Thursday, February 28, 2013

Photos of southern/central Malawi

Today is Friday, my 6th day in country.  I've hit the ground running.  I've already attended two networking events, done work in the office and today will deliver customer service training to 50+ hospitality sector staffers.  I'm looking forward to a restful weekend.

Here are some photos I took as we drove from Blantyre in the south to the capital of Lilongwe in the central region of the country.

Beautiful countryside just outside Blantyre

Doing business in a village along the road.

Kids walking home from school.  Reminds me of Samoa.  Here they yell "Mzungu" and wave. Same as palagi.

Flowers at the small restaurant where we had tasty grilled chicken.

House along the road.

More countryside.  If you look closely in the lower left corner you'll see the thatched roof of a traditional house.

A village with traditional houses.

I need to practice carrying things this way.  It would improve my posture greatly. 

Selling beans on  the highway.

Selling produce in the market in ...Mozambique.  On one side of the road is Malawi, on the other is Mozambique.  

Dare you to say this isn't absolutely beautiful.  It is the end of the rainy season, heading into winter, which is why everything is so lush and green.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dinner is $700???

The currency in Malawi is the Kwatcha  (MK).  I'm still trying to get used to it and it's been giving me a headache to translate everything from Kwatcha to dollars and back.  I'm no math whiz.

Tonight, for example, I'm chipping in on the ingredients that the private chef will prepare for us for dinner.  I was asked for $700.  For a second I was thinking in dollars and then realized, no, that's Kwatcha, which means my share is about $1.75 USD.  Lunch today was 1,000MK, which means I paid about $2.50 USD for two pieces of barbecued chicken, some sauteed greens of some type (which were delicious) and a giant slab of nzima, which is to Malawi what tortillas are to Mexico, taro to Samoa, etc.

I also discovered that I can get a professional massage in my apartment for $12.50.  That works for me.

Here are some other prices of some of the stuff I bought at the grocery store this week:

$2.50     Old El Paso enchilada sauce (can you believe it??? I'm in heaven!)
$  .50     warm loaf of whole wheat bread
$  .35     yogurt
$  .35     granny smith apple
$5.50     liter of Malawian gin (actually pretty good)
$2.50     2 ltr of local brand soda (also pretty good)
$3.00     good sized chuck of butter
$ .75      six extra large eggs

What I didn't purchase was the cheddar cheese, which was about $15.  Unless I did the math wrong in my head.  Which is a definite possibility.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Home in Malawi

I'm having breakfast and waiting for the driver to come and get me for the trip to Lilongwe (about a 4 1/2 hour drive).  Figured I might as well share some more photos I took on my way here and once I got to my new apartment.

Traditional Kenyan dinner.  Sauteed kale and beef, tomato salad and a maize/water mixture that is bland but nice.

Entrance to a mall in Nairobi.  Comparable to a mall in the USA.

Weston again.  Note that his apron looks like a kilt. He works on a project sponsored by the same Scottish org that I'm working for.

Malawi countryside.

When they said deluxe bus, they weren't kidding.  I had a great seat.  

New hotel and conference building in Lilongwe - donated by...China.  

Snack on the bus.  Fried chicken, a samosa and some kind of muffin. I didn't eat it because Weston had walked 20 km in the dark to get to work in time to fix me breakfast.

Village in Malawi

Malawi Parliament building

Another village.  The blur in the front is corn.  There are food crops as far as you can see in most places. One restaurant along the road was named "The Lazy Man Doesn't Eat."

Home!  My living room

Living room, toward kitchen.  The small white thing is my fridge.

My kitchen.  They added a microwave after I took this.

Bathroom with 24/7 hot water.

Beautiful Malawi

It's very hard to believe I left home just one week ago.  I'm not only thousands of miles away geographically, but feel as if I'm light years away.  While the trip was long and tiring, none of the flights were full and I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me on all but the last flights.  The layover in Nairobi, caused by a strike in Malawi which closed the country's airports, was a great chance for me to see a bit of that city.

Rather than whipping out my thesaurus to come up with fifty ways to say beautiful, I thought it would be better to just show you.  I apologize that some of the photos are a bit blurry but they were taken from the front seat of the bus on my ride to Blantyre from the capital of Lilongwe.

A Kenyan Air snack.  The mixed nuts were cashews and macadamia. Wine was the best I've ever had on a plane and it was complimentary.  Did you know they grow macadamia nuts in Malawi?

Duty Free in the Paris airport.  Note the cheese sign in the background. They had an awesome selection but I got yelled at for taking this photo.

When Kenya Airways says they're serving a "small snack", they aren't kidding. This was my sandwich - the complete meal.

My room at the hostel in Nairobi.  Lots of beds, but I had it to myself.

Presidential elections are in March in Kenya. There are flyers everywhere.

During my stop in Nairobi I visited the orphaned baby elephants. They like to play soccer.

There were wild monkeys by the side of the road in Nairobi.

That's my hand, feeding a giraffe.

Wart hogs are not lovely.

The 27 year old Kenyan driver who asked me to marry him. He said that age was just a number. I told him his number was too low.

Kenyan barbeque.  That's a goat leg and a side dish that is very similar to salsa.

The bedroom with ensuite bath where I spent my first night in Lilogwe, Malawi.

Some of the beautiful grounds around the house.  I'll be staying there again this week for four nights because we're delivering customer service training in Lilonwe.

"Madam, your dinner is served."  I've waited all my life to hear that - this was waiting for me.  

Tilt your head to check out Weston, the charming Malawian private chef.

On the road to Blantyre.  The countryside is beautiful.  This is one of the main roads and is in very good shape, with light traffic.

Another view of the drive between Lilongwe and Blantyre.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I'm in Malawi!

It took five days due to distance and a workers' strike that closed the airports in Malawi, but I'm here!  Before I tell you about that, here are a few things I forgot to mention.

 When I left the Nairobi airport after midnight on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I felt like a few of the seven dwarves, all rolled into one.  Grumpy, Dopey and Sleepy.

It was dark, with little traffic.  I was quiet in the backseat and the driver was respectful of my silence.  Until he said one word.  “Zebra!”  I wasn’t sure what he was talking about until he pointed to the side of the road.  There was a herd of zebras grazing in the moonlight.  Just five minutes from the airport.  The only thing that came close to that in Nairobi was seeing the monkeys wandering around.

I forgot to mention a couple of other things that remind me of Samoa.  I did laundry in a bucket and I’ll be sleeping under a mosquito net tonight.  In a huge house in Lilongwe, but still, a mosquito net.  I’ll also be listening to the rain which is supposed to start soon.  I’m enjoying the sounds of thunder now.

The flight from Nairobi to Lilongwe took 2 hours and was easy.  Right up until we deplaned.  I thought frequent flyers trying to claw their way out of first class were pushy in the U.S. but the Africans on this flight had them beat.  I was physically shoved aside by several men as they raced to get on the bus to take us to the terminal in Malawi.  Once on the bus, I was standing, trying to keep my luggage together while several young men sat and ignored me.  And all of the other women and seniors.  I miss the respect I got on the bus in Samoa.

Something else I noticed was the body order.  In Samoa it was very hot.  People were poor and all couldn’t afford deodorant but they showered often and B.O. was not an issue.  Here it was as we were packed in like sardines for the short trip to the terminal.  And just in case anyone missed it, a man loudly yelled out, “Some of you stink!  It’s disgusting!”  The woman with him echoed his remarks and pretended to gag on the smell.  Wow.  It really wasn’t that bad.

What I’ve seen of Malawi so far is beautiful.  Lots of people walking.  Lots of small stands on the road selling vegetables and tomatoes.  Green and flowers everywhere.  And several people mentioned that Blantyre is even nicer.  The temperature here today was nice.  Hot in the sun, but very comfortable in the shade.  I understand that Blantyre is at a slightly higher elevation and will be a bit cooler.
I’m staying tonight at a house rented by the Scottish charity I’m working for.  People working on a different project stay in this six bedroom house with a huge garden.

The driver for those working on the project, Lawrence, met me at the airport.  We laughed about the fact that my brother’s name is Lawrence and the driver’s daughter is named Nancy.  On our way to the house, he got a phone call and said it was for me.  It was my new boss in Blantyre, calling to welcome me to Malawi and let me know he was on his way to make sure everything was ready at my new apartment.

The housekeeper, Rachael, met me at the front door of the Lilongwe house with a big smile of welcome.  Then I met Weston, the cook, who offered me something to eat or drink.  I asked for a glass of water and he brought it to me on a tray.

I chatted with Garry for awhile. He’s Scottish and has been here for 2 ½ years working on the project in Lilongwe.  He clearly loves Malawi.   We talked about all kinds of stuff then he excused himself to attend an event he had scheduled, a rugby tournament!
After he left, I talked with Rachael as she ironed clothes.  She taught me some basic words and phrases and said that I’d be able to learn Chichewa in three months.  Clearly she’s not familiar with my language skills.
Rachael came to say goodbye before she left for home.  I asked if she lived far and how she’d get there.  She said it was very far and that she would walk.  She had no umbrella and the rain has started.  She said that when she has the money she takes the bus (it’s actually two buses) home.  A reminder that this is the 8th poorest country in the world.  Her comment made me feel guilty for all the times I whined about having to take the bus in Samoa instead of driving my own car.  At least I had the money for the bus and never had to think twice about it.

Weston showed me the groceries he’d stocked for dinner and explained what he was making – a cheesy chicken and pasta dish with sides of peas and eggplant.  I asked about prices and he showed me.  The locally grown eggplant?  About a dime.  The canned mushrooms?  About $4 USD.  The cheese?  About $6 for a small piece of gouda.  I’ll be buying local fruits and vegetables  at the market and limiting my shopping at the fancy stores in Blantyre.

I’m excited, too, that Garry explained that among other vegetables, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and other salad fixings are locally grown and very inexpensive.  Hopefully, canned tuna isn’t too pricy.  A nice tossed salad with some tuna will work just fine for many meals.

I leave on the 7 a.m. bus tomorrow for Blantyre.  Lawrence already bought my ticket and arranged for me to have the first seat so I would have a good view.

One last thought.  Not everyone understands me here.  That was also true in Nairobi.  A taxi driver there said it was because I spoke American English and “Americans are hard to understand.”  That’s true on so many levels.

I hear Weston calling.  Dinner is ready.  I’m already feeling very spoiled.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Samoa / Nairobi, Kenya

I couldn't help noticing some similarities between Samoa and Nairobi.  In no particular order, here they are.

People notice I'm white.  I stand out in a crowd.

Some children smile when they see me.  Some scream in terror.  Most just stare.

People are surprised to see a tourist using local transport.  Taxis are much easier, but also about 100 times the price.

Fresh mangoes are in season.  Much cheaper than either the US or Samoa.

There is loud music on the local transport.  You can take either buses (where they allow only one person per seat) or the vans (which are like Samoa and pile them in).  I opted for the van since it came first and wasn't too crowded.

They have a "bus boy" on the vans.  The guy has basically the same role as the guys in Samoa- crowd control and they handle the money in Kenya.

People smile and say hello on the street.

Expats seem to live in very expensive and luxurious apartments and houses. The difference between here and Samoa is that here they are very heavily guarded.

Everyone but me has a cell phone.

Some differences?

Kenya has cheese.  All kinds of varieties of cheese.  I assume this is only true of the upscale places in Nairobi and not country wide.

Kenya has chocolate and great coffee.  They sell Snickers bars in my hostel, for heaven's sake.

Men here wear suits.  Or at least a shirt and a tie.

There's more but I'm hungry and running out of internet cash.  I'm off to buy some fresh mangoes and find a locals restaurant.

No Straight Road to Malawi

I left Orlando on Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013.  I flew to Detroit and waited 3 1/2 hours.  Then I flew 8 hours to Paris.  The plane was 3/4 empty so I got 4 seats to myself.  It was lovely.

I waited 4 hours then got aboard a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi.  I'd have a 9 hour layover there before heading on to Malawi, via Zambia.

In Nairobi, I immediately headed to the transfer desk to get my boarding pass for the flight to Lilongwe. No problem.  Luckily, I looked it over carefully rather than stuffing it in my purse, which is what I usually do. I noticed the date was for Feb. 22 rather than Feb. 21.  No problem, they'd reprint it for the following morning.  But it wouldn't print.

That's when the guys at Kenya Airways realized their airline had cancelled all flights into Malawi because the airport were closed due to a government workers strike.  THE DAY BEFORE!

After two hours in the airport, trying to sort things out, I got a Kenyan transit visa and headed to a taxi for a hotel and a much needed shower and sleep.

But the driver couldn't find the hotel I'd booked (recommended by Challenges Worldwide, the org I'm working with).  We drove around for an hour and finally found it.  There was no check in process since it was now 1:00 a.m. and everyone but the guard was a sleep.  He just showed me the room and handed me the key.

Sadly, there was no bottled water available.  My fault for not bringing one.  There also wasn't a towel.  Or screens on the windows or a mosquito net for the bed but the bedding was clean and I crashed about 2:00 a.m.

The next morning I walked ten minutes to a small nearby plaza to get Kenyan cash and use the internet.  But the internet was closed.  I did get shampoo and deoderant, since mine were in the "big bag" which is being held at the airport.  Luckily, I brought extra clothes and stuff in my carry on.

I walked back to the hotel and made arrangements for a car/driver for four hours.  We went to the elephant sanctuary where they rescue baby elephants and rhinos.   No rhinos, but 20 young elephants, the youngest being 2 months.  So cute.  On the way, I took photos of monkees hanging around.

On to the the national park where I discovered that yes, we could drive through, but I would have to pay for myself, the car and the driver and to actually see any animals we'd have to get out and walk around the park, hoping to spot one of the big five.  Between the high price and thought of wandering around calling "Here, kittie" in the hopes of seeing a lion, I passed.

Instead we went to the giraffe sanctuary.  It cost about $15 to get in but I really wanted to see giraffes, since they don't have any in Malawi - they do have "the big five" there, so I'll see them near Blantryre.

A bit disappointing that the giraffe place consisted of a tower you climbed so you could be eye to eye with a giraffe.  I was given a handful of pellets and told to place them one at a time on the giraffe's tongue.  There was one giraffe being fed by about two dozen humans.  I fed him all mine then washed the giraffe spit off my hands.  It only took 15 minutes but was fun.  Plus, I got some photos of giraffes standing off in the distance and plan to pass them off as being in the wild.

On our way to lunch we stopped at a crafts place.  I am proud to say I just looked.  There were so many things there I wanted but prices here are not cheap and I have limited luggage space.  Plus, this was day one in Africa and I'll be here for 3 months.

I'd asked the driver about Kenyan food and asked if he could take me someplace for the real deal.  He so outdid himself.  He took me to a place where I saw no other tourists but a lot of happy locals.  There were about 8 grills set up cooking beef and goat.  I got a goat leg, which I split with Joseph, my driver. At his suggestion I also got one of the staples here, which is ground maize mixed with boiling water than pressed into a thick slab.  I also got another common side dish which was chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and some kick ass chiles.  The food was delicious.  I couldn't eat it all so gave what was left (about half) to the nice desk clerk at the hostel where I'm staying.

Later, I spent way too much money to take a taxi to use the internet which was frustrating.  I couldn't get any information on the airport situation in Malawi and didn't know if I should head to the airport Friday morning or not.  Luckily, the staff at Challenges Worldwide were on top of things.  I asked them to continue checking and call the hotel to give me an update.

While all this was going on at the cyber cafe, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me.  He's from India, here on business. He let me use his phone to contact Kenya Airways (no answer) and gave me his card and promised to help in any way he could.

Since they were also unable to reach Kenya Airways from Scotland, I headed back to the hostel, hoping to get a phone call.  Shortly after I arrived, I got the call but the connection was terrible.  I just heard "airport still closed...maybe Monday...check email."

This morning I used local transport through VERY crowded roads to get to a Kenya Airways office.  They checked and the airport is reopening in Malawi and I have a boarding pass for Saturday, Feb. 23, which is a good thing, since that's the day my transit visa expires in Kenya.

The plan is that I'll spend tomorrow in Lilongwe and then travel by bus to Blantyre early Sunday morning.  Assuming the buses run on Sundays.

The trip didn't go as planned, exactly, but I did get a chance to see a bit of Nairobi and I'm safe and sound.  All is well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Would You Choose?

If you were going to Africa, where access to favorite foods is either limited or very expensive, what would you choose for your last U.S. meal?

I've always been a food freak.  I remember when I was a little girl and my mom told me that I could be the President of the United States one day, if I chose and worked hard.  She was trying to give me a self-esteem building pep talk.  I immediately went to food and blurted out the first thing that came to mind when she said I could be POTUS "I'd love to be president!  I bet the President could eat strawberries every day, all year!"

I've considered which foods I'll miss for the next 3 months and what I wanted my last meal to be.  For those who know me, it will be no surprise that for breakfast this morning I'll be dining on cheese enchiladas before leaving for the airport.

What would you choose?

All My Bags Are Packed

Sorry for the prolonged silence, but it's been a busy time.  Since Nov. 17, 2012, when I arrived back home in Florida, I've visited friends in Tucson and Boston and attended a beautiful (and fun!) wedding in the Detroit area.

I also moved back into my house, unpacking and getting everything settled where it belongs.  That was the normal pain that moving is but it felt good to have everything in its place again.  It also helped me confirm how much I love my home.

I've applied for dozens of jobs and have had a couple of potentially promising conversations.  I've also reconnected with local friends and enjoyed just chilling, cooking and being home.

I've eaten Mexican food by the plateful along with more cheese than I care to admit.  Given less "mandatory" exercise that living in Samoa required and more fattening food, it has not been a diet friendly time.

I've also used the excuse of the stress that comes with readjustment, as well as the excitement/stress of preparing to head to Malawi for three months of work.

Today, I'm ready to leave for Malawi.  I just have to finish cleaning out the fridge, grab a shower and toss my toiletry items in my carry on.  Because of my elite status (their term not mine) on Sky Team, I'm allowed to check three bags. I don't want to schlep that much junk around though so am taking one checked bag (large enough to haul a body in) and a roll aboard with a few changes of clothes and all the stuff I need for comfort on the plane.

I've flown well over a million miles and think I've got the flight prep thing pretty much down.  Here's what I'm taking on the plane:

  • Down throw - it was a gift years ago from Greg and Vicki and it is perfect.  It folds away to nothing and is awesomely warm.  I have a window exit row on the Detroit to Paris leg and this will keep the chill off.
  • Noise cancelling headphones.  They really do make a difference, plus make listening to the plane movies/music much more pleasant than their $2 earbuds.
  • Saline nasal spray - to keep nasal passages moist in the dry plane air.
  • Eyemask - to keep out the light when I'm trying to catch some zzz's.
  • Inflatable neck pillow.  It completes the geek look and prevents a stiff neck.
  • Hand lotion to try to keep skin moist.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste because when I wake up after a restless sleep, it helps wake me up and feel fresher.
  • Snacks - hard candies and trail mix.
Now, I have to get moving.  I'll be traveling from 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, February 19 to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 21, if all goes well.  I'll spend Thursday night in Lilongwe (capital of Malawi) and then will take a 4 1/2 hour bus ride to my new home in Blantyre.

I'll have wifi and hope to post photos and updates soon.  I hope you'll follow along in my new adventure.  If you have any questions or things you'd like to hear about, please let me know.