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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 20, 2006: Water

There's not much you can do with a pump without a handle.

The paper reports this morning that, according to international NGO WaterAid, there are about 43,000 "water points" (which means wells) in Malawi, but that the majority of them are "non functional." No doubt, many are simply missing their handles.

Certainly this is the problem with the one on the east side of Chembe Village. So about half the villagers in this Lake Malawi community of 5,000, have to walk about a mile and a half, clear to the other side of town, to pump clean water. A lot of them send their kids there, laden with big tin buckets I can't lift when full. And since Jimmy and I are walking that way, and since like for kids it seems more fun to us than a burden, and since we can go back to the lodge anytime and turn on the tap in the bathroom sink for our own water, we stop to help pump.

The concept is simple: You just move the handle up and down, and a reliable, if not thick, stream of water comes pouring out. It takes about a minute to fill up a good-sized bucket. When the two they have brought are full, the girls who brought them smile, hoist them up on their heads, and scurry away.

The rest of the kids follow us at our heels back to the lodge where we are camping on a white stretch of private beach. Sometimes they say, "How are you?" or "What's Your Name?" Occasionally they say, "Sweets! Sweets!" or "Give me money!" When they say that, Jimmy retorts, "What for? Then give me a fish!" Every time, this sends them into peals of giggles and jumping up and down.

Malawi is not short on water, or laughing kids, and you can see that nowhere better than from the shores of Lake Malawi. We have made the four-hour drive up from Blantyre for the four-day Easter weekend and are staying at Chembe Lodge, which is owned and mostly patronised by South African expats from Blantyre and Lilongwe. The lake is blue, especially when the sun shines through, and when it is clear, you can see 52 miles across the lake to the mountains on the border of Mozambique in the east.

The South Africans we meet here at the lodge are mostly businessmen -- oil and rubber and road construction. They remind us of Texas cowboys, with their speed boats and 3-wheelers and incessant bourbon drinking and attitude that all the world might be theirs if the price is right.

But they seem to be friendly enough people (who you nevertheless get the sense that you wouldn't want to cross), and we don't turn down the offer from Johann to go out on the diving boat to Thumbwe island about a mile away.

We drop anchor at a small cove where the water is green and even from above you can see blue and orange fish darting around in giant (like Los Angeles-size public) schools. We snorkel for a while and then head around the other side of the island. On the way, we stop to buy some small chambo (white fish) from about 10 fishermen in a tiny wooden boat. Johann looks up into the sky, emits a screeching whistle, and throws the fish into the air as high as he can. Jimmy and I only have time to look at each other in puzzlement, when suddenly a huge eagle with white wings swoops down from about 100 feet to grab the fish. Just as quickly, he is gone.

Johann guns the engine and we take off again. It is sunset now, and the sky is throwing these crazy fiery colors across the Mozambique mountains in the distance. Every night is like this, and we sit on the boat or on the beach and watch the day turn dark. On the other side of the bamboo fence from Chembe Lodge, some villagers pull their boats in and some of the fishermen load their nets up and head out to lake for the night. Mothers send their kids to get water from the pump on the other side of town so they can cook nsima, the national food, which is a lot like grits and on which most people are completely dependant for food.

And as the sun dips quickly and the color disappears, all you're left with is the magic of tiny lights from fishing boats bobbing up and down, and getting smaller and smaller in the nighttime sky.

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