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Malawi – August, 2007

The Warm Heart of Africa?

It seemed like it was just the other day that I had boarded my flight in Lilongwe, making my 40-hour journey home to Portland four months ago. It was only this past April that we traveled north to Mzuzu from the capital city of Malawi in search of the much sought after geisha varietal. Now I’m making the trek again, the Stumptown’s third Malawi visit in 12 months. It’s not an easy one, to be honest, considering Malawi is just about as far south as a coffee buyer can get in East Africa. After the 2.5-hour flight from Nairobi it’s another 5 hours by car to Mzuzu. One can only hope that there is gold at the other end of the coffee rainbow.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. We were anxiously awaiting the 24 geisha samples our friends from the small holder’s association had prepared for us. After a restless night’s sleep, we made our way over to the cupping lab eager to dip our spoons into something lovely. Even though the samples were under-roasted, we saw everything we needed to. The geisha quality was just not there. This is the other side of the coin when it comes to purchasing quality coffee and something we always need to be prepared for. Sorry to say it folks, but this will be another year without Malawian coffee.

We awoke the next morning, slightly disappointed with what had transpired on the cupping table a day earlier, but looking forward to Burundi. So we hopped in the car and sped off to Lilongwe to catch our afternoon flight. Our friends from Mzuzu decided to take the scenic route, along Lake Malawi and it was truly a sight for sore eyes. Lake Malawi, 365 miles long by 52 miles wide, essentially mimics the shape of the country itself and provides a border between Tanzania and Mozambique. The water is blue and full of the kind of swell meant for body surfing. Tempted as we were to pull over and throw on our bathing suits, we continued down the dusty road committed to catching our flight. Or so we thought.

Check in went rather smoothly, a little too smoothly to be honest. We were up in the bar drinking Kuche Kuche, no that’s Malawian beer folks, within 20 minutes of arriving at the airport. After an hour we headed to the gate to await boarding. A few moments later we were informed that our flight was late leaving Johannesburg and that we’d be an hour late leaving Lilongwe. That’s no big deal. If you’re not prepared for flight delays in Africa you just shouldn’t come. So, two hours later, the flight shows and we’re ready to board. As the flight attendants begin their safety routine we notice a blast of what looked like steam, or smoke, come from the front of the cabin, followed by the first class passengers sprinting towards the back of the plane. Nope, no terrorists aboard this Air Malawi flight, just a loose pin in the cabin door pressure system. After a quick search of the tarmac using cell phones as flashlights, the attendants couldn’t come up with the missing pin. We’re spending the night in Lilongwe!

I could continue boring y’all with the drama to follow at the airport the following morning as well as the next two days in Kenya when we found out that the Air Malawi Manager didn’t actually re-book our flight to Burundi, but I won’t. It’s off to Burundi and in the quickest way…