No witty title this morning

To those of you who have remarked that Malawi doesn’t seem all that different from the United States – well, it is, and it isn’t.  My experiences so far have been pretty sheltered as I’ve been shuttled between the nice parts of Lilongwe and Bunda, which is as affluent, at least in relative terms, as college campuses in the US.  While I’m complaining about not having hot water (and oh, how glorious was that hot shower), there are many people in Malawi who don’t have hot water, running water, or access to potable water at all.  Though the statistics for potable water are improving, I believe that something like 20 percent of the population still lacks access.

Malawi is small and land-locked.  Approximately 65 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line and 30 percent live in extreme poverty.  The average life expectancy here is only 37, and it is declining due to HIV/AIDS, with about 13 percent of the population infected.  The GNI per capital is around $160 USD.  This means, basically, that even given my relatively modest (in US terms) fellowship stipend, I am a rich person in this country.

Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa (about 13 million people in a land area the size of Pennsylvania), but most of the population remains rural.  (Whenever I read that particular statistic, I wonder exactly how “rural” is defined.)  Most people don’t have a cars, so you see people walking and biking at all hours of the day and night.  Those who have bikes have a platform over the back tire to hauling things – from produce to firewood to goats to tin roofing sheets.  I saw a kid with three cases of Coke strapped to the back of his the other day – and we’re not talking cardboard cartons of aluminum cans, but plastic cases of 24 glass bottles each.

Only about 10 percent of the population is employed in industry, but many people earn extra income by selling things on the street or in the market.  As a white person perceived to have money, I am often approached on the street, especially if I’m not looking busy.  I usually refuse, but sometimes, depending on their persistence, my tiredness, and how good their story is, I buy something.  I got a bunch of bananas for K200 on Saturday.  I’m not sure if I overpaid – I’m never sure how much negotiating is required in these situations – but it was a nominal sum of money for me.

Due to power shortages, we experience rolling blackouts from 6-8PM (or so) some days, though there’s no indication that the electricity will be out until it’s out.  I’ve discovered that the power shutdown here sounds the same as in horror movies – that soft and ominous FOOM as everything goes black and silent.

The mosquitoes here are smaller and trickier than in the US.  I’ve yet to see one land on me or anything else, though I’ve been bitten many times.  They are only minorly deterred by my concentrated DEET.  I sleep under a bed net, but they still get quite a few nibbles.  (Yes, Mom, I’ve been taking my anti-malarials…)  We’re still in the dry season, so I’m sure the mosquitoes will only get worse.  According to the locals, the rains are supposed to start in November this year.

Despite the extraordinary poverty, I am surprised by the degree to which some parts of Malawi are westernized.  Stores in Lilongwe sell clothes similar to what you’d find in the US.  The music here is a mix of local stuff and hits from the States.  They also seem to have a particular fondness for Shakira.  Our cable is back up and running in the guest house, and I was surprised/delighted to find that CNN carries…The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  If I weren’t so happy to hear snarky-but-accurate news coverage, the irony may have killed me.  (It’s not the regular broadcast, but the “global edition,” and I’m not sure how frequently it comes on – I just saw it on Saturday.)

I also caught a rerun of the debate, and don’t have much to say about it that hasn’t already been said.  I thought Obama had some opportunities to shine that he didn’t take, I’m tired of listening to McCain talk about earmarks as if THAT is what’s bringing the country down, and I’m glad to see that neither of our presidential candidates can pronounce Ahmadinejad without stumbling or choking.  I also thought Gail Collins had a fairly amusing description of McCain in her Saturday op-ed:

One thing we now know for sure. Electing John McCain would be God’s gift to the profession of journalism. A story a minute.

Imagine what would happen if a new beetle infested the Iowa corn crop during the first year of a McCain administration. On Monday, we spray. On Tuesday, we firebomb. On Wednesday, the president marches barefoot through the prairie in a show of support for Iowa farmers. On Thursday, the White House reveals that Wiley Flum, a postal worker from Willimantic, Conn., has been named the new beetle eradication czar. McCain says that Flum had shown “the instincts of a maverick reformer” in personally buying a box of roach motels and scattering them around the post office locker room. “I can’t wait to introduce Wiley to those beetles in Iowa,” the president adds.

On Friday, McCain announces he’s canceling the weekend until Congress makes the beetles go away.

Barack Obama would just round up a whole roomful of experts and come up with a plan. Yawn.

Though I may not be getting an “authentic” experience in some ways, I am grateful for the small luxuries (hot water, refrigeration, internet access) available to me…and wish that one of those small luxuries could be a washing machine.  I tackled laundry Saturday morning, and I have never missed the spin cycle more.  It wasn’t the washing that bothered me so much, and the rinsing seemed to go okay, too.  The wringing, on the other hand, means my clothes may never be the same again.  (They also may never be dry.)  There’s a clothesline in the back of my house, but no clothespins.  Fortunately, it’s in a walled courtyard, so things that flew off were at least in a contained space.  I may come to regret my ultra-light clothes-packing strategy.

This seems to have gotten quite long today, so I’ll sign off for now.  Coming soon, or whenever I can channel trauma into humor:  Amy eats a pig’s head – or part of it, at least.

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3 Responses to “No witty title this morning”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Laundry sounds like great fun! I have tried to wash a few things by hand before and it isn’t fun…I can’t imagine doing it all the time.

  2. Gwen Elliott Says:

    Your mother sent your blog address this afternoon, and I am finding it very interesting and edifying! What an adventure! It’s amazing that you get American televsion so far from home, and that you can even keep up with the presidential debates! It’s even better that you can write and send emails! I read Gail Collins, too, and was especially amused by the editorial you included because it mentioned Iowa (and McCain) in such a humorous vein. Now that I know about your blog, I hope to keep up with your African adventures! You write very descriptively! Best wishes, Gwen in Kansas

  3. cheritycall Says:

    Hi, Do something for help those hungry people in Africa and India,
    I created this blog about them:
    in http://tinyurl.com/5pul7l

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