Travels, beaches, not sweet corn

First things first: I watched the final US Presidential debate last night (about 15 hours after the rest of you).  Given some of the commentary I had read, I was expecting to see a little more aggression.  Rather than going for the jugular, it seemed like there was a little tapping on the jugular’s door.  But I digress.  I doubt I have anything to say that some commentator hasn’t already said, but I thought Obama looked Presidential and McCain looked uncomfortable like a little boy in the principal’s office.  I didn’t find myself truly annoyed until the education question, though, which I thought McCain bungled royally, starting with saying we have acheived educational equality in America.  I was also annoyed with the attacks on “eloquence,” but I will spare you the relinking of the Aaron Sorkin column.

Now, here’s what’s happening in Malawi.  I traveled both Tuesday and Wednesday to “help” (if you use the term loosely) with some data collection.  The game plan changed about six times, but we ended up just dropping surveys with three different agricultural district offices.  (The surveys are to examine the training needs of agricultural extension agents and will be completed and returned.)

On Tuesday, we traveled north of Lilongwe, first to Ntchisi (in the east) and then to Mchinji (right next to the Zambian border).  The drive was mostly flat, and between Ntchisi and Mchinji (in the central region) most of the land is in estates, meaning the area is relatively unpopulated.  The estates are owned (according to the Malawian students in the car) by relatives/comrades of the first elected leader after independence, Banda, who fell closer to “dictator” on the political spectrum than “free and openly elected.”  Banda died a while ago, and there is increasing pressure from the citizens for land reform, as the country is small, predominantly agricultural, and densely populated.  For now, however, the land remains in estates.  We arrived in Ntchisi around noon, stopped for lunch somewhere along the way (I can’t remember where and my map is just making me more confused), and finished our visit in the Mchinji office a little after 5 PM.  The drive back to Lilongwe took another couple hours, and we stopped for dinner (supper for some of you) in town before coming back to Bunda.

On Wednesday, the two students took early buses back to their homes (one is from the far south, the other from Salima – west of Lilongwe, along the lake), and the professor and I went to Lilongwe to make copies of the survey and then continued on to Salima.  This drive was through the hills – some might say mountains – and very pretty.  There were lots of small farms and fields prepared for planting, including some on very steep slopes!  I got quite a few photos.  In Salima, we met with the student and gave him the surveys, then stopped by his house to meet his family.  (He’s an older student who has worked for Ministry of Agriculture in Salima for several years.)  After we left him, the professor and I continued on to the lake.  Wednesday was Mother’s Day in Malawi, and the beach was a busy place.  I didn’t have my swimming suit but did some wading.  The water was really clear, and the weather HOT, so I may have to return there to actually swim sometime.

The beach was really interesting because it was a microcosm of Malawi class system.  The first beach we went to is privately owned by the Sunbird hotel chain and we had to pay to enter.  It was fairly developed, with cottages along the water, a couple bars, bathrooms, etc.  At the far end of this beach was another tiny beach, separated by barbed wire.  That, a hotel employee explained, is the public beach, demanded by the local population, but kept carefully separate from the paying clientele.  We walked down to the barbed wire, but it went out under water for a little ways and was successful deterring us from crossing.  Obviously, there were no ammenities in sight.  The third beach was on the other side of a rocky point, and getting there required driving down a couple dirt roads.  Though cars entered through a hotel parking lot, it was free, and a mix of people were present, ranging from local women washing their dishes in the lake to wealthier, vacationing Malawians.  There were several hotels along this stretch of beach, though they were not as classy in appearance as the Sunbird.  There were a bars and such associated with the hotels, but they were further from the water and not as “nice” as those on the Sunbird beach.  Still, the atmosphere was much more laid back and it seemed like a nice place to chill out.  The afternoon was fading, though, so we didn’t stay long.

On the way back to Lilongwe, we stopped to buy some mangoes.  The season varies throughout the country, but the student from Salima assured us that this was the best time for mangoes there.  I got a big grocery bag of mangoes – maybe 6 or 8 pounds – for K100, or about 75 cents.  They’re not ripe yet, but I’m excited to try them in the next few days.

Thursday morning I went to the farm on campus, because I had heard rumors of dressed chickens for sale.  They didn’t have any chicken at the moment, unfortunately, but I was convinced to try some corn – immature field corn, not sweet corn.  The field corn they grow here is white, and softer than the yellow #2 grown in the US.  Still, my hopes for a sweet corn-like product were dashed.  I boiled an ear for dinner, and though I boiled it for a while, it was still a little tough to chew and very starchy.  I’m not sure if I will make it through the other five ears I have or not.

An electricity outage thwarted my plans to actually accomplish something yesterday, but I have high hopes for today.  I’ll leave you with a few photos from my travels.

Taken out the window of the car, these are traditional houses.

Taken out the window of the car, these are traditional houses.

This is the beach at Salima; all the people were on the non-rocky parts.

This is the beach at Salima; all the people were on the non-rocky parts.

This is where we stopped to buy mangoes.  The big pile in the center of the photo was the one I picked.

This is where we stopped to buy mangoes. The big pile in the center of the photo was the one I picked.


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3 Responses to “Travels, beaches, not sweet corn”

  1. alvason Says:

    thanks for the story, i worked in Zambia for some years long time ago and also spent a couple of years in Malawi as an engineer attached to the Ministry of Works … i know the area well, thanks for the memories. excellent photos, by the way!

  2. Linda Says:

    that beach is gorgeous! and yeah, I think it’s just that the debate was more aggressive than the two previous debates, not that it was objectively all that aggressive – for example, I think the VP debate was more hostile. and I think McCain’s reaction shots were really what most people were talking about. that guy needs to get a handle on his face.

  3. Rachel Says:

    Beautiful pictures Amy! And good luck with the corn… I find it hard to eat anything other than sweet corn….even harder to find sweet corn as good as what is grown in Iowa.

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