The Bar behind Bars

─Hey sister, give me two bottles of green.

The gap between the metal bars are just wide enough for bottles to pass through. 500 kwatcha ($1,5) is exchanged for two bottles of Carlsberg.

─Do you like the Gunners? I like the Gunners, the guy with the Arsenal t-shirt and the two bottles asks as he wanders off with a slight sway, not waiting for any answer.

We are having a drink in Woody woodpecker. The name sounds innocent enough, but the address is slightly nastier. This legendary bottle store is situated in Devil Street. This tiny strip of broken tarmac and dirt isn’t really called Devil Street, but as the three main sources of income here are booze, sex and illegal gambling the name serves it’s purpose: It attracts some people, and scare off others. Most, no to say all, mzungus stay well clear. To us it’s like a magnet. Not because of what they sell here, but because of who it attracts. When white people, or mzungus, are in Africa they spend more time with white people than they do at home. They work, play, eat and drink in an environment that would have made the inventors of apartheid proud.
We came to Malawi to talk to Malawians. Therefore it makes more sense to have drink where the locals meet – despite the warnings given by guidebooks and expats.

It’s only five in the afternoon, but the bottle store has plenty of customers, and so much noise that we bring our brew outside.

─Have a seat, boys. Rodwell Ziyaya (42) and his friends nods towards the two empty chairs lined up outside.

Rodwell is a businessman dealing in Chinese suitcases and lady’s clothes. Business is slow at the moment. Still our new friend is optimistic. In a month the tobacco auctions will start trading again, and as the crop is very good this year things are about to improve. In the meantime drinking seems like a good way to pass time.

─Malawi, Rodwell says with a smile, is a very friendly place, and Devil Street isn’t as bad as they tell you. Just look for yourself.

Some of the pedestrians are definitely not fit for anything but walking right now, still no one is threatening or aggressive. It is afternoon and people are having a drink on their way home from work, just like in any other corner of the world. The bar with bars is neither nice nor cozy. But it has plenty of rugged charm, and a happy crowd.

After all, what more could you possibly ask for than a room with a brew?

64 Responses to “The Bar behind Bars”

  1. Reblogged this on Münchow's Creative Photo Blog and commented:

    My colleague, Oystein, and I are out travelling again. This time it’s to Malawi. As usual we will publish daily post on our blog. The post I will reblog here as well – if you are interested to follow us. Our purpose with this travel is partly to do stories from Malawi and partly to prepare for a workshop we are going to teach here later in April this year. I hope you will enjoy our small glimpses of everyday life in Malawi.

  2. ciao Otto
    wonderful photos
    :-)you are the star.

  3. victoriaaphotography Says:

    Very striking photos, Otto.
    They really convey the everyday life on this street.

  4. Love room with the brew 🙂

  5. Herlige bilder og lesning.
    Ser fram til neste innlegg ; )

  6. You have me listening!

  7. Great post! Great photos! I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  8. Love the photos – looks like fun. 🙂 Room with a brew … funny!

  9. Pat O'Rourke Says:

    Great color in both the photos and commentary. It looks nicer than you have led me to believe. Nice to get a sense of what you are doing.

  10. Beautiful capture of real life.

  11. I started reading this post with a passing interest. After reading the first few sentences my interest piqued. By the time I reached its end I wanted to know more about your time in Malawi. I am sure that there was more to learn from the Malawians after drinks on Devil Street. Yet, the pictures and narration told a story about an average afternoon in an African country through the eyes of two Whites. When traveling I have always sought out the native population in order to get a feel for the country and its culture. Unfortunately being a foreigner in a distant land all too often attracts the wrong type of attention. Your courage and investigative curiosity is something to be admired.

  12. Thanks for the window on Malawi. My husband have not been to that corner of the world. Love the photos.

  13. Geez, I should have proofread my comment – meant to say my husband and I have not been to that corner of the world!

  14. good one, nice shots.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story and giving me a peek into a world I know little about. I’d write more, but you’ve piqued my interest and I’m anxious to google Malawi and learn more. Oh, I love your beautiful photos and although they pop with a black background, the white letters on black hurt my eyes. You might get more older people (like me) to read your blog if you changed the color of the background.

  16. Great pictures! Incredibly amazing. I love the writing too. I like that you went were the guidebook told you not to. 🙂 I respect your courage, and you lived.

  17. so wonderful to have you and your colleague as the tour guide…love that you travel off the beaten path. ♥

  18. Beautifully captured nd well written…
    I too write Blogs..-(
    please read if you get time and post your beloved comments.

  19. Cool blog!!

  20. Must have been a lot of fun! Great photos.

  21. spiralsturn Says:

    Interesting insight

  22. Can’t judge a street by it’s name!

  23. I love that despite the “warnings” you went to Devil Street!

    I live in Republica Dominicana, an expat Canadian, and yes though this country is dangerous, media, hotels, etc, do this country a huge dis-service dissuading people from exploring. The only need to explore smartly! Very few experience the real DR and that is a shame. I daresay the same holds true for much of Africa!

  24. You have made travel to Malawi an art. It seems like there is enough fascinating culture in this particular place in the world to mesmerize all of us. And your photos fit your descriptions – your descriptions fit your photos. Awesome.

  25. Great and deep pictures.. i liked every shot.. good job!

  26. Mirabai Says:

    I love your photos and post! It is so “real” to life! The good, the sleazy, all so closed together – A tightrope walk

  27. […] The Bar Behind Bars: They have bars in prison now?! Isn’t that like sticking a potted plant in a “Lumberjacks Anonymous” meeting? Or a nursery in a “Baby Punter’s Association” club house? […]

  28. I really like your blog and would love you to guest post on my, site. All you have to do is write five suggestions along with a link back to your site. Please check out the blog and see the sort of things people have written about.

  29. Love the photos. They bring the article to life.

  30. So many people fear for their lives in foreign places, yet life goes on, people live and breath. It is nice to have a glimpse into a place where people, real people live. Life happens everywhere, humanity is not contained by borders of bob wire, or skin.

  31. I love that top photo and I love the writing – it is concise and hard-hitting. I love having a drink at local bars. I remember my first minutes in Delhi last year I went into a local dive and drank a couple of beers as locals watched cricket on TV. It was a great introduction to the country.

  32. Love the photos 🙂

  33. Reblogged this on dcharmion and commented:
    nice photos

  34. I love the way in which you capture the interactions in bar and the pictures does tell a story of ordinary people.

  35. Looks like a fun place to find trouble!

  36. Cool story mate! Not sure what you mean by “only 5 in the afternoon” since this seems pretty late to start drinking. But I enjoyed the story very much! Cheers from a place without bars! 😉

  37. This is exactly the type of place I would look for. I’ve always wanted to experience the local’s hangouts over those recommended by a tourist guide. Isn’t it wonderful that a place with such a “dark” reputation has chosen such a bright turquoise colour for it’s bars?

  38. Cool Blog!!

  39. Great blog and great pictures. I will be following.

  40. A room with a brew? Fess up, You’ve worked this post round that last line. 🙂 Just joking, great post.

  41. NIce story mate

  42. northernmalewhite Says:

    A roof and a beer yes.
    Not sure about arsenal though.
    Excellent blog.

  43. Beautiful photos. I love your blog!

  44. Wonderful blog. I agree that we should get out there and see life as it really is, otherwise why bother going to another country in the first place.

  45. Love your pictures. Your writing is gripping too!

  46. Wow, for en tur gutter! Skulle gjerne gjort det samme. Fantastiske bilder og viktig historie. Stå på!

  47. Absolutely LOVE the pictures. Great writing. Thank you!

  48. Hey .. All animals hav to meet at the watering hole to refresh themselves. We’re no different as humans. Especially when therse SEX and gambling there bound to be loads of fun LOL. see u there

  49. Reblogged this on wewillcleanitforyou and commented:
    Hey.. All animals hav to meet at the watering hole to refresh themselves. We’re no different as humans. Especially when therse SEX and gambling there bound to be loads of fun LOL.. see you there.

  50. Some things are just so universal and your great shots have us all there, enjoying the company and the brew. Cheers to you all!

  51. WordsFallFromMyEyes Says:

    I love this, your write-up. The photos too, but just love the commentary.

    When you wrote Malawe – I wondered how that girl is, who survived the terrorist attack directly upon her. Bless her.

    But great observations, poetically simply expressed.

  52. You had quite the trip! I’m envious. 😆

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