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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


May 17, 2006: Sunsets

Sorry for our incommunicado-ness for the last few days. We have been out of Blantyre, hanging out at the beach, hobnobbing in the capital and otherwise enjoying ourselves. First, a shout out to all the mothers out there! Happy Belated Mothers Day, and especially to mine.

Two weekends ago we headed to Dedza, a hilly area in the central west area of Malawi near the Mozambique border. We stayed at the school of Forestry about 10km down a dirt road outside of town, which rents small comfortable rooms in the trees at the foot of a mountain. We arrived a little before sunset and so quickly scrambled up (of course, straight up) the to watch the sun set. The sky was huge and the sunset was spectacular setting behind the mountains in Mozambique.

The next day, we made a stop at Dedza pottery, where we finally bought ourselves some plates. We have been operating on two plastic Target plates, two bowls, and two cups that I bought the day before we left. Now we have true-life plates of multiple sizes that Jimmy’s mom would be proud of – each with a different hand-painted animal. On the way out, we stopped at an art shop where we got our first wood wall carving – Jesus on a cross surrounded by carved vices: fighting, adultery, witchcraft (depicted by two skeleton-looking guys with arched backs and big bellies) and some other evil activity that no one can make out, even Francisca.

Francisca just moved into her own house in Manase, the township just down from our house. She invited us over to visit last week, leading us through a maze of muddy paths, brick walls, tin roofs, dirt roads and streams, where people are washing clothes and themselves. Her house is a tiny thatched structure with a living area, a bedroom and a kitchen the size of a small closet. She has no electricity and no furniture. She loves it; she smiled proudly the whole time she was giving us the tour. Francisca is who passes for the Malawian middle class.

Work has been busy. Story Workshop will be exhibiting at the International Trade Fair this weekend, and somehow I got myself roped into organizing that. Actually, it is no mystery. I know exactly how it happened.

Joke: “I need someone to organize our booth at the International Trade Fair.”

Janie: (Without giving anyone else a chance to chime in) “Me me me. I’d love to do it.”

Can’t you just hear it? Geez. Now I am busy trying to figure out how to get things done I have no wherewithal or idea how to get done. Story of my life.

I have also been busy with the fascinating task of meeting with NGOs across Malawi to find out about their projects and areas of work to explore closer collaborations with them. The more people I meet, and the more fascinating work I hear about, the more I wonder at the factors that keep life for rural Malawians from getting better. Of course, ask anyone – Malawians or expats, either – and they will give you their expert opinion on the subject. I don’t excuse myself from this desire to hold forth, but I do realize that I have an eight-week tenure in the country, so I will save my speech for now on the factors involved in keeping the Malawian people down. And hungry. And sick. You can’t beat your head against a wall enough at how unfair and unjust the whole system is. It feels helpless and hopeless, and maybe it is. But Malawi is an amazing country, so there must be a ray of hope somewhere. At least, I guess, that’s how people go on.    

On Monday and Tuesday of this week Jimmy and I made our first trip to Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. We each had a series of meetings – me with NGOs and prospective funders for Story Workshop and he with government ministries involved with water in his current gig as a volunteer for the Bill Clinton Foundation. We decided to first make a trip on Saturday to Senga Bay, on the southwestern side of Lake Malawi.

We stayed at Cool Runnings, a shaded and grassy lodge in the middle of a lakeside village. There was a dog named Janie and plenty of English magazines, so my heart was content – except that I kept thinking the owner was commanding me to jump in the back of her car. We met a Belgian couple, Erik and Nele, who were taking 15 months to travel around Africa, and 2 German guys – one with a bad tooth who winced every time he talked – who were doing the same.

On Sunday morning, Nele and I went running on the beach while Jimmy hired a guy in a canoe to escort him on a swim back from the island (it turned out that the guy was stoned and also had never paddled a canoe, so he couldn’t keep up with Jimmy). Unfortunately, after about 45 minutes, Nele slipped on some rocks and tore the ligaments in her foot. While she sat on the ground in pain (and with some guy trying to sell her keychains!) I sprinted back to Cool Runnings to get Erik. Either because I was running fast or just making a terrible face, the whole village came out to cheer for me. People were shouting, “Runner! Runner!” and “Good show!” and “Yeah!” and I even had a sprinter whiz past me in his underwear just to show me up. As much as I was gasping for air, I was also cracking up. And I resolved to run fast down the beach again in happier circumstances.

On Sunday night, we arrived in Lilongwe. We stayed at this amazing place called the Kumbali Lodge, which is owned by a South African couple and has big beds, beautiful woodwork, spacious baths and high-ceilinged chalets on a dairy farm about 5k out of town. I kind of wanted to live there. But instead I just took a few too many baths in the comfy bath tub with piping hot water. Ah, the little things in life.

Monday and Tuesday, Jimmy and I both had meetings around town. One of my colleagues, Joyce, met us there and we met several major NGOs together. All of our meetings were very successful, but the trip was not without some unfortunate incidents. Jimmy saw a guy get hit by a car (and unfortunately probably killed) when he walked out into a busy road with cars driving 50mph. In Malawi, since no one has a car, swarms of people walk on the sides of the roads at all times. The main roads are thoroughfares for cars, trucks, buses, goats, cows, bikes, pedestrians and dogs – so you have to be very careful while driving. Or walking or biking or herding your goats for that matter.

My taxi driver had a tire blowout on a main road and had to go search for a wheel spanner. We also got a message from Wallace that he had gotten robbed in a market by some guys who followed him from a shop where he had bought a pair of pants and accidentally pulled out several thousand kwacha Jimmy had given him to buy some thatch for the yard. They wrestled him to the ground and stole his money, but luckily he was not hurt badly. All reminders, however, that perfect safety anywhere is an illusion.  

So despite the fact that the trip was littered with a few unsavory experiences, communications challenges, wrong directions, strange streets, and me spilling coffee on myself (what’s new?) it was quite a good experience.

On Tuesday night, I walked down the quiet dirt road that leads from the Kumbali Lodge. The sun was setting and the sky was pink with a haze that reminded me of winter. A woman about 100 yards in front of me was walking home from work barefoot with a basket on her head. She was wearing a yellow chitenje, the Malawian version of a sarong, and she started singing in this sweet, beautiful voice. 

The wind was blowing across the field and I took my shoes off and walked on the soft dirt behind her, thinking how thankful I was to be in Malawi. 


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