During the rainy season, Nchalo makes you feel like you’ve been locked in a sauna with no escape. The air is so heavy and humid, that your body becomes a ‘sweat machine,’ leaking buckets by the day. As a lady living in Nchalo, it’s my advice to ditch the lipstick, the eye shadow and powder and invest in some loose clothing and flip flops and as many air conditioners as you can possibly afford! Also, you can forget the Coco Chanel – your new Chikwawa style perfume is called ‘Peaceful Sleep,’ an excellent mosquito repellent.
“It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh – I really think that requires spirit.
It’s the kind of character that I am going to develop. I am going to pretend that all life is just a game which I must play as skillfully and fairly as I can. If I lose, I am going to shrug my shoulders and laugh – also if I win.”
― Jean Webster,
But before the heavy rains begin and the humidity sets in, Chikwawi people must experience the unbearable heat of September, October and November. Of living through 12 weeks of temperatures that regularly reach the high forties – anything in the 30’s being considered a cool day. If you experience a power cut at night and the air conditioner motor slows down to a standstill, you’ll be stripping your bed sheets, dunking them in cold bath water and wrapping your body in a wet sheet for some short-lived relief! You’ll easily meet the daily suggested water consumption of 2 litres, in fact 4 litres a day will be the norm! You’ll hang your clothes out to dry and it’s reasonable to expect them to be fully dried 15 minutes later. The soles of your washed and drying shoes will melt if left out too long.
Your most prized household possession will become your aircon. You’ll experience a mad panic attack should someone leave the door open to your house, allowing a wave of hot air to enter, defeating the tired aircon within seconds! You’ll sleep like a baby when comforted by the noise of an aircon – probably installed in the mid 50’s – and that sounds like an antique tractor right by your bed. Houses without aircons will freak you out and the silence will actually wake you. You’ll learn to iron all your clothes to kill the eggs of the Putzi fly, avoiding a maggot drilling into your skin and living off your flesh until its ready to pop out. You’ll irrigate your verandah roof to help cool down the house and you’ll braai/bbq with an industrial fan blowing directly onto your guests, surrounded by citronella candles, insect repellents, mozzi zappers and mosquito coils all working at once. Hopefully you won’t get malaria!
So why on earth would you live in such a place?
Well because of the winter of course!
The winters in Chikwawa are bliss. Ever so slightly cool in the evenings with long ‘summery’ days. You may even need to put a jersey on once in a while and when that happens, ladies, it’s quite exciting! Pulling out that forgotten winter wardrobe – all the clothes that have been shoved in a suitcase for visits back to the likes of South Africa or the UK – and wearing things like scarves and closed shoes without your toes feeling like they’re pulsating with heat. We’re also able to grow a mean vegetable garden, with rows and rows of spinach, lettuce and herbs! Oh and onions, I have never seen so many onions as I did in Nchalo!
On top of that, we can still swim! We can take a dip in the pool in mid-winter and stay in the water for more than 20 minutes, easily! Pasted with factor 30, you’ll get a tan too! Like bears coming out of hibernation, the people of Nchalo spring to life; emerging around April from their cool air conditioned ‘caves’ and can be seen playing a game golf, jogging in the outdoors or standing around a fire debating about the perfect way to cook a steak or how to pass a rugby ball! For a few glorious months, we forget the heat and the indoor life and we think to ourselves as the Malawians do,’ I say, this is certainly a splendid life!’
But above all, life in Nchalo is more than just ‘beating’ the weather. It becomes an experience that a group of mismatched people of different cultures, races and languages come together to make a life. That’s what being an expat is all about – we bond over work and weather and end up becoming good friends with people so different to ourselves! We discover things we’d never dream of experiencing back home and we learn things about ourselves that had we not been there, we might never have known. I’d say living in Nchalo might toughen you up a bit. Teach you not to sweat the small stuff and to keep an open mind. It can also be bloody awful, especially when it’s 48 degrees outside! But an ice cold Carlsberg beer and a good chat with friend will get you by…