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An ever changing city

When I first went to Malawi in 1999 I lived in the capital city Lilongwe. Back then there were only around 300,000 people living within the city limits. This number has now grown to over 1 million. Historically the first settlement in what is now Lilongwe was established in 1902. It wasn’t until 1965 that decisions were made to eventually make Lilongwe the national capital and move all government departments from the then capital of Zomba.

Lilongwe (Old Town) market in 1999 with Irish potatoes and chitengi cloth being sold

There has always been something about Lilongwe that has made it feel small and quiet. There is no bustling city centre. Rather the city has two trading centres. ‘Across the Bridge’ or old town is a traffic heavy, people dense town, with all manners of shops and the central market. In the newly built city centre of 1975 you have a more sleepy, plaza culture where lunches are nestled in the shade of trees and a slower pace to life that gathers around the post office.

My life very much has centred around the new city centre with the SU offices based there. But so much of our shopping in those early days took us across the bridge. At that point (before Shoprite and Game) the only shopping centre was the Nico Centre at the t-junction of the National Bank. It felt so out of place being a two-storey building with turrets and flags! It housed the largest supermarket in the city of that time, the PTC Hyperstore and was beside the Shire Coach Line depot (now where Chipiku and Game can be found).

The Nico Centre in 1999 housing the Nico Insurance offices, Times Bookshop and PTC Hyperstore

Around the corner and across the bridge you came to the old market where shoes and umbrellas could be repaired as well as the purchase of spices, rice, vegetables and fruit. It was always a fun place to visit, with an atmosphere of safety and community. My host in 1999, Rev Malcolm Smith, knew his way around the market like the back of his hand. It always inspired my how he knew names, prices and the quality of good being sold. Although based in Area 12, the Old Town Market and its people were as familiar to him as those in his congregation.

As the city grew and developed other markets sprouted and the traffic around the old market became too busy and so my market purchases were made in the new centres of trade closer to City Centre. But part of me will always be loyal to that strong family of vendor within the wall of the old market, where the charm of market life lives on, even if it has become a standing room only place of commerce in an ever growing city.

Monday Malawi Memories recaptures memories from over 20 years in Malawi. Photos won’t be in chronological order and can be found on the Lilongwe Letters blog, and my FacebookInstagram and Twitter accounts. You can also find them using the hashtag #mondaymalawimemories.

Visit my Instagram page to see the collection of photos memories at You can listen to the sounds of Africa on my playlist. Listen and follow links to music streaming services at

The One Kwacha MTL public phones in Old Town

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