Malawi Arrival

The trip from Johannesburg to Lilongwe was not particularly eventful.  I discovered that South African Airways serves food even on 2.5 hour flights, and that their food is somewhat more edible than Delta’s.  Though I had feared a rough ride on a prop plane (a la the Detroit – Ithaca flight), it was a jet, and it was full of passengers.  Upon landing, we had to bus from the plane to the terminal, and then queue up to go through immigration.  I got my passport stamped, collected my baggage (yes, it all arrived), went through customs, was subject to a cursory search of my suitcase, and entered the fray of anxious family members and taxi drivers.  Fortunately, it did not take me long to find the Embassy representative who had come to pick me up, and we were on our way.

On the way to the “lodge” where I spent the night, we stopped to get cash from an ATM (which I later discovered that my bank charged $3.50 for, even though I’m not supposed to have ATM fees) and a SIM card for my phone.  I checked into the lodge – which seems to be somewhere between a hostel and a nice hotel – around 4.  Pleased to find free (if incredibly slow) internet access, I caught up on email and read for a while.  The lodge was in a pretty residential neighborhood with completely unmarked streets, so I didn’t venture out or wander around.  Though I think they had some dinner options available, I dug into my stash of snacks and went to bed around 9…only to awake around 11 and be unable to go back to sleep.  (Guess my body thought the 9-11 thing was an afternoon nap – it would have been 2-4 PM in Iowa.)  I was awake for several hours before I finally fell asleep again.

Friday morning I got up early, because the driver was supposed to come for me at 7:30.  After packing everything back into my suitcases, I ventured out to breakfast.  The offerings were fairly standard – fruit, cornflakes, and drinks, plus eggs, toast, meats, and baked beans to order.  After breakfast, with no sign of the driver, I began to feel ill and promptly threw up.  Strike one for Malawian food, I thought.  (Actually, a similar experience this morning makes me think it’s actually taking the doxycycline – my anti-malarial drug – on an empty stomach.  The directions say that taking it with food may decrease its effectiveness, but I’m planning to try that tomorrow, since I doubt that vomiting every morning increases either its or my effectiveness.)

My driver eventually showed up around 9 AM and delivered me and my luggage to the Embassy.  I met with the acting Ambassador, stopped by the Consular’s office and registered, and met the staff in the Public and cultural Affairs section.  After lunch with the Public Affairs officer and the Cultural Affairs officer, another driver collected me to take me to Bunda College of Agriculture, where I’ll be based.  We stopped at two grocery stores along the way so I could pick up a few things.  Not knowing what the food accomodations would be like, I got some bottled water, fruit, peanut butter, jelly, bread, soup, and tea, as well as a power strip with a voltage meter and a fused plug converter.  (I’m hoping not to fry my computer while here.)

I was surprised to find that groceries were similarly priced to what you might get in the US. I imagine I may be able to find cheaper produce, etc., in markets – the supermarkets were relatively nice and probably cater to the ex-pat population.  The bread was about a dollar, 5L of water about $3, and peanut butter $3.25.  The jelly was a big ticket item – K703, or about $5.  The currency here is the Malawian Kwatcha; the conversion rate is roughly K140 to $1.  The largest bill is K500, which means that to buy anything you need to carry around a big stack of money.  The bills are also larger (dimension-wise) than USD, and don’t really fit into my wallet.

After the grocery stops, it took about half an hour to get to Bunda.  My supervising professor has class on Friday afternoon, so the American professor (who is here until December) came to greet me.  He helped me get settled into the “Forestry Guest House,” which is where I’ll be staying for now.  My room reminds me a little of Telluride, actually, in that it is furnished with a variety of miscellaneous furniture and mismatched sheets of indeterminate origins (but that are surely clean).  There are two single beds, a desk, and a large east-facing window, which I hope will help me adjust to Malawi time.  I have my own bathroom and shower, though there is currently no hot water.  (Apparently a filament burned out in the hot water heater, and will cost K15,000 to fix.)  There are four guest rooms (and bathrooms) in the house, plus a central living room, kitchen, and laundry room.  There’s cable TV, but no washing machine, electricty, but no internet, and an electric stove and refrigerator, but no oven.  Currently, there is one other long-term guest in the house, a woman from Zambia who is working in the research center until December, plus two older gentlemen who came last night and who I assume are here for a short time.

After class, my supervising professor came to meet me and showed me around some of the campus.  He had actually booked me a different room in another part of campus, so we went to check it out, but I decided to stick with the Forestry Guest House.  The other room didn’t have (as far as I could tell) access to a kitchen.  After, my superivising professor went back to town (he lives in Lilongwe), and I watched TV for a while with the other house guest.  The American professor came to get me around 6, and we went to the campus “restaurant,” where he takes most his meals.  We had fried chicken, rice, and a couple sides (a green that tasted like spinach, and a salad with tomatoes, lettuce, and onions) for about K500 each.  He reported that the food there is generally good, but gets repetitive.  I imagine that I will do most of my own cooking once I get settled, but it is nice to have the option.

He showed me a little more of campus, though it was dark.  (The sun had set by 6.)  We passed by a group of students singing hymns (I think), but no crazy parties.  Back at the guest house, I watched some more TV (Big Brother Africa, which is just as bad as Big Brother in the US) and retired to my room.  The award for best advice so far goes to Linda, who told me that I should bring DVDs of a TV series and watch them whenever I felt that everything was too foreign or lonely.  After an episode of Everwood, I went to bed around 9 and (thankfully) slept all night, to be awakened by the sun and strains of American pop music a little after 7 AM.  I know that some of you may have been worried that I wouldn’t get enough Justin Timberlake now that I don’t live with Andrew, but let me assure you, it is alive and well and LOUD at the student center here.

This morning, I unpacked, took my doxycycline (and got sick about 45 minutes later), managed to trip the circuit braker plugging in my computer power cord, and had a peanut butter and jelly breakfast.  I’m not actually sure how I managed to trip the braker, as I was plugging the power cord into a power strip socket that was supposedly turned off (each socket has a power switch), but it made a big spark and then none of my outlets worked.  Fortunately, the fuse box was not hard to find.  I will be more careful from now on, though if any of you electrical types have advice to offer, please do.

This afternoon, I’m hoping to do a little more exploring and find some internet access.  There is internet on campus, mostly in the offices and perhaps in the library.  (If you see this, I guess you will know that I was successful.)

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One Response to “Malawi Arrival”

  1. Linda Says:

    I think your first venture to the market should include searching for a Malawian money clip, so you can peel bills off your big wad of cash. I’m glad you’re getting fed, and I hope the daily puking stops soon – traveling sick is no fun.

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