New site, settling in

The weekend passed sleepily here at Bunda.  I spent a few hours each day at Robert’s house, mostly because he felt obligated to make sure that I was eating and the restaurant was closed.  He has a lovely little porch area that overlooks the sports fields, so we sat out there.  On Saturday afternoon, there were many students on the field, playing basketball, hand ball (a girls’ sport that appears to be like basketball except without dribbling, and with smaller hoops – something I might actually be coordinated enough to play), and volleyball.  No one was there on Sunday, though they may have come later in the afternoon.

We drove to Lilongwe for dinner on Sunday and had pizza at one of the few restaurants open.  It was relatively inexpensive – K1200 for a large “extravaganza,” which was topped with two kinds of meat and several types of vegetables.  It was dark by the time we left the restaurant, so there wasn’t much sight seeing along the way.

Driving here is an exercise in speeding and dodging, it seems.  Though there are a fair number of cars on the road in Lilongwe, the vast majority of Malawians do not have cars – so the sides of the road are filled with walkers and bikers, many of whom pay little attention to oncoming traffic.  Add this to the erratic driving and frequent stops of minibuses (which are privately-owned vans that provide a kind of public transportation) and the fact that traffic laws seem to be gently suggested rather than strictly enforced, and you get quite an obstacle course.  I haven’t ridden far but have already had a few heart-stopping moments.  Apparently market days are only worse.

We returned to Lilongwe this morning and I did some exploring and grocery shopping while Robert had a few meetings.  The downtown area is relatively small, and I walked a good bit (though not all) of it before stopping in a little restaurant near the Shop Rite to have a cup of coffee.  I was surprised to find that I had paid K200 for a cup, milk and sugar, a small teapot full of hot water, and mysterious brown powder – turns out people here drink instant coffee.  I had no idea how much powder to add to the water, but managed to make something drinkable, and sat for quite a while reading my Malawi guidebook.

After, I did my grocery shopping, and got a week’s worth of food for $30 or so – similar to or slightly less than what I was spending in DC, probably.  One thing I find surprising about groceries here is that the pricing scheme bears little resemblance to that in the US.  Fresh vegetables are much cheaper than packaged or canned produce of any type; the cost of fruit varies considerably, I assume according to how far it has to come and how long it can be kept.  All milk here is of the ultra-pasturized, unrefrigerated variety.  Several feet of the refrigerator case were devoted to margarine products, but butter was almost nonexistent and quite expensive.  The cheese I got was my most expensive item (right in front of a set of 5 plastic hangers – which cost almost $5), and it was a generic variety of cheddar.  Meat is less expensive, but beef is much more similarly priced to say, chicken, than it is in the US.  Pasta and rice are similarly priced to the US, but the cheapest pasta sauce I saw was over $5 (I didn’t get any).  I’m guessing that the prices are a reflection of the cost of transportation and storage – as a landlocked country, Malawi gets a lot of its supplies overland from South Africa, Mozambique, and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam is the nearest port).  Still, it’s funny to see things priced how groceries in the US maybe should be priced – as a reflection of the input and fuel costs.

The drive back to Bunda from Lilongwe passes through several small collections of houses (most made of mud bricks with thatched or tin roofs) and several roadside markets.  It’s the dry season, so the landscape is largely shades of brown.  The dirt here is a reddish brown, and most families make bricks for building from the soil on their land.  According to Robert, this is a real problem because the top soil is relatively shallow here, and in a matter of a few years families can render their lands completely infertile.  The land is relatively flat, with a mix of fields and trees.  My favorite parts of the nature here so far are purple trees and monkeys.

At first I thought the purple trees were that way year-round, but it turns out that I just arrived in time for the flowering season.  Though I’m slightly less impressed now, they’re still very pretty.  The only type of wildlife I’ve seen so far, besides ownerless dogs and varieties of farm animals, are the monkeys.  There is a family that lives outside my guest house, and I passed by a tree of them elsewhere on campus also.  Several of them have babies right now, which they carry around in their pouches.  As someone who has never seen monkeys outside of a zoo before (I remember we tried in vain to see some in Costa Rica but failed), it’s quite amusing to pass by them on my way through campus.

And now, for your viewing pleasure:

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2 Responses to “New site, settling in”

  1. Linda Says:

    Ugh, yeah, the unrefrigerated milk. That was all they drank in France, too, and I couldn’t get used to the concept of passing by a big pyramid of milk stacked on the floor of the supermarket, even though it tastes pretty much the same. Also, monkeys! Amazing! (By the way, is Robert the American professor? I think I missed something.)

  2. amyinmalawi Says:

    Yes, the American professor. I think I may have forgotten to specify, as I had originally thought I wouldn’t use names but then did…

    I haven’t tried the milk yet – I was a little too frightened by the packaging.

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