Labor pains (and gratuitous monkey photos!)

The guest house got a new house boy this morning; this is the third since I’ve arrived. It’s not so much that they’ve been fired, but rather, shuffled, I think. Early this morning, I heard the other woman who lives here talking to someone in English. The previous (number 2 of 3) house boy spoke very little English – I would say “Good morning,” and he would say, “Fine, how are you?” – so I ventured out of my room to find out what was happening. Lo and behold, it was a new house boy. This one speaks very good English, actually, and even asked me if my room was okay. If I weren’t planning to move this weekend, I would have been very pleased.

Though hiring help is quite common here, I still find it a little uncomfortable. My soon-to-be housemates were asking my opinion on hiring someone to clean and do laundry. Labor is cheap here, and I suppose, depending on how you value your own time and labor, perhaps it is cheaper to hire someone to wash the dishes than to do it yourself. Still, the Protestant-work-ethic part of me rebels against the idea. I told said housemates that I would go along with whatever they wanted, but would probably clean my own room and do my own laundry (because the don’t-touch-my-stuff part of me rebels against the idea, too). No word yet on the final decision.

I’m not sure WHY hiring house staff is so common here; is it the combination of low-cost labor and lazy people with money? Is it that labor is so much cheaper than appliances, so you hire a dishwasher instead of buying one? Is there a compelling argument to be made about the importance of Westerners/people with money contributing to the local economy? I haven’t figured out all the answers yet.

My week has been relatively boring, hence the lack of blogging. I’ve finished the literature review for my project, drafted my survey tool, and am currently in the process of scouring the internet for Malawian crop diversification projects sponsored by donor agencies. Unfortunately, most of these donor agencies don’t bother to list contact info for the projects, so I may have my work cut out for me in terms of tracking all these people down. It’s not yet clear to me if I’ll be able to email or if I’ll have to call. Phone calls are absurdly expensive, so I hope it’s the former – or at least that calling won’t lead to a US-style automated maze of options, none of which apply to me.

Instead of rambling on, I will leave you with some more photos; these are from around campus.  (They’re also being stretched funnily, but after an hour of messing with this post, I can’t figure out why.)

This is Bunda mountain, namesake for the college. It’s actually larger than it looks in this photo (about 1,000 feet up); there are some funny things going on with depth perception due to the plants in the foreground. There is a tentative plan to hike it sometime soon; after the rains start, the snakes come out. I’ve also heard rumours that this is where the killer hyenas live (long story for another time), so I’m not planning to climb it alone.

This is the cafeteria, used by undergraduates only. I haven’t been inside, but it looks pretty nice. The building is a relatively recent addition to the campus. I’m not sure when it was built, but one of the “mature” students was telling me that a different building was the cafeteria when he was here in the 90s. Though the students complain about the food, my housemate was explaining that it’s actually a very good deal for the students; the government feeds them three times a day, which is not generally the case. (The educational system is highly subsidized by the government here – more about that at another time, too.)

This is supposed to be a women’s hostel, still under construction. I haven’t actually seen anyone working on it (though to be fair, it’s not really on my regular route around campus), but I thought the scaffolding was photo-worthy.

Finally, a gratuitous monkey photo. The composition isn’t great, but this is the fence around the guest house. How many monkeys can you spot?


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