Where is Brave?!

Over the last few months, I have felt a growing sense of optimism in Malawi. When we arrived in September 2016, it was hot and dry, with daily water and power cuts. There was a slight air of desperation in the country- there had been 2-years of droughts and then floods with severe consequences on the food supply. Many people in the rural communities were starving and the country was dependent on foreign aid.

This year Malawi has had a bumper harvest. So good in fact, the Malawi government has lifted the ban on exporting maize, the staple food. The cash this year’s crop has generated is starting to filter through the economy. There is more traffic in the markets, with more household items being purchased rather than just food. And of course, the bars have been getting a little busier.

Therefore, this weekend some field research. Coincidentally, it was the English Premier League season kick off too, with the important game Sunday night. After assessing the various options we settled for our old favorite, The Breeze Bar (in Area 47).  I’m so used to the Brave/Violet/Phil fan club I was even discussing the pre-match details with Brave when we wasn’t there.

Brave - missing in action

So where was he? How could Brave not be front and central at The Breeze? The title picture is Brave in Guernsey visiting the in-laws with Carys, although I might have blown his “I’m just stepping out for some milk” cover story. Sorry Brave – but we miss you.

But I sought solace in a few Greens and experienced the joy all over again of being in a country inflicted with football fever. What a great atmosphere in the bar – I just can’t believe my luck that I see every game with my United-certified buddies and then I can talk smack with the non-believers after:

How Do Like Them Apples

That was Isabel, our office Liverpool fan, demonstrating something called sportsmanship. As the world’s worst loser her generous nature is lost on me and she grumbled this morning that we didn’t invited her (a Liverpool  fan to a United game?). I almost felt guilty. So we’re now planning a Game 2 (both the United and then the Liverpool game) party rolling to Fishani’s house for next Saturday. Brave will be there in spirit.

But is was so good to see a small slice of the country enjoying itself after a torrid 2-years. Natalia and I had almost completely forgotten the water and power issues of last year.

We returned home this evening to a dark house – the power cuts have officially started again.


 Small Apes

We’re going through our list of things to do before we leave. Today, on the way back from some grocery shopping, the Vervet Monkeys were waiting for us. I was asked to pull over, with the urgency as if I had struck a baby deer, and we spent 20 minutes posing with the monkeys of Lilongwe.

The police were lining the road –  a sure indicator the President was due to make a drive through – so I was in no mood to hang around. But monkey-trumps-Phil (and then President) in our house so we pulled over.

I’m very protective of our groceries. And I’m not a fan of celery. So when asked by Natalia to find something to feed the monkeys I gave her a couple of sticks of celery.

Natalia broke the celery into pieces and threw them into the grass. I’m no primatologist but the monkey looked at her, then me, with the look of “I’m not eating that shit”.

So I gave Natalia an apple which she bit into chunks to share with her friends. Discovery channel stuff. The moment captured on video: Goodbye To The Monkeys

The Last Mile

My birthday weekend never seemed to end. What a great party. As we checked out of the Mayoka Village, the receptionist asked if a blue, with bright yellow giraffes, chitenje shirt at the bottom of plastic bag was mine. I had never seen it but as we prepared to leave Isabel remembered this was another gift from Fishani that must have been in the bottom of the bag his cake was in.  This traditional Malawian shirt is a little snug – I squeezed into it and looked like a ripe caterpillar so another reminder I have to get back to these lentils (and away from those Greens).

Then as we left Nkhata-bay, Brave pulled over and picked up a wooden plaque he had arranged with “Phil Walton Malawi” and the Manchester United logo engraved on it (missing the ‘R’ from Manchester – that’s an easy fix but I don’t think I want to as this somehow reminds me of Malawi). 

After picking up our Mzuzu based sales rep’s (Kingsley) two children to deliver them to their grandparents for a holiday we had a leisurely 5-hour drive in convoy along the lakeshore road back to Lilongwe. Violet and Natalya chatted the whole way. For 5-hours.

The RAV4, on its final voyage, performed flawlessly. Now available for purchase (as I think Fishani has gone a little cool on the idea). I wonder if this ad would work; “blue and dented, sounds like an old washing machine, locked drivers side window, disco warning lights on the dashboard but runs like a dream.” Offers please.

Home, the day before my actual birthday. The next day in the office and Carys had baked me a massive chocolate birthday cake and Saidi, our Central region sales rep, also brought one in too. Here’s Fishani, Saidi and birthday boy.

That’s 3 cakes this year. 

In the evening, we went to dinner with Alan and Mem who had just recently returned from the U.K. with their very engaging 16-year old son, Darren, who has moved to Malawi (joining an international school) . Amazingly, in the U.K. they had spent a couple of nights a few miles from Brother. Natalia took full advantage of this and had business critical supplies (eyelash treatments and makeup) delivered to my brother (via my father) who in turn delivered to Alan (it sounded like my brother brought his A-game as Alan was highly amused). Plus birthday cards from my Mum and Dad, and Brother and family, which were handed over during dinner along with a size 40″ waist belt from Natalia. Ok, that’s enough – I’m on a diet.

So, that’s it for another year. I mistakenly said this was my best birthday ever which made Natalia very happy until she realized we got engaged on my birthday 4 years ago. She asked me again just so she could point this out which is entrapment in my book.

So we’re now Lilongwe-based until we leave on Sept 13. But this isn’t going to be a smooth downhill glide to the finish line. Brave and Carys left for a month holiday last Thursday and Natalia, Isabel, Fishani, Ericho and I are holding the fort. A very capable team but when you don’t have two people of the caliber of Brave and in a team of 15 it’s going to be tough. More worryingly, Brave won’t be here for the start of the football season with Manchester United’s first competitive game this coming Tuesday. Thank goodness Violet is here – we’ll be in the Breeze Bar at 8pm in our colors, loud and proud.

But Brave and Carys will be back before we leave. We have much unfinished business to address, including our “Solarmen do Afropop” video. We’re really quite sad to be leaving our friends in Malawi. I feel I’ve not finished some of things I wanted to see through (at SunnyMoney and I’m letting the team down) but I think I would always feel that way. 

We focusing in on Sept 9th as the Goodbye Party. Visitors welcome. It’s going to be a big one.

The Party

First, due to some technical issues the pictures of the Phil Walton Soccer School on the streets of Nkhata-bay were missed from the previous post: Mayoka Village, Nkhatabay . The first steps to Malawi World Cup qualification have begun.

Second, this post also explains the wonderful surprise the girls arranged for me Saturday night. I had missed an impromptu performance from Michael Mountain in the bar Friday night and was giving Violet a hard time about the quality of the video clip that she gave me for the post. I had missed out and was sulking about it all Saturday. And when I sulk you know about it (Marc- think Halibut fishing in Alaska). To make matters worse, the three girls deliberately kept singing his hit song “How Big Is the Lake” ALL day to make me feel worse. Girls are cruel (and sneaky as this was their plan).

After a lazy morning, Brave and Carys and Natalia and I, took the two canoes for a spin. Literally, as we capsized ours amid some rocks. Brave and Carys paddled on, not knowing (allegedly), until they heard Natalia laughing while I was convinced the canoe was sinking (as I held her hat and the oar). It was almost another Kilimanjaro moment. After various failed attempts to right the canoe a local fisherman paddled over in his traditional dugout canoe, bailed out the water and helped Brave drag it on to the rocks. Again, reminds me of my fishing prowess in Alaska, specifically when I fell over in the waders.

To dry out we had a few early afternoon drinks in our room and we wandered into the village for a spot of lunch, bumping in Sam again. Next Brave and I peeled off for a much talked about ‘mano-a-mano’ game of pool, back at the Njaya Lodge. I’m far too much of a gentlemen to mention the result but Brave came second. At least I restored a little bit of male pride after the canoeing fiasco.

We rolled back to Mayoka Village, the girls got all dressed up, had a few shots….


…and we all headed to the bar. Michael Mountain was there having a drink. Clueless, I invited him to have a drink with us and we all sat down by the Lake and the aqua station (perilously close to the damn canoes).  Violet asked if he had brought his guitar and he had – no musician leaves home without their instrument I thought – then she asked if he would play us a song: and he played “Happy Birthday Phil” (video but sound only!!) with our own lyrics, even referencing Fishani’s cake and with a chorus from Brave. These crafty girls, after seeing my disappointment at missing his performance the previous night, had booked him for my birthday party. He was excellent, joined in the tequila shots, and played song after song (we now have his CD).

And then, of course, the song I had been waiting for: How Big Is the Lake? (video!!)

After the performance came some very touching gifts; a shirt from Natalia  (as big as sail) and a belt from Isabel who said “sorry, I think it’s too small – I can change it”. What are they trying to tell me?? And then a painting (that was still damp) from Brave and Carys of The Lake with ‘Waltons in Malawi’ along the top. Here’s the picture (not sure where Isabel is…) with the artist, Alex.

Waltons in Malawi Picture

Isabel appeared so a proper group photo with Mr. Mountain (who’s looking at bit wild).

The Gang and Michael Mountain

And you imagine the rest of the night…

What a day/night/weekend.  And it wasn’t even my birthday yet… I was to be spoiled even more.










Mayoka Village, Nkhatabay 

Saturday morning on the cottage veranda with Carys, Violet and Isabel (Natalia is making the coffees). I think I’ve gone deaf as they aren’t talking. Peace and tranquility on a perfect day in Nkhatabay, watching the fishing boats launch and hearing the town slowly come to life.

Not to worry, as Natalia joins us, singing, and the bees start buzzing. Brave is smart as he’s still asleep in his cottage. But the rest of us are up and it’s early so the trick will be to not go to fast too early as we have the main event tonight: my official birthday.

‘Official’ because my actual birthday (8th year in my 40s) is Monday and tonight is the nearest Saturday. Same system as the Queen.  So tonight, the wheels are off.

Not that last night was tame one. In the afternoon we walked over the hill (with some grumbling from one of the ladies) along the beach to the Njaya Lodge where we stayed for our first visit to Nkhatabay. We wanted to find Sam, say hello to the lodge staff and show Violet and Isabel the lodge. I felt a little like we cheated on them by staying at Mayoka but we were on a tighter budget and this weekend’s agenda requires close promixity to town.

Sam was on his balcony and gave us a quick tour of the expansion at Njaya that he’s been helping project manage. They’ve built beachside cottages that have the same charm as villas in Santorini. This is the place for a romantic getaway.

On the way back I was able to arrange a quick soccer training school with some local children. I may have retired from the competitive game but silky skills remain as I ghosted past a 5-year and nutmegged his younger brother. The girls were impressed.

Now with Sam, the evening had started. Friday is BBQ buffet night at the Mayoka and we all ate  like kings. I hit a food coma and snuck off at 8pm for a quick nap. While I was gone a local celebrity, Michael Mountain, sang his signature song “How Big is the Lake?” Luckily, the girls captured on video. He needs some new backing singers.

I was gently woken by Natalia and marched downstairs to rejoin the party. After a few drinks and I was back. And the party rolled on to a local club called Bay View. That was a mad house then, at last, an exhausted Brave and Carys arrived (10.30pm). Fortuitous as retreat and recovery was the best option at that stage. We crammed into their car (after a quick beer with Brave) and we called it a night.

That was the warm-up act.

The Farewell Tour Begins…

Brave, Carys, Violet, Isabel, Natalia and I left Thursday night for a weekend in Nkhatabay and our last visit to The Lake. Guilt free as we’ve had a busy couple of weeks and due to the good graces of Fishani who is manning the office Friday. Hopefully he’ll join us Saturday although not sure how as it’s a long way solo without a car.

We went via Mzuzu Thursday night and picked up this cake, arranged by Fishani, on the final leg to The Lake Friday morning.

Yes, it’s my birthday and the party has come to town. This meant the final voyage in the RAV4 (cramed with gin, tequila, vodka, enough egg and tuna sandwiches to feed an army, and half our kitchen) and, despite not being able to open the drivers window and a flickering brake light, we hurtled the 6 hours up the M1 on Brave’s tail, squeezing past 16-wheelers lumbering towards us, in the pitch black without incident. 

Of course, the trauma of the journey meant Brave and I had to go out, while girls rested, to the Mzuzu bars until 3am. Doctor Phil made another appearance as one of the club goers passed out on the floor and, while a crowd gathered and stared, I stepped in to check his vitals. 

I’ve seen this done on TV – position the body so the patient doesn’t swallow their tongue or choke on vomit.  Once I had arranged him in a crime scene style configuration I stepped back to admire my work. And the crowd danced on. So then someone had the bright idea to pick him up and get him outside. I leant a hand as three of us wrestled him to his feet and he woke up swinging. Punches dodged but he grabbed my shirt and ripped a hole perfectly exposing my right nipple, which would look good if I had a piercing. I don’t. Lesson learned (let sleeping dogs lie, not the fashion value of body jewelry).

Friday morning was difficult and Natalia was enjoying being up early. Brave and Carys had some errands to run so me and the three girls headed off to Nkhatabay and the Mayoka Lodge. This lodge was selected because its nearer the main ‘town’ and nightlife which is the agenda tonight. 

As we arrived we saw Sam, whose been here since we dropped him off 3 months ago, walking along the road. He took a look at the RAV4 and shivered – “that thing still running!?!” He’s now joining us tonight. 

This place is really stunning.

The girls have headed to the beach bar while I type this post on our cottage veranda overlooking the water. They seem to be having a good time.

So, we wait for Brave and Carys to get the party bus started. Tequila and shot glasses are ready. What could go wrong…

They just sent me this picture. I’m a lucky man.

And I’m focused on the wrong activity. Out.

Doctor Phil

I’ve warned of the risks of Man ‘flu before but this week I had a bout of this illness that is often confused with a bad cold. Clearly I struggled on, without complaint, and worked a full week. But the risk of Man ‘flu is that especially virulent strains of the virus can jump species, to smaller creatures not exposed to the same physical and mental stresses than men are conditioned to. Unfortunately, this was the case and Natalia fell victim this weekend.

I was fairly useless at work this week but was feeling better by Thursday. But Natalia woke-up Friday morning feeling sick and, after sticking it out at the office for a few hours, she went home to bed.

Now, the best treatment is sleep and I didn’t want to wake her when I got home so I selflessly decided to base myself at a new bar called Goodfellows after work for a couple of hours with Fishani. Not sure how I missed Goodfellows before but it’s going to be my new bar for watching Manchester United. But I digress…

Saturday morning Natalia was convinced she had Malaria (also often confused with Man ‘flu) but using my extensive medical experience I determined the next step in my recovery program was a Streetwise-3 meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken. A few hours later she said she needed something sweet, which I had failed to predict so I quickly made some banana bread (note for Sally – use sugar not salt).

Sunday, we both headed to the gym; too ambitious for Natalia and she retired to a sun lounger by the pool in the warm sunshine. She’s back on the sofa again and I’m back in kitchen, this time chicken curry. But she’s out of the woods now.

Good job too as it’s a big week ahead. Our Sales Team as in town for our Q2 Sales meeting and a visit from the SolarAid chairman, Jeremy Leggett.

Rwanda Part II

A delayed follow-up to my Kigali post. This week has been a social whirlwind (more of that later) so our Rwanda trip seems a long time ago. But Rwanda is so different than the other places in Africa I didn’t want to leave the impression our only memory was the memorial.

I’ve been told Rwanda is like Germany: disciplined, controlled and well organized. But the people we met had a sense of humor. We hardly scratched the surface, arriving late Saturday afternoon and leaving early Monday, especially considering on Sunday everything is closed (a crisis to those in Team Walton who needed a shopping fix). So we’ll be back one day. But it was time to say goodbye to our van;

Naty and Safari van

We did bounce around Kigali on the Sunday via motorbike taxis. Typically you’re advised to avoid motorbike taxis in Africa where there often seems to a competition to get as many people on board (with no helmets) as possible. But in Rwanda they are required by (enforced) law to be well maintained and always carry a second helmet for one-passenger only. Great fun and quite terrifying. The taxi riders even waited until we entered the memorial, waving goodbye.

Unfortunately, the Greek restaurant (Restaurant Hellénique) recommended by our buddy Ronnie was closed. We had arrived an hour before the guard told us it would be open so we found a local bar.

Naty and Phil in Kigali bar

A couple of beers on an empty stomach and we were feeling merry but when we returned to the restaurant no dice (although we did get to meet the owner Cocolio).

Ronnie had given us a backup restaurant, New Cactus, which was within walking distance of out hotel. Off we went by foot but in the wrong direction and spent the next 60 minutes wandering around Kigali streets at dusk. Not a concern at all and an opportunity to meet very stern and professional policeman on every street corner.

So a fail on Kigali restaurants (shame as we’ve been craving Greek and Mexican food) but we didn’t care. We had used my accumulated stock of Marriott points (thank you to you-know-who) to stay at the brand new Kigali Marriott. High-end gym, Sauna, steam room – and all round luxury and a fantastic view from our balcony.

Phil and Naty on Kigali Marriott Balcony

Amazingly, I still have status with Marriott and we were invited into their lounge. No honor bar or peanuts and crackers – full free bar and wide range of tasty food for breakfast and dinner. In fact, when we found this out at check-in we were on time for dinner and smuggled Ben in and we all dined like kings.

Dining like Kings

And we invited him back for breakfast the next day, with his boss Nasser who had traveled all the way from Entebbe by bus (10 hours during the night) just to confirm our trip was a success (sure beats a customer satisfaction email) before they both left to return to Uganda.

Phil, Nasser and Ben in the Lounge

Since we’ve been back we had our anniversary and then had a surprise anniversary party at Club Destiny arranged by Violet, Carys, Isabel and friends. Delicious food and a lot of fun after a long and tiring week, followed by a spontaneous trip to Harry’s Bar and then Chez Ntemba until 2.30am. All the girls (who were feeling no pain) and me, the arm candy and designated driver (Brave and Adrian – please hurry back). We’re very lucky to have friends like this here in Malawi.

Club Destiny Anniversary Party

We were joined by our latest friend, Daniel Ruiz who we were connected with after seeing his name on an AfID bulletin saying he was in Lilongwe. Daniel is Colombian and quite a character who has traveled the world (Congo, Argentina, Myanmar) on international assignments. First we went to Wednesday night to an Indian restaurant with Carys;

Meeting Daniel

And then we rolled into a new bar for us (Vision Gaming) where we bumped into an old friend (Adrien). I’ll be back at this bar as it seems we have a common interest.

Vision Gaming

Daniel joined the party Friday night and was still dancing up a storm with the remaining girls at Chez Ntemba as we left. If you’re having a party invite a Colombian and it won’t end early.

Strangely enough, Mrs W. was on the sofa all day Saturday.

Tragedy on Malawi Independence Day

We had two choices today to celebrate Malawi’s Independence Day; attend a free concert at the Civic Stadium where a friend (Lily B) of our friends (Ms. AfroPop, Chisomo, and Paola) was performing or return to the Bingu National Stadium to watch The Big Game between Nyasa Big Bullets and Silver Strikers.

We got home from the concert and saw this on the news: Stampede at Bingu National stadium. Chilling as we were at the stadium on the opening day and crowd and traffic control was clearly a problem. I just spoke to Fishani, who lives opposite the stadium, and he was at home (watching the game which still went ahead) but he did say he felt the effects of the tear gas used to ‘control’ the crowd in his house.

The concert was great and we took some video (Chisomo is the dancer who starts at the front, Lily B the singer) but our enjoyment is a now a little tempered by the news from the stadium.

Anniversary in Africa

2 happy years. Our 3rd anniversary so 2 out if 3 isn’t bad.

Royalties to my brother for that one. Always my favorite gag.

Happy 4th of July from Malawi. Tonight we visited La Dolca La Vita restaurant in Lilongwe for the first time and it was surprisingly good with a beautiful garden patio. So we return home to watch Act Of Valor on the sofa. Who says the English aren’t romantic.

Still, we always have this memory: Wedding.