Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Mzuzu Prison, Malawi, 29 July 2004
For our sins four of us are lead through the great double wooden outer gates at Mzuzu Prison. I look up and imagine my clothes and skin ripping on the barbed wire atop the wall should an escape be necessary. Prison guards and wardens show little interest in us new arrivals. Administration procedures over, a steel door clangs open and we enter the inner enclosure. Four small dormitories in the corners sleep several hundred prisoners each and a toilet and shower block in the middle are the focus. The whole place is the size of my old school gymnasium. The white washed walls are a dirty brown and hundreds of inmates dressed in rags moved slowly around or sit in groups. Some are eating, some are shaving, most do nothing. Who is a murderer, who is a rapist, who is a thief, and how long will I have to spend in this place?
An hour or so. Alexander beckons me up front and translates my testimony into Chichewa as we went along. Been on the road 4.5 years, visiting 55 countries covering 189,000km. One objective was to find the truth about all this God business. After all, if one is to believe in a god, and surely there is one, it is important to get the right one right?
The Middle East shows me Islam, and the English language Koran given to me in Tunisia contains a call to go to war. But surely God does not support killing. What about love? Mohammed said God spoke to him in a cave. Are there then no independent witnesses to corroborate any of this? How much of it is down to politics, given the story of Abraham’s two sons?
In India I meet the Dalai Lama. Oh this must be the one for me, it overflows with love and peace. Let’s take a closer look. I see the Buddhist bottom line. You are God. I am God. There is nothing higher. The buck stops with me? Hold on, that’s a little too much responsibility for me. Let’s see, what are the Buddhists actually doing in or for the world, apart from meditating? Interesting lifestyle, but let’s not confuse it with God.
Hinduism scares me. Not the practise of cannibalism, nor the choice of 3000 gods or make your own to fit, neither the support of sickness, nor the promotion of poverty, it’s the scary masks and other regalia that freak me out.
Baha’ism fills me with hope. A religion for all, a one world view, almost a global communism, charitable acts, equality and love. But it came from one man, there is no corroboratory evidence. For me God is divine and if he is giving humanity an important message, like who he really is, surely he would give the message to a few people independently so there can be no doubt.
I reflect on these things as I ride onwards. I feel the hand of protection during the various accidents and civil wars. On the Road of Bones in Siberia I decide to get Jesus Christ and was baptised in Washington State USA. A parallel journey starts. In Africa the last of the rubbish is cast from my life. In Zimbabwe it rains. It is my confirmation. In Malawi I fall in with a band of Pentecostals. We go to prison.
I hope I haven’t upset you too much but we can talk if you want. You gotta do what you gotta do and say what you gotta say.
My feet are feeling good today. A shoe shack in a ramshackle market across the road just exchanged my old boots for a new pair, second hand of course, but real tough paratroop type ones with steel toecaps. The heel supports in the old pair, donated by a gas station in Argentina, had collapsed. These ones should be OK for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro later on.
I emailing from Karonga, the last town in northern Malawi before I head round the top of Lake Malawi to Tanzania. I’ve no Tanzania visa, a mistake, I hope they are available at the border, otherwise it is a long way south to get one or a serious detour via Burundi and Rwanda. I want to go to Zanzibar.
Malawi has been incredible. Although it is in the top ten of the world’s poorest countries, people have donated nearly US$1000 without even being seriously prompted. It’s enough to put everyone else to shame! And that is thanks mainly to Bombay Bazaar in Blantyre and Steel Works in Lilongwe who came in as $300 corporate donators. The rest is from individuals, mainly missionary type people connected to the Pentecostal Churches, who had me along to make my presentations a few times.
Two things really stand out to me here. The first is that I went to a ‘crusade’ by a group of Christian missionaries in the south of the country, at a place called Bangula. Thousands of people attended and there were many healings, like blind people seeing and so on. But the thing that struck me was the level of hunger. I gave a few bunches of bananas away and each time, the bananas were snatched by hungry children in a more violent way. It brought tears to my eyes. Jesus said that any of us could make five bananas feed thousands, but it depends on our faith.
Here’s a guy with faith. I met Johan and Charmaine from Capetown when I was in Zimbabwe. They are riding their BMW motorcycle round the world as a honeymoon, presently heading for the UK sometime over the next year or two. They are members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. They flattened a bicycle in Mozambique and Johan suffered a broken collar bone. He rode on to Malawi with Charmaine operating the clutch from the pillion seat. She had not even noticed that her knee cap was visible through her gashed knee! We met up at the hospital and discussed the universal healing already provided by Jesus according to scripture. I saw Johan’s X ray, there was a great space between the bone halves. But Johan took the scripture to heart. He decided that because Jesus had already taken his infirmity, he had every right to be healed, he claimed it, and he was. Praise God. People have been cured of AIDS/HIV too, I am told, after getting born again, proven with before and after medical tests. So there.
Right, I am off again. Oh wait. Want to know a bit more about Malawi itself? The lake makes up a fifth of the surface area of Malawi and is lovely for swimming in! There are a lot of mountains too. They eat mice (cooked) that are on scewers you can buy them at the side of the road in the south. (I always told myself that I would try one tomorrow.) The people really are among the friendliest I have met. There is a lot of witchcraft and ancestor worship. There are sights of very early missionary work, like Livingstonia on the mountains above the lake. Many slaves came from this area. Tobacco and cotton are main industries. There are plenty of game reserves and national parks.
A special thanks to Pastor Glen, Allan, Le Meridien Mount Soche hotel and many others in Blantyre, Junior and Ivy who are building a Village of Hope orphanage in Lilongwe (AIDS takes a big toll in Malawi and no-one is left to look after the kids), Pastor Roger and Helen in Mzuzu and Namiyashi Resort on Lake Malawi.
Lastly, I forgot to give a mention to Damien, Keith and Kera in Harare who very kindly had me as a guest for the week or so I was there. Thank you.
29 July 1004
Simon Milward, on the road
A solo fundraising round the world ride on a handmade motorcycle.
Supporting Doctors Without Borders, Motorcycle Outreach and democracy.
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