November 5, 2010 - a story from the road
As told by a Romanian engineer--- I was kidnapped once. You see I was working in Nigeria building bridges in remote areas and found myself in-between two sides of an ongoing feud. The river, impassible at the time of my arrival, stood as a barrier between two warring tribes. I didn't know this when I took to job, but found it as just one more hurdle to working in a developing country. The people I was working with wanted me to have a full body guard of soldiers while working there, but I didn't want the locals to feel threatened and I knew they would not approach me in the same manner if guns were involved. Instead, I decided to talk to the villages and reason through working together.
I first went to one side of the river and asked to speak with the chiefs to follow traditional protocol. The meeting went well as they agreed to work with me and provide some people we could employee. Then we crossed the river by small boat and found the other side a bit less willing welcoming. You see, they saw us on the other side of the river speaking to their enemies and therefore thought we came on bad terms. So as we stepped off the boat were immediately taken hostage where w stayed for the next two days until the elders of the community could decide what to do with us. Luckily, they called us to a meeting and insisted we explain ourselves. The next few hours involved a lot of misunderstandings, puffing of chests, and cultural exchanges. As a Romanian I held my hand across my chest to show respect but also insisted that we speak as equals and warriors as we both came from societies who have known war. After sometime we came to an understanding and I hired my captors to work on the bridge and to even be my body guards for the duration of my stay in country.
I continued to work with the two sides of the river, and as time passed their interactions between each other became less hostile. As I had the chiefs working together on my council they were able to come to equal grounds and even develop a friendship. The workers even banned together (even though they to came from different sides of the river) and insist that that the name tags which I was providing said 'assistants' instead of 'laborer'. They formed a fraternity of 'assistants' and were seen wearing their hard hats around the villages even on days off to show their position. As far as I know the two groups are still staying in peace and cross the bridge frequently without a second thought to the violence which they had before its existence.
7 November 2010 - Traveling back to Usisya
For those of you who live in a world where transport means getting in your own car and going wherever you fancy, let me tell you about my world of getting from point A to point B.
Here's the break down…
By Road- to get anywhere on the rough roads of Malawi you have a few options but none are exactly easy or ideal. There are the public means of travel by bus, taxi, or mini bus. All of these will cost you kwacha which you never really want to part with, and are subject to breakdowns. They are ideal when traveling long distances (especially the AXA buses which are fairly reasonable) or in worst case scenarios. Never get in a mini bus if you are in a hurry and don't turn towards taxis if you are living on a low budget. There are also bike taxi's which can take you around cities or between small towns. They obviously don't get over vast distances and make you feel ridiculous when riding one (the bigger you are the more awkward you look). I have only taken one once (when going to hike Mulanje) and while I found it rather fun (as I raced with other volunteers) I don't believe I would ever choose it as long ascan walk.
If you want to spend a bit less money and don't mind the fresh air, then there are matola (trucks) and lories which are frequently seen hauling people for a price in whatever direction they are going. It's a good way for the driver to make a little extra cash and for more people to be moved across the country. These can be flagged down on almost any road and usually move at reasonable speeds (except from my village where there is just one which leaves at 3am and returns around 3pm the next day).
Moving a short distance? Then you can walk to take a bike. Bikes are only really feasible if you live near town or want to get around your village. Walking is the rainy day solution when roads are too muddy to pass or you simply get fed up for waiting on a car. Personally, I have walked out of Usisya twice (about 7 hours) and each time I question why I began the journey in the first place. Although, that being said, I always feel like I've achieved something when I use my own legs to get there and thus frequently take that option when it is possible to manage.
Lastly, is hitching. Now I know the concept makes you shudder, and in most countries around the world it is not something I would suggest, but here's it's predominately safe. Just stand on the side of the road and wave your arm up and down. Being white I tend to have good luck with this and have a high percentage of hitches where I wasn't asked to pay anything. They open doors for conversations with people you would have otherwise never met, and are the absolute fastest way to get around. Keep in mind that the only people in country with cars are NGO workers or members of government and therefore the less than wholesome people in country are no likely to have cars to begin with.
By Lake- There are three types of boats on the lake 1. Wato (small dug out canoe) 2. motor boat (wooden boat with a motor attached but usually quite slow) 3. ilala (steam boat which does one week rotations up and down the coast). To Usisya I can take a private motor boat (really only the one which my NGO has seeing as how to hire one would be 2 months salary) which is about 6 hours on a calm day. If there are waves I suggest not going on the lake with anything smaller than the ilala or even the most strong stomached of people will walk off queasy. So if you jump on the ilala it only comes through once a week and is usually several hours off schedule. So you sit around and wait and hope that when it arrives it has enough diesel to take you up the coast; because if there's a shortage in country (like there usually is) then it won't go north at all for fear of not being able to refuel.
So this is my life; fighting to get around as best I can while spending as little kwacha as possible and not having to wait too many days in towns. It's an uphill struggle which I've adapted to. And while volunteers are always complaining I must admit that we actually find it a bit of a fun game at times or a good excuse to spend just one more day in the city. So if you have a car or a public transport system that works… don't take is for granted.
14 November 2010 - Food
So I have started making my journal entries more on a subject basis than that of an experienced occurrence, but I suppose it could be an excellent way to help people back home understand my life here (as many of you seemed baffled when I saw you a few weeks ago). This entry will be about the massive thing that has been devouring my mind ever since I returned to Malawi- FOOD!
You see, before I went home on holiday I had an idea of what I was missing by living here. For 22 years I lived off of the multicultural melting pot of America and never thought about how easy it was to fill a craving. Ok, maybe it was a bit more difficult before I got a license, but still Mom and Dad were always happy to run to the closest Dairy Queen or Wal-Mart for me. Then moving on into college my tastes refined a bit more to include southern cooking and the smorgasbord that is Atlanta (Thanks Sandye and Sergei). Needless to say, there was little a time that I went hungry or lived without a need filled.
So here I sit, once again I my little village land/lake locked into the cultural cuisine. Not so bad at first- rice, or nsima (pound maize flour cooked into a white pattie virtually devoid of nutrients or taste) served with vegetables cooked in more oil than a doctor would ever allow or chicken/goat/fish if there's a traditional ceremony or dignitary running around. This meal, while without obvious variety and only flavored locally with salt, I had grown to appreciate when my plate was full and the fire start easily in my outdoor kitchen. So I lived blissfully for a year and a half knowing that I was missing better food hidden on other continents but forgetting how it all actually tasted on the pallet.
That is until I went home to meal after meal in restaurant and home cooked. I returned to a world where fires where only needed if one choose to grill, and all the food groups presented themselves without a struggle. Refrigerators left promise of a meal to be had later if not finished the first time around, and literally hundreds of square feet of food was just down the road and at my finger tips in an instant. Now, sadly, as I site in my little house made of bricks all I can think about is the food I left behind (and my friends and family of course). So, here's a warning to other volunteers and travelers. If you want to be happy keep ignorance as an option, because I wont have satisfied taste buds again for another six months. But, while this makes the last bit of service a bit bland… I am happy to have been able to rejuvenate them, if only for a few short weeks. THANKS to all those who shared a meal with me in the states (oh yah eating alone every meal also stinks).
24 November 2010 - visitors
The road traveled is always made shorted by a traveling companion. For this reason I think the time alone in my village seem like the longest days as most time is spent without other to make it move faster. In the last week, however, I have had several visitors come through who have brought some life to my little house.
First were two fellow PCVs, Scott and Matt, who are quite entertaining and great guys. Having traveled with them some in country and often gravitated towards them at parties, it was fantastic to have them around. Being musically inclined and always with a guitar in hand there's frequent bluegrass in the air and always the interesting variety of conversation topics. Also, as their group came to country just before mine they are easy to relate to seeing as how we've all been in Malawi long enough to appreciate its quarks and share in the frustrations. Anyhow, being Scott's birthday they took a little lakeshore holiday which landed them here in Usisya for a couple of days. We chilled at my lodge, ate two incredibly large catfish, and swam around all day with the kingfishers and cranes. So, while I had a bit of something in my stomach not wanting me to have fun, I rallied and had a blast.
My next visitor was Devon, a Canadian working for the District Water Board under Engineers without Borders. He came through to assess some boreholes and parts supply chains in the area. Having met him in Nkhata Bay I happily gave him my hammock for the two nights he was in the area and distracted him from work by swims in the lake. Also, Max (a great guy from England who will hopefully be coming through soon to rejuvenate the lodge) was also through with some travelers who needed to get out of the trading center for a bit. So, we braai(ed) some fish as well and swam around being unproductive and seemingly having not a care in the world.
So, long story short, it's great to break up the monotony of the village with travelers and lakeshore rests. While the village probably doesn't know what to think of me with all these guys coming through and seen about town with more white people then the area has seen in awhile, I was happy for some guests. I will be interested to see … probably that I've taken many husbands J