Day 17: Sun 16th Feb: Chitimba Camp
Leaving our shack behind we pack five of us into two vehicles and we head off for the Livingstonia Mission Station which is on the top of the plateau. Our guide opts to stay in camp and have a rest day. We travel up the most incredible 4x4 track either of us have ever seen. Thanks to all the rain, the mud is thick and slippery and Simon becomes most proficient at persuading the Doddle to continue forward motion - even if it is sideways! Fortunately we could not see how close to the awesome drop we crabbed along and Karlien told us afterwards that she was too scared to watch us (getting stuck in the mud is fun - Ed).
We get to the Mission and there is an impressive development up there with schools and a university and a hospital in addition to the church and museum. Apparently Dr. Robert Laws established this Mission in the 1870's and it is still operated and supported by the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. We arrive just after the church service and an Irish doctor comes and introduces herself and her husband and tells us a little of the history. Very interesting and inspiring to see these people who have volunteered to live up here and help Malawians create a better life. She reckons she has been there for two years and will stay for another 15 years before they retire back to South Africa. They spent some years in S.A. as well and would like to go back there. She tells us that the Malawian population is increasing at an appalling rate and many people are dirt poor. They have apparently always had 7 or 8 children before but only 2 would survive. Now they are still having 7 or 8 children but 5 or 6 survive and there is just not enough food and employment.
The university at Livingstonia has 1000 students - all living in very poor conditions - and they struggle to feed them all, but they are determined to study. The primary school has 720 students (about 347 girls) and we are introduced to the principal. We decide to donate all the stationary that we had collected in Cape Town to him to help these very needy students. He is surprised and delighted and we are left with a wonderfully warm feeling that we have found a worthy school which really appreciates and needs our little donation.
We stop for coffee at a little coffee shop at Livingstonia where we meet another volunteer, from Scotland this time. He is teaching a few local women to establish a coffee shop and teaches them how to make a sandwich as we are hungry. We are amused to find out that he is a retired accountant who is actually there to set up some kind of accounting system for the Mission as they need to be able to report back to their many supporters in Ireland and Scotland amongst others. He was there the previous year to help them build chalets up there (complete with a donation of solar panels) that they can now rent out to tourists. Alan was his name (the Malawians pronounce his name as 'Aran' as they mix up there 'r' and their 'l)'. A truly impressive human being and we are pleased to have met him.
We slide our way back down the mountain and back to the camp and our shack!