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February 11, 2006
April 11, 2006: Entry
April 19, 2006: Memo
April 20, 2006: Water
May 3, 2006: Mulanje
May 17, 2006: Sunsets
June 7, 2006: Bolero
June 20, 2006: Newsletter
July 12, 2006: Dana
July 17, 2006: Cindy August 21, 2006: Scenes
September 11, 2006: Travels
November 24, 2006: You Have Noise. I Am Mechanic.
December 19, 2006: Email to Hayden
January 6, 2007: Mozambique
March 20, 2007: Chinseu
April 24, 2007: Malawi Marshes


April 19, 2006: Memo

Jimmy Bisese
Number "Nine" Mbobe Close Road
Blantyre Malawi Africa

Matt Harrington;
Mike Nellis;

CC: any and all others who may be thinking of
coming and working as house staff in Malawi. Please forward.

Dear Sirs,

Thank you very much for your interest in working for Janie and I in Malawi. As you can imagine, we had a very good response to our request for "garden boy" and "house boy" and we are still hearing an occasional rattling of the gate lock by someone or other, carrying an oftentimes laminated letter of recommendation looking for a job.

While both of you are estimable characters, and come with some (albeit "qualified") recommendations, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you, that you have not been selected at this time. We will keep your applications on record, and if every skilled applicant in Malawi is for some reason unavailable, we will contact you.

It might help you to know something about the two fine young gentlemen who were selected above you.

Mike hails from Bvumbwe (pronounced Voomway) Village, some 25 kilometers outside of Blantyre. He arrived in a newly laundered white longsleeve shirt, and nice pants, and shoes, and was carrying a hoe, a new "slasher" which is used to cut grass, a good sized backpack I guess filled with clothes, a reed sleeping matt, and a brand new small metal cooking contraption that you use with charcoal which is sold all over the place here for K25 for 2 meals worth (US$0.20). All new kit. This is Mike's first "garden boy" job, and we get the hint that it is his first time in Blantyre, and definitely the first time interacting with "muzungus" (non-Malawians).

Not really having any knowledge of Mike's background, I patiently explained and worked with him to transplant a small palm-like shrub from the location where the guard shack is going to be built [a later story], to a new spot in the yard. Explanations right down to mixing sand in with the soil, and how not to bury below the old soil line. Even stopping him from adding more soil when the level was just where I thought it was right. Realizing slowly that Mike might just have done this kind of thing before, I asked him to move 3 other plants, and I ended up leaving to go somewhere in the car.

There is exactly one sick plant in the yard.

I think Mike could move a redwood tree. Since April 3rd he has built two sandy, hard-packed, dinner-table pads in the "veranda", worked with 3 other Bvumbwe'inas to build a giant-bamboo fence, moved soil and "made grass" (sodd schmodd) , cut grass with his slasher, super cleaned a "cooker" (stove) that we got from our landlord, and such stuff. I have tried to keep up with him, but he is too strong.

Wallace is the other fine young gentleman working with us, living in "the quarters" which we have renamed "the cottage," although only Janie and I are really comfortable calling it that. Wallace kind of came with the house. Honestly, after all the stories we heard (namely one detailed story from one expat, and lots of incidental stories from other people) about "inherited" house staff, I was ready to run Wallace off when we first rented our house.

He had been living in the house for the last four months as a job, I guess just sitting around 24-hours a day "guarding the place". He asked, politely, if we needed a "house boy", but because everyone kept telling us to start fresh I thought that surely a bored 19 or 20 year-old guy who was getting moved out of the house into "the quarters" would have a grudge against the new tenants. He would have the best opportunity to figure out how to get into the house if he was so inclined, which he must be. I think very much I was projecting what I might have done in the situation.

Through the careful and patient ministrations of Janie, I conceded that Wallace could occupy one of the two bedrooms in the cottage. In addition to doing odd-jobs, he would guard the place on the weekends when Mike and maybe Janie and I were away. He said he was earning K4,500 per-month keeping the house for his "mother". That's US$33.58. His "mother" in this case is the landlady Esmay, who is related to his deceased father and who has been looking after him ever since, since in Malawi the kids go with the fathers' family if the father dies, even if the mother is still around. (I think this is the way it was explained, and I am probably only partially understanding what is going on.)

To cut to the punch line, Wallace has become my left-hand man. Wallace lost his right arm to about halfway in his bicep in a mini-bus accident on April 6th last year. He was a driver, and was waving out the window for his friend to come by, when unfortunately his friend came too close and caught his arm. Until he told me it was one year ago I thought it must have been as a kid, because he is as not depressed and feeling sorry for himself as anyone else would be.

Wallace knows where every single place is in Blantyre and Limbe (the next city over, and the "con-urbation" as it is sometimes called), and knows where to get anything, anywhere, and exactly what price to pay. He knows everybody. The names and professions of all the neighbors living behind their 10 foot fences, the names of all "the workers" behind all the fences, and the names of the guys breaking granite boulders into rocks using fire and chisels, who were willing (and did) deliver about a ton or so of rock down the street from where they were working to our yard for K1500 (US$11.19). We did have to supply the wheelbarrow though.

I have been able to put the map away and let Wallace find the factory where the man selling the car we bought was, find the one place in the con-urbation selling car fire extinguishers, go to a place where from start to finish it took 8 minutes and 30 seconds to use a grinder to cut away a locking bolt with a lost key from the spare tire. This includes the time to unwire one tool to use the cord to wire the grinder (all by hand and all with hot wires). I had to go into the office to pay. The guy apologized for asking for K350 (US$2.59) for the job.

Yesterday Wallace walked Janie and I into Manasi Township, which is about 10 minute walk from our house. A "township" is where there are few if any roads for cars, few places with electricity, lots of people walking around, naked kids running everywhere, and everyone saying "Halo", and "Good Morning, How are you?"

In Manasi yesterday you would also have found 2 muzungus walking around with probably one of the only one-armed Malawians, saying "Moni" and "Mwadzuka Bwanji?" We bought 7 grass outside brooms for Janie to use as decoration in our sparse house (to the amusement of Wallace), two galvanized aluminum pails that were being made very much by hand using one hammer, a chisel, and rock, by Harold and his brother, 50 assorted nails (plus a bonus 10 because Wallace asked), and a pink and yellow bag with a kiddy illustration and the title "Happly Baby."

I honestly doubt I would have ever felt comfortable going into the township if Wallace wasn't there, and him so absolutely sure that there was no problem at all with us going to Manasi. Other than the fact that we had to walk the slightly longer way because the mud was bad on the more direct route.

So, in short, Wallace turned out to be a great guy, and we are really lucky that 1) Wallace is here, and 2) I didn't do what I was so completely sure was the smart thing. At this point I can't imagine how I would have gotten so many things done in the last 19 days, and our world would be a smaller place because we'd be living behind our new giant-bamboo fence and needing to find out everything about our new home and the people and places in Malawi from first principles, which would take way more that two years.

So, in short, you guys, Matt and Mike, did not get the job. You are welcome to come to Malawi for a visit, and Wallace can even drive you around, and Mike can show you how to split bamboo and make a fence, but we can't hire you.

As I said before, and likely will have to say again "Sorry, all the jobs are taken. Zikomo"

Yours truly,




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