Project updates, my pet mongoose

To my faithful readers, I apologize for the lack of updates this week.  Maybe it is a sign that I am finally settling in and not everything seems so new (and therefore bloggable) to me!  Or maybe it is a sign that I am finally settling in and at this stage, my research isn’t terribly interesting to read or write about.  Whatever the case, it has been a pretty quiet week in Lilongwe.

I am finally making some headway on my project, and have started to contact donor agencies and NGOs that I hope to have as participants in my survey.  The response rate is highly variable, but so far the winners for quickest response time have been (in order of appearance):  USAID, Oxfam, World Vision International, the World Food Program, and a few smaller Christian organizations.  Africa, in general, is somewhat behind the email curve, so I will probably have to pony up the expensive talk time to do some calling next week.  Given my difficulty understanding Malawian English over the phone, however, I decided to try the email route first.

At this point, I am trying to establish the correct point of contact within each organization to complete my survey.  The survey is still in draft form; I am awaiting comments from my advisers here in Malawi.  Though this may be an unrealistic goal, I hope to have the surveys completed before Christmas.  This will allow for some data analysis and interviews in January, and the selection of sites and start of the field component of my research by February.  It is hard to reconcile myself to the fact that I can only plan in months here, not weeks or days like I am used to, but perhaps I am learning patience.

Aside from my proposed research project, I have a number of smaller research projects happening on the side, mostly as a way to keep myself occupied.  I’ll try not to bore you with the academic details right now, but suffice it to say that I am also working on some questions of processing value chains, GMOs and appropriate technology transfer, and Malawi’s culinary history.  I’ve also made contacts with several NGOs who are interested in utilizing my (free) research skills, though no work has yet materialized from these.  Everyone keeps telling me that things start slowly and that suddenly I will be busier than I ever imagined.  We shall see.

The fight against strange and giant insects continues.  The veranda has become almost unusable at night, given the large swarms of mosquitoes that collect around dusk.  There’s some sort of strange jumping spider that chills out in my bathroom.  We occasionally have battles, but he’s a faster jumper than I am a stomper.  All manner of giant ants, flies, and unidentifiable flying insects now appear outside – and sometimes inside.  My housemate has diagnosed the strange dirt mounds posted last week as termite dens, which I guess are fairly common here.

Apparently mongooses frequently make their homes in termite dens, which may explain the slinky, varmity creature I spotted a few weeks ago.  One day, the birds were making a much noisier racket than usual, and I looked out to see something long and brown scurrying across the yard.  I did a report on the mongoose in 4th grade, complete with an illustration, but was still not quite sure that what I saw was a mongoose.  Further googling, however, suggests that perhaps this is, indeed, the case.

My slightly more domesticated pet, the Dude, has suddenly developed the ability to sit and to fetch, though we didn’t really teach him either of those things.  Do dogs have a natural affinity for fetching?  Despite our efforts, however, he has not yet learned to shake (or, as my housemate says, poche).  Yes, the dog is growing up bilingual.

My social life has been marginally livelier lately; I went out to dinner with some soccer friends last night and to Ethiopian with my housemate and his weekend guest tonight.  Sadly/ironically, Ethiopian restaurants are better in DC than in Lilongwe.  The food was still pretty tasty, though, and a welcome change from most Malawian restaurants’ never-changing menu of chicken or beef stew with nsima, rice, or chips.

I have also been devoting a fair amount of time to planning for a January trip to South Africa, as a friend from DC is coming for a visit.  She’ll first come to Malawi, then we’ll both go to Durban and then Cape Town, where I’ll stay a few extra days to do some work for Telluride.  Because I’ll be gone for two weeks in January, I’m doing my best not to take December as a holiday month!  We shall see if the fates (and the donor agencies, and my advisers) cooperate.


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