This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellow's own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In Mourning of a huge loss...

Earlier today, I received a huge shock. My former Domasi College student and good friend Gillo Moyo (pictured at left with her her family and husband Mac) passed away of Malaria on May 26. Mac wrote in an e-mail that she was only sick for 4 days. I can say no more than to express my extreme sorrow at how much the world will miss this amazing person as a beloved teacher, mother, auntie, sister, daughter, and friend. She was only 42, and was taking care not only of her children, but some nieces and nephews as well. Many people relied on her for love and support, which only multiplies the grief resulting from her sudden departure from this Earth.

This posting is in memory of Gillo, who graciously and generously invited Deliwe and me into her home just more than a year ago. I cannot believe she really is gone from this world.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The prodigal daughter returns home...in true Malawi roller-coaster style...

I know this is way past-due, but I'm finally logging on to give an update on my whereabouts. No, I am no longer in Malawi. I returned this past week Monday, 9 June, and since then have been pondering how to continue my entries now that I'm back, especially since I still haven't finished telling the stories of events prior to my departure on 8 June. It appears I'll have to rewind at least a few times in order to do so.

For now, I'll start with my reflections on my journey back home. Coming back in itself was relatively uneventful (well, by Malawi standards, that is...). Deliwe and I managed to get the house cleaned up and packed in one night and one morning (well, she did most of the work, I admit...). In the couple of days that preceded my departure, a few colleagues and neighbors came over to check out the 'loot' I needed to get rid of prior to moving out. This, I must admit, was tinged with a bit of irony, as it truly was the only time anyone had come to my home to offer me money. As crass as this may sound, it was often the opposite. Sometimes salespeople, sometimes beggars--but primarily I tended to be at the giving end, so it was nice to be at the receiving end for a change. Not only that, but several people (including Deliwe herself), insisted on giving me gifts before I left. This of course was nice, but meant more things to pack as well. See below for details on the packing. Out with the old, in with the new. The key is to leave just about everything you brought with you behind. Which I did. Luckily, without much difficulty, and with people more than happy to take it all off my hands.

After selling a few small things--computer speakers, headphones, power strips, fan, electric kettle, and not much else-- I proceeded to go through what was left and decide what to keep and what to leave with Deliwe and her family. The good news is that I discovered (starting in December) that I'd lost quite a bit of weight in Malawi, so most of my trousers no longer fit. Since tailoring is relatively cheap and readily available in Malawi, I left most of my trousers, as well as a few shirts, with Deliwe. This, of course, opened up quite a bit of space in my bag, which proved necessary for fitting in all of the wooden carvings I'd picked up on Zomba Mtn. the day before--on a sidenote, I'd promised the vendors there the week prior that I'd be back to buy a few things... let's just say the word 'few' turned out to be quite a liberal term in this case.

So, once I'd cleared out the closet of unwanted 'fat' clothes, I set about the task of wrapping my new goods in the remainder of the clothing and stuffing them into my 2 big bags. Oila! Amazingly, everything fit! It was as if I'd both acquired and discarded the optimum number of belongings to perfectly fit. A good omen? Perhaps, but remember. This is Malawi... 'n Me.

The following morning, we got everything together in a liesurely way, set out to leave at 11 a.m. with Flocy, the wife of Dr. Maseko (who purchased my car), along with her 4-year-old son and her niece. In the meantime, a few people dropped by to say goodbye, as well as to finish collecting the 'loot' they'd claimed and/or put down-payments on the night before. The goodbyes that touched me most were from Movuto, Deliwe's brother (who also helped to collect all of Deliwe's loot which also required the assistance of 2 of his strongest friends), Deliwe's mother, who thanked me for helping to purchase metal roofing for her new house, scheduled for completion in August, and, last but not least, Harold's kids Noel, Pacharo, and Miracle. Upon my request, Dorothy had brought them around in the morning to say goodbye to me. Giving each of them a final hug and kiss really brought a few tears to my eyes. That was a tough one.

**(On a sidenote, the last I heard through the Domasi rumor mill, Harold had another visit to the police station after going to Dorothy's mother's house drunk, violent and ridiculous again, just shy of a week before my departure. Luckily, her mother's landlord was able to restrain him and take him to the police station for his 3rd appearance in a little over a month. Rumor had it back then that he might go to prison. However, after talking with Deliwe this past week, it sounds like that never happened, and that he and Dorothy may have gotten back together in the week since I left. I sincerely hope this is not true. Still checkin... will have to check again and save that news for a later post...)

Once that was done, off we went. My only real goodbye to Domasi College was to ride off in the car, laying on the horn in a very obnoxious way. I loathe long, teary goodbyes, so this was the best alternative, and it somehow worked for all of us, as we got a good laugh out of it. Not sure how the Domasi residents felt about the whole thing, but we had giddy smiles on our faces, anyway.

The 3-to-4 hour drive to Lilongwe went relatively well. The 'police barricade' gods were on our side that day, as I was not stopped once during the entire trip (which is almost unheard of). I was especially concerned about possibly being stopped since the car insurance seal prominently displayed on the dashboard (per Malawi traffic law) was under Flocy's name, since mine had expired at the end of May. Considering I'd been on the traffic cop radar enough to start my own 'Mzungu in Malawi' version of the U.S. show 'Cops' based solely on my own traffic cop stops (rhyme intended), this was amazingly good luck beyond all imagination.

So, after the dreaded police roadblock in Balaka (usually the most intimidating one with officers ready to get you for any little offence they can drum up), sitting in the car, singin along to Lucius Banda on the cassette player, enjoyin the sunshine and warm breeze through the open windows, we were all thinkin nothin could stop us now.

And then it happened.

The kid.

Woke up.

Wet trousers.

Confused expression.

Panicked mother.

Wet car seat.

Panicked Jen.

But wait! It's not my car anymore!

Relaxed (but a bit grossed out) Jen.

"Why did he wet his pants? Isn't he potty-trained?" (Again, the kid's 4 years old.)

"He was shy. He didn't want to ask you to stop the car," was the response.

"But couldn't he ask you? Then you could've asked me."

"I think it's because he was sleeping."

"OK, then we should stop soon."

So, we did, soon after that. Luckily, Flocy was prepared with clean, dry clothes in the trunk, and somehow there wasn't a major odor, nor a visible stain on the upholstery. Again, at that point, I didn't care. The car was sold. Paid for. Money in my U.S. Bank acct. Woo hoo!

After buying a few oranges, cokes, and some samosas, we were on the road again.

That was our only incident. Not too bad. The next time, the boy asked, and then shamelessly relieved himself the true Malawian way. At the side of the highway, out in the open, for all to see and admire. All (o.k., maybe just most) Malawian men relieve themselves this way. One thing I will not miss, and do not miss. (Though around here, out in the sticks, it can also happen once in awhile, unfortunately...)

Stay tuned for the 'what I miss' and 'what I don't miss' about Malawi list to come in a later post...

We eventually made it to Lilongwe, said our goodbyes to Flocy and the car, and lugged my oppressively heavy bags up the stairs to our room (with a lotta help from a member of the hotel staff, whom I made sure to thank with a generous tip).

Since there were no standard rooms available when I finally remembered to book the hotel room the day before, we had a luxurious 'executive suite' room, complete with a couch and one of those big, round pompadon (sp??) chairs. Due to exhaustion, Deliwe and I just plopped down in the furniture in front of the T.V. You'll never guess what was on. Ya, you got it...'Idol' -- Like 'American Idol,' but the Southern Africa version. Unfortunately, I knew enough about the show back home to explain the formula to Deliwe. She found it fascinating, of course.

Actually, the T.V.-watching was just a way to pass the time while waiting for a few veterinary surgeons to meet with us to discuss the Penga case. Ya, amazingly (and contrary to the erroneous pessimism of a certain ex-pat Puerto Rican person I once knew in Malawi claiming to have a law background), these guys really seem to be taking my vet malpractice case very seriously. They actually came to the hotel to meet with me on my last night in Malawi, discussed my case further, and expressed their deep concern over how my experience has affected the reputation of their profession in Malawi. They really seemed genuinely concerned, and promised to do everything in their power to make sure the case was handled professionally, seriously, and thoroughly.

For now, I'll leave it at that. I'm waiting for a final decision at the end of this week. Again, I implore all those following this story to send good vibes, pray, meditate, and do whatever you can to summon the forces of the universe to bring this man (the Zomba butcher---er, I mean 'vet') to justice. Let's just say I did everything in my power to report his incompetence, unprofessionalism, and lack of compassion to light. Our meeting on 7 June also bore much fruit in terms of conflicting stories exposing his blatant dishonesty. Again, watch for details later, once I've received a conclusion later this week. For now, I'll leave it at that, just in case something written here could compromise the investigation and deliberation of the case.

So, after our chat with the vet surgeons, Deliwe and I were off to our usual Indian restaurant for some food, then back to the room to watch a little T.V. (British 'survival' show this time... I was the one who stayed awake for that...). Deliwe, as usual, was 'out' by 10 p.m.

The next morning was very difficult, as I woke up to the sound of Deliwe trying to stifle her sobbing. Though I'd expected a teary goodbye at the airport, I hadn't expected for it to start so soon. It turned out to be a rough morning for both of us. Luckily, we'd planned things well enough that we were able to spend some time together, and try to enjoy the morning prior to our trip to the airport.

After breakfast and a bit of haggling at the (last-minute) Lilongwe 'curios' market, we headed to the airport with our taxi driver Billy, who not only was willing to drive us there for a reasonable fare, but also agreed to bring Deliwe back to the city after seeing me off, at no extra charge, since he also had a pick-up at the airport about an hour after I checked in. This was an extra bit of luck.

Was all this good luck too good to be true? No police stops, the apparently fruitful meeting with the vet surgeons, the generous cab driver? Ya, my pessimistic side started to wonder... somethin's gotta give...

And then it happened. "Your bags are too heavy, and you have three. You'll have to pay an over-baggage fee."

"How much?"

"116 U.S. dollars." (if memory serves)

"Can I pay with a credit card?"

"No. You must pay cash."

"Where can I get cash?"

"There's an ATM near the National Bank counter, over there (points to my right)."

"O.K. Can I go get the money and come back?"

"Yes. I'll return your passport to you once you've returned with the payment."

So, I calmly proceed to the ATM, only to find that it's a National Bank ATM, which means it will only accept cards with a 'Visa' logo. Mine is a Master Card. I then proceed to the National Bank counter, and am told they cannot help me access the money. I have no way to get the cash I need to pay the fee.

Now, not so calmly, I go back to the counter, explain everything to the nice lady there, and ask if I can pay 1/2 of the fee in Lilongwe, and the other 1/2 in Johannesburg (my next stopover).

"No, you can't do that." Ya, I should've known.

"Can I carry one of the bags?"

"You could carry the small one."

"I can carry on 3 bags?" (I already had my laptop and a shoulder bag).

"Yes, that's fine."

"And not pay the fee?"

"Yes." (which means 'No' in a tag question in Malawian English--if you're confused, then you're reading it right)

"Thank you so much!"

Whew... crisis averted. Time for teary goodbye. I'll spare the details of that one. It was very very hard. I'll miss Deliwe a lot. And not just the cooking and cleaning. She became, and will always be, my very best friend in Malawi. Full stop. (another of my favorite British expressions).

So, I get through security (again feeling panicked as I realized ALL my toiletries were in the small backpack I'd just retrieved, and back home they'd all be chucked in the bin-- ironically, they made it through in Jo-burg as well). When I arrived at JFK, South African Airways checked the small backpack in for me, free of charge. Ya, good travel spirits were with me that weekend.

The flight between Johannesburg and JFK (New York) was very interesting as well, as I ended up sitting right next to a woman named Gift, the librarian from the Public Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe. Though we'd only met a couple of times, it was quite a coincidence. What a small world! Same flight, huge jumbo jet, and there we were, seated right next to one another. Imagine the odds. She was also on the same flight from JFK to D.C. Small world... smaller 'n smaller every day...

The only other event worth reporting is that, despite the fact that all travel went smoothly after the over-baggage fee scare, the last leg of the journey had its little kinks... at first it looked like it was going to be delayed, but then it departed very close to the originally-scheduled time. Of course, since I live in a small town in upstate New York, it was a small puddle-jumpin propeller plane. I hate those... bumpy, scary landing, but we all white-knuckled it and survived.

When we arrived at the airport in Binghamton, NY (about an hour from where I live), we discovered that although we made it in one piece, our luggage did not make it at all. Ya, travel spirits... with ya one second, gone the next. Luckily, only 4 out of the total 10 or so people on the flight had checked luggage, so it didn't take too long to report it (once the baggage handlers/ground crew/ticket agents--ya, they do it all in these dinky aiports-- came back in from the tarmack).

The next day (Tues., 10 June), one of the very same baggage handlers/ground crew/ticket agents delivered my 3 bags in his own vehicle. Whew! Travel spirits returned... Amazingly, all my goods were basically intact. Only the legs to my new chess/end table broke, and I was missing two small paintings (Word to the wise going to or leaving Africa-- bring anything small 'n valuable along in your carry-on-- I shoulda known better). All the big, heavy stuff was still there, so not bad. And that bag had a lock on it. Definitely an 'inside job.'

So, all-in-all, my return was not unlike my Malawi experience. Full of surprises, never a dull moment, and quite a roller-coaster. Overloaded with cliches 'n metaphors? Perhaps. But that's Malawi. And Me.

Don't worry, this is not the end. More stories to come, and the "Things I "miss" 'n "Things I don't miss" lists. And, of course, some pix 'n videos. I think I can get all of them up from here, with my boyfriend's super-duper-speedy internet connection (one of several amazing revelations upon my return). But don't expect it all right away. Tomorrow's my birthday (well, actually today--it's after midnight here), and I'll be in New York City until Wed. night. Ya, goin to see 'Spamelot' (Finally!) on Broadway Tues. evening. A bit worried (no, a LOT worried) about the sensory overload. Not sure I'm ready yet. Wish me luck.

You know what that means... Tiwonana for now!

Monday, May 26, 2008

A bloody gooduglygreat launch!

Now that a few days have passed since the much-anticipated launch of the Children's Reading Room at Village to Village Orphanage (Thurs. 22 May), I finally have the will, strength, and courage to write about it here. Let's just say it was one of the up-and-down days, which basically started good, then got a bit ugly, but ended great.

Let's start with the good:

After the initial shock which took place on Tues. after returning from my Zambia trip and realizing at least half of the Domasi College staff had not received invitations to the launch (followed by my usual reactions of shock, panic, and frustration), I had resolved to just distribute extra invitations and then make a flier to post around campus, most of which were printed/posted on Tues. & Wed. (ooh, this sounds like a 'bad' not a 'good' --- just settin' up the 'good'). I also spent a lot of time explaining that I was not the person in charge of sending the invites. That was being handled by other parties in another office, which shall go unnamed for obvious reasons.

My own word-of-mouth and posting campaign seemed to bear more fruit than the aforementioned (I hardly ever get to use that word, so had to find an excuse, but not sure if I'm using it correctly) traditional printed invitation delivering campaign attempted in conjunction with that other entity that will remain a secret. In the end, it seemed most of my colleagues at Domasi College would be present at the launch. So, things were looking good by Thurs. morning (i.e. the morning of the launch). Ya, this is now the good part.

As a result of my own informal word-of-mouth, flier posting, e-mailing, and shouting (he he just checkin if you're still readin--only a little shouting) campaign, in conjunction with arranging the details for food, drinks, site-readiness, and the like, I woke up on Thursday morning (i.e. launch day), feeling good. Am I overusing that very vague adjective? Well, o.k. Confident. Enthusiastic. Relaxed. Maybe too relaxed, as I realized a bit later. This leads me to the 'ugly' bit.

The ugly bit:

After waking up (ya, that's always ugly), I needed to meet with the general office manager (name censored) at about 8:00 a.m. I arrived not-so-promptly at about 8:15 a.m. The reason for the visit was to discuss the purchase of petrol (actually, diesel) fuel for the large flatbed truck (allegedly suffering from an empty fuel tank) to deliver chairs for the launch event to the orphanage site, which is about 1.5 km. away from Domasi College. The college was kind enough to let me borrow about 100 chairs for the event, but asked me to provide fuel for the truck, to which I agreed. I met with said manager (or is that aforementioned? ;-) to discuss the amount of fuel I needed to buy, and that person suggested it should be 5 litres to go a total of 3 km. (to the site and back), to which I agreed.

I had a few small items to take care of in my office, and this manager then said they'd leave the 5-litre bottle at the Porter's Lodge (like 'reception' or 'lobby' back home, but outside). I later went to pick it up, and checked with the drivers to make sure it'd be enough. At first they scoffed a bit, but then when I reminded them I was buying the fuel only for transporting chairs 1.5 km. each way, they agreed that 5 litres would be fine. o.k. good.

So, off I went to Zomba to run this little errand. Since I was short on cash, I needed to stop at the bank to withdraw money from the ATM, after which I did my usual errand of buying pre-paid Celtel cell-phone cards from the lovely young ladies selling them just outside the bank property (since they're not allowed legally to sell them on bank grounds, though they usually wander in anyway...).

After buying a ridiculous amount of cellphone units since my ground phone hasn't worked for months due to phone-line thieves (won't go there now), something very strange happened. I was walking on the pathway through the lush, overly-tended garden and lawn (the only place I've ever seen a sprinkler here) in front of the bank, when an older man (maybe in his 60's) pointed at me, yelling, "What nationality are you??!!" in a very accusatory tone. Of course, I gave him that shocked, annoyed, 'Jennifer' look (those who know me well also know it well), and kept walking. He then said (in the same tone), "Are you British?" Oh, how could he accuse me of such a crime? British? Bloody Hell!! (That was for you, Tim... just to see if you're actually readin' this 'ugly American' tripe... ;-) By this point, I'd passed him, so I looked back, and calmly said, "No, I'm just me..."

I think that's when it happened. What's 'it', you ask? Keep readin...

So, I calmly walked to my car, and drove on to the BP filling station. Once I arrived, I realized that I wasn't sure whether to buy 'petrol' (bloody brit term for gas) or diesel (luckily we 'yanks' use the same word)... So, I reached for my phone, and Sh--! It wasn't there. Not in my pocket, not in my purse, not under the car seat or in the car door. Gone. At home? I was pretty sure not, but not absolutely sure. Soon after that, I filled the bloody 5-litre bottle with diesel (at that point I didn't care anymore), and headed back to DCE. This is where it got REALLY ugly.

The REALLY ugly part:

After obsessing during the entire 20-25 min. drive back to Domasi as to whether I'd left the phone at home or not, I turn onto the small road to campus, and while approaching the gate, what do I see??? No, I didn't just see that. Was that a white pick-up truck loaded with chairs for the launch, headed in the direction of the orphanage? No, it couldn't be. I'm just hallucinating. This can't be right.

Oh, no--- no hallucination. After a short trip home to check for my phone and not finding it (ya, that strange, angry, nationality-interrogation man was the decoy for the pickpocketer -- is that a word?---). AAARGH! So, there I was, getting ready for the biggest event of my stay here, with no phone, basically due to a trip to Zomba to buy fuel that apparently was NOT needed in the first place!! Grrrrrr....

Oh, ya... It was not a pretty scene... After finding a certain colleague to help me call my phone to confirm it was really lost (lovely, calm female British-accented voice saying, "I'm sorry, the number you've dialed cannot be reached at the moment. Please try again later...") For those unseasoned cellphone owners in Malawi, if you've misplaced your phone, and you manage to call your number and get this answer, it's gone. It means someone has taken the 'sim-card' from the inside of the phone and plans to use it or sell it. Say goodbye. Forever. But, I did get my revenge later. Keep readin...

So, back to the whole diesel-buyin thing... I proceeded back to the general office where I was told by the anonymous manager mentioned before that the bottle of diesel I was delivering was actually 'replacement fuel,' and that it would be put into the college bus to transport staff to the event. Very upset about this (not because I'm against transporting people, but because of the blantant and shameless deception of it all), I stormed into the transportation officer's office to confirm. This person also very calmly told me that the purpose of my trip to Zomba to buy this bottle of gas (and lose my phone in the process) was to buy 'replacement fuel' to transport staff to the event. He'd even told staff members (who were perfectly capable, willing, and fully intending to walk, as they assured me later) that I had 'arranged for the bus' to transport them to the event.

Now, I don't want to sound like a callous, uncaring person who feels that transporting chairs is more important than transporting people. The problem here is principle. I was told that the chairs could not be transported without fuel. Then, as I'm returning from purchasing said fuel, I see 1 of at least 2 pick-up trucks transporting chairs to the site. Then, I'm told that the fuel I bought will be used to transport people to the event, most of whom were able and willing to walk. Remember, it's only 1.5 km (about 1 mile) away. The managers in question, instead of just asking me whether I'd be willing to arrange for transport of staff, essentially 'duped' me into doing this, while certainly using more fuel for the combined transport of the chairs and people than they ever would have used for just the chairs. In the end, I was deceived, and the college ended up with less fuel for their vehicles than they had when this whole scheme had started. Not only was it sneaky and downright deceptive, but it was completely illogical. Ugly. Very, very ugly.

From there, things could only go up, right? Well, sort of... I proceeded to accept the situation, forced myself to calm down, remember the reasons for the event, and be thankful that enough of my colleagues wanted to come that they could actually fill a bus. That was pretty cool. Not only that, but I learned of a scheme to find the pricks who took my phone, or to at least find my phone. Focus on the positive. Silver lining. Puppies. Kitties. Deep breaths. In, out, in, out...

But, not to the 'great' ending yet. After changing into my dress-up clothes (featuring a new traditional Malawian-style blouse just tailored a few days prior), I headed down to the kitchen to pick up the cooks, 300 samosas, and about 180 bottled sodas (minerals, as they refer to them here...not sure why... are there minerals in coke? fanta? sprite? Is that a dumb question? Probably, but anyway...).

Ironically, at this point I was thinkin happy thoughts... nothing more could go wrong now, could it? Ha!

I arrived at the previously-arranged time of 1:00 p.m. (earlier that day when I had a phone), outside the kitchen gate, to find nobody. No food. No minerals (except maybe the iron gate). And, of course, I had no phone to call anyone. Panic started to set in, but I was running out of energy for that. I just tried to calmly look for someone, and luckily someone was around who helped me find the head cook, who told me he had no cloth to cover the samosas because his boss was not there. I'm not sure what the boss had to do with the covering cloths. Maybe they're very valuable and he keeps them in a safe somewhere. I couldn't be bothered with wondering why. Right after I headed to the trunk of my car to retrieve the windshield sun-shade to use as a cover, the head cook produced some for me. At that point, I didn't care where they'd come from or how... I just said, "ok, let's get in the car."

But oh, the minerals. Iron, zinc, copper... or was it fantas, cokes, and sprites? At this point, I didn't care anymore. But of course nothing had been retrieved from the cooler prior to my arrival (btw, showtime was 2:30 p.m., and it was approaching quickly). More time. More energy. Head cook runs somewhere to get a key. To open the gate. To open the kitchen (they had cooked in a different kitchen--the main one has no functioning stove... ya, that makes sense.). Mad rush to the cooler. Take out 8 crates of minerals. Pack in car. Everyone gets in. Samosas on laps. Off we go. Puppies. Kitties. Deep Breaths.

Once we got to the site, things were looking better, but still needed a bit of 'Jenniferizing"-- hey, I like that new-fangled-ego-crazed-verb... I wanted the event to be outside. Alfred (Village to Village Director) wanted it inside. He won. But, I got to change the direction of the chairs so they faced a better-lighted area. The 'inside' was a great hall (i.e. auditorium) that is quite dark and a bit dingy. Which is why I wanted to do things outside. But, the outside area was a bit too sunny, dusty, and informal for the big chiefs (traditional authorities) and other V.I.P's, so we had to hold the event in the dark. People who know me know I hate dark, dank, closed-in, inside places. I prefer open, airy, sunny, or, better yet, outside. Oh, well. I lost that battle, but in the end, things did get better. OK, the great part now.

The GREAT part:

The event went almost without a hitch. A good 120 or so people came, most from Domasi College (on the Jennifer-catered bus, of course), and many from the surrounding community, including some of my colleagues from Chanco. The two public affairs officers from Lilongwe (the capital) appeared impressed at what they saw, as did everyone else. There were speeches given by Alfred, myself (and I didn't totally screw it up, though my jokes pretty much fell flat--I'm blaming cultural difference and formal decorum for that), one of the chiefs, Public Affairs Officer John Warner (who, I must say, was very complimentary of the project and my efforts. Nice when that happens from someone in authority. Can be a rare occurrance, and DCE Principal Dr. Chakwera, who also was very complimentary and so gracious to agree to be our guest of honor at relatively short-notice a week and 1/2 prior to the event.

The reading room was toured by all, and all appeared impressed. Samosas were gobbled. Minerals were chugged. Faces were covered with smiles. Ya, it was a great event, with a happy ending. Except for my own cultural fau pauxes (AH! How do you spell that?), including asking everyone to get up and get something to eat in bloody yank style when I guess it's not appropriate to do so before the chiefs (decorum just makes me so bloody uncomfortable), it all went almost without a hitch. I was the only hitch. But I'm a Mzungu, so everyone here seems to have more patience with me. At least it appears that way most of the time.

And, it gets better. After it was all over, I dropped off the cooks, the empty bottles, and trays, and rushed to Zomba to see if I could report my stolen phone. Amazingly, the Celtel store was still open after 5 p.m., the ladies were very nice and told me what to do (had to get a search warrant from my buddies at the Zomba Police Station the next day--they know me by name now... lucky me!)-- not only that, but I was able to buy a new sim-card with the same phone number. However, since I'm leaving Malawi soon, I hesitated to buy a new phone, hoping to find a good used one or to borrow one.

Right after leaving the store, the most amazing thing happened. I went to visit my friend Dr. Maseko (who's also buying my car) to discuss the car purchase, told him about the lost phone, and he offered to let me borrow one of his 'extra' phones until I leave Malawi!

Now, that's a GREAT ending, eh? Aren't you glad you actually made it to the end? Same phone number, borrowed phone, most of my saved contacts replaced, all's well that ends well, or so they say.

After that up 'n down marathon, I'd better save Zambia for the next post. Thanks for comin along for the ride (again) on M'n M! ;-) Tiwonana!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back from Zambia, head spinnin...

So, it's about one week and one day after my last post, and I'm alive to tell the tale... I had a fabulous trip, both in Lilongwe and at South Luongwa National Park in Zambia. Of course, it was a much-needed respite from the craziness that had been going on here in Domasi a couple of days prior to my escape.

For those who are wondering about the condition of things at my home, luckily Harold has not returned. However, Dorothy has continued to stay on the property with her young daughter Miracle. Her sons have been staying with her mother. Today, we talked about the situation, and it looks like she'll be moving in with her mother soon, while also working on building a house in her mother's village. Right now, Dorothy and her family are saying that Harold is no longer welcome in the family, and they are supporting an official divorce. For Dorothy's sake, I hope that this will be the case. She seems to have some good support in her family members, and I think they will take good care to make sure she and the kids are safe and healthy. I've also done my part to help her succeed as she ventures out on her own, the details of which I'll keep to myself. Let's just say with Deliwe's wise advice, we found a way to help Dorothy without also assisting her violent alcoholic husband in the process. Through Deliwe, I hope to also receive updates on how the family is doing after they go (and also after I leave Malawi), and of course, I do expect them to come around and visit while I'm still here (up to June 1, though I'm still waiting for a confirmed travel itinerary--more on that later).

Back to the story of my week away: My first night was spent in Lilongwe, catching up with Kate and her boyfriend, and meeting up with a few new people as well. I didn't realize at first how much I needed that kind of escape... just being around other foreign visitors (all I met were much shorter-term than myself), and sharing stories of African travel and overseas living experiences. It really helped to get my mind off of the upsetting events I had just experienced here.

The coolest (and, of course, most ironic) aspect of it all was the fact that I met some of the most interesting, friendly, engaging people I've met so far since I've come to this country (both in Lilongwe and during my stay in Zambia)... funny how that always happens when you're about to leave a place.

For now, I'll save the detailed stories and pix from my trip, but hopefully those will be posted by Friday. Right now, I'm very busy planning our official launch event for the Children's Reading Room Project at Village to Village Orphanage which takes place tomorrow afternoon (22 May)--which also is the reason my head is spinnin' (not to mention the fact that time is running out for all the other things I have to do--but I'll worry 'bout that stuff later).

Most of the major planning work is finished, so now I just have to do the hard part... get presentable and then present, without letting my usual stage fright turn me into a bumbling idiot... wish me luck on that! (A sidenote-- I even had a traditional Malawian dress made to wear at the occasion... had to have some things adjusted, and will go home to try it on soon...I'm a bit nervous 'bout that)

As a quick update, the Reading Room project is now up and running, and doing quite well! We officially opened on Thurs. 8 May, and are keeping regular open hours of 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. We chose 8 May as our opening date because it was just 2 days after receiving a HUGE shipment of books from Florida, sent by the amazingly generous book donations of the students from Pine Ridge Middle School!! Because of the hundreds of books they sent (a total of 12 'M' bags from the U.S. Postal Service, if I remember the number correctly), our shelves were full of books for kids of all reading levels, and we were then able to open our doors (though it did take us another full day to finish stocking the books and finalizing volunteer staff).

We have a great staff of 6 volunteers: 2 adults, including one retired primary school teacher (Mr. Chawanda-- watch for pix of him later), one volunteer teacher at Village to Village Secondary School, and 4 teenage secondary school students (one of which is Deliwe's brother Movuto, who has been a great help before and during our opening). Right now, all of our volunteers are men/boys, so we're still looking for some women/girls to help us out as well.

Of course, I've visited the Reading Room several times since we opened the doors, and things are going very well. At times, I've had to summon up (and also suppress) my 'German side' which wants to keep the books perfectly tidy at all times, but in the process, I've also managed to help instill the importance of taking care of the space and the books to the kids, which is part of this whole process. Let's just say when I came in one day to a disorderly pile of books on the bottom shelf (also the most popular shelf, as it's got the more basic-level English story books), I made sure to leave it there for the kids to straighten up, after my German side gave them a firm, but gentle reminder of how to leave the place the way they found it-- don't worry, no hitting or screaming involved... I'd had quite enough of that by last week Monday (Which is when I gave the 'the talk').

What I love about these kids the most, though, is that after I gave them 'the talk', they were very eager to clean everything up, and have since done an impressive job of taking care of their new library. They're fast learners, and very eager to please. The best part is that they're really loving their new place, and I can see the joy it is bringing them, as well as the appreciation of the community members who really seem to see the potential the reading room holds for improving literacy education in this region.

So, tomorrow we show off our hard work to the world (well, our world here in Domasi, anyway). I'll be sure to give a full report of that, as well as my escape to Lilongwe/Zambia, and of course, the pictures to go along with it all...

Tiwonana (maybe mawa)!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Much-needed escape to Zambia

Hello, again. This is intended to be a quick post to let everyone know that I'm alive and in one piece, somewhat against the odds after the ordeal I had Sunday night with the Gardener. Without giving all the ugly details, let's just say he went too far this time. How? Let me count the ways:

1) He got drunk again, less than a week after his 'sincere' promise to quit drinking after last weekend's incident.

2) He chased and violently threatened his wife into my home.

3) He chased and threatened Deliwe and I inside my home.

4) He did all of these things in front of his two sons (again, for the 2nd time in a week), whom I had to 'shelter' in my bedroom during an hour-long ordeal).

5) When I managed to get him out of the house, he harrassed us by yelling into the windows about how his wife Dorothy was 'a prostitute,' cheating on him with his best friend, and that somehow Deliwe was involved in this (clearly a bunch of nonsense induced by strong homemade liquor, a vivid imagination, and maybe some other substances--very strange, disturbing, and scary).

I managed to contact Mr. Banda (Housing Director) in the midst of all this, who brought a driver and security guard to restrain Harold and take him to the Police Station. The following morning (Monday 12 May), Deliwe, Dorothy, Harold's 'accused' friend, and I went to the police station and filed reports. I'll try to tell more about that experience in a later post. It was very interesting in many ways.

Oh, ya, I almost forgot-- after Harold was taken in, we realized his young daughter Miracle was locked inside his house and there was no key. We had to go to the police station to try to get it from him (as he had locked the door somehow during his rage--before I'd come home from the office), but he didn't have it. We ended up having to get a DCE driver to wake up the carpenter at around 11:30 p.m. to come and break into the house (since there's no spare key). Of course, Dorothy found the key in their bathroom the next morning... apparently they'd forgotten to look there the night before...

As far as I know, Harold is still in police custody. He no longer works for me, nor is he allowed on my property. Mr. Banda also plans to make sure he does not work for any DCE staff on campus again.

Needless to say, the entire thing was not only traumatic, but incredibly embarrassing for the public nuisance it caused. Please wish all of us luck in dealing with the aftermath, and in our hopes that Harold indeed stays away. We do have security guards on campus whom Mr. Banda has requested pay special attention to our property for the remainder of my stay here.

The sad thing is the kids. I'll really miss them, and I'm worried sick about them. For now, Dorothy will be staying with her mother, but likely Harold will join her again before long, and the cycle is likely to continue. For their (the kids' and Dorothy's) sake, I hope something gets done about it. Again, more later on the futility of this wish on my part.

For now, the good news is that I'm leaving town for a few days, headed to Lilongwe and then to Zambia for a quick safari ending Sunday, 18 May. I think I mentioned this in my last post. During this time, please send good vibes our way for safety for Deliwe (she'll have some friends over while I'm gone, plus our trusty guard dogs borrowed from the next door neighbor), as well as a safe journey for me.

I may try to post once more before I go, but just in case, Tiwonana next week! (hopefully still in one piece)...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

Hey! Are you all still there? The faithful? The Loyal? The not-so-faithful, nor not-so-loyal? Well, I'm still here... in Malawi, that is... Hoping to get back in the swing of the bloggin' thing soon, as finally I'm almost myself again.

Now, it's down to about 3-4 weeks left here (still waitin for official itinerary, which is the reason for the non-committal (is that a word?) time frame... Not that I'm countin the days or anything, but I must say I have my moments... the good, the o.k., and the not-so-good. Or, shall we say, the good, the bad, and the ugly... Ya, I like that. In fact, I'll make it my title now (writing title, already written by the time you see this). Ya, it's a borrowed cliche from an old Clint Eastwood western (if I'm not mistaken), but a good one for this post...

So, here it is, my life here, as of late... I'll start with the good:


I had a really cool visitor come to see me most of the week right after we lost Penga. Her name is Kate, and she's here on a short-term project with the UNDP (United Nations Development Program, for the international-organization-acronym challenged). Luckily, she'd been working with the USDOS (U.S. Dept. of State, for the U.S. Govt.-acronym challenged) when she'd decided to take on this small project, and they told her about me, saying something like, "I think we have an English Language Fellow posted in Malawi." (A good --well, decent-- joke about the USDOS has been recently censored here due to sensitive nature of subject and certain people formerly and currently being paid by them-- I'll just leave the last part in, and you can try to figure out the rest). Last part of censored joke: Could explain why our country's foreign policy is a complete disaster (well, besides that guy in the White House, but don't get me started)...

Eventually, Kate got my contact info, e-mailed me before coming over, and also called me when she arrived in early April. After a short stay in Blantyre, she came to the Zomba region for her research and stayed with Deliwe and I. During her stay, we had a great time, just chatting and enjoying some of the tourist attractions of the area, including Liwonde National Park (where we actually stayed at the fancy Mvuu Camp Deliwe and I wandered into during our first visit there in Oct. '07-- we also had a GREAT elephant adventure there!!), Zomba Plateau, Lake Chilwa (not much to see, but at least we saw it), and the one 'site' I've actually visited in Blantyre-- David Livingstone's mission church built in the late 1800's. That was actually the first place we visited when we met up on Tues., 22 April. Afterwards, I stayed one night in Kate's room at Kabula Lodge (very nice, affordable place with a great view, for those lookin for somewhere to stay in Blantyre).

Kate stayed with Deliwe and I for the next week, leaving early in the morning on Friday 2 May, and her stay couldn't have been at a better time, since we were still reeling from what had happened to our kitty Penga. Kate was very sympathetic to our sadness over our loss, and also a fun and interesting person to have around, so helped take our minds off of this terrible thing we'd just experienced.

This leads me to:


Kate left. Now, we really miss her as we'd gotten used to having her around, and she also was using the room we'd kept Penga's food and litter box in... so, of course, things felt really empty and a bit sad again. Especially Sunday. Sundays are really hard for me these days.


The trip to Zambia with the aerobics group fell through at the last minute, leaving me to figure out a way to go on my own. I spent a lot of time/money (for phone calls) trying to find someone else with time/money to go with me. Couldn't find a soul. Kate (who'd been travellin with her boyfriend since she'd left) had gone on a safari in Zambia with her boyfriend this past Thurs. (8 May) to today (Sun. 10 May), so asking her was not an option. Which leads me to:


I found a way to go to Zambia on my own with the same safari group this coming week, and visit Luongwa National Park, which Kate just told me today is spectacular. I haven't seen a lion, zebra, or a giraffe in Malawi (not many here), so I'm excited for the close encounters she's told me about.


I don't get to see Victoria Falls, unfortunately (my primary goal of this trip).


I'll be travelling alone, with one other couple whom I don't know. I hope they're cool. Chances are about 30/70, based on my experiences here so far. (30 percent that they'll be cool, unfortunately... though I have had better luck with 'travelling/temporary' mzungus here than I've had with the more permanent ones living here (one reason I'm travelling alone...It's not me, though... this I know, as I've never experienced this before anywhere else-- more on that issue another time...)

To end this post on a high note, I'll finish with a few more of the 'Goods':

THE GOOD #3 Despite what some may have believed, the investigation of the ridiculous excuse for a vet Dr. Bakili has begun. I've been in contact with certain members of the board, the 2 doctors who saw her on that horrible day filed reports last week, and the latest I hear is that the board is set to meet on the issue very soon. Keep the good vibes and prayers comin on that one... it seems to be working!

THE GOOD #4: The Children's Reading Room at Village to Village Orphanage is now open for 'business'. Most of the books from the U.S. (98% of which were from the Pine Ridge Middle School book drive in FL) came in on Tues., we stocked the shelves Tues. and Wed., and opened our doors to the kids on Thurs., 8 May. After a quick orientation to 'Jennifer's Rules,' by myself and our primary volunteer Alex (retired primary school teacher-- PERFECT for the job), the reading began. Soon I'll post some pix of the resulting happy faces. We're also planning a launch on 22 May with all the local V.I.P's (including my colleagues of course) hopefully in attendance... Whew! It's finally happening!

THE GOOD #5: I finished my class at Chanco this past Thursday, and was actually a bit sad about it, as they turned out to be a really good group. They gave me all the credit saying that I was a great instructor. It was really nice to end that on a high note, as I'd felt so badly for teaching them on such a short-term basis. In fact, I will miss them, as I'd already gotten a bit attached to this group. They were very committed students, and had great attitudes... even laughed at most of my jokes (even the lame ones) during class. Too bad the strike kept us from working together longer. Hopefully the next instructor (I'm told to be hired this week... hmmm...) will have a similar experience to mine. Good luck LAN 150 & 160! Hope your stay at Chanco is relatively strike-free and you finish within 4 to 5 years!! ;-)

So now, I must sign off, as I'm waiting for a visit from my gardener, whom I've discovered has an issue with domestic abuse (Ya, another 'ugly' unfortunately), stemming from a problem with alcohol. I came very close to kicking him off my property for good last week, but settled for a visit to the police (who told me that violence related to a 'domestic dispute' is not against the law-- ya, they got a piece of my mind that day--), followed by a serious counseling session in which he promised not to drink anymore, as this seems to be the source of his intermittent violent temper. Two strikes and he's out. I suppose this is a personal issue, so I'll just leave it at that. I have no tolerance for either alcoholism nor violence. Though I wouldn't normally write something of such a personal nature here, I feel compelled, as it's now in my backyard and doesn't seem to be going away (though up to this moment I thought everything was fine).

I'm relatively certain that deep down this man is a good person, which makes it hard to take such action. If he raises a hand to anyone on my property again, he's out (don't worry, the family can stay). By the way, this is a VERY common issue in Malawi... more on that later, too...

Wish me luck, and sorry to end with an 'ugly,' but unfortunately the timing (a phone call from him minutes ago) was the catalyst. I'll keep you posted. Tiwonana Mawa!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I'm back, but only for a moment...

I just wanted to check in to let the loyal M 'n M readers know that I'm still among the living. Life continues to hurl its euphoric (well, not completely) ups and relentless downs for me in Malawi. I had planned to chronicle it all here today, but have had a few internet/technical issues, so hopefully I can get it all out there tomorrow.

Something very shocking happened last night at my household (not quite as shocking as the Penga story, but equally disturbing). Other than that, things had been going a bit better, and we even had a lovely guest in our house by the name of Kate. She's an American here on a short-term research project with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Luckily, she stayed with us during the week after we lost Penga, so the house didn't feel so empty, and we had a great time together, seeing all the local sites together like typical Mzungu tourists. Ya, I needed that.

All the details to come very soon (and yes, those belated elephant pix!!). Tiwonana for now!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sadness, Regret, Shock, Anger...

I'm just writing briefly to let the loyal Malawi 'n Me readers know that I have no other excuse for not writing this past week except for sadness over the loss of our beloved cat Penga last week Sunday evening (April 20). Though my last post on that same evening was quite hopeful, as it turned out, the risks involved after Penga's ordeal that day were greater than I had realized prior to leaving Dr. Mutunga's (a.k.a. the good vet's) office in Blantyre last Sunday afternoon. Apparently, the intestines were paralyzed from prolonged exposure, so in the end, Penga was not able to recover, and died at around 8 p.m. that evening.

I received this information on Monday morning, via a phone call from Dr. Mutunga soon after surviving my court battle over the expired license-plate registration (which ironically went well, resulting in a mere MK 1,000 fine--about 8 bucks-- and about 3 hours' time lost waiting at the police station and the court.).

Ever since, my emotions have primarily shifted between sadness (over our loss), regret (over my trust of that sh-- for brains vet), shock (at the events that led to our loss), and anger (at that sh-- for brains vet).

The overriding emotion now is primarily anger at the lousy excuse for a veterinarian by the name of Dr. Oliver Bakili (based in Lilongwe, but also practicing part-time at the vet clinic in Zomba, as a warning to the Malawian pet owners out there), whose lack of professionalism and compassion, combined with a sloppy suturing job and dishonesty about his small-animal surgical abilities, caused this horrible outcome.

I'm now working on using this anger to get justice by going after the above-mentioned so-called vet for malpractice and negligence. Without going into details (due to the sensitive nature of this case and the public nature of this forum), let's just say the battle is now well-underway.

So now, I'm just asking for all those reading this who care about animals to send good vibes my way, and all those who pray to please do so, in hopes for justice in this matter, whatever you deem that justice to be. For me, it's permanent revocation of Dr. Bakili's veterinary license, or at the very least, a years-long suspension, huge fine, and re-training prior to any continued practice in veterinary medicine.

Hopefully I'll be online again before too long with better news, and some good elephant pix from up north (finally!) Watch for those, trickling in this week, as I continue the post-mourning healing process.

Tiwonana for now...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

'Cold-stone' hearts vs. 'Warm' hearts -- a very tough battle today...

I just wanted the loyal/faithful M 'n M readers to know that I did not forget about the elephant pix this weekend, but due to an all-day-and-most-of-the-night power outage yesterday, I was unable to upload any pix. Of course, my plan was to do so today, but I had one of my most difficult, and certainly the most traumatic, days in this country for me so far.

Remember this comment from my last post?

2) Penga managed to pull out some stitches Wed. night, causing some panic yesterday (Thurs.) morning, as I called the vet in a bit of a state, worried all her innards would drop to the floor. Luckily, my panic was unjustified, as she seems to be healing o.k. (despite my failed efforts to put a bandage on it, as well as a collar to try to restrain her from biting her wound). She's a pretty strong-willed, energetic little kitty, and luckily hasn't managed to remove more stitches, so we think she'll be o.k. I'm pretty certain, however, that the vet thinks I'm a bit crazy. That's o.k. He's not the first to think so, and certainly not likely to be the last.

Well, as it turns out, unfortunately, I was NOT crazy, NOR over-reacting. Penga pulled out more stitches on Saturday, and again my pleas to the vet that morning to take a look at her went ignored. He offered to re-suture her on Monday, saying I didn't need to worry about her. I definitely put way too much faith in him, as my fears about her wound opening up were realized this morning. Without going into too much detail, what I described above is exactly what happened. Upon the discovery, of course, I panicked, as did Deliwe. Luckily, Harold (our gardner) was around to help us.

Of course, I called the illustrious HACK of a vet by the name of Dr. Bakili, whom I'm hoping to report to some sort of veterinary standards board (if such a thing exists here) and do my best to get his license revoked. He showed no concern AT ALL for my cat, and even when I described what had happened this morning, the only 'help' he offered was the phone no. of his assistant in Zomba (claiming he himself was in Blantyre), who agreed to meet me at the clinic, and then never showed up. We sat outside the clinic with our falling-apart kitty (suprisingly lucid through it all) for over an hour, trying to call every contact at that bloody clinic, and NO ONE would HELP us!

Please forgive me, but today I felt this "Warm Heart of Africa" slogan needed a drastic edit: "Cold-stone Heart of Africa."

Now, I know it's a cat, and not all cultures view pets the same way as Americans do. But, this guy was a veterinarian, assured me he had experience with cats, and could handle this surgery. I now know he was lying just to make an extra buck (about $35 USD, btw...)

Eventually, we did find a doctor friend of mine who runs his own clinic, and was able to help us find a real vet in Blantyre. The doctor called her, and she said as long as we wrapped the cat in a wet towel to keep her innards wet, she should survive the hour-long trip to the office to be re-sutured. Hallelujah.

But, the story of today's ugliness is not yet over. As we'd found a bit of renewed hope that we could save our kitty--Harold had her secured on the floor wrapped in the towel, she was still lucid, but calm, and didn't seem to be in pain (amazingly)-- we thought things might be o.k. Then, I end up at the first traffic stop outside of town, where of course they stopped me for the FIRST TIME EVER! I've learned that whenever I'm in a hurry, that's when those cops decide to scrutinize me. Of course, the illustrious cop looked at my driver's license and noticed that my license plates had expired at the end of March. I tried to explain that I'd been told there was a 30-day waiting period, and that I was planning to renew them this coming Tuesday. After a bit of panicked discussion (the details of which I cannot bear to re-hash right now), he of course confiscated my drivers' license, wrote me up a ticket, and told me I must appear for court in the morning. Great. Just let me go, A*&Hole.

So after that ordeal, we headed to the city, made it to the vet's office, where a nice young female vet from Kenya was waiting for us, ready to take care of Penga. Again, despite how dire it all looked (as you can imagine) the doctor was very calm, and said Penga would be o.k., that the only worry was keeping things moist, and getting good sutures on her. She put her under, and sent me outside to wait. So, we waited. And we prayed. Ya, even me. I don't do that much, but now understand that perhaps it can help, as in the end, our kitty was o.k., sutured up very well. She even gave her an I.V. drip of fluids to replace the ones she lost, telling me that all her innards were o.k., nothing was damaged (amazingly, considering some details I've left out of the story involving the way Penga moved around during a lot of this), and she didn't lose too much blood since there was no damage to the organs.

She also recommended (right after I requested it) to keep Penga for a couple of days to make sure her insides remain o.k. (mostly the intestines), and just keep a good eye on her. She also did an incredible suturing job, that looked like it should. The stitches were small, tight, and very close to one another. I realized then what a real hack that idiot in Zomba is... her sutures last week were too far apart, didn't look tight enough, and had long 'tails' at the end that she could easily bite off. The Blantyre Vet (Dr. Catherine K. Mutunga at the Mudi Clinic across from Maiawathu Hospital-- info. for the Malawian pet-lovers, especially) assured me that the first suturing job was not adequate, especially because the internal stitches were only done on one layer of tissue, when they should be done on two (which of course she had done). "One internal layer is not strong enough to hold," she told me.

So, now Penga is comfortably (hopefully) sleeping at the vet's house (her clinic is at her house) in Blantyre, and seems to be in good hands. I'll be picking her up on Wed., after taking care of the bloody license plate renewal on my car, assuming I'm not thrown in jail after my court appearance tomorrow.

Ya, bloody 'Warm Heart of Africa', alright. (Sorry, but that's how I feel right now... luckily, I did meet up with 2 'warm hearts' today-- plus, the watchman outside of the vet clinic who let us borrow his cell phone all day--to call the lame cold-stone hearts supposedly working there who couldn't be bothered to help us-- and also let us take the phone with us to make calls in Blantyre (since in all the panic, both Deliwe and I had left our cell phones at home). So that's one more 'warm heart.'

As a result, the 'warm hearts' did win out over the 'cold-stone hearts' today, and it appears to be leading to a happy ending (both for Penga's health and, with any luck, my legal driving status--hope the judge is a 'warm heart'). We shall see... I'll keep you posted.

I still can't believe I managed to write about this today. Was planning to keep it short, but I guess I needed the decompression of writing it all down. Thanks, loyal readers! Hope it wasn't as traumatic reading it as it was for those of us who experienced it...

Tiwonana later (don't know when yet...)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Makin' up for lost time...

This latest blog has been a work in progress since Wed. 16 April, and as the loyal M 'n M readers (how do ya like that new shortened-version??? Perhaps a bit cliche? Comments welcome!!) will soon find out, its manuscript-style length can attest to the fact that I've been adding on for the past couple of days, and certainly making up for the last 3 lost days.

I won't give more excuses, but the fact that it did start on Wed. shows that I did my best to get caught up on the now 2-week-old lake stories, while also updating readers on events of this past week. Updates include:

1) Yes, I did start teaching at Chanco on Thursday and Friday, but due to my busy schedule as I wrap up my fellowship while furiously marking papers at Domasi College, I'll only teach for 4 weeks, and the two courses will be combined. The result is that I'll be in the classroom 3 hours/week (instead of 6), and I'll finish on May 9 (instead of later in the month). This was a compromise, but one I can live with.

2) Penga managed to pull out some stitches Wed. night, causing some panic yesterday (Thurs.) morning, as I called the vet in a bit of a state, worried all her innards would drop to the floor. Luckily, my panic was unjustified, as she seems to be healing o.k. (despite my failed efforts to put a bandage on it, as well as a collar to try to restrain her from biting her wound). She's a pretty strong-willed, energetic little kitty, and luckily hasn't managed to remove more stitches, so we think she'll be o.k. I'm pretty certain, however, that the vet thinks I'm a bit crazy. That's o.k. He's not the first to think so, and certainly not likely to be the last.

3) I've decided to limit my adventures this weekend, and just stay put and get some work done, after the week away up north, and last Saturday on the lake with my aerobics group. I'll hopefully also have time to get this blog up to date with pictures, especially the elephants at Vwaza Marsh, and maybe the day at the lake as well. Wish me luck!

OK, so the rest is the original post I started at home on Wed. evening and finally completed today. Enjoy!

Hello, again. I’m now back from the trauma of having Penga spayed, as well as dealing with the reality of having to start teaching again, just after having finished a term, and facing piles of marking. Not that I’m completely over the trauma yet, but now it’s manageable enough to enter another posting on the blog.

I’d actually planned to get this one up last night (Wed. 16 April), but alas, the internet connection was not cooperating, so I’m here writing this one at home on Wed. evening, hoping to get it up on Thursday. If that happens, the two or so loyal, faithful Malawi ‘n Me readers will be the first to know.

So, today was more or less a typical ‘my life in Malawi’ day. I spent much of it trying to get ready for the class I’d planned to meet for the first time this afternoon, typing up syllabi, class rosters, yadda yadda yadda, only to find out in the midst of it all that the head of my department wants to meet with me prior to my first meeting with the class to discuss how we’ll work out the schedule. So, for that reason, I needed to postpone my first meeting with them until tomorrow (Thurs.)afternoon.

This new development freed me up to continue working on some of the things I needed to do to prepare, but despite all my good intentions, including 2 visits to the computer lab (one of 2 places on campus where I can print something), I still had difficulty getting my documents printed due to a paper jam that could not be resolved. Luckily, I got enough done to be almost ready for tomorrow’s class—that is, if I can meet with the dept. head prior to it… ya, there are 2 other meetings in the morning. This is how it seems to work at Chancellor College. The strike was over last week. The Deans then decided to start classes with first-years this week. Soon afterwards, the administration set up several meetings which conflict with class times. Hence, not many classes are meeting, anyway.

The moral of this story is: My four weeks of teaching just turned into three weeks. Perhaps this will dwindle more, considering how things tend to go over there. I’ll keep ya posted.

As you also know by now, Penga went under the knife on Monday afternoon, at the same time that I attended the meeting wherein it was decided that I would teach the first few weeks of two first-year courses at Chanco. I literally left the meeting at around 4 p.m. to pick her up (her surgery was at 2 p.m.). Of course, she was really ‘out of it’, but other than that, she seemed o.k. She slept most of the night, and in the morning, still seemed a bit weak. I was of course paying attention to whether she was pulling on her stitches, and observed that she was bleeding a bit from the stitched-up area.

Now, the Americans out there will understand my panicked reaction, which was to call the vet, letting him know that she was bleeding. The Malawians, however, might think I’m a bit nuts for fussing over a cat. They don’t understand how we can treat our animals like our babies. But we do. I can’t explain exactly why, but we’re nuts for our pets back home. In my case, maybe it’s partly because I don’t have any children. I’m not sure, but I’ve always been very attached to my pets, and yesterday I worried all day about Penga as she recovered from somewhat major surgery.

The vet did recommend that I take her in so he could look at the stitches, but when I did, he just took a look from outside the office, trimmed one of the longer ‘tails’ from a stitch so she wouldn’t tug it, and said, “Oh, that’s fine. Her muscles will bleed a little, but it’s not serious.” “Really?” I said, further questioning his professional opinion, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure,” he assertively responded, clearly annoyed at my Mzungu panic over a little cat. Like I said, we’re just like that. Can’t help it.

So, the other Mzungu pet lovers out there will be happy to hear that though she continued to bleed a bit in the afternoon (I even had Deliwe watching her because I was invigilating/proctoring another exam), by nightfall yesterday (Tues.), Penga was almost back to normal, eating a bit, walking almost normally, and meowing faintly.

Today, she seems to be generally back to her usual active, loud, hungry self. Whew! To me, the stitches still look a little more ‘open’ than I’d like, but I didn’t see any evidence of bleeding, so that’s good. They also seem to be intact, as it doesn’t appear that she’s bitten any off (by other major fear).

So, with those two sources of stress this week more or less out of the way (but continuing), I suppose it’s time to reminisce a bit about the rest of our lake tour, now about 2 weeks ago.

As you probably have noticed by now, I did post a few pix this past weekend of the trip back south down the lakeshore, including our last two stops on our way back home: Nkhotakhota and Salima. Unfortunately, I still can’t seem to get the pictures into the correct order, so they might just have to stay that way, unless I can find the 20-something blogger gurus to save me from the stress of trying to figure it out all by my little Generation (Jen) X self… oh, the horror!

In any case, if you’ve had a chance to peruse the pix (Ya, the elephant ones are coming—I know, I know… but look at my ordeal this week, and you know why it’s taking so long... patience, patience…) Maybe if you’re good, you’ll get to see a VIDEO this time! OK, don’t hold your breath, but I’ll try… need one of those millennial kids… Anyone out there wanna help a poor JenX figure out how to use a computer? I’m pretty good… even learned DOS back in the day… can you say that? Do you even know what DOS is? Ya, I thought not… so there! You punks! But help me anyway, ok?? pretty please?????

Ya, like that pathetic psychotic plea’s gonna work… Ya never know…

OK, so I’ll get on with it now. After leaving our bamboo hut at the lovely, but beachless Nkhata Bay, we headed south down the fabulous M5 highway along the lake. This highway, by the way, seems to be the best-kept secret in Malawi. Since coming here, I thought there were only two types of roads: 1) Dirt/rocky/bumpy, or 2) narrow, pot-hole-ridden tarmac (i.e. ‘paved’ for the ‘Yanks’). Oh, no, not so. There’s also the M5. Forgive me for saying this, for it will sound a bit ethno/culture/nation-centric (ya, I made that term up, as you can imagine), but the M5 is like an American highway! Wide, nicely paved, smooth, no potholes, and with lines painted on it! You know, the middle lines? Haven’t seen those in awhile. And the ones at the side? Nope. Almost never here. But this road-- Ah… it was almost TOO good. In fact, it surpassed most American roads because not only was it in beautiful condition, but there was virtually NO traffic on it, either human or machine! It was beautiful. Magical. Unreal.

So there we were, on the lovely M5, cruising along, back into the rubber-tree forest. Remember that? We’d gone through at least half of it after passing Nkhata Bay the day before. Of course, there was something there we’d remembered from that day. Something made of rubber. Something we wanted to buy. Large, rubber balls. I know, you thought it was something else. Just shows where your minds are (heh heh). Ya, there are these people, primarily young men and boys, bouncing these really interesting rubber balls along the road in the forest, so Deliwe and I thought we’d stop and buy a couple on our way back through for Pacharo and Noel (Harold’s sons), and Deliwe’s nephews. So, we stopped and bought two of the balls, which looked very interesting… almost as if they were made of several rubber bands.

Well, this purchase proved to be a bit of a risk, as well as a waste of money. More on that later.

We continued along this heavenly highway for about three more hours (if memory serves) to Nkhotakhota. I’d already done a bit of research on where to stay in our little guidebook, and had Deliwe read a bit of the text back to me as a reminder. We actually had to go about 10 miles past the town to find the turnoff to the resorts by the lake. Which, of course, we did. Mostly without incident. The only problem we had is that the signs to the place I’d intended to check out were not as visible as the signs to the ‘Sany Beach Lodge’ (which I think is intended to read ‘Sunny Beach,’ though I never did verify this rumor with the staff.)

Oh, yeah, and another incident, I almost forgot... There was a police barricade (these are typical on Malawian highways) on the way, featuring several signs related to curbing the problem of deforestation, mostly due to the charcoal-making trade, as well as illegal firewood cutting (as wood is a primary fuel source for cooking/heating in the villages). Of course, being such a tree-hugger, I was happy to see such efforts being made to address this issue.

Little did I know that I'd done something earlier on that might have contributed to a certain aspect of this problem. Remember the rubber balls we bought back in the rubber tree forest as we left Nkhata Bay? Well, apparently the sale and purchase of said balls is illegal. And, not only that, but there are signs posted everywhere indicating the name of the rubber company that owns the tree plantations, with a small warning (too small for me, obviously) painted in red, discouraging travellers from buying the balls, as they are made from stolen rubber. When questioned by the policeman about this, I was too distraught about my terrible mistake to ask whether trees are cut down in the process of making these balls, but I'm guessing that they are. AAAHH! I felt horrible. I even offered to let him take the balls, but he said it was ok, as it was obviously the first time I'd purchased them. Perhaps the fact that they were sitting in the back seat proved my innocence and ignorance of what I'd done. I certainly did not try to hide my crime.

Having said all of that, anyone in Malawi tempted to purchase these, obviously avoid it for the above reason, but also they are not worth buying, as it turns out they are filled with air (I thought it was all made of rubber--duh!), and both balls punctured broke within a few hours, went flat, and unfortunately the fun was over quickly. I guess Deliwe and I learned our lesson, and also had the question answered as to why the vendors would suddenly appear out of a 'hiding place' in the forest before coming out to bounce their tempting rubber balls at the side of the road... we couldn't resist!! (he he...)

We went ahead and took a look at Sany Beach, then tried to walk up the beach to see the other places, but decided we were just too tired to keep going, and were also pretty sure those places might be on the pricey side, so we stayed put at Sany/Sunny Beach.

It was a fabulous place, actually. They had chalets right on the beach, a beautiful bar with a natural, rocky terrace overlooking the lake, and a fabulous open-air restaurant. All the things one looks for in a beach-side resort, but at only MK2,000 (about 17 bucks) /night… for a chalet! This was heaven. Forget about the M5. This was the place I could wake up to after dying.

So, due to exhaustion after the drive and hunger after an early breakfast of bananas and biscuits at our bamboo lodge, we decided to leave the car unpacked, make an order with the kitchen, and then get some drinks at the bar.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention. Deliwe and I were the ONLY guests at this place. We had it all at our disposal. Well, all that was there… there was no bread in the Kitchen, and no ‘greens’ at the bar. “What’s a green?”, you mzungus back home are asking, right? No, it’s not a little leprechaun or some exotic Malawian cocktail. It’s Carlsberg lager. Ya, not so exciting. Have I forgotten to mention that somehow the Danes have the corner on the beer market here? I have yet to find out the history of that one, but yeah. Most of the time, when you go out for a beer in Malawi, besides the local Malawian ‘Kuche Kuche’ (--ya, cute name, eh? It means something like sunrise, because it’s a bit weak, so you can drink it til sunrise and still work the next day, so the locals claim), you have only 3 other choices (if you can call them that): Carlsberg green, brown (amber), or stout. Ya, it gets old really fast, especially for those of us who are not Carlsberg fanatics (i.e. me). But, I can adapt, especially when it’s beer. I’m from Wisconsin, and I’m half German—‘nuff said.

OK, back to the story. This bar had only Carlsberg Stout. While my little sis Heather the stout lover (who also went to a college of the same name, but I digress) would’ve had much rejoicing over this, I, on the other hand, am not a big stout fanatic. Nevertheless, we were on the beach, and it was beer. And it was cold. So, who cares? I also remembered the Malawi Gin, which I hadn’t tasted in awhile, so since I wasn’t planning on driving anywhere for awhile, I indulged in one or two of those, and then had a couple of stouts, which of course I paid for later with a massive headache that had me in bed by 7 p.m. Ya, I’m getting old, methinks…

So basically, we hung out on the rocks outside the lovely bar, met up with some local kids who thought Deliwe was a goddess because she wore trousers and seemed so worldly coming from the south with this alien Mzungu lady. She even gave some advice to one of the girls to really study hard in school, especially English, or she’d never be able to work for a Mzungu (heh heh). I suppose that’s good advice, no matter the motivation.

I, on the other hand, coaxed a couple of boys into ‘skipping rocks’ with me on the water. This was something we used to do as kids while visiting my German grandmother in southern Wisconsin back in the day. She never had toys or games at her house, so we’d skip rocks in the river across the lakes, for hours, or days, or millennia, as it often seemed. Having a little rock skippin contest with the boys proved a couple of things to me… their skill proved this must be a universal pastime for bored kids (or kids with few resources), and that my skills had certainly diminished over time (or maybe they never were as good as I’d thought). I never got more than 3 skips on one throw, but the boys had 4 or 5 a couple of times. Too bad this isn’t an Olympic sport, eh?

In the midst of our fun times with the kids (including some pushing around on the tree swing outside the bar), Deliwe and I started realizing how long it’d been since we’d ordered dinner. It was actually a late lunch when we ordered it at around 2 p.m. It was now nearing 5 p.m. and we still hadn’t been served. AAAH! No wonder I was feeling weak and dizzy. Luckily, just as I’d started to ask Richard, the cook/waiter from Zimbabwe (his father’s from Malawi, so he came here a few months ago in the midst of the Mugabe-spurred economic crisis which began much earlier) about the food, it was just about to be served.

This brings me to another side-note (wow, I’ve had lotsa those today). For those of you considering a visit to Malawi, keep in mind that there is virtually no such thing as fast-food here. I think I may have mentioned in an earlier posting that McDonald’s does not exist here (Hallelujah! They haven’t infested EVERY culture in the world—yet…). When you order food at any restaurant—large or small, cheap or expensive—expect to wait a good 20-30 minutes for your food. Even breakfast at hotels can take awhile (usually 10-15 mins.) In a way, this is a refreshing thing, but can be a hassle if you’re on a lunch break with little time to spare. Of course, for tourists, that’s not a concern.

Almost always, though, you’ll find the meal is more than worth the wait. This was definitely the case that evening, as we had a fabulous meal of kampango from the braii (grill), rice, and salad. Very well-worth the wait, I must say. And very, very welcome after too much sun n alcohol in the system.

After dinner, Deliwe decided to play with the kids a bit more on the swing, while I went back to the room to change into my swimsuit and jump in. Shortly after I went in, Deliwe joined me, and then the kids. One thing about swimming here that seemed much different from the south, however, was the force of the water. The waves here were much larger, faster, and a bit ominous. Since Deliwe is not a strong swimmer, I just warned her to be careful, and taught her a bit about body surfing, etc. She seemed ok, and we had a great time in the water, until it got a bit dark, and one of the girls in the group of kids warned us that the crocodiles come out after dark. Crocodiles? Really? Though I though this seemed like rough waters for crocs, I wasn’t about to chance it, and out I ran, straight to the wooden hammock I’d spotted earlier that day. I relaxed for a bit, while Deliwe played with one of the rubber balls with the kids on the beach.

Soon, I started to feel a headache coming on, and then it was time to go in. I took a short shower, scrubbing off the sand and pebbles that collected inside my swimsuit during the body-surfing… I had no idea how much stuff had gotten in there! I imagine the fact that my suit has gotten roomier since I’ve lost some poundage was a contributing factor, so I’m not complaining. Ya, that turned out to be s a much-needed shower.

As I mentioned before, the gin/stout-induced headache came on strong, so I took some drugs, and headed for bed at around 7 p.m. Even earlier that Deliwe, which had to be a first. I suppose the fact that the electricity there runs off a generator and the place had limited gas (ya, many things were limited, which is either the result or cause of the lack of guests—maybe both), so we weren’t sure how long we’d have electricity, anyway.

Since we were right on the beach, listening to the waves crashing in, it really felt like we weren’t missing anything, anyway, so it was a good night to sleep early, and be up for sunrise. Ya, the proof’s in the pics at left. I, Jen X, was up at SUNRISE in MALAWI (around 4 a.m.) Even I myself couldn’t believe it, and still really don’t. Could be a first and a last. But I did it. Check it off the list. You know, that one of stuff I need to do before leaving this earth. Done.

So, as you can see from the pictures posted at left, I took a good deal of sunrise photos before Deliwe even opened her eyes to the new day. Another first for me, as I rarely beat her in the waking up early competition…

The rest of the morning was rather typical. Shower, breakfast, a few more photos, and off we went. I wanted to see the famous mission church where the Scottish Anglican Missionary David Livingstone first negotiated with the Jumbe tribal chief on 10 Sept. 1863 (finally found the dates again in my guidebook) under a magnificent fig tree (still standing—see evidence at left) to end the slave trade which shipped people across Lake Malawi from Nkhotakhota. Unfortunately, Livingstone was unsuccessful in this attempt, and Nkhotakhota remained the largest slave market on Lake Malawi (founded in the early 19th century by the half-Arab Jumbe tribe, which ruled Nkhotakhota for several generations). From Nkhotakhota, as many as 20,000 slaves were shipped every year across the lake to Kilwa Kivinje on the coast of Tanzania. There, they were sold in the slave markets on the east coast of Africa (Zanzibar was one of the biggest), at that time ruled by the Omani Arabs --(Again, all according to my ‘Bradt’ Guidebook on Malawi—the only one dedicated to Malawi, as far as I know…).

It wasn’t actually until several years later, in 1890, when British Commissioner Harry Johnston persuaded the ageing Jumbe chief to sign a treaty ending the slave trade in exchange for British protection (also according to the book, almost word-for-word).

Of course, with such a history, I had to visit the mission and see the big fig tree and all. The mission was actually built in 1894, and is also the burial place of Chauncy Maples, the first bishop of the Anglican mission on Likoma Island, established in 1886. Likoma island is in the middle of Lake Malawi, and a great place to visit, I'm told, but not as easy to get to as I'd hoped. This was (and still is) one of the most famous missions in Malawi. Unfortunately, the demise of Chauncy Maples was quite sad, as he was drowned in a shipwreck on the lake during stormy weather while returning to the island from the 'mainland' coast in Salima in 1895, actually just around the time he was consecrated as bishop on the island.

So, all these historical sites are pictured at left, maybe in order, or maybe not, depending whether I can rearrange the photos successfully after finishing this post. Wish me luck!

After finishing our little trip back to the town of Nkhotakhota (also featuring a ride for one of the Sani Bay Lodge managers who needed to buy fuel for the truck and generator-- a sidenote worth mentioning..), we headed south to Salima.

Now, to bring a timely ending to this story, I'll just give a few tidbits about our trip to Salima, specifically the beachfront of Senga Bay:

1) As usual, we did have some trouble finding the hotel where we wanted to stay ('Red Zebra Lodge'), were mis-directed by a few people (including a soldier at one point... ), but still found the place we originally wanted to go, but no rooms were available, so we headed to another place our guidebook recommended, giving a ride to one of the staff at the first place who lived in the area of the 2nd hotel, called 'Caroline's'. Luckily, they had rooms available, but nothing self-contained. I had to compromise my VERY STRONG desire for my own bathroom and HOT SHOWER (had not had one since lilongwe--remember the 'Malawian bath' at Gillo's house and the cold shower at Nkhotakhota?) for a shared bathroom, but which did have an all-day hot shower, a very rare commodity at lake hotels in Malawi.

2) Shortly after arriving at the lodge and heading for the beach (a very nice, mostly empty beach, with strong waves/tides much like Nkhotakhota), we discovered the place had been largely taken over by a huge group (about 20 or so) of very young Brits, mostly women, incredibly similar to those we ran into during our last stay at Liwonde National Park (see prior posting from mid-March for the gory details). Could it be the same people? (As you may recall, it was a group of 17 years-or-so-aged British kids on a 3-month stay, placed all over Malawi as experimental primary school teachers with no actual teaching experience...). The group we'd run into at Liwonde had all gotten together from the different regions of Malawi, and this situation appeared quite similar, as it was graced with at least one giddy, screaming girl reunion on the night we arrived.

Now, if you are a young, white woman in your 20's, please take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt. I'm somewhat convinced that at least part of it is my age talking. Someday you're likely to understand. Wait about 10 years or so, you'll see what I mean. These days, for me, young women (whether British or American), ironically white, blonde women (yes, not unlike myself in appearance--but younger, of course), all look and sound the same to me--same hair, same face, same clothes, same personality, same, same, same-- it's almost like the 'Millenial' generation (as we so lovingly call them) were cloned in a lab somewhere (at least the caucasian females) rather than conceived the traditional way. So, after seeing this group, I never could quite figure out if they were the same as the Liwonde group, but they might as well have been. Just as loud, just as large a group, just as invasive (especially during breakfast) as the other group had been. They literally 'took over' the place. Luckily, we weren't kept up all night this time, as they did seem to end their partying a bit early (at least the ones staying in the room near ours, and sharing the bathroom with us... AARGH! One almost walked in on me, as I imagine knocking was just too much trouble for her.) Sorry if this sounds nasty, mean, and bitter, but I have no tolerance for inconsideration and rudeness, regardless of age, cloning, or any other possible factor. Plus, after having an entire place to ourselves the night before, Deliwe and I were definitely spoiled and intolerant of other travellers, especially loud rude ones.

3) In our plight to escape the hourde of young travellers, we attempted to find another place to hang out by hiking up the beach at around 8 p.m., but to no avail. No other resorts seemed to have a bar, or any type of lounge where we could just hang out. Ya, weird. Caroline's was it. So, after our stroll under the beautiful, starry, Malawi sky, we strolled back in, windblown and weary, but with just enough energy to order one more drink and sneak back up to our balcony (ya, the room had a nice back balcony-- a definite asset) and escape the sound of the chatter of young, drunk females. This, for me, was probably the highlight of my stay at Senga Bay, along with watching the sunset on the outside seating area at sunset. To their credit, the group of kids stayed in the bar most of the time in the evening, so we did enjoy a peaceful Malawi sunset on the beach with a couple of greens... AAAAHHH.

So, with that, I'll conclude possibly the longest M 'n M post so far (with the possible exception of the first one chronicling my first couple of weeks here), leaving you with the anticipation of new pictures to come (and maybe even video!) this weekend. As always, Tiwonana mawa!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Excuses, Excuses... (but good ones, of course)

Ya, today I've got to give my loyal readers some excuses for not finishing the lake stories, nor posting the elephant pictures, as follows:

1) I finally got Penga into the vet (after much ado since returning from up north) to have her spayed (i.e. surgically 'fixed' so she won't have an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy), and had to leave her all groggy, confused, and suffering with stitches at home in order to come to my office and get on the internet. So, I'm a bit worried about her and want to get back and make sure she's o.k. (Deliwe's in class late this evening). The good news is that she WASN'T pregnant after all! Just teasin' that old tomcat, apparently... Good, good Penga! I should've had more faith...

2) We finally also had our meeting at Chanco this afternoon to discuss the belated start of the semester--ya, the meeting was this afternoon, and first-year classes begin tomorrow. My department (Language and Communications) teaches only first years (academic English/study skills). As it turns out, I will have to teach the first four weeks of the course due to a current shortage of staff, but I'm assured another person will be hired during that time to take over the courses when I finish teaching in mid-May. In addition, I'll be able to teach the two courses in one section, so time-wise it should be relatively manageable, despite the fact that I'm swamped with marking papers & exams at Domasi College. Ya, they had to end the strike in just enough time to send me back to class when I'm doing millions of other things before leavin the country... Thanks fer nuthin, Chanco Lecturers' Union! (I'll reserve the rest of my true feelings about this matter for more personal chats...)

3) The bloody pictures at the lake are still scrambled, and I can't seem to fix this issue, so I'm afraid to post more photos at this point... Not to mention I'm really wiped out due to items (1) and (2), as well as the fact that I spent the morning invigilating a 3-hour exam session (Ya, that's 'proctoring' to the 'Yanks').

So, I'm tired, stressed, and just need to chill with my homeys (a.k.a. Penga and Deliwe) tonight. Will try to catch up with the good stuff later on... Tiwonana!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Scrambled Pix of lake...

Hello, all you faithful Malawi 'n Me readers! Just a quick note to let you know I've been struggling with the 'layout' function of this blog for about an hour now, and have decided to give up and try again tomorrow.

The result of this evening's efforts is to your left: A scrambled, jumbled mess of pix of the last 3 legs of our journey last week (the lakeside visits while travelling back south). Please forgive the lack of order to this mess, as it appears I cannot change the order for now. Perhaps you could try to guess the correct order of these pictures, just for fun, until I can fix it.

Of course, when I can do that, I'll also finish telling the exhilarating tale of our last two stops along the lake--Nkhotakhota and Salima (some of which is described with the pix at left...).

And, of course, I'll begin posting the much-anticipated photos (and hopefully video) of our elephant adventures at Vwaza Marsh... Stay Tuned! Tiwonana Mawa (in better order and cohesion, hopefully...)!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Savin' the Lake for Last--Part One of Two

Hello, again! Due to the rave reviews I've gotten on the last part of my 'trip up north last week' story (2 comments and counting ;-), I guess it's time to tell that last part of the tale-- the lake. By the way, before I start, please make note that I've made a couple of corrections on my picture captions for the "Emperor's View" and the "Queen's View" on the pix of the Zomba Plateau at left. A good Malawian friend of mine set me straight, as I was WAY OFF on my historical facts--er, guesses, on both views. Sorry about that! In any case, check it out for more details...

I also have news about the Chancellor College lecturers' strike. It ended this past week, but now there is not much rejoicing over the proposed academic calendar. More on that in a later post, but let's just say it doesn't look like I'll be teaching much, if at all, at Chanco in 2008, as I'm scheduled to leave Malawi on June 1st of this year. More on that later, too...

So, it's time for the last part of the story, now that you know we survived the 'elephant incident...' The thrill-seekers among you may find this part of the tale a bit less interesting, but I'll do my best to 'spice it up,' while keeping the details mostly accurate ;-)

So, after surviving the near-fatal elephant experience, we headed back to Mzuzu, a bit shaken up, but generally o.k. After a quick trip to bring some of Mac's farm workers from his home back to his quite impressive crop fields where they (the field hands) live, we came back to the house to review the pictures I took of our elephant adventures. Of course, there were many more shots of the happy, playful elephants in the water than of the big bull elephant shortly after our 'Jurrassic Park-esque' ordeal. As you know from my last post, those pix should be up shortly... patience, my friends, I'll get them up, I promise!

The next morning, Gillo took us to visit the secondary school where she works. Even though classes were off for the mid-term break, the Form 4 students were there to study for their secondary-school final exams, so we coaxed them into letting me take a couple of pictures of them in the classroom during a break between study sessions. Several teachers were also there to give class sessions focused on preparing students for their final secondary school certification (MSCE) exams. Of course, those pictures will also be posted to the left this weekend, along with the fabulous elephant adventure pix.

After visiting the school, we went to the fabulous Mzuzu market, featuring several nice goods from Tanzania, especially clothing that can't be found in other parts of the country. Of course, this was a highlight for Deliwe, who (like many women around the world in her age group), loves to shop, especially for clothing. We also managed to find some nice shoes for her younger brother Movuto to wear to school, as well as a good suitcase for Harold, our gardener. Deliwe got a new jacket for the 'cold' months of June and July, and I got a new blouse and a skirt, though due to a lack of 'fitting rooms,' I realized upon my return that the skirt was WAY too small, so it now belongs to Deliwe's already expansive wardrobe. So, after about 2 hours of shopping (a good hour too long for me), we headed back to the house to prepare for our trip to our first stop along the lake, Nkhata Bay.

So, after saying our quick goodbyes, we headed down to Nkhata Bay, only about 50 kms. southeast of Mzuzu. Of course, we expected a nice, short trip, but then again, this is Malawi. and Me. Remember? This means that we ended up taking a few detours before making it to our final destination. First of all, when we took the famous M5 highway into Nkhata Bay, we hit a dead-end and had to turn around. Of course, I took the dead end to mean we'd taken the wrong part of the highway (my lousy travel guide map was no help at all, as usual), so we went back to the main highway (about 15 mins back down the 'bay road spur' as I lovingly refer to it). Once we got to the main M5 highway again, we headed further south. Of course, those who know me will not be surprised that I continued driving for a good 20 mins. or so before I realized I'd gone WAY too far, and had to turn back. I was blessed not only with a lousy sense of direction, but also a lousy sense of distance... the two combine to make me a perpetually lost traveller, unless I have an incredible map, preferably with a guide and compass to go with it... This, of course, has never been the case here in Malawi, so we were in for another 'lost Jen in the wilderness' type of adventure.

After Deliwe asked a nice guy walking along the road in the rubber tree forest (more on that later) which way we should go, we turned around, and then asked a couple other guys for confirmation of the direction/distance about 5 mins. later. Those guys actually needed a ride to the bay (we were actually staying in Ilala Bay), so we let them get in the back while they gave us directions.(Ya, a la "Amazing Race"-- I'm embarrassed to say I sometimes watch that T.V. show back home, but usually don't make it through the hour due to the irritating nature of the people it features)... but I digress...

So, as you may have guessed, these guys directed us right back to the original 'Nkhata Bay road spur' that we were on earlier. Ya, a typical mistake of mine... I never stay on the original path, and trust my instincts. I was pretty sure it was right, but couldn't figure out exactly how... Ya, should've asked for directions back then--duh!

In any case, we headed back in the same direction we'd gone before, and then when the guys told us where to turn right, of course we saw all the signs for several lodges and resthouses, including the one we'd booked, the 'Butterfly Inn.' At that point, we knew we were going in the right direction. So, we headed down the somewhat sketchy, bumpy, muddy road (conditions which no longer make me flinch after all the driving I've done here). As we continued up the road, it started to get muddier, and a bit bumpier, but I felt we could get through it without too much trouble, so we continued. Eventually, we started going up a hill on the edge of the bay, and the road became rocky. No big deal. The roads all over the Zomba area are extremely rocky too, so I just kept going. Then, it got rockier, and bumpier, and I started to get a bit more hesitant. Eventually, we came to a part where there seemed to be a huge boulder sticking up from the road, I shifted into first gear, and tried to gun my little Toyota over it. That's when I heard it. The sound. You know the one. That loud, screeching, scraping sound that makes you think you've completely destroyed the bottom of your car. Ya. That one. AAAH!

I immediately stopped the car and called the "Butterfly Inn"-- or was it the 'Butterfly lodge'? One of the signs said 'Butterfly Place'. In any case, I was wishin I were a butterfly at that point cuz flyin was the only way I was gonna make it there. Of course, I had a funny conversation with the woman on the other line, which I'll chronicle here:

"Hello, Butterfly Lodge (or Inn, Or Place, or Somethin...)"

"Hi, this is Jennifer, the woman who called you earlier this morning."

"Oh, Hello. How are you?"

"Well, not so good. I'm standing in the middle of the road up to your lodge (or inn, or place, or somethin...)"

"Oh, what happened?"

"Well, I tried to drive up this road, but it's pretty bad, and I'm driving a small Toyota Carina. Do your other guests drive on this thing?"


"Really? Do they have 4-wheel drives?"

"Well, some do, but some just come in regular cars."

(The Malawians will like this next one...)

"Are they Malawians, or Mzungus?"

(Calmly) "Well, both, actually."

"Wow, I can't imagine how I could get my car up this thing. I think I'd better turn around and park in town. Are you far from there?"

"No, it's just about 10 minutes walk from town. Not far at all." (HA! As you'll see later)

"OK, we'll have to find a place to park in town, and we'll just hike up."

"OK, see you soon!"

"OK, bye!"

So of course, we turned around (which also was a bit harrowing), with the 2 guys still in the back, and made our way down the hill again.

Once we got back into town, we found the police station, and decided that would be the best place to park the car. So, that's what we did. Of course, we did have to ask permission, and sign a book, and even had one of the officers ask for a ride to Salima the next day (though he changed his mind later), but in the end they let us park it there. Which was good, as we needed a secure area for it.

On a sidenote, both Deliwe and I needed to use the toilet at that point, and let me just say one thing. For people back home, have you ever seen that scene in the movie Trainspotting where the guy needs to use the bathroom urgently, and it's in the back of this pub, with a sign that reads something like, "The most horrible, disgusting toilet in Scotland,"? Well, that's nothin compared to the toilet at the police station at Nkhata Bay. I can say without a doubt (after using several very horrible toilets all over the world) that the toilet we used at Nkhata Bay is the MOST DISGUSTING TOILET IN THE WORLD! I challenge anyone to find a worse one, anywhere. I could've taken a picture, but I was too traumatized (perhaps even more than I was during the near-trampling by the elephant a day earlier).

So, eventually we took care of our business, headed up the hill (about 30 mins., NOT 10 mins.), and found the lodge/inn/place. Of course I was exhausted from the stress of getting lost, finding a place to park, dealing with the disgusting toilet, and hiking up the hill. Once we got up to our little 'stick house' (see pix at left), I told Deliwe I'd PAY her MK500 (about 3 dollars) if she'd go down to the bar (a bit of a hike down the hill) and bring a few beers up. Which she did gladly, without need for payment. Aaaahhh, that was more like it.... We had a great view of the bay from our balcony, and a couple of cold beers, some snacks, and a chat. It was almost worth all that other stuff (gettin lost, using awful toilet, hiking, ya, you know the drill...)

The rest of the stay was relatively uneventful... typical backpacker lodge/inn/place, met some nice people, but most of the people didn't really talk to us much. There was one nice British woman who was living and teaching in Zambia, trying to get a work-visa, so had to stay in Malawi for a bit while that was being processed. Other than that, not much else to tell about Nkhata Bay, except that there's virtually NO BEACH since the water has risen so much in the past few years, I guess due to increased rainfall in the area. Well, one more thing (I just remembered). After my evening shower (around 9:30 p.m.), I saw the most amazing sight... lights from fishing boats filling the bay. This is something I've seen on other parts of Lake Malawi, but not as impressive as it was in the bay.

So, the morals of our Nkhata Bay adventure are... Don't try to drive up the crazy boulder-ridden roads, avoid the police station bathroom, but head for a lodge/inn/place by the bay, have a beer or two, and enjoy the sight of the stars and shipping boat lights at night. Spectacular!

We headed out of Nkhata Bay the next morning, this time back down the coast of the lake to Nkhotakhota (Ya, say that 10 times fast--just like it looks n-KO-ta-KO-ta). This is a good story, and shorter, but I'll have to save it for next time, as it's 12:30 a.m. now, and I've gotta get up early for another trip to the lake tomorrow with my aerobics group (just for the day)... Details later on that!

Tiwonana Mawa or Sunday! ;-)