how i learned to love malawi
boh boh!! hi from MALAWI. it’s a great friendly country with a giant lake in it (and even though i have been here for two weeks, i have yet to see it). after treating ourselves to a couple nights camping on a golf course in lilongwe (a free reggae concert included), the family and i headed out in the direction to mvuu camp, within liwonde national park. on our way south, we stopped at a place called dedza after tales of some amazing cheesecake hiding in a cafe near a pottery project/store. hearing about amazing cheesecake is like finding out that there was a rodeo in baltimore or a union protest in st mary’s county. sadly to say there were no cheesecakes for us as the power had been out for a couple days (god was smiting me for some reason), but after a good cup of dark (weak) malawian coffee and some shopping for natural soaps and things, we continued down the hilly and bike-filled roads towards mvuu. ever since our drive through zambia, we started to see more and more bicycles, and by the time we crossed the border into malawi, it seemed like there were 100 bikes for every car on the road. its amazing. not only because they are everywhere, but because how much the people are able to do with them. i have seen FIVE people on one (standard! … actually very cheap and basic) bicycle, with a man pedaling and a woman plus backbabby sitting on the stand over the back tire and on the bar from the seat to handle bar. i’ve also seen what has to be over a hundred pounds of farm products or charcoal on the back stands on these bikes too. and not once have i seen once crash or fall.
anyway, i am staying at mvuu camp much longer than the family to work with a non-profit called ‘help malawi’ (helpchildren.org), which built a school and a health clinic right outside the national park. it was started by wilderness (the safari co’s name) employees and an amazing donor from the states, jillian wolstein. at first i was wary of the project because of it just being another non profit in malawi that is picking up the pieces that the government leaves behind (why do the work and spend the money if silly americans will come and do it for you for free?). much of the international aid in malawi treats malawians as beggars and not much more, which is the furthest thing from the truth. but after i met jillian (and found out she wasn’t from new jersey) and toured the school, i felt right at home and amazed by what these people are doing. helping train a teacher and then provide high-quality teacher aides (which is something unheard of here) to make teacher-student ratios in the standard one (1st grade) come down to 1 to 100 is quite the achievement. and if that is what they are working with, to fight for basic classroom and teacher quality, they deserve all the help they can get.
malawi is by far the poorest country i have seen so far. it has been hard to see and then reflect on what am i giving these people that are making my trip so much fun and exciting, but after spending time with help malawi, i think i am comfortable with my stay. but what do you do when you have easily over thirty kids swarm your car when you stop to have lunch? it’s the uninformed tourist handing things out like money, sweets, or pencils from their cars that has created a culture of swarming muzungus, white people, and when it happens, it can very easily go from being pleasant to being too much to handle very quickly.
-back on topic- so i am here to work with ‘help malawi’ to make a video for them. but really, i am going to be working with a group of the children at the school to make the video (thank you anthropology). we will meet the first day and come up with stories of how the non profit helps them, and then the next day, i will come back and video the kids and make the videos! i am really excited for this, but of course a little nervous of what i am going to get…
i know i’ve said that a lot of this trip can be isolating, and for the first time, i am surrounded by people- even americans! but really, they are the ones i hate talking to the most. there have been two types of americans i have run into… snotty university sutdents (from california) here doing research somewhere locally (‘oh, its a bay at the south end of the lake’…. me: where? …’ sigh- oh you wouldn’t know it’…..i hold back from smacking him with a hot mug of coffee as he defiantly turns away) and modern day oil barons, that lived in texas but now in niger, and are getting out to see more of this whole ‘africa’ that people keep talking about…. but truth be told, i have met a handful of great travelers (including some beautiful canadians with one guy looking like lenny kravitz) and i have got along well with a bunch of the staff, like george, a guide, and rose, my cleaning lady who likes showing up right as i try to poop…
‘hello! …. err… can you come back later?’
-muli bwanji!’ (correcting my hello)
‘–ndiri bwino’ ( fine and you?)
‘i am here to take your laundry’
‘-no, thank you!-no laundry today’
‘–zikomo’ (she corrects my thank you to be in chichewa)
‘zikomo- can you come back later?’
‘………zikomo! basi ndipita!!’ (ok bye bye!)
……… and she slowly shuffles away….
. . . .
ok, this has just gone on for too long.
i hope all is well, and that this whole oil thing in the gulf gets cleaned up real quick.