Monday, May 15, 2006

The Land of Darkness

When the sun sets in Lilongwe, the city disappears. Darkness descends very rapidly and consumes all areas from the busy city centre, to the quieter residential neighbourhoods. This is due to the scarcity of streetlights and the general limitations of power and electricity in Malawi. When my plane was landing, that's one difference i noted as i peered out the plane window in an attempt to take in as much of Africa as i could. Whereas cities in Canada, Europe were distinguishable from the flickering lights lit up like winking stars, what i saw as my plane descended in Nairobi, Lusaka, and finally Lilongwe was Darkness. I was completely unprepared for the consuming Darkness here in the capital of Malawi. It is unlike anything i'd ever seen. How i'd come to take the never ending lights of Toronto for granted. Even in the dead of the night, one can still see some semblance of shadows. But here, in Malawi, one can not even distinguish one's hand waving in front of you, let alone anything else. And yet, that does not stop the locals from trudging precariously close to the street edge as cars made out their outlines only by the high beams - not a very far range. The first night i drove with my uncle (who i forgot to mention in earlier post that i will be residing with for the year as i finish my work in Malawi) i had to blink a few times, and shake my head vigorously in case something had stolen my eyesight. But my sight was fine. It appeared that driving had become quite a risky venture in the Darkness. Imaginings of the car failing in this seemingly unmerciful land strikes terror even in the most well-seasoned traveller. Yuo can only see straight ahead. You can not see right or left. I only know from memory that trees graze the roads with only my imagination filling in the scenes beyond the trees. Heavy, all ecompasing Darkness. Yesterday, as the Darkness set in for the night and i was home alone in the large house in my uncle's large house, the power went out completely. This is a frequent happening here - but it was the first time it had happened in the night. I didnt blink in surprise but i was nevertheless quietly stunned at the heavy darkness. That's when darkness became Darkness. I figured i'd rather sit and wait for the lights to turn back on than begin a futile attempt to venture outside. I suddenly and unfortunately remembered that the door was not locked. hmmm. and then i realized how powerful the imagined thought can be. what an interesting night. I tried laughing out loud to myself - but all that came out was a nervous squawk. Had i even been resourceful enough to note where my uncle kept the candles as soon as i arrived (because surely everyone had candles here in Malawi) i would not have been able to find it in this Darkness. Instead, i tried to amuse myself by trying to make out my waving hands and feet in front of me. nothing. ah well. my hands, my feet, my body had disappeared along with Lilongwe. what a disconcerting thought. oh wait. The housekeeper had quietly and (quickly) come inside (guessing that i was helplessly sitting inside) and expertly lit the candles. The room quickly became awash in gentle light and drove out the Darkness - and revealed my hands, my feet, my body.


Blogger Helenism said...

Sophie- that is so funny that you were waving your hands and feet in front of your face. I can see that image of you basking in idleness so clear in my mind. It only takes a person to be out of their usual surroundings, or be sure that nobody is watching, to act like a child. And being a guest is like being a child all over again - credulity, curiosity, CANDLES?!?!?

I'm sure now after a month of your trip you are getting more and more familiar with the absence of physical light (because we all know Africans are endowed with inner Lightness to guide our way).

this was a great post.

5:33 AM  

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