The big move

Since I arrived in Malawi, I’ve been staying in a guest house on Bunda’s campus.  On Sunday, I moved to a shared house in Lilongwe, the capital.  Mid-range housing is hard to find here, and I am fortunate to have found not only a space in a nice house, but also housemates, with some internet sleuthing and a fairly small amount of effort.  The atmosphere is different here in several ways, both good and bad, but I am happy to return to some of the conveniences of modern life:  internet access from home, hot water, a microwave and a washing machine.

Between a Saturday nightclub outing with a few Bunda students and my Sunday move, last weekend was an eventful one.  Coupled with my inability to sleep in strange places (and my lack of a mosquito net at this new place), my Monday was mostly spent organizing and relaxing.  Word to the wise:  staying up until 4 AM the night before a move is probably ill-advised.  My packing technique was haphazard at best, and in the end I just swept everything from my desk into a grocery bag.  (I suppose these things matter more when you’re moving a distance or have more than half a carload of stuff.)

My first driving experience was making this move, and I’m happy to report that I didn’t injure anyone or any goat.  I actually didn’t find the experience as disorienting as I expected (they drive on the left here), though I kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of my turn signal.  Since it was Sunday, traffic was pretty light and I got to the right area without incident.  Finding the house, however, was another story.  I called my housemate, but he misunderstood exactly where I was and gave me the wrong directions – so I ended up seeing pretty much the whole neighborhood.  Eventually I found the right street, only to realize that house numbers here don’t go in order – they’re chronlogical, I guess according to when each house was built.  After some wandering, I found the right one.

Anyway, I am now installed at my new house.  It’s enormous and currently only minimally furnished.  At least my DC apartment was small and I had Craigslist to help me with furniture!  I will have two roommates, though only one of them is here currently.  Both are guys in their 20s; one is from Princeton and the other from Holland.  I like the Dutchman very much, and we’ve had discussions of getting chickens and planting a garden, so I think we’ll get along just fine.  It will be nice to live with people who are also learning to navigate Malawian culture!  I’m planning to begin Chichewa lessons (with this housemate) later this week.

The house itself has a very large yard (surrounded by a wall) and lots of trees.  I think I’ve seen more birds here than I had seen at Bunda, but I’m not sure why.  (No monkeys, though.)   The house is one story, and laid out in a way that I find strange – though I suppose perhaps it was designed with security in mind, as the bedrooms can be sealed off from the rest of the house.  Property crimes can be a problem here, especially since it’s a relatively affluent neighborhood, and the house comes with an alarm system.  It has a fireplace and nice veranda (maybe it’s a patio, but veranda sounds better); in other words, it’s nicer than anywhere I could afford to live in the US.  I’d say it was bulit in the 70s, judging from the color of the bathroom fixtures, though it’s a little hard to tell.  It seems like a lot of the doors, screens, etc., don’t fit very well, and all the locks here use skeleton keys (though that was true of Bunda as well, so I’m not sure if it’s an indication of age or culture).

The house is owned by some Zimbabweans, and the whole rental situation is a little ill-defined (some might say sketchy), but I guess that’s how things work here.  (The agent told my housemate not to worry about rent until November, and he’s been living here a couple weeks.)  I’m not sure who we call for maintenance needs.  This intrepid writer managed to fix the (handheld) shower yesterday morning, but can’t be expected to fix everything with only her Leatherman!

There seem to be more mosquitoes here than at Bunda, and I’m being eaten alive.  Some of the screens on the windows are torn and I’ve been spending more time sitting outside, both of which are probably contributing factors to the bites that cover my legs and arms.  I currently have a particularly itchy bite between my pinky toe and the next one (ring toe?  what’s your fourth toe called?), which, let me assure you, is a pretty unpleasant.  The swarms didn’t stop me from having a cup of coffee and sitting on the veranda for breakfast, though.  Actually, in the morning with the breeze, it’s not prime biting time.

(Sidenote:  yes, coffee fiends, I have finally found non-instant coffee here.  It’s no Gimme!, but it’s drinkable.)

The funny thing about the area where I’m living is that I can’t see my neighbors; everyone has walls surrounding their property and houses are set back from the street.  I can hear them, though; earlier a car alarm next door was going off (for 30 minutes), which prompted the barking of every single dog in the neighborhood.  I guess if someone was actually stealing it, they weren’t being very quick about it.

Because I haven’t seen them, I’m not entirely sure who my neighbors are.  I took a walk around yesterday, and there were only Malawians on foot.  Perhaps the ex-pats were driving.  Though the house is located in a fairly residential area, there’s a small shopping center within walking distance that contains a coffee shop and a (small, Indian-owned) grocery store, which I think is fantastic.  I haven’t been to the coffee shop yet, but I got some groceries yesterday afternoon; the prices were reasonable and the store well-stocked, though apparently its owners (or maybe Malawians) don’t believe in cheese (the edible kind).

Finally, with less than a week until the election, how could I resist a little political commentary?  I’ll spare you my thoughts on the presidential candidates, though. In this news this morning, I noted the sinking Republican ship and the contrast between those who are still desperately bailing out water (Ted Stevens) and those who managed paddle away long again.  The New Yorker has an interesting article about Chuck Hagel.  My favorite part is this line:

Cheney…said that he believed “in Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But it’s very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved.”

Nebraskans, I know your considerable charms may be lost on bi-coastal crowd, but with the world’s richest man and good old Chuck, I’d say you’re in good company.

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