Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Need a Weekend

It's 6:00 a.m.  I've been up since 2:00 a.m. when I wandered to the bathroom and stepped into a small flood.  The toilet tank had apparently been quietly overflowing all night.  No biggie, I just turned off the water to the tank and used a spare towel to mop up as much as I could.  But there was no getting to sleep after that.

I've been having trouble sleeping through the night and have been getting up about 4 a.m., which is too early, but 2 is ridiculous.  Rather than just toss and turn I got up to get the work done that was causing me to miss sleep.

I caught up on emails and was making good progress on one assignment until I was at a point I needed to have a question answered by my boss, and oddly, he's not responding to email at 4:00 a.m.  I kept going on some other stuff and headed for the shower at 5:30 a.m.  Plenty of hot water, good water pressure.  It was a good shower.  As I stepped out of the shower, the lights went out.  Crap.  So much for the blow dryer.  And the cup of tea I had in mind.  At least I have crackers and peanut butter for breakfast.

The electricity goes out here on a regular basis.  There are planned outages for a few hours twice a week.  Because we know they're coming, it's no big deal.  We just plan around it.  But surprise outages are less fun and they've been happening more often lately.

Wednesday, the other trainer and I got to work early to print the handouts for the day.  Power was out.  No handouts and no projector to show our lovely slides.  The ones I'd been working on late the night before.  We adjusted.  As I was drawing the models we were going to be studying on the flipchart, the power came back.  Yes, things are back on track.

Last night I was having dinner with two colleagues from Scotland.  We were dining at the restaurant that's in the compound with my apartment.  It felt very homey - I know the staff and we were the only guests.  There was no power (an expected outage) but they were using their generator.  A moment after we finished eating, all the lights went out and it was pitch dark.

The voice of one of the staff yelled out "Don't worry, we'll have the candles lit in a minute."  He didn't have time because the generator kicked back in seconds later.  Either way, we would have been fine.  And actually, I look better by candle light.

I drove the folks back to their hotel and returned home to relax for a few minutes before heading to bed.  Between the very busy schedule and the lack of sleep, I'm really looking forward to the weekend.  Rest, a little exercise and celebrating Easter.  It will be good.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Veg Delight

I'm a carnivore.  I like meat.  I enjoy vegetables too, but mostly, I prefer meat.

Imagine my surprise to discover my new favorite restaurant in Blantyre is a vegetarian restaurant.  It is called Veg Delight, is in the heart of the CBD and is reasonably priced.  Most important, the food is amazing.

I read some positive reviews but heard from a co-worker that the food seemed "iffy" when she visited.  I think, from what she described, she was thinking of a different place.

Veg Delight isn't fast.  Orders are made as you place them.  And,  everything on the menu may not be available.  No worries, just go with what the owners recommend.  I promise, it will be outstanding.

Our first visit to the small place was for take away.  It took a bit longer than we expected, but the owner suggested that if we hadn't been there before, we should have the specialty of the house while we waited for our order.  We agreed and a few minutes later he brought out the most amazing dish.  It is hard to describe.  There was a crispy round shell, stuffed with peanuts and vegetables, all topped with a sweet/savory sauce.  It was amazing.

When we got back to work and tasted our mains, we were equally as happy.  Fresh, delicious and cuisine rather than fast food.  For the price of American fast food.

We liked it so much we ordered food for lunch the next day.  This time, we called ahead to save some time. Unfortunately,  the one picking up the food didn't have enough money.  "No problem." said the owner.  "Consider it a discount."

The second meal was equally delicious.  Today, day 3, we headed back to Veg Delight for take away to be eaten later this weekend.

The owner's wife was helping us and when I told her I just wanted whatever she thought I might like, she explained that she'd made a special curry that day.  One that she usually only makes at home.  She yelled something to the staff and the next thing I knew, there was a sample of this curry.  Perfect.

I can't type anymore because I'm about to reheat the curry that this woman made today.  Vegetarian.  Delicious.  Inexpensive.

I love Malawi.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Safari Photos

I hope you're enjoying the photos of my time in Liwonde Park at least half as much as I enjoyed taking them.  I'll be posting more as time permits.

Just in case you didn't know, if you click on the first photo, it will open in a new browser, enlarged.  You can then scan through.  Makes it much easier to see the animals.

Zikomo!  (Thanks, in Chichewa)

The Safari Continues

After cocktails, we headed out again to spot more game.  This time, with the help of a spotlight.  The most exciting, to me, was seeing three hippos who'd come into the park from the river for the night.  We went back to camp for a quick wash up, then rode off the the sister facility, Mzuu Camp, where we joined the guests there for a barbecue and traditional music and dancing.

Have I mentioned it was hot and humid at Liwonde?  Much warmer/more humid than Blantyre and reminded me of Samoa.  I had my trusty ili (Samoan fan) with me and I made friends by lending it out.

After the dinner and entertainment, we headed back to the lodge for an early evening.  Our wake up call was at 5:30 a.m. (when a hamper filled with cookies and coffee was delivered to our tent) and the next safari started at 6:00 a.m.

Sunday morning, 6:05 a.m.  There were hundreds of impala.  Here are a few.

These are a type of goose.  According to Maxwell, our game guy, they taste like chicken.

In the center  - a baboon dining on a piece of candelabra tree.

Another baboon in the tree.

These guys were play fighting - getting ready for mating season when they'll fight for real over the females.

Fresh elephant dung.  We knew they were there.  We just couldn't see them.

I loved the candelabra trees.

After the morning driving safari, we enjoyed breakfast and headed out by boat.  We passed these fishermen in front of their village, near the edge of the park.

We were headed to this huge baobab tree.

When I said huge, I wasn't kidding.  Look closely, I'm standing near the left of the base of the tree.  I'm almost six feet tall.

Perhaps the bicycle will give a bit of perspective on size.  This is actually two trees.  A fig tree has grown around the baobab.  It seems to be working well for both of them.

One of the cool things about baobabs is that their trunks are hollow.  This isn't a Keebler elf, it's Aminat in a tree.

Aminat and Rocky decided to climb up the inside of the tree and pose.

Uh oh.  Now that I'm up here, how do I get down?

What the heck is that?  A hippo butt.

More Safari Photos

Inside our "tent".  Most luxurious tent, ever!

Thatched roof on our tent.

One of the widest/smoothest roads we experienced.

You lookin' at me?

The first of dozens of baboons that I saw.  This one is sitting on the limb in the middle of the photo.

Can you see the elephants?  We couldn't either.  

Hippo tracks

After a couple of hours of sighting game, we stopped by the river for cocktails. After sunset we headed back out to spot game by spotlight, after dark.

The bar is open!  In addition to drinks, tasty mini pizzas were provided.

Sunset, safari and gin and tonic.  Ahhhh.

Aminat was enjoying it too!

Magnificent Malawi.

Marvelous Malawi

Saturday morning, my fellow volunteer Aminat and I hopped into our rented Rav 4 and headed to Liwonde National Park, about 120 km from Blantyre.  We had reservations to stay at the Mzuu Wilderness Lodge and go on not one but three safaris.  One by truck, one on foot and one by boat.

 We couldn't have had a better time.  The Lodge was beautiful, the service excellent and the safari experiences were amazing.  We had been warned that because it is the "green season" we likely wouldn't see elephants.  And we didn't.  But we saw lots of other animals and weren't really disappointed by the lack of elephants.

The green season, by the way, is another way to say rainy season.  The rainy season officially ends the end of February and we enjoyed a dry weekend.  Because of all the rains, though, there is a lot of lush vegetation, which is beautiful to look at and creates lots of places for elephants to hang out - where they can't be seen.  Also, because "every puddle becomes a watering hole" the elephants aren't as drawn to the river's edge.

Elephants aside, here are some photos...

Our trusty Rav 4, delivered by Premier Car Rentals.  Parked in front of my apartment at Villa 33.

During the green season, access to the Lodge is by boat.  We weren't five minutes from the dock when we saw this group of hippos.  
The sky goes on forever over the Shire (pronounced Sheer eh) river.

More hippos.  During the hour ride to the Lodge we saw dozens of hippos.

A termite hill.  I thought we had a termite problem in FL.

Approaching the dock at the Lodge.  Can you see why they call it Green Season?

The deck of our room.  I watched the sunrise here on Sunday.

Part of our attached, open air bathroom. Clean, beautiful and the shower was amazing!

After a delicious lunch we climbed into the camp truck and headed out into the park. One of the first animals we saw (after driving about 2 minutes) was this wart hog.

The iconic baobab tree. The bark on the trunk has been stripped away by elephants.

It's an impala!  I said that a lot.  We saw hundreds of impalas.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Gardens at Villa 33

I think I've mentioned that monkeys (I think they're vervet) play in my front yard.  "Front yard" is a bit of a misnomer, since it's actually a gated compound of beautiful gardens.  Here are some photos of where I'm living.

If you look closely in the center of the photo - to the right of the white wall, you can see a monkey hunched over on the vine covered wall.

One view from my porch at Villa 33

My patio

5:40 a.m. - the sun comes up early over the garden.

Beyond the wall is the driveway leading to a main road.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


  I've been busy with work and have had internet issues at home.  They seem to be improving, fingers crossed.  Planning a trip with the UK volunteer, who's my next door neighbor.  We're going to the Mvuu Wilderness Lodge in Liwonde National Park - about 100 km from Blantryre.

I'll be posting photos as quickly as I can once I get back.  In the meantime, know that all is well in beautiful Blantyre, Malawi.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I'm unaccustomed to having servants.  I grew up doing things for myself - I had chores and my mother taught me to cook, clean, do laundry, etc and had strict quality standards.  I'm having a bit of trouble getting used to having servants.

Years ago when I finished my bachelor's degree and was waiting to start my first teaching job in the fall, I got a job as a housekeeper for three Air Force officers.  Nice young guys, who were batching it in a three bedroom house.  Once a week I cleaned for them.  One of the guys was usually home when I was there and it really bothered him to watch me work.  He'd be watching a baseball game when I arrived and then would jump up to help me do dishes, dust, etc.

As much as it made him uncomfortable to relax while I worked, it made me uncomfortable to have him help, since it was my job and I was being paid to do it.

I'm on the other side of the dilemma now.  I'm not completely unaccustomed to hired help.  I pay guys to do my yard work.  I pay someone to take care of my pool.  I pay someone else to make sure I don't have any bugs in the house.  I used to have a cleaning woman who came once a week.

But I don't usually see those people.  They come, do their jobs and leave, usually while I'm working.  Or, currently, while I'm in Malawi.

In the house in Lilongwe there is a driver, housekeeper and chef.  Owners (or renters) of large homes are expected to hire staff.  Unemployment is high and wages are low.  Minimum wage here is $20.  Per month.  I'm told that few people actually pay that much for staff.  Additionally, most staff can't afford the small fares for the local transportation so they walk to and from work.  In the case of at least one staffer, he walks 12 miles each way to work.

The other night the three other consultants and I were in the living room, working on our laptops while the chef worked feverishly to prepare our (delicious) dinner.  I asked if anyone else was a bit troubled while someone older than any of us was working so hard while we sat and didn't offer to help.

One consultant, raised in the UK, said it bothered her a bit at first but she's gotten used to it.  The two Malawians weren't troubled at all.  It's just the way it is.

A woman comes to clean my apartment every morning.  I like to be tidy so I make my own bed and do my own dishes so there's really not a lot for her to do.  She does take my dirty clothes, though, every morning.  She returns them to the proper place in my bedroom later the same day.

I drove to get groceries today.  It was my first time driving in Africa and it was fun to be back on the road with the freedom to go where I want.  The young man collecting carts in the parking lot saw me heading to my van in the rain and rain over.  He said "You rest in your car while I store your groceries for you.  You shouldn't be getting wet."  He did not expect a tip.  I gave him one anyway.

When I arrived back at my apartment, the chef was on the patio of the restaurant.  When he saw I had groceries, he ran over to help me carry them to my apartment.  I thanked him but said it was good exercise for me to carry them.  Again, he was doing it to be of service, not in the hopes of a tip.

How will I survive when I leave Malawi?