Rainy days and Mondays

The rainy season isn’t supposed to start until November, but I experienced my first Malawian rain on Saturday – and my second on Sunday.  Unfortunately, I chose Sunday to do laundry, so I ended up wringing out some of my clothes a second time.  (There’s an overhang that I thought covered the clotheslines, but turns out it only covers one of the two.)  The rains here are (so far) heavy but relatively short; it thundered a little Saturday night, but not on the same scale as summer thunderstorms in Iowa.  And though Norah Jones may want to wake up with the rain falling on the tin roof, I find it pretty loud and annoying.  (All the roofs here are tin, and there’s a ceiling in my room, but there’s not much (if any) insulation between the ceiling and the roof.

The upside of the rain is that it cooled the weather significantly, and I had a very pleasant jog around campus on Sunday.  The downside (besides my damp laundry strewn across my room) is the promised explosion of the mosquito population.

The undergrad students are off for a week-long break, so campus was pretty quiet this weekend.  The library was closed – not that they bothered to post this information – so if you’re owed an email, I’m not just neglecting you.  Happily, I’ve started making friends here.  On Friday, a couple students approached me in the library to introduce themselves, and I spent time this weekend hanging out with some of the first-year Master’s students.  (Hey Mom, is there an apostrophe if you’re using Master’s as an adjective?) Most of them worked for a few years between their undergrad and Master’s degrees, so they are a little older than me, but in their 20s.  On Saturday, they introduced me to some Malawian cooking.  The staple vegetables here seem to be tomatoes, onions, and greens.  We had those mixed with mince (which is, as far as I can tell, seasoned ground beef) and rice.  It was pretty tasty, and nice to eat with other people, too.  Two of the boys cooked for me, and kept apologizing because “boys don’t cook in Malawi” and they’re just learning.  Their uncertainty reminded me a lot of living with Andrew, though it was the other girl in the kitchen, not me, bossing them around.

One student in particular has made it his job to introduce me to people and help me make friends.  He even accompanied me to town on my first minibus trip, because I was concerned about going by myself.  The whole getting-to-know-people experience has made me wonder if students in the US would as readily reach out to international students, and I’m not sure.  I suppose part of it is because I’m pretty easily identifiable – the only white girl on campus – which would not be the case at US school.  In general, I really like the students here, and I’m glad to get to know some of them better.

I also discovered what Malawians do on Sundays:  church and then absolutely nothing.  The aforementioned mini-bus trip was to see my potential house in Lilongwe.  We got to town around 3:30 and the main business district was dead.  Even the big grocery store closes at 3:00.  Though there were people around, it was much slower than on a weekday.  The student who went with me was concerned about getting a bus back to campus, though we didn’t have any trouble.

Mini-buses are the primary mode of “public” transport in Malawi, as most people don’t own cars.  Mini-buses are actually privately owned rickety Toyota vans converted to hold as many people as possible (four rows of seats, made of plywood and covered in fake leather – think US school buses, but less plush).  At one point there were 22 people in our mini-bus.  (This was not the point where we passed the police road block, as they frown upon that sort of thing.)  Each bus has a driver and an additional person who watches for passengers, hollers the destination to passers-by, handles the door, and collects the money.  Handling the door can be a lot of work: the sliding door was literally falling off the mini-bus we took to town, and the assistant had to get out at every stop to take it off the track and put it back on.  Honestly, besides the tight quarters and dubious mechanical condition of the vehicles, it was not as bad as I expected.  I had no near-death experiences, and the drivers seemed relatively competent.  No one hassled me (though it probably helped that I had my Chichewa-speaking friend on board).  The ride was slow but if you’re not on a timeline, it’s a relatively inexpensive transit option.  The ride to Lilongwe from Bunda cost K200, and the ride back to Bunda cost K250 (or about $3.25 round trip, and it’s 30 KM each way).  My friend explained that the discrepancy has something to do with a tax that is charged at the bus station, and also that it’s easier to fill the bus going to town than coming from it.  I took his word for it.

Once we actually got to town, another person who will be living in the house of interest picked me up and took me to see the place.  It’s a big house with a big yard and several fruit trees, and it is really quite nice.  It comes partially furnished, which is a definite plus.  I still haven’t met the third housemate, but gave the house a tentative yes.  Though I’m not really looking forward to the commute, it will be nice to have a space of my own (complete with internet, hot water, and washer and dryer), and nice to be in town and close to the action.  (It’s also cheaper than continuing to stay in the guest house here.)  I’m hoping that once my project is underway, I won’t need come to Bunda’s campus every day.  If all goes as planned, my housemates will be two youngish guys – one Dutchman who works on soybeans and one Princetonian who works on HIV/AIDs.  I’m not planning to move in until I figure out the transportation situation, which will hopefully be sometime next week.

I say next week because I’ll be traveling part of this week.  The American professor is using his week off to collect some data in Northern Malawi (with the assistance of a couple students) and asked if I wanted to come along – so I’m going!  The data collection sites are near the lake, and rumour has it that there might be some beach time, too.  I don’t know if I’ll have internet access, but stay tuned, and I’ll post when I can.  Thanks to all of you who have commented/emailed – it’s good to hear from home!


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One Response to “Rainy days and Mondays”

  1. Linda Says:

    it’s great that some of the students are reaching out to you! it also means you’re being sociable, putting yourself out there, and I am very proud of you.

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