Thursday, August 13th, 2009
To the Immigration Office today to extend our Visas. The Office, settling in comfortable on my list, right next to bus-depots and prisons made out of fire and acid, as my least favorite places to be in Malawi. I should not speak ill of their impermeable disinterest however, as it came to the service of one of the team members who, forgetting all warnings, let it slip that she was working as a volunteer down in Mulanje. This could have easily put all of us in jeopardy as we are all here under the pretense of tourist Visas and the government has been on an arresting/ deporting spree, busting people here working without the proper documents. Anyway, I will be here legally through my departure on the 30th. Picked out some fabrics from my family at the markets, and grabbed some gifts for Christine, who took of today, to take back to hers. Falk also took off back to Frankfurt. I have spent most of the day tired, and plan to ride that out into the early night, at which point I will go to bed and “X” off another day in Malawi.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2009
I have been reading back over my earlier notes, transcribing them for my blog, and it is remarkable the way your perceptions of things can shift. I read an entry from my first time returning to Liliongwe from the Lake, how dispiriting it felt then, how unhappy I was to be back, and how uncomfortable I felt to be here. Every subsequent return has felt like a homecoming. It is, of course, the same city. The life of it no longer offends me though. It is a familiar place, comfortable. I have learned how to be here, and this place was my first teacher. Harsh perhaps, but not without compassion. Re-writing these earlier apprehensions now, what is to become the public record of my time here, is startling – embarrassing even. “They will think that I am miserable. That this place is horrible.” Forgetting that this is a narrative, and that they wont know what I know now for some time still. In the narrative it is only just June. I am at the Lake, peaceful and serene, reading a different book than the one I am reading now, and just beginning to discover this country. I am not learned now, no expert, but journeyed. The traveler is transformed. “I is not Me.” -Rimbaud. I is someone else entirely. Back again where I started, but never the same. The travel narrative is familiar and over-explained, over-celebrated, and over-written. I am back in the same place where I was once miserable and happy for it. Any place, no matter how exotic, how alien, if we go there is only ever ours. My Malawi has changed much in a month, but this change arises from its developing familiarity. I ever I have done a poor job describing anything, I apologize. Who’s trip has it been after all?
Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
Sitting on the (supposed) mini-bus to Lilongwe. Will depart in something like 4 hours, so there is some time to be murdered. How about a parade of the goofy and amazing names so far encountered in Malawi: Trouble, Kilometer, Wonderful, Coconut, Banana… Bus depots are my least favorite places in this country. Zomba is the best so far, but still full of the same hasslers, hustlers, hucksters. Thinking does not happen in these places… Not for anyone.
Monday, August 10th, 2009
:::AFTER A LONG DELAY WE ARE ENTERING THE LAST LEG OF THE JOURNEY:::
Had a jovial dinner with the sisters at Providence last night. Ben slept through the affair, which was unfortunate for him because Sister January makes some of the best fried dough in Malawi. They all complimented me on my Chichewa and informed me that I “am a Malawian now”. Achemwene Andrew, Brother Andrew. Chicken, nsima, goat, chinese greens, and salad. Pineapple and fried dough for dessert. Today we traveled with Falk to Zomba and met with the scholars here. 9 girls. They seem to be in a very different situation, socially, emotionally, and academically than the girls at Providence. Mulunguzi is a government run school, good, but over-populated- 730 students in a school for 400. By Malawian standards, not so bad. One advantage they do have here, besides the city of Zomba itself and all it resources and beauty that lacks in 90% of the rest of the country, is an English teacher and mentor named Matilda. She is a delightful and impressive woman, exceptionally progressive, educated at Providence, teaching full-time while getting her Masters in education at Chancellor’s College. She works with all of the AGE scholars here in Zomba, and is undoubtedly their single greatest resource. She invited Falk, Katie, Ben, and myself over for tea at her house after our meeting with the scholars. Even her modest home, part of the staff housing at Mulunguzi, was a marked departure from the Malawi I have come to know in my travels. Cute and tidy, structurally on par with public housing in the United States, which is a classless appraisal of form rather than the emotional statement it could be read as. By far the nicest, homiest home I’ve set foot in so far. Met up with the entire team again after tea at the Masuku Lodge, shared dinner, drinks, and stories of the previous week. Ben told us about an accusation of witchcraft that has been made against a teacher at Providence who is alleged to have transformed 12 children into snakes and lizards so they could sneak out of their homes in the middle of the night, take them to the top of Mt. Mulanje where they would then fly an invisible airplane to Mozambique where they would spend the night playing football with someone’s head, have an early breakfast of corpses, and fly back home before school then next morning. This literal and fantastic fear is held by educated adults at one of the best schools in Malawi in 2009. A figure that snapped this supposed education into a grim new perspective for me I got the other day. We had met with the Dean of a nursing college nearby Providence the other day. He informed us that they had been having lots of trouble (mavuto) finding candidates with high enough marks to meet the criteria for admittance, and had actually had to appeal to the government to allow them to lower their standards. He said that they used to require scores of 6 or lower in both science and math, but had recently lowered it to require a 6 in one and a 7 in the other. At the time he was saying all of this I was unfamiliar with the scoring system in Malawi, so I merely nodded my understanding. Ben later broke the scores down for me like this: 1,2: Exceptional / 3,4,5,6: Credit / 7,8: Pass / 9, 10: Fail. Which doesn’t mean terribly much until you find out that a score of 6 is 55% correct! This nursing school, that appears to have excellent facilities, is struggling to find applicants far below failing by an American grading scale. I also learned that there are only about 2,000 – 3,000 University slots open a year in the entire country! These are selected out of a pool of 12,000 to 15,000 applicants. Futures appear to be tough to come by here.