Monday, December 20th, 2010
Included here is a film made by a buddy of mine from over in Malawi. He and a group of students made this for the Malawi International Film Festival and it was subsequently banned in the country the day after its premiere. Western audiences will not likely note anything particularly racy or objectionable about the film, but it depicts a homosexual transvestite in a sympathetic light. Homosexuality, as you may have heard, isn’t very popular or viable in many parts of Africa right now, so shutting down screenings of this film down is just another, and relatively milder, example of the type of restriction, censorship, and in some cases, violence that is currently being cultivated in many parts of Africa against homosexuals.
All the best to my friend and his now fractured crew. Interesting to note that in this work of fiction, the protagonist, Lydia, is played by a straight Malawian male, which seems culturally a rather brave move on his part. Have a watch. Enjoy. Happy Holidays.
Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
65 N outside of Chicago
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Monday, April 26th, 2010
I spent today in search of Lyman. A vague place 30-ish miles to the Southwest of Portland. I added about 20 extra miles to the journey because the self, it turns out, is a difficult thing to find, and not really worth the journey according to locals. I found myself off map around Alfred- a charming little hampshire itself, and proceeded to get more lost from there. The whole ride today was gorgeous- no wind, sun for most of the trip, through absolutely beautiful and untrafficked countryside. Once I got to the back-roads outside of Hollis (which has an incredible bridge over the Saco River) there were very few cars out at all- only rolling hills, deep trees, beautiful old farmhouses, and pots of gray water. It was very different having both a non-distinct and unknown destination and page of fairly complex directions for this ride. Brunswick was a destination I knew well, with a great lunch waiting, and a straight shot there and back. This journey had me weaving in and out of old state roads and looking for long-non-existent signs. The suspicion of going off course really occupied a large chunk of my thoughts- even when I was on the right track. I stopped to get directions and a banana in Alfred and got some vague directions that set me off on a circuitous route that bordered on disheartening. I was happy for the ride itself, but I had come a long way, and very much wanted to find this place that I had a name in common- if for no other reason than that. I did eventually pass through Lyman- had that banana from Alfred on the bleachers of the boarded up middle school. It wasn’t until I got back home and plotted my points that I discovered just what I had managed to accomplish (or not accomplish depending):
Note the location of Lyman smack dab in the middle of that huge circle I drew in search of it. I’m at this point unsure if I have to now journey back. If I would have plotted a straight line there and back there would be no feeling, but I’ve managed to encircle MYSTERY! I’ve created a giant (w)hole, with the attempted destination right in the middle. I don’t know if I can ignore the potency of that kind of pull. I would have never known if I didn’t look it up when I got home. We’ll have to see if I journey back that way. So what should have been a 53 mile ride turned into 77miles. I feel pretty great actually. Brunswick last week got a lot of the creaks out of my joints. I am fairly exhausted though, and believe I’ve earned my spot in bed tonight. Go in search of the self- find it when, despite being lost, you give up your objective and trust your intuition. That’s how I found Lyman today. Beautiful. Exhausting. Out there still.
Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
Mondays are my days off. I intend to spend the next few months of Mondays on 40+ mile bike rides around Portland. Yesterday was the first. I went 56miles round-trip up Route 1 from Portland to Brunswick. One of the longer rides I’d taken in a long while, and I was thrilled to get back into it. The first five miles (especially when you’re against a strong wind) seem like the worst idea. You want to turn back, you want to quit, your legs and back are already getting sore. At some point though, you let go. The ride, the discomfort, the surroundings become the full reality- simply the way things are. There are no thoughts of stopping, no thoughts of turning back. You talk and sing to yourself, reacting to people and signs you pass. You’re aware of your own discomfort, but only so much as you’re aware of your body ever. On the way back I composed a poem. It is this:
alas and alack!
no wind at my back
but returned home again all the same
my body and hair
no worse for the wear
in fact, maybe better from strain
two hours there
and two hours back
to travel three sixty degrees
a line in my head
while lying home in bed
mocks the pain of a lifetime of ease
yet no mountains climbed
and still so much time
to know: not the places we sleep
but the rides that we share
with the cool springtime air
it’s the rides, not the places we seek.
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.
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.
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…