Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
The amount of Coca-Cola you end up drinking here is really perverse. The lesser of the two reasons for this is that it is cheaper than bottled water. The greater of the reasons for compulsive Coke intake is that it is A) one of the few things that you will ever find refrigerated, and B) lacking in other nutrition, it’s sugary calories have all the effect of a well-rounded multi-vitamin. To describe the amount of sugar in the average diet out here would give me diabetes for sure. Lollipops are the hot new fix, peddled at markets and mini-bus parks across the country, creating, overnight, a nation of grown men with colored plastic stick protruding from their syrupy pink and purple rimmed mouths. The intake is primarily of the crystallized, carbonated, or candied varieties since baking, and by extension pastries have not really caught on here. There is no complexity to the cuisine here at all. Ingredients are either chopped or eaten whole by themselves, at most heated and put on or near nsima or rice. It is not that Malawi lacks ingredients, there are whole worlds of possibility with the locally grown items available, what they lack is food consciousness. The makings of a solid burrito (minus, and admittedly a big minus, the Malawian equivalent of a flat-bread or tortilla) are cheaply at hand in every market in the country. They don’t do sandwiches. They don’t do cornbread in spite of the abundance of corn. They don’t do cheese in spite of the abundance of goats. In rural areas meat is only eaten on special occasion. Most of what is grown: avocado, garlic, eggplant, pineapple, papaya, tangerines, are never eaten by their growers or vendors, or utilized in cooking. Why eat well any day of the week when they can just eat nsima with pigeon peas and survive? So much possibility is so close at hand but never reached for. Not the case with the hundreds of outstretched hands asking the uzungu for money. Learn how to feed yourselves a well rounded meal first.
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009
Two more giants fall:
Project Euler 30: Find the sum of all the numbers that can be written as the sum of fifth powers of their digits.
and Project Euler 34: Find the sum of all numbers which are equal to the sum of the factorial of their digits.
Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
Bear with me. There is still plenty of Malawi to report. 13 more days of it actually, but I have been taking a break from transcribing and will get back around to it in due time. In the meantime, here is a picture of asparagus:
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Thursday, July 16th, 2009
We visited a CDSS (Community Day Secondary School), the optional leg of the Malawian education, it costs almost nothing, and is beyond the scope of what most families can afford. As with the village yesterday, there is a lot of sugar-coating and starry-eyes, comments bordering on patronization. We marvel at the absolute lowest levels of operation and champion the success, forgetting that if this minimal amount of operation was not present, there would only be dysfunction and non-life. The social biologies are not completely below praise, within them you find optimistic and happy people, people that are alive basically. For Westerners, I think, we come here and see all this life so close to the line and think that these people are somehow more connected to life because, to us, they appear to live some much closer to death, oblivious to the life that we ourselves must necessarily posses. Being death-rich does not make you life-rich. For us I feel it is just a television show with a cast of suffering and smiling people, miraculously making a go of it despite the absence of pizza and bus-schedules. These people are not more special, more precious, than us or anyone else. They are not less intelligent, not more focused, harder working, not tougher, or more sensitive, just a different system in a different set of circumstances. Different but living also. Living without much. After the CDSS we went up to the Mulanje Mission Hospital, one of the most maintained facilities I’ve seen so far in Malawi. They have a large HIV/AIDS clinic because of the exceptionally high prevalence in Malawi, specifically here in the southern region. We were greeted by the administrator and shown a PowerPoint presentation about their finances and facilities. I do not yet miss things back home (aside from friends) per se, but I do miss access to the following things should I want them: real hot showers, a tall latte, fresh muffins, good toast, red peppers, a soft bed, cheese, and burritos, oh and the most serious of all; milkshakes! I could really go for a milkshake …chocolate is hard to come by here. Yeesh, maybe this has gotten more serious than I thought…
Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
Today Falk, Katie, and I ventured into Idah’s village with Ezaius and Vitema to meet Idah’s family and get footage for the CBS piece. The turn-off for her village is only a short mini-bus ride away from school, but a 20 minute ride along dirt roads from there, accessible only by bike taxi or foot. Far in is Idah’s family compound, a small collection of hut houses where she lives with her Mother, two sisters, two brothers, an aunt, her grandfather, grandmother, two babies, two cows, some goats, and some chickens. Everything is utilitarian. There is no flourish or decoration to anything. Plastic basins, blank walls, empty rooms, tin plates. There is only family and labor. We were fed a meal of nsima and pigeon peas. We had brought in some eggs and vegetables, but had to leave before it got dark so were unable to partake in them for dinner. Idah apparently makes a special dish with onions, tomatoes, and peas. After lunch Idah took us up the street to introduce us to her mentor from primary school. Language was a significant barrier in a place this rural. We were almost completely to communicate with Idah’s family without her as a translator. We ended up playing some pickup football with a bunch of kids from the village. Falk walloped some poor kid square in the face with a mighty kick. I am out of process power. I know there is much more to report, but I am overloaded from the day. Until I have half a brain back, it was incredible to be afforded the opportunity to experience a life so different from any that I have lived. Katie and Falk viewed it all with stars in their eyes, for me it was not as uplifting. It was not a depressing experience wither however. What I saw today was simply a slice of a life much different from mine. The light shining through was the fundamental humanity at the base of all human communities, beautiful in it’s simplicity.
Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
Met up with the camera guy, Ezaius, the fixer CBS hired here in Malawi for the piece on Idah. We caught a ride down to Mulanje with him and his partner Vitema in a rented car. It felt like another return home, and I realized suddenly that this place has become my whole reality, no longer just a place I simply am. Riding down in a private car, three whites, driven by two blacks, we had our first experience being hassled by the corrupt police. They feel like the whites must A) have money and B) be more than willing to spend it than waste time being hassled. They find some bullshit to hold us up, say we cannot possibly continue on unless… Ezaius was very mad, and I take it not a guy used to bending over or being pushed around. He’s a Rastafarian, and was fired from the national paper in Malawi for insubordination. He told the traffic police what for, but still ended up having to cough up 6000mk because the rental company had different colored tags than the police wanted to see on our vehicle that day. Ezaius is a ver y interesting cat, and a great travel guide. After being fired from the paper he formed a journalist collective with some other friends in Liliongwe. In addition to the hired work, he shoots his own stories and documentaries. The first kindred spirit I feel I’ve met on this trip. He was brimming with facts and history about Malawi, the landscape, the culture, the government, very astute, a humanist, and all around stand up guy. It was just very refreshing to be able to talk to someone, a Malawian, only sharing information and laughs. He joined us for dinner under the church (Vitema felt he required meat, Ezaius is a vegan) and the two of us stepped outside and spoke about our mutual mistrust and disrespect of organized religions. He is also a musician, so we chatted about music. I copied some Thomas Mapfumo, and Dillinger onto a flash drive for he and Vitema to play in the car on their drive back. All the girls at Providence giggled and waved hello to see me back. A couple approached me and said that I was in trouble for not telling them that I was leaving last time. I told them I was sorry, but that I’d soon be leaving again. They said that was fine since they were going on break anyway and wouldn’t be around. Today was their last day for a week.
Monday, July 13th, 2009
Back in Lilongwe again. Hitched a ride from Sanga in the back of a pickup. Talked with two brothers headed to Lilongwe themselves. Just the two of them in their family, the smallest family I’ve heard of here. Talked to another guy two today who was “from a small family. Only five.” Everyone laughs at me when I tell them I am an only child. They laugh and say it’s bad. Everyone always asks how many are in your family though. It’s generally one of the first questions. Picked up Falk, a long time donor and supporter of AGE from Germany. Seems like a nice chap. This is his first travel to Africa. For me, he’s an opportunity to see this place through fresh eyes. I really enjoyed riding in the truck today. The sun warming and the wind cooling my face. It’s the same joy I get driving cross country with the windows down back home in the States, just exciting with different scenery and smells. It was a very third world experience riding in the back of a truck, packed in along with big bags of maize and rice. I patched a hole in one of the brother’s bags with some duct tape I had been carrying around. My slight contribution to the goodwill of the world.
Friday, July 10th, 2009
Yesterday was the first day off from writing since this whole ordeal began. Today much the same: sun, shade, and books, Some spirited games of cards to pass the time, lunches, dinners, amazing sunsets, great to experience, not much to talk about. We chatted with the proprietor yesterday about the tragi-comic parade of dysfunction that peppers the day to day activities of so much of Malawi: a German project to get locals to raise guinea fowl (which would be more expensive than the chickens which they already can’t afford) failed irrigation projects, misguided aide, poorly planned expenditures, failures to do the most basic research, laziness, numbskullery, boobishness, and flast out wastes of money and resources. Idiocy is rampant here, and more and more is pumped in everyday to counteract the horrible effects of this epidemic.
Thursday, July 9th, 2009
The last two days have been like starting over. A homecoming. Left Mabuya this morning and caught an affable mini-bus to Salima from a solid driver named Lawrence. In Salima we were screamed at by a gang of thugs to immediately board their bus to Sanga. We opted for the bus that was, in addition to not screaming at us, offering us a lower fare. You get quickly fed up being barked at to do everything here. “Buy this!” “Sit down!” “Get on!” “Give me!” “You do this now!” All just to be hustled around for generally less than a buck. We grabbed a lunch of rice and beans for 200MK (just over a buck) at the market, and then took a dusty road , goaded by children, “Hello! Give me money!” to the place we were going to try and stay, a sun-burned white hell, claustrophobic, filthy, and hot on a dirty, heavily hassled stretch of sand, worldly white trash, vacantly occupying lawn chairs, staring in the opposite direction. There are times variety is overrated, so we grabbed some bike taxis to the other side of the bay and back home to the Wheel House. We were on the bikes as the sun was turning golden and sinking into the low hills and high grass, a cool breeze was blowing, and once I left go of the fear of bodily injury, I found myself happy to be here for the first time in a while. I recant what I said earlier about not feeling welcome; we were welcomed back enthusiastically to the Wheel House. We told stories of our travels in the last two weeks, and got many more in exchange. I recant too the bit about not being able to appreciate any of the natural beauty here, for we arrived just in time for a familiar, but not common, sundown. Peacefully pleasantly quiet and untroubled. This is a secret Africa. Part of a whole, to be sure, but so vastly different from the rest of the life out there, inaccessible to so much of itself. But I feel spirited and sporting. I push back when pushed these days and poke fun when there’s fun to be poked. You pass a point where the sheer stupidity of the goings on here can’t be dealt with anything but a chuckle. Haha!
Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Travel generally eats up a day in these parts. We spent this one getting from Mulanje to Lilongwe by a combination of mini-bus, Axa bus, and taxi-cab. The mini-bus conductor remembered us from a previous trip and offered a better price since he also remembered us calling him out for charging us “Uzungu Price”. Not much to report from a day spent staring out of windows. The landscape is beautiful, and not at all infertile. From my seat I watched a man sweeping dirt. In a place where there is so much idleness and deterioration, this seemed a profoundly futile misallocation of effort. I listened to and thought of music. I want there to be real music in the place, as there once was, and likely still is in places I will never be invited to see. I am yearning to meet some artists here, some intellectuals, intrinsic to this place and this culture, that can give me some hope; a demonstrable future, instead of just smiling out of habit and saying that there is so much. I am showing my bias; everyone is looking for doctors and social workers to gauge the health and future of this place and I am looking for artists. Cultures outlive individuals. If there is no culture there is only death.