There’s this bit in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink where he talks about doctors who get sued for malpractice. You’d expect doctors who make the most mistakes to get sued the most, but a study found that that’s not the case. Some doctors who make lots of mistakes never get sued. The reason is that they spend more time talking to the patients, say things like “Go on, tell me more” and were more likely to be funny. So blundering doctors can avoid malpractice suits simply by being nice.
I think the same thing happened on my trip to Lake of Stars. Even though I got to the festival 12 hours late, had to find my own way from Mangochi to Blantyre and got home a day later than expected, it was never unpleasant. Malasha Bus Company were responsible for these hitches, attributable to teething problems and miscommunication with Jambo Africa. But because the Malasha staff, specifically Memory , was just so darn nice and helpful, I’d do it again.
I’m not going to recount the whole trip as a story. I’ll rather just give you the five best moments:
1) At the Malasha office, I befriended Chris. He cleans the busses but says he wants to become a driver. He accompanied me to the nearest shop to buy fruit and liquids. When we stepped out of the shop, Chris looked down the street and said the bus was gone. He told me we must make our way West to Park Station. I was skeptical. He seemed like the type of guy I could trust, but I was an out-of-towner that could easily be misled. He could see my doubt, and begged me to trust him.
It’s a strange situation, one that I’ve also been on the other side of. You know you’re trustworthy, but you realise the other person sees you differently because they don’t know you. My belongings got stolen one night in Stellenbosch and a number of people I went to for help thought I was a con artist. It’s tricky and unpleasant because the more you insist the more suspicious they become.
Luckily someone from the Malasha office phoned and told us the bus just went to the petrol station and that I should return. So Chris made the wrong assumption but I felt bad for distrusting him.
2) The most unpleasant parts of the trips were the borders. The first one was the Zimbabwean border at Beitbridge which we reached after sunset. In one of the queues where we had to get our passports stamped it was going slow-dull as usual. Then, a passport flew across the table with cash falling from it. I realised that a woman behind me tried to bribe her way in and that the official tossed it in anger. She stood there awkwardly not knowing what to do. It was the first of many border fiascos.
3) The long stretch to Harare was done during the night, so most of us slept through it. But there was a moment at around 2am when the bus swerved rapidly and most of us got shook awake. I woke up and assumed I was about to die. I uttered the same “woaaaah!” that I do involuntarily when I’m on the Cobra. The bus stabilized, but I spent the next few hours thinking about whether busses flip and to which side.
4) While Zimbabwe was green and pretty, it felt like Mozambique was all about corruption and extortion. At each border post a passenger was targeted and held until a bribe was paid. It was absurd at times. Right after we crossed the bridge over the Zambezi, an official jumped on board and wanted to arrest a passenger for being without a shirt. The official had to shout and act like a grievous crime had been committed in order to ultimately get his bribe. I realised he was, in a sense, a performer who had to act for money. On the way back we were stopped at the same spot by an official who tried to extort a bribe from a woman who he claimed didn’t resemble her passport photo.
5) Once inside Malawi, we passed through a town that was experiencing a power failure. As either a coincidence or a gesture of solidarity, all the lights in the bus went off. We drifted through the town and passed a night market where people were playing pool by candlelight.