Saturday, April 20, 2013


I got a lot of mosquito bites in Samoa. At least a dozen a day.  The good news is that I gradually became desensitized - they hurt and itched, but not for long.

In Samoa, the mosquitoes were really, really annoying but not dangerous.  In Malawi, the mosquitoes carry malaria.

I know very little about malaria.  I know enough that every Tuesday morning I take a pill to help me avoid it. It's not 100% but supposed to be good.  And, for my age and coloring, a good choice.  I take Mefloquine.  It has quite a history of side effects, which made me question why the "travel nurse" suggested it as my best option.

First, I only have to take it once a week rather than daily.  Second, because I am fair skinned and because other options tend to cause sensitivity to the sun, it seemed a better option.  Especially after issues I experienced in Samoa due to sun exposure.

I was warned of a number of side effects.  Paranoia.  Depression.  Confusion. Unusual aches and pains.  Bruising.  Stomach upset.  Disturbing dreams.  Weight loss.

Ok, so I've been having some side effects.  Not severe, but noticeable.  Why the hell couldn't it be weight loss?  No, I get stomach upset (or bad street food?), night sweats and disturbing dreams.

I've always had vivid dreams. I've kind of enjoyed them.  Sort of like having George Lucas direct my dreams every night.  These are a bit more intense.  Last night was interesting.  I got home from Malawi and was driving the car I purchased after getting home from Samoa.   There were a lot of rats in the car.  Eating lizards.  Hmmm.  I had a lot of rats in Samoa and a lot of lizards in both Samoa and Florida.

Then the dream morphed into me missing the final exam for a college class.  Wait just a minute.  That's not psychosis.  Or side effects.  That's just stupid anxiety that I've had dreams about  But why was that guy with the knife there?

I've been on the meds for over two months now and the side effects aren't so bad.  Hopefully, the drug is protecting me from malaria.  People living in Malawi, for the most part, don't take preventative drugs.  Some use mosquito nets to sleep under.  Unfortunately, the mosquitoes don't wait until bedtime to bite.

What I Struggle With

In the last post, I described my day with Paul's family.  It was an honor for me to have him take me into his home and introduce me to his family.

What I struggle with is how to help.  Sustainability is not what today was about.  It was about showing a few little kids a great time.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Paul and I talked about the dilemma that the kids will now want to do this again.  Is that so different than kids worldwide seeing a wider world on the internet and television?  As for Paul - his view is that "this will be a story for our family to remember."

There was an article recently in the Malawi paper about Madonna, who was apparently here last week.  Can't testify to that, since she didn't give me a call, even though her cousin was my admin ass't. back in the day in Michigan.

Anyway, the article was about celebrity do-gooders - and are they really doing good or causing more harm than good.  The article was leaning toward "more harm than good."

There's no doubt that what I did today was as much (or more) for me than it was for Paul and the kids.  The same is true for Peace Corps service.  Did I want to contribute?  Absolutely.  Did I?  Yes, at some level.  Did I do harm?  In Peace Corps or today?  Or by coming to Malawi?

Unlike the experience today, my goals for Peace Corps in Samoa and for Challenges Worldwide in Malawi were to contribute toward sustainable growth.  Teaching others new skills so they can improve their lives.

Does a detour to pizza and a jungle gym have a negative effect?  Or does the work that USAID and others provide cause more harm than good?  Read "Dead Aid".  It will make you think.

Fundamentally, I try (not always successfully) to adhere to a few things.  Be present in the moment.  Make one person smile.  Pay it forward.  Learn.

I'm a Grandma!

From left - King, Memory, Queenie, Annie, Paul and baby Favour

Learning the peace symbol

"She's taking a picture of ME!"

First, let me apologize for the continuing sporadic posts.  I can't decide which is a greater challenge - time but no internet or no time but access to WIFI.  I think it's the later.

But on to the Grandma business.  Those who know me know that I have no children, sadly.  Luckily, some of my friends kids have adopted me as a second mom...or at least a kinda aunt.  It's also why I loved teaching in Faga so much - all that love from all those kids.

I've missed then more than I can say.  I'd give anything for a huge group hug from teachers and kids alike.  I haven't had as many opportunities here to just grab a kid and start hugging or tickling.  People are so funny about that.  Especially in airports.  And really funny about it in US airports.  Kidding, of course - I learned a long time ago to keep my mitts of strange American kids.  I still think the Samoan habit of handing a baby to anyone willing to hold it is great.

I'd been talking to my colleague and friend, Paul, about teaching his kids (and him!) to swim.  Unfortunately, I haven't found a local pool with enough of a shallow end to make it safe.  As an alternative, I suggested a day at Gelato Carnival.  doesn't the name say it all?  Creamy frozen treats and a carnival.

Let's be honest, the carnival is mostly a trampoline and big plastic jungle gym.  But to these three kids (8, 5, and 3) it was as good as Disney World.

After a quick stop at the house so I could meet Paul's wife and new baby (they couldn't come today but will join us next time, I hope) to take family photos, we headed to the Carnival.

Our departure caused a small stir because clearly, not a lot of camera totin' white women roll through the neighborhood.  Once again I was ever so slightly a minor celebrity as kids called to their friends to come and see the mzungu (which means "someone who wanders around" and has come to mean white people).  I asked Paul about taking photos and he said it was fine.  He translated that one girl was screaming "Look, she's taking a picture of ME!"

Adults smiled back and waved and I got a few calls of "Mama" which is what women my age are typically called and a couple "Mama Mzungu", which I kind of like.  I'm thinking I should open a beach dive called Mama Mzungu's, where the house drink will be a Bahama Mama Malamalama.  We could serve a blend of Caribbean,  Samoan and African food.  What do you think?

Back to the story.  We drove the 15 minutes or so to Gelato Carnival and mid way through the drive the baby, Annie, asked to go home.  She missed her mom.  Queenie, the 8 year old, who was under the weather with a flair up of malaria, was hanging in.  She'd been looking forward to this.  King, the 5 year old boy seemed neutral.

Once we arrived and they saw the colorful jungle gym they were interested but not sure how things worked. The staff welcomed us warmly and said the kids could play for free.  I assured them we'd order lunch a bit later.
Loving the trampoline

How fast can I get back up the steps to do it again??

The train hasn't left the station and Annie wasn't loving it.

Queenie and King climbed up and headed for the slide, encouraged by Paul.  Annie was hanging on to me (we bonded quickly) until I put her on the trampoline.  She thought that was kind of cool but wanted to be with the big kids.  Paul put her on the smallest slide.  She slid.  She grinned.  She climbed the stairs and slid again.  Repeat, repeat, repeat - for about an hour.

The kids caught on quickly and when they were joined by a few other kids, it just made it more fun.  After riding the kind of rides you see outside grocery stores (which they thought were awesome), we had a healthy lunch.  Ok, it so wasn't, but I wanted the kids to sample a variety of junk food.  Pizza, spaghetti, french fries, hot dogs.  Due to not feeling well, Queenie didn't eat much, but the other two made up for it.  And they insisted on using forks, including the 3 year old.

After lunch, they played on the slides and trampoline some more while we waited for 2:00 p.m. when the "rides" opened.  First, the train.  Typical, little kids ride - a small train that the kids could sit in, going slowly in a circle.  Two kids, our baby and another young boy, were not excited at the process.  The other boy's father said "They're crying now but in 30 seconds they are going to love it."

He knew his kid, who was beaming by the end of the ride, but not Annie, who screamed in terror the entire way.  I felt horrible but Paul was just laughing and taking photos.

I asked the older kids if they wanted to do the train again but they declined.  Instead, we headed for the "Ferries Wheel".  A little kids version of a Ferris wheel, but one I thought would scare the bejeebers out of Annie.  Actually, no.  The train was terrifying, but apparently either Annie has no fear of heights or was just resigned that the mzungu planned to kill her today.  King, on the other hand, was not a fan and happy to get off.  They all enjoyed watching it go around again after they got.

After a bit more time on the slides and trampoline, we headed to the area to get ice cream cones for the ride home.  Sun shining, kids smiling, eating ice cream, wind in our hair.  What could be better?

Spoiling kids, leaving them dirty and exhausted on a sugar high with mom and dad.  I felt like a Grandma today.
Annie and I bonded.  

Teaching them bad eating habits.

The train scared them but this was ok??

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Random Malawian Stuff

I've been very undisciplined about blogging and I apologize.  I'm concerned I'll lose memories of things I've experienced here, so here's random brain dump.

Mama!  That's what women of a certain age are called.  "Mama, can I carry your bags to your car?"  "Mama, I'm hungry, give me money"  "Mama, you are so pretty."  I like being called Mama.

Electricity.  There are both scheduled and unscheduled blackouts in Blantyre.  In my neighborhood, Namiwawa, the scheduled blackouts are on Tuesday and Thursday (6:00 p.m. - 8: 00 p.m.) and Saturday afternoons.  Then there are the times, like this afternoon, when there just isn't power.  I don't read the paper regularly, so they might have announced it. Or not.

Water.  Like electricity, water can be evasive.  Mostly, we have it.  But sometimes we don't.  In the toilets at work there is a large container of water so we can dip buckets to flush.  At home, the apartment has a back up system. Unfortunately, when that's in use, water pressure is low and there is no hot water.  Mostly, I take hot showers, but not always.

Weather.  We are heading into winter here and the dry season.  The weather, from my perspective, is awesome.  Not too hot, not too cold.  Highs in the mid to high 70's and lows in the low 60's.  Lots of sun.

Roads.  Ah, driving in Malawi.  I've gotten very confident in driving here - on the left side of the road, in a right hand full size van where the roads are consistently packed with pedestrians and bicycles.  Did I mention the number of roundabouts?  And the fact that driving rules are rarely followed?  Driving at night is scary.  Driving at night on the roads between cities is terrifying and dangerous.  Trucks passing around blind curves, people in the road (wearing black), no shoulders, etc.  Balancing defensive driving with aggressiveness is required.

Language.  The official language in Malawi is Chichewa and there are a number of dialects in different parts of the country.  I've found that most people speak English well and are happy to do so.  Children learn English in school and take it seriously.  I've had no language issues here although all I know how to say in Chichewa is "how are you" and "thank you" .

There is so much more to write about but I'll save that for another day.

Food in Malawi

I love food.  I love a variety of food.  Malawi delivers.  In Blantyre here are my "go to" restaurants:

Veg Delight - fast food Indian - short on ambiance but HUGE on taste.  Some of the best, most creative vegetarian Indian food I've ever eaten.  Anywhere - including in India.  On Glynn Jones Road.

Gelato Carnival - in the first place, how can you not be intrigued by the name?  The place has a bakery with excellent sweet and savory options, as well as a menu with amazing options.  Thai?  Check.  Chinese?  Check.  Italian?  Check.  Sri Lankan?  Check.  Japanese?  Check.  Mexican?  Check.  I'm sure there are some that I'm missing, but you get the idea.  The menu covers the globe, including corn dogs and onion rings. I haven't tried them all but the pizza is the best I've had in Malawi and the Chinese and Thai were pretty good.  A bonus - they have a great kids' playground, which includes a bounce house on Sundays.  No extra charge for the fun for the kids.

Bombay Palace - More Indian cuisine but this time in an upscale environment.  Don't let the outside of the place put you off. It's lovely inside and the food is very good.  Not huge portions for the price, but delicious.

Hong Kong - A Chinese restaurant that's been around for years.  I like chatting with the manager, who's an American from California.  Ants on a Tree and Orange Chicken are outstanding.  The batter on the orange chicken is very light and crispy - really well done.

Ali Baba - A fast food place in the CBD.  I really like the chicken schwarma (small) which is a sandwich roll.   Fresh and tasty - and at about $2.00 USD, you can't beat it.  Their samoosa (the Malawian spelling) is also tasty and the burgers are good.

Street food behind the Total Station - if you're in the Mandala district, close to the car dealership, there's a Total gas station.  Behind the station is a set up where they serve local food for 600 Kwatcha - about $1.30 USD.  It's tasty and filling.

Mandala House Cafe - The Portuguese kebabs are outstanding!  Lovely setting and good place to meet up with expats.  Too expensive for locals but you can still get a good meal for about $ 7.50 USD.

Blue Elephant - My experience here was somewhat tainted because they were doing construction on the building while we were dining.  They have a pub menu.  I had the t-bone steak and although very thin, it was tasty. And the baked potato was great.

Grill 21 - The restaurant attached to Ryalls hotel is lovely.  White linen table cloths, white glove service and an interesting menu.  Expensive by Malawi standards, but dirt cheap by US standards.  I had a HUGE and perfectly cooked t-bone steak which was served with a baked potato, steamed veg and a bleu cheese sauce - for about $10 USD.

Ryalls casual restaurant - There's another restaurant at Ryalls and the food is equally good although the menu is more limited than Grill 21.  A friend and I shared the spicy pasta and the bleu cheese pasta and both were excellent.  There were enough leftovers for a good meal the next day.

Village Green - A lovely garden setting and a varied menu.  I've eaten there several times and the food and service were consistently good, although if you are in a hurry that might be an issue.  Of course, that is true of most Malawian restaurants, in my experience.  They have a good burger and a nice pizza.  The spicy pasta is also excellent but when they say it is topped with cheese, don't believe it.

Cafe at Villa 33 - This is the restaurant on the compound where I live,so I may be biased.  They serve a good burger but my favorite is the lasagna.

Nyambo - Head to Shoprite - turn right at the roundabout.  Turn right at the next roundabout and look for the restaurant.  It is excellent local food with lots of friendly locals to share it with.  You pay $750 Kwatcha (about $2.00 USD) for rice, pasta or nzima; one meat (I had delicious liver but there was also goat, beef and chicken); and two vegetables, plus beans.  The guy at the next table shared his homemade (by the restaurant)  beer with me.  Lovely place and great experience.

On the M-1 to Lilongwe, I have two favorite places but can't tell you the names.  They are in the large town that is mid-way between Lilongwe and Blantyre.  The first place looks like a welcome center and they specialize in beef liver and goat.  For very little money you can buy a baggie of liver or goat - spicy, salty and delicious.  Great for snacking as you continue your drive.

The other place is just up the road in the same town.  It is on the right as you come from Blantyre.  They serve grilled chicken with nsima and stewed pumpkin leaves.  $2.00 for a full lunch.  Open air and delicious.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Think You Have It Tough?

I've been crazy busy with work and travel related to work, which explains (but does not excuse) the lack of recent posts.

This one will be brief because it's 7:30 p.m. and I haven't had dinner but I hope it will whet your appetite for more.

This weekend I traveled to just north of Lilongwe for a meeting.  Along the road I noticed vendors selling gravel.  I also noticed the children who were busy pounding a large rock into a smaller rock to create the gravel. They are doing it as a way to get food to live.  If your child is whining because you won't buy him/her the latest electronics, I suggest you tell them to go pound rocks.

I've made a few Malawian friends.  I can meet Americans in America. I'd prefer to spend time with the locals while I'm here.

One told me today that he is paying off his "not finished" house by paying $20 a month.   The house doesn't yet have electricity or running water but is his dream home.

Another friend, who provides a service for me, asked me to only give her a small portion of what I owed her.  Instead, I'll save the money for her for the next month.  That way, her abusive husband won't have access to the cash.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries on earth.  Inflation has been insane here recently.  People starve.  Life expectancy is low because of disease and other factors.

In Samoa, friends could call family in New Zealand, Australia or the USA if they needed money.  That's not the case here.  In Samoa, food was always available.  That's not the case here.

I see people here working in ways that Americans wouldn't, just to stay alive.  I feel humbled and awed by the spirit of the Malawian people.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back to Work

I hope you enjoyed the long weekend.  I did, although it didn't work out exactly as I'd planned.

We ended up working all day Friday and then I did a bit of shopping/sight seeing on Saturday with the folks who'd come to do a year-end evaluation of the program.  After dropping them at the bus at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, I headed home, planning to do some Skyping and blogging.

Clearly, I hadn't read the paper, so didn't know that extensive power outages had been scheduled for the holiday weekend so that maintenance could be done.  No computer, no television, no stove, but I had a good book so spent my time reading.  And getting a massage.  Life is tough.

I'm still enjoying Blantyre.  The weather is ideal - think San Diego - not too hot, not too cold.  And now that the major training is done I'm feeling much less pressure, although I still have a full plate at work.

Off to take my malaria pill and head to work.  Another beautiful day in Malawi.