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.

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