the other side of the border that they would not let me through. I would have to go all the way back to Lusaka to have additional pages added. This meant two more 15 hour bus rides and another $50 entry visa for both Andrew and I into Zambia.

Andrew and I spoke with the officials for 20 plus minutes asking them how we could move forward. We informed them that their was no possible way for us to travel all the way back to Lusaka, as we didn’t have enough money and we had to continue with the girls from our university who were going to Malawi. I finally broke down in tears, and Andrew proceeded to go into the back room with the head border official. Another 20 minutes passed and he came back, my passport had been stamped, but of course another bribe had been paid… This time I won’t say how much.

I love Africa, but there are many things that are inherently wrong with the systems they have in place. Corruption plays a huge part of the crisis that many African nations face, the same corruption that Andrew and I have experienced during both our exit and entry from Malawi. I am so astounded by how prevelant the corruption is that I have actually decided to write my final paper for one my classes on that exact topic. I will share it with you all when I am finished.

I am going to call it a night and head to bed. We arrived to Lilongwe safely, but I am exhausted after such a long day.

(Below: Andrew’s post)

Adventures never seem to cease when traveling in Africa. This morning as we rounded up the BYU girls to head to the bus station, it was clear why traveling in a large group is so challenging. People were getting organized, getting ready, etc and with 7 additional people that took a little longer than if it was just Kylie and I. 

When we finally arrived at the bus station the bus was already packed. It seems the Kob bus had overbooked the 5am bus and so people were struggling to find a seat. Unfortunately, I was one of those without a seat and was sent to the front of the bus to sit near the driver. I was a little frustrated by this as I had purchased a specific seat to be behind Kylie, but another man was sitting there and would not budge. When I asked to see his ticket number he refused saying it was the conductors job and I had no right. After retrieving the conductor and showing his ticket, it was apparent the company had double booked the seat. 

It was a real shame I had to sit up front since I was running on 1 hour of sleep and the little pad near the front bus steps was nowhere near as comfortable as my intended seat. But it really is part of the adventure of traveling in Africa. There is no central office to lodge a complaint with, or even claim a partial refund. If I were to ask the bus driver or conductor, any refund would come from their own pockets. Certainly poses a tricky situation.

So here I am, sitting near the front of the bus, cold wind brushing my face and too tired to balance myself properly and too uncomfortable to try and rest. Haha but despite the downsides to it all, I still am cheerful and happy that I’m simply on a bus to Lilongwe with Kylie on board… Somewhere near the back. 

I rode nearly half the journey on the uncomfortable side seat at the front. While not pleasant in any sense of the word, I was at least glad they didn’t kick me off like they did another person who had a double booked seat. 

After a 8 hour leg (nearly 65% of the journey), I finally got a seat and was able to sit next to Kylie. 

When we arrived at the border crossing into malawi I had my hopes high we would cross without incident. But, it turns out that we had another learning experience…At the same border crossing that gave us issues last time, Kylie was stopped because her passport was ‘full’. They wanted us to go back to Lusaka and apply for additional pages at the embassy there. It was incredibly frustrating and worrisome. There was no way we could get back to Lusaka (and nor did we want to spend another 8 hours returning the way we came). 

I knew that if we wanted a resolution we would have to rely on Heavenly Father. I prayed fervently as I spoke with one border official, and then another official about why it was necessary for us to go forward to Lilongwe and not back to Lusaka. 

The first official wouldn’t even listen to me, referring me to his supervisor. Mr. Matutu was a large man and seemed to have a no-nonsense aura to him. As I explained our situation, his face betrayed no concern or regard for us and our predicament. He was a hard man and simply told me, no.

I was persistent because something inward told me to continue to push the issue. We could not go back, the amount of time, effort, and finances that would be required would be more than we could stand at that moment.

Finally Mr. Matutu said, let me see your wife’s passport. We walked outside where I saw Kylie fighting back tears. Thankfully the other BYU girls were supporting her. I went over and gave her a quick squeeze hug, and returned to Mr. Mature with her passport. He seemed to soften when he explained that if he were to do something it would beyond the scope of his job, and that he would need a ‘gratitude’ fee in order to stamp her in.

In other words, I would have to bribe the official to let us pass. I knew if I gave him a low number we would be in the same predicament, but too high hurt my conscious (and wallet). I decided to play it safe and offered 5000 kwacha (10 USD). He looked displeased and said ‘couldn’t you add a little more?’ I told him that I exchanged my Zambian kwacha for Malawian kwacha and that was all I had. While not entirely true, it was all I was going to offer him.

He grumbled a bit, but accepted the offer and stamped Kylie’s passport. I walked out of that office grateful everything worked out. As I came out I said to Kylie ‘lets get out of here.’ And we got to bus in record time. Until we started moving, Kylie was still nervous and uncertain that they would let us go, but everything was alright.

We got to Malawi in 3 hours and back to George and Mrs. Flossy’s home with the help of Mike.

Unlocking the door to our little rented room was such a relief. After a day of no sleep, a long bus ride, and a border fiasco, I was ready for a good nights rest.

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