Just back from quite a voyage into Lilongwe centre! Went with a housekeeper called Maxwell who had an afternoon off. Jumping on the minibus to get there, you could tell it was a Saturday. All young men off to watch the football. A much more fun experience than a taxi which would cost you £5 or £6 - this trip was just 150 Kwacha (less than 50p). If you aren't carrying much with you it's perfect and much more sociable (although if you like it seems you can bring baggage as I found out on the way back when I lady brought on three bags of sweet potatoes she'd just been selling at the market).
One of the things I've noticed they do a lot here in taxis and minibuses is to cut the engine when you are about to go down a hill - it saves petrol - people are very quick here to think about ways of saving when you are on a tight budget.
After getting what I needed from the big supermarket and a jumper from an Malawi/Indian-owned shop, we went through one of the biggest open-air markets in Lilongwe, which ended up going along the river. The sights and sounds and smells were just an assault on the senses (not in a bad way). Even though you know you have most people's eyes on you as you are walking (being the only white person in the whole place) everyone everywhere is so friendly and respectful and pleased to share a greeting with you. We walked down the river past where people were cleaning shoes for sale. Other people were watering small crops on the riverbank, others burning rubbish. There is so much happening. Across the bridge and into another Malawi/Indian-owned shop which sold all sorts of household goods but they didn't have the cotton batik table mats I wanted. Most shops like that are owned by Malawian Indian families. They are an elite business class here who also own a lot of fast food restaurants like the chicken grills you see near the big supermarket and often drive around in big cars.
So, we ended up in a curios area on the edge of a car park selling all sorts from drums to chess sets, candle holders to paintings. It's the biggest in Lilongwe apparently. There I met King James I who I bought some bracelets from. He was a charming fellow :) Unfortunately didn't find the mats, but was thoroughly pleased with an amazing afternoon of walking through Lilongwe centre. We then walked to get a bus back and I enjoyed my first "Super Maheu" maize milk drink (Strawberry flavour). I felt like the child in front of me on the bus could have done with it as he looked pretty malnourished the poor thing. You forget that in the city, but I'm sure I'll see it a lot more often in the rural areas. Just reading some news today and hunger is expected to be huge this year in certain areas after the poor rains last season. It's a big problem - children shouldn't be growing up without food when we have the means and know-how in the world to prevent it.