The transition from October to November is also the transition of seasons here in Malawi. While most of you at home are pulling out your cold-weather gear and bracing yourselves for winter, here in the Southern hemisphere, we are preparing for Rainy Season. The Malawians talk about the coming season as though it is the Play-offs or the Apocalypse.
“Ashley, take care… the rains are coming…”
“Madame, will you manage in the rain?”
“We must be ready for the rains!”
Even though the daunting “rains” are not due to officially start till mid November, we have already been experiencing some mild storms. Currently it is dark with heavy clouds and the air is thick and muggy. No rain yet today, but I am hopeful. I enjoy this weather because it also means the blistering sun is hidden behind the clouds and a cool breeze stirs the stale, warm air in my oven-esque home.
Pros & Cons of Rainy Season (so I hear…):
Pros- Cooler weather; lots of produce and mangoes; lush, green scenery; easy water, just set out some buckets; no more termites.
Cons- Bugs, snakes and mud Oh my! the ants are worse; the mosquitoes are worse; snakes try to take refuge in your house where it’s dry; many roads will be impassable due to water and mud, and the bridge the trucks take that drive past my village is flooded over, so transport is scarce; laundry has no where to dry; I will also have less power since my system is solar.
Phew, that’s a lot of cons! But you know what? Cooler weather, trumps them all.
Keeping the Faith – A Trip to the Lake
Yesterday I returned home from the most lovely weekend I have had in Malawi so far. This weekend also proved to be the luckiest transport EVER. I shall tell the tale of my luck, woven in with the story of my first trip to Lake Malawi. Sunday was my friend Sally’s birthday so to celebrate she had a combined Halloween/birthday party and we all went to Senga Bay. Sally lives in a town called Salima, which if you look at the map is a little Northeast from Lilongwe, near the Lake.
It all started on Friday morning…
I decided to try George’s method of travel and see if I cold get a truck going from Dedza straight to Lilongwe. I reached the roadside around 7am and sat to wait. Around 7:40 the Police men alert me that they see a truck coming. Sure enough a big, blue semi-truck comes down our main road. They stop and let me board in the back in the bed. We also picked up some amayis from my village who were apparently waiting a few meters ahead of where I was. They had to resituate their cargo (coke bottle crates) before heading out, but by 8am we were off!
Mom, Grandma, just don’t think about it too much ok? 🙂 I’m still in one piece!
When we arrived in Lilongwe I ask the driver if he can drop me at “Bwalalongove” the place George told me I could find a truck coming back to my village. The man says, “But aren’t you going to Salima? That’s not a good place for me to drop you.” I said, “Well, yes, but I need to go to the Peace Corps office first and it is near Shoprite.” To which he replies, “Oh, Shoprite? I will just drop you there!” Heck, no way was I about to refuse a practically front-door drop off service and save a lot of walking, so I just said thank you many times.
At the office I ran into another volunteer who lives in Salima and she said she was going to hitch there if I wanted to join. I agreed and so I hung out and enjoyed the new free wifi at the office. We got lunch with some of the other volunteers first and then took a minibus to Area 25 to find a hitch at the Salima turn-off. We walked past a couple other turn-offs on that road to avoid hailing anyone turning soon and waited. Barley 10 minutes later we had a ride in a private car with a business man. The car was fast and air conditioned, and wonderful! He dropped us both off within walking distance of our final destinations and never asked for money. I arrived at Sally’s house and was happy to be reunited with others from my training group, especially Chloe!
We all slept at Sally’s for the night. Chloe and I slept outside in my tent because Salima is HOT. hot hot hot hot hot hot. Just sitting in Sally’s house, I had sweat pouring down my face and down my back, soaking my grey tank top. It was truly awful. I don’t think I could live anywhere near Lakeshore. Luckily, Sally had electricity (and running water, jealous!) so she had a fan going, but it could only do so much.
Saturday morning a few more people joined us and we caught a truck going to Senga Bay. This truck was even scarier than that first blue one. It was a small pick-up and the 10 of us were all crammed in the bed with out katundu (stuff) along with about 5 or 6 other Malawians and their katundu. Yeah. They dropped us right at Sunbird Livingstonia Resort and Campsite and we made our way to the beach. Apparently Sally and the rest who live in the are, normally go in through the Resort gates, but there was a wedding and we were forced to go in on the campsite side. We all planned to camp the night anyway since it was so unbearably hot at Sally’s house.
The Lake is amazing!
I almost forgot I was in Malawi for a while. I seriously felt like I was on the beach in Florida, expect the water wasn’t salty. The lake is so expansive you couldn’t see the other side. It was just blue, clear water as far as the eye could see.
Yes I wore a bathing suit and yes I felt extremely exposed and naked, my knees were showing for petesake! But at the Lake everyone is wearing swimsuits, or just underwear in most Malawian’s case. There were many men wearing boxer briefs to swim in, hahaha.
Oh, and of course, being Halloween, America or Malawi, I was determined to celebrate the right way!
What else did you expect me to dress up as? hehehe! Not many other people dressed up, but we all are living in the bush in Africa, so supplies and options are limited. But I managed to be extremely creative and bust out a faery costume using small tree branches (that were fresh so they would break during travel) and an old mosquito net! Pretty awesome if you ask me! I wanted to go all out with make-up too but it was just WAY too hot. This was good enough 🙂
It was such a great experience and even though I am still freaked out about schisto, the cool water was worth it (at least I think so). We all had a great time, drink beers and soaking up lots of Vitamin D. Most of us left with warm, pink sunburns on our faces and exposed shoulders. Sunday we relaxed on the beach till noonish and then went to a nearby cafe for lunch. After lunch we found another truck back to Salima and once back in Salima most of us went out our way. I took a bike taxi to the main road and decided to try and hitch back to Lilongwe and if worse came to worse I could still get a minibus in the same area (but avoid public transport is always preferable!). I waited for a bit and then realized that just down the road was a gas station so many people were pulling into the gas station and not pulling over for me, lol. So after the last attempt to hail an older white couple in a truck, I meandered to the other side of the gas station. I was over there for about 2 minutes when the older white couple was about to pull out of the gas station and the man waved giving me a well-come-on look.
I rushed over and he said I could put my stuff in the back. I got loaded up and thanked them a lot. They were very nice and the woman was from the UK and he was born in Mozambique on the Portugal side. They’d been in Malawi for over 23 years! We talked a lot about Malawi, politics in Malawi, America and the UK, my work, their work and eventually turned out she knows one of the Peace Corps doctors! They said they could drop me at Shoprite if I didn’t mind going to their house first so they could unload before heading to church. I said it wasn’t a problem so we went to their insanely bwana (rich person/boss) house. It was massive, maybe even bigger than our country director’s house! There was a brick wall with barbed wire on top surrounding the premises and a metal gate with a guard! They offered me a bathroom and cake while I waited and then took me to Shoprite. It was so nice of them!
Since I came into Lilongwe later than planned I headed straight to the lodge I like to stay at and ran into another PCV from my group who also lives in Lilongwe district, so we got dinner together and hung out in the lodge bar sharing beers and watching Ghost Busters 2. Monday morning we both went to the office and spent time getting some work done (mainly he was working and I posted pictures from the lake). I also had to figure out how to make it home with ALL the wonderful goodies sent to me from my family back home.
When I came in Friday, the man who runs our mail room declared, “Ashley Stafford! You are the one taking up half my mail room!” And he wasn’t joking! Stacked on the floor beside his desk were about 10 packages and envelopes all addressed to me. *gulp* I was ecstatic to finally receive all the packages my family told me they sent, but all at once? Oh my.
So Monday I went to the Lilongwe market and bought a giant bag in hopes to consolidate it all to be able to carry on my person. I packed and stuffed and repacked and restuffed and eventually managed to fit it all into two bags to carry in my hands, one bag across my front and then my giant backpack on my back. I knew I had to look ridiculous, but I was on a mission to make it all in one trip!
By 1:30pm I decided I really needed to head out and start my hunt for Bwalalonjove in hopes for a truck home and fingers crossed, not any type if public transport. I lug my large bag about a block away from the PC office when a white SUV pulls over and a young white girl pokes her head out and asks in a thick English accent, “May I give you a lift?” I practically started sprinting, regardless of the weight I was carrying. I shoved it all in her back seat and climbed up front. I told her where I was going, that I was trying to find a truck home. She asked where I lived and I explained the location and she offered to drop me off at the turn off to my village and I said that would be perfect since I could still find a truck going to my village without having to wander around asking where all the trucks were going. She even said if she didn’t have other things she had to do she’d take me all the way home. I told her that the turn-off was perfect and thanked her a million times.
Once at the turn off I walked to the side of cars passing on their way towards my village. Then my mom called, so I just stood and half-heartedly waved at a few passing trucks, most of whom either ignored me or made the hand motion to signal that they were staying in the area. While still on the phone I saw a small pick up turn on to the road but I figured it was a private car and only going to Mitundu so I didn’t bother waving; however, the man still pulled over. It took me a moment to decide if he had pulled over for me or not but then I thought, what the hay! So I took off towards the truck leaving my katundu on the ground. I greeted him in Chichewa and he asked where I was going. I told him “Ndikupita ku Katchale.” meaning “I’m going to Katchale” He asked, in English, “Where is that?” I explained it was 18km past Mitundu and he said, “Past Mitundu? Well let me take you at least to Mitundu.” I told him I was really hoping for a truck going to Dedza or Kabwazi that would go all the way to my village. He insisted that I let me drop me in Mitundu and I could still find a truck there. I decided he was right and Mitundu was still one step closer to home. I load my katundu in the back and climbed in the cab with the man and another woman.
The man’s name is Simon and he spoke impeccable English, probably one of the best I’ve encountered so far. It turns out he works for the President of Malawi! He manages farms in Mitundu that are own by the President and was just coming from having a meeting with him. We talked all the way to Mitundu. He said that he had to go to the office until 4pm, otherwise he would take me to Katchale, but then said that if I couldn’t find I ride by 4pm that I could call him and he would take me. When we arrived in Mitundu he pulled over and asked if this was the place to find a truck. I said, “Honestly, I’ve never hailed a truck from Mitundu before, so I really don’t know.” He shook his head and said, “This is not good. If you do not mind, you can just wait at my house until 4pm and then I will just take you home.” The current time was 2:45pm, so I figured an hour or so wouldn’t hurt for a personal, free lift home. The three of us pulled up to his swanky home. It was not a bwana as the older couple from before but still huge and had running water and electricity. We even had to drive through a special gate and he too had a brick wall currounding the property.
I was surprised to see a couple of monkeys just chillin’ in his yard. They ran off soon after we arrived, but I didn’t know monkeys were so close to me! I and the other girl sat down on the couches in the main sitting room of Simon’s house. He showed me where the bathroom was and then left. I just sat and played games on my iPhone and about 40 minutes later he came back. He sat with us for a moment and asked the other girl to cook chips for us. He gave me his phone number for future reference and the three of us snacked on chips with minced meat and cokes. He even had a computer which he had playing music while we ate! lol
At 4pm he said, “Let us go!” So we loaded back up in the truck and he drove me all the way to my village and even pulled up right in front of my house! Talk about front-door service! On the drive he even said if I ever need to go to Lilongwe to just call him and he will come and pick me up to take me with him!
Not only did I get lots of wonderful gifts and food from home, have an incredible trip to Lake Malawi, but I also traveled almost all the way home for free and now have a hook up for transport to town any time!
I secretly think it was good karmic retribution because right before I left I ‘lent’ 200mk to George’s cousin, Cornex, and I paid my water girl the full 600mk payment for October even though I’d given her at least 200mk throughout the month. Either all that or I’m just super awesome and someone was seriously looking out for me this weekend 🙂
The Strange Things Malawians Do and Say
There are a plethora of things Malawians do and say that are strange to most outsiders, but a few in particular really strike me as odd or funny. I would like to start off by discussing with you the oral fixation that most, if not all, Malawian children have.
Here’s what I mean:
1. A lot of the kids who hang out on my porch like to play with my Munny doll, they call it “chidoli” which is just “doll” lol. Well while playing with it they will pull off his arms and head and either stick the entire part (usual the arms) in their mouth or lick it for an unusually long period of time.
2. Another favorite toy the children like to play with of my in a small VW Bug model (which now only has 1 wheel) and I’ve since on several occasions on of them try to fit the whole thing in their mouth, or just lick it.
3. Everyday I pass more than one child who is chewing on something not edible. Be it plastic or cardboard, they will chew it and chew it. If it’s too big to chew they will suck and lick it.
*shrug* Your guess is as good as mine…
When entertainment is minimal, how else would you spend your day?
If you answered playing the same card game ALL day and listening to cell phone ringtones over and over and over and over again, then you answered correctly!
There is ONE card game that everyone knows, called Knock. It’s actually pretty fun, but after 2 hours of anything, I’ve had about enough. But Malawians can play this game for hours on end and never be bored with it, it’s truly amazing.
They also will go through the list of ringtones on various cell phones and let them play. And these are not songs, they are the step before songs, the multi-toned jingles that aren’t very creative sounding. They will do this for way too long (once is enough) and they get a huge kick out of it. Once Gladys thought she was really clever by having two cell phones that were the same brand so their tones were the same going in sync with each other. You should have seen when she discovered the strange ring tones of my iPhone, her and another friend sat and playing those for even longer than they play the cheesy generic tones of the Nokia phones.
Funny things they say:
1. “Moving up and down” – used to describe wandering. If you are walking or riding a bike with not real destination then you are moving up and down. Or if someone doesn’t know where another person is or what they are doing, they say the person is moving up and down.
2. “Take lunch” or “take tea” – here you do not ‘eat’ you ‘take’.
3. “I get you” – often the word ‘get’ is used in loo of ‘understand’ but no one uses understand, they all use ‘get’. I’m not getting you, do you get me?
4. “That one” – used to describe a person. When thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure how I would mention a person either, but it just seems very… impersonal to be talking about a person and call them “that one” or “this one”.
5. “sorry” – this is only funny because they say it ALL the time! In Chichewa and English. What makes it humorous is they will say it when they have no reason to be sorry. For example, if I trip over a rock while walking with a Malawian, they say sorry. If I spilt some food while dishing it to myself, they say sorry. If they dropped food while dishing it to themselves, they say sorry. It’s very silly.
Ever wonder how Malawians in the villages make things?
Oh yeah 🙂 talk about manual labor! They are making new benches for the Health Center and doing so right outside my house. The men have been out there for over 2 weeks now and are up bright and early at 5:30 am sawing and chopping. I took this photo from my font porch. It’s annoying, but I guess it could be worse.
Well that’s all to this week’s novel! Hope you all enjoyed and my stories weren’t too boring. I miss you all and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who has been sending me packages. They are seriously awesome!
If you are wishing you could send me a care package but lack time and/or money, good news! Since they installed wifi at the office I am able to download ebooks to my Nook! So if you want to get me anything, a great thing would be Barnes & Noble gift cards. You can do one of two things:
1. Purchase an eGift card on www.bn.com and have it sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if that’s too complicated
2. Purchase a physical card from a BN store and just send me an email with the number that is on the back, as well at the PIN code under the silver square you have to scratch off.
Either one would work and will be cheaper, faster and easier than sending me actual books. Plus you know how much I LOVE my books! So if you’re thinking, isn’t there other things you need beside books? Well yes, but books are way up on my list of things to keep me sane and happy, which is very important!! And please don’t feel obligated to get anything, but I know some of you have mentioned wanting to send me something so I’m just putting the idea out there 🙂
Thanks everyone for reading and supporting me on my crazy African journey!