Sunday, August 25, 2013

Traffic in the country: photos

Traffic in the country is such a different beast from traffic in the city that I decided it merits its own post.  In contrast to the constant negotiation through the people and vehicles that clog the city streets, in the country you rely on lightening reflexes to dodge anything that might suddenly pop into your line of travel.

A large slow truck loaded with firewood-hauling bicycles and their owners, returning to the forest.  Many men ride their bikes back, but some get rides.  This picture also gives you some feel for how narrow the lanes are.

Joel: A funny safety billboard.  It really gets my goat* that the car is destroyed and the goat is unhurt.  Prov told us that it says that unattended livestock hit by cars are the animal owner's responsibility.  *Ha ha ha.

A through-the-windshield shot of a goat in action.  The bicyclist has a load of what we think is thatching material for a roof.

Traffic in Lilongwe: photos

Pictures can't really do justice to the traffic here; I think it would take an IMAX movie theater, and you'd still miss the diesel fumes which are such an integral part of the experience.  But it's worth a try, I suppose.  (I'm hoping that if I post enough photos, all my dear relatives will be extra motivated to pray for us as me as I learn to cope with driving here!)

Here's a typical scene in the capital Lilongwe.  People all over, ditches you don't want to drop a wheel into, and rarely a traffic light to help you turn off a side street into traffic.

Another street scene in Lilongwe.  Traffic is always horrendous at this intersection.  Open manhole in the middle of the sidewalk - it's not just the drivers who have to be wary!

I really hate it when the big lorries loom up out of nowhere and roar around our cringing little VW.

See what this bus says?  That's the name of the game.

And a few more shots taken while driving through Lilongwe:
Two different Malawian friends have told us, "People are afraid of the rain, but they'll 
walk right out into traffic without looking."

 There is a pedestrian walkway over the road here, but we've never seen anyone use it - apparently swarming across the road is preferable.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tues, Aug 20: Traffic

Joel:  Traffic here is well, to put it mildly, interesting.  To put it less mildly, stressful and requiring skilled drivers with nerves of steel.  If traffic in the US is like a strict dance, with rules and roles, Malawian traffic is a multi-party negotiation.  Pedestrians don't look out for cars, because they know you'll stop.  Traffic lights are often out of order, and rarely if ever heeded.  (See Eric's comment below about traffic lights.)  Man, are those minibus drivers aggressive.  Then, there are the goats, dogs, chickens, ox carts, and frolicking donkeys.  On the way home from school today, (the day after our minibus adventure,) Mom was driving here for the first time.  Imagine our shock when Dad suddenly starts and yells, “GOAT!  GOAT!”  Mom hit the brakes, but we all lost a year off of our lives, I think.

Eric: Joel's back-seat position prevented him from seeing critical details here – I yelled when the goat decided to dash headlong across the road in front of us and an oncoming truck. Halfway across the right (far) lane, it engaged it brakes and last we saw it was skidding on all four hooves across the road toward the side of our car. We didn't hit it, but we don't know if it survived the oncoming truck or not – if it turned around after stopping it likely ended up a mess on the front of that truck.

Andrea:  For the record, I DID see that goat even without all the histrionics from the passengers.  Actually my first time driving was this morning, after the Bunda bus broke down.  After yesterday's misadventures Eric went to talk to the Bunda College traffic supervisor, who was very apologetic.  He had told some, but not all, of the drivers that the kids are to be let off at the roundabout near their school, and was very sorry that he had forgotten to tell yesterday's driver.  So, reassured, the kids and I set off on the bus again.  We weren't even off college grounds when the bus broke down.  So I called up Eric again, and he came driving up.  Then he handed me the keys and said he thought I ought to get the hang of driving here.  Fine, I'd been planning on it – but now I had an audience, because someone else who'd been stranded by the bus came over and asked us for a lift.  I hadn't been planning on that.  But it didn't go too badly on the way in.  The goat incident didn't happen until the way home. 

The major challenge in the countryside dodging quite a lot of miscellaneous things on a very narrow road; there's surprisingly little vehicular traffic.  The shoulder is dirt and often several inches lower than the pavement, so you don't want to drop your wheels off. (Eric: In some cases it seems like the shoulder might actually be  a double-digit number of inches lower than the pavement, and the edge of the pavement is wildly sculpted, with fjord like inlets forming potholes in the road). Which is easier said than done, because the edge of the road is not very straight.  In the city the major challenge for me is the other traffic.  As Joel mentioned, figuring out who's going next is not determined by rules but, as Eric puts it, by negotiation.  You just work your way into the intersection and eventually someone will let you in, and you let people go in front of you sometimes too.  Major intersections are set up as roundabouts, which take some getting used to in their own right.

Overarching everything is the strangeness for me to drive on the left side of the road.  This left-lane travel spills over even into how you get past people on sidewalks and go through doors.  The revolving door at the bank was almost too much for me.  And of course in the right-hand-drive car, you shift with your left hand – but after 20+ years of left-hand-drive I keep trying to do it with my right, end up turning on the windshield wipers by mistake, and then have to figure out how to turn them off while not hitting that guy standing between the lanes trying to sell fried dough balls.

Eric: Traffic lights do seem to be respected here when they are functioning, which is seems to be less than half the time. Some lights seem to function more than others, and of course a light may be functioning but not all the bulbs are functioning. There also seem to be different ideas about where to stop – one morning after dropping the kids I was coming back to Bunda, and was the first driver to stop for a red light that was functioning. I stopped where I could see the light (on a short pole on the left side of the road before the intersection. The car behind me just stated honking and honking, so I thought, “Maybe I'm not supposed to stop?”, so I inched forward, and just “negotiated” my way through the intersection. As I was exiting the intersection a white-gloved policeman appeared and scolded me through my window as I drove past. Now that I know that intersection better, I think the problem was that I was straddling the “straight” and “right turn” lanes, but in my defense, they aren't marked at all, and are both narrow enough that unless you know there are supposed to be 2 lanes there you wouldn't guess.

I'll try to post some photos tomorrow.  

Mon, Aug 19: Minibuses

Andrea: Getting the kids to school today turned out to be more of an adventure than we'd planned. 

Last week Eric or both of us drove the kids to school in the mornings, spent the day in Lilongwe on various errands, then picked the kids up at 2 and headed back for Bunda.  The idea, however, is that the kids ride to Lilongwe on the bus from Bunda in the mornings so we only have to pick them up in the afternoon.  Neither of us want to spend all day, every day in the city – and with gas at $8 a gallon, we don't want to drive the 80-minute round trip twice a day either.  After some persistent lobbying by our colleagues here at Bunda College we were told that the transportation director had agreed to drop the kids at a roundabout about a block away from their school.  The roundabout isn't exactly on the regular bus route but it's not very far off where they normally drop some kids for the Good Shepherd school. 

So this morning we dash off to catch the bus from Bunda to Lilongwe.  It leaves at 6 a.m. but we learned the hard way that if you want to be sure of seats you get there early.  There were two seats left so Emma sat on my lap the whole way.  Halfway to Lilongwe the driver's assistant comes back and tells me that since there are no Good Shepherd students on the bus yet (that school doesn't start up again until next month!) they're not going to the roundabout.  They're going to put us off somewhere else, where we will ride a minibus the rest of the way.  Minibuses are … how to describe them?  Rickety, super-crowded, belching exhaust.  I took some pictures, although photos can't capture the aggressiveness of the minibus drivers.  If I recall right, that security guy at the embassy explicitly warned us against minibuses...

So this is not ideal but we don't really have a choice.  If I had a map of the city we'd try walking it but I'm not even sure where we are.  The driver's assistant (the guy who shoehorns passengers into the rickety vehicle and then somehow manages to collect money from them all after they're all wedged in) takes one look at us and says “Bishop Mackenzie?”  So I'm hopeful that this will work.  It doesn't.  That minibus packs a bunch of people in after us, and after the requisite amount of shouting and arm weaving it starts going.  And keeps going, and going.  The radio is blaring, I'm not that familiar with the city yet, and I'm wedged in with Emma on top of me again so I can hardly see out anyway, but soon it is clear to me that the bus is headed out of the city.  In fact, I eventually catch a glimpse of the sign for the Centre for Tick-Borne Diseases and realize we're on the same road we took to Kamuzu Dam last weekend.  So I phone Eric to tell him where we are – he's driving in to pick me up, and hopefully conclude the transaction for the car.  (He was hoping to do that Friday but the computer system at the Ministry of Transportation wasn't working.)  I don't know why they didn't stop and let us off where they knew we wanted to get off, but they didn't.  We get off when the bus stops and the driver's assistant hustles us onto another minibus headed back into the city.  As we're getting shoehorned in I tell the assistant three times where we want to get off.  This guy believes me and we finally get off at the right place.  It would be a short walk from here but by now Eric has caught up with us so after all that, the kids arrive at school again in the back seat of the little blue Polo. 

As Emma remarked at one point through the haze of diesel fumes, “Well, I guess we did want the full African experience.” 
 Minibuses in Lilongwe

Loading a minibus.  It takes a while to get 18 passengers squeezed in, not counting the driver and his assistant.

 So now it's back to the Bunda transportation director to see what's up.  Meanwhile, Eric and I did some shopping errands and are now sitting in Patson's comfortable house in the city, hoping for a phone call from the guy we're buying the car from before it's time to pick up the kids.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sun, Aug. 18: Critters

Emma: I've seen at least 8 monkeys today, and who knows how many birds. It's sort of hard for me to believe that the monkeys are so comfortable near the humans here at Bunda College. At one point we saw a mother monkey with her baby clinging to her belly. I'm so amazed at how long and thin monkeys' tails are. Initially, we went out to see the crocodiles in the tank Provi Maliro pointed out to us as we drove back from church, but they weren't there, and we took a scenic route back to our house, which ended up leading to another walk in which we were equipped with binoculars, a bird book, and of course the camera. Afterwards, when Joel and I went to get a roll of biscuits (cookies) in the snack shop, we saw a rat eight or ten inches long including the tail.

Also, Dad and I have seen some very quick little lizards that have the most astonishing blue tail you could imagine. We have seen many other lizards and such here in Africa, and are very likely to see lots more.

Joel: On Friday, I saw a gecko in math class! When the teacher left the room, I caught it. I played with it a little, and Lauren let it scamper around on her math notebook. Geckos in math are awesome, and not to be found in State College or Greenville.

Andrea: The most ever-present critters in our house are the tiny black ants that swarm around the kitchen within minutes of a crumb hitting the floor or the top of the mini fridge. Around 7 p.m. they come out for Ant Happy Hour, streaming across the window sill above the sink and surrounding little drops of water to drink, but they soon disappear.  We usually don't see many at a time unless we've inadvertently fed them.

(Pictures to be posted soon)

Sun, Aug 18: “The Bakery of Heavenly Bound Souls”

Andrea: Today we went to church for the first time. There is a Church of Central Africa Presbyterian congregation here, which our friends the Maliros attend and which has an 8 a.m. service in English. The bulletin (“brochure”, more properly) read: Welcome to Bunda CCAP Nkhoma Synod, “The Bakery of Heavenly Bound Souls.” After that we weren't sure what to expect but as it turned out, the general outlines of the service were not too different from a mainline service in the US. It was punctuated by lots of singing: scripture, Apostle's Creed, offering were all followed by a song, and two choirs sang. We knew all the hymns – which were sung a capella, in amazing harmonies. The kids especially had a bit of trouble following the sermon because of the speaker's Chichewa accent, and the lack of amplification meant outside noises sometimes drowned it out. During announcement time we as visitors, along with a Malawian who was there for the first time, were invited to come forward and be welcomed, and say a few words of greeting to the church. They responded with a beautiful song in Chichewa. We found out they have Sunday school for kids – at 6:30 a.m. Joel and Emma were a little alarmed, but very relieved to find that it's done in Chichewa so there's no point in them rolling out early for that! Apparently the English service is heavily attended by college students and faculty. It's followed by a Chichewa service which we didn't stay for. There were no backs on the benches, and no screens on the open windows so little golden leaves occasionally drifted in with the breeze. All in all, these heavenly-bound souls felt warmed but not excessively baked as we worked our way through crowds of students on the dusty road toward home. (The excessively-baked part came when I decided to go for a jog before lunch...6 a.m. is much cooler for that sort of thing.)

Fri, Aug 16: Emma on Bishop Mackenzie International School

Emma: 8 differences between Bishop Mackenzie International School and Lemont/Houserville:
  1. You have to go outside to get from classroom to classroom.
  2. The students and teachers are from everywhere, which means very different accents that can be hard to understand. My homeroom teacher is from New Zealand. (Joel: My science teacher is from Ireland.)
  3. There are periods instead of different classes.
  4. You have tables instead of desks, and have to take everything home with you every night – which makes for a heavy backpack.
  5. Classes start at 7:15.
  6. Classes let out at noon on Fridays, probably because of the Muslim students, who worship at the mosque on Fridays.
  7. There are uniforms.
  8. You have to change clothes for P.E.

Thurs, Aug 15: Official Orientation

Today after we dropped the kids at school we headed to the embassy for a Fulbright orientation. A security officer talked to us about crime and staying safe – mostly stuff we knew, but a good reminder that where there is a lot of poverty there is a lot of crime. He reminded us to keep doors locked and windows at least partly closed while driving through the city, be watchful for pickpockets, etc. We're pretty sure this little country house with its poorly-fitting wooden doors wouldn't meet his security standards. Then we had a health briefing from a PA on the embassy clinic staff. Again, in general stuff we knew but we were glad for some specific information about medications for schistosomiasis and malaria. We also found out which pharmacies to trust – while you don't seem to need prescriptions anywhere, you do have to be careful of fake pharmaceuticals. We're pretty sure our house wouldn't meet the PA's standards either – nearly two weeks, and still not a screen in sight. We do sleep under mosquito nets, although it doesn't appear to be a very mosquitoey time of year.

We also found that we can write a check to the cashier at the embassy, drawing money from our account in the US that is issued to us as kwacha. It's a much better rate than at the ATM, and no transaction fee. Nice. The public relations officer also offered to set up some briefings for us on agriculture and environmental issues, which would be helpful.

As Fulbrighters, we seem to be in some sort of gray area – we have some privileges at the embassy, like using the cashier, the library, and the diplomatic pouch (mail service), but we don't have the full privileges of real embassy staff. We can't use the clinic there, and can only get first-class envelopes - not packages - in the diplomatic pouch. (Email us if you want that address.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sat. August 17: Friends Take Care

This is a little outdoor diner Patson introduced us to, and we've been back a couple of times - very Malawian.  Nsima (maize porridge), beans or meat, greens.  No silverware.  The food is fairly mild but it comes with a bottle peri peri sauce which says "Friends Take Care" on the label...I am here to tell you that some care is definitely in order.  The last time the greens came cooked in peanut flour, which was so good I bought some peanut flour the next day.  Now I just have to figure out how to use it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wed. Aug 14: 1st Day of School/Facing Poverty

Andrea: Getting everybody up and going this morning was indeed dramatic, but not in the way we'd anticipated. There is some sort of bee here which seems irresistibly attracted to light, and they can squeeze into the house through gaps in the poorly-fitting doors and windows. Since it doesn't get light until 6, Eric discovered that if you turn on the kitchen light at 5:15 it acts like a homing beacon for bees. You can wait until they fry their wings in the bare light bulb, drop to the floor, and whack them with a shoe, but we discovered it is easier to pull the kitchen curtains shut and turn on the porch light to lure them away.

While Eric was driving the kids to school I gave the house a serious sweeping. In the midst of that a woman came up to the house and called out something in Chichewa. I went out and told her in English that I don't understand Chichewa. She sat down on the ground by the front porch and untied the little boy from her back. She was trying to communicate something by acting it out but I had no idea what it was, nor what I should do. For lack of any better idea I made some tea and put jam on a couple of rolls, and sat down on the front porch floor by her. I drank my tea, smiled at the little boy and played peekaboo with him around the pole that holds up the corner of our house, and watched her shovel an astonishing quantity of sugar into her tea and dip her roll in. We laughed over our inability to communicate and she kept acting out whatever it was she was trying to get across. The best I can guess is that it was about the cloth she had tied around her waist for an outer skirt. I think she was trying to tell me she uses it for a blanket as well, though for a little while I thought she was asking if she could go to sleep in our yard! Near as I can guess she wanted me to give her another one; hers was ragged and had a big tear. I'm pretty sure she wanted me to give her something. It was easier for me that I couldn't understand her words, I suppose. That way I could choose to interpret it as nothing more than a social visit.

Knowing what to do when people ask for things is one of the hardest parts of living where there is so much poverty. A wise Honduran pastor told us when we moved to the village where we lived for almost three years, that we shouldn't give anything to anyone before we'd lived there six months or so. That would give us a chance to get to know people and hopefully start to get a better idea of who might be trying to take advantage of us, who's just going to head straight for the bar with the money, or whatever. Good advice I think, and we followed it. Not that it was ever easy to decide what to do when faced with requests for money. We didn't want to get the reputation of the house where you go for handouts, and I think sometimes when we did choose to give it made those relationships more awkward; but there was no getting around the fact that we were much wealthier than many people there, and their needs were real. Once again we find ourselves staring poverty in the face and not knowing how to respond.

Tues, Aug 12: More Logistics

Andrea: Drifting in through the windows this evening is the noisy chatter of college students, the smell of someone burning a trash pile with lots of plastic, and the sound of wonderful African singing from somewhere on campus.

I spent much of the day getting Joel and Emma ready for school: Emma to school for assessment exam, meeting Joel's headmaster, buying school supplies, looking for the proper uniform shoes and socks. Eric again spend much of his day trying to deal with buying a car. He and Patson finally settled on one to buy and a scheme to buy it, and Patson loaned us enough cash that with what we were able get from the ATM we could pay 25% of the total. That was 500,000 MK – all in 1000 MK notes. Counting that pile of bills took a while. Someone got a piece of paper and a pen and wrote up the agreement about how much more we will still pay once we figure out how to get the money from our US account, and that was that. We drove away in a little blue VW Polo. Whenever we start it up it dings and a voice announces something in Japanese, but we have no idea why. The owner's manual is in Japanese too.  And the FM radio dial only goes between 70 and 85 or so; apparently those are the frequencies they use in Japan.  Not so helpful here.

Eric then spent a good piece of the evening talking with US bank people on Skype about how to get our money from there to here. Most banks don't do international transfers any more, but one of our Visa cards will let us do a large cash advance for a 3% fee. So tomorrow we'll meet Patson at the bank, withdraw a bushel of kwacha, and give it to him right away so he can put it in his account. He has generously loaned us a lot of kwacha on three occasions to get us settled here and help with the car down payment, and we want to pay him back without lugging a suitcase full of kwacha through the streets.

The African singing has now been replaced (or drowned out) by the thumping bass of a radio, and loud voices. Somebody must be having a party. (Joel: What, just like every other night we've been here?) Our house is right at the edge of campus, at the end of a row of the student houses and a stone's throw from some dorms. College students at Bunda College of Agriculture act a lot like college students at Penn State, I guess.

Mon, Aug 11: Geckos

Joel: We have geckos in our house! The first one was by me, in the shower. It was sitting out on the floor near the wall. Maybe they like water. I caught him so he could be photographed. We think there are three or more living with us. They're so cute!

Sun, Aug 11: Jetlag

Emma: Ask me about blogging when I'm not so tired. I mean, when is this jet lag going to end? If you'll excuse me now, I have to take a nap.

Andrea: No naps, kiddo! Poor kid has been sleepy the whole time we've been here. She just can't get to sleep at the proper time, and naps won't help that. She has until Wednesday to get over this, because that's the first day of school. She has to be on the bus at 6 a.m.!

The English service at the nearby African Presbyterian Church begins at 8 a.m., and Emma's been so consistently tired I didn't have the heart to wake her early. So we went for a long walk through the countryside instead.

Sat, Aug 10: Things On Bikes

Joel: We ate lunch at a dam today. We looked at birds, the lake, and giant bees while we ate. The drive to and from aforementioned dam was almost wholly on rural dirt roads with lots of bikers and pedestrians and not a lot of cars. Did you know that bongololo is how you say centipede in Chichewa? Chichewa is the national language of Malawi and is the everyday language for about 54% of Malawians. The official language is English and the national language is Chichewa. If I've lost you by now, I'm not surprised. Now, for the list of loads we've seen carried on bikes:
-People on cargo racks
-Goat. Don't know if it was alive or dead, carried by the passenger on the cargo rack.
-Pigs. Dead, strapped to a wooden pallet on the cargo rack.
-Chickens, alive and clucking, hanging from the handlebars by their feet. I was told chickens are calmer upside-down.
-Tomatoes on the cargo rack.
-Corn in a big bag, on, of course, the cargo rack.
From now on, just assume it was on the cargo rack to spare me the trouble of typing it.
-Tall bags of charcoal, laid or their sides stacked up.
-Firewood going to the market, strapped to racks behind the seat as tall as the rider's head and often bent over it.
-Rolls of corrugated metal roofing material. Those loads were as wide as a car!
-Loads of cassava arranged in big cone-shaped wire baskets.
Many bikes here are used as taxis and have a padded seat with little handlebars for a cargo rack. People make money pedaling other people around, often working for a little bike taxi fleet.
Bikes here are simple, dependable, singlespeeds that are rugged and easy to maintain.
They often are Chinese Hero bicycles or are very similar. 

Fri, Aug 9: Logistics

Andrea: Working to get caught up with laundry – washing by hand in a bucket. I'd forgotten how much work hand washing is!

One of the problems that remains to be solved is that of money. The Fulbright scholarship includes a resettlement allowance, living allowance, etc. – but that is paid in US dollars into our US bank account. Of course, we need Malawian kwacha (MK) to buy anything.

We can withdraw kwacha from our US checking accounts at some of the ATM machines here, at a rate of about $1 = 320 MK. The problem is that the highest note they make is 1000 MK, or about $3.13. If the machine is stocked with 1000 MK notes the most we can withdraw at a time is 40,000 MK or about $125, because that is the tallest stack of bills the machine's slot can handle. If the machine is stocked with 500 MK notes we can only withdraw 20,000 MK. There is a $5 transaction fee every time. Nobody here uses checks, and only a few places that cater to tourists take credit cards. When you consider that it will take at least a couple million MK to buy a used car, you can see how things get complicated. 

40,000 MK, about $125: a stack of forty bills


Thurs, Aug 8: Tool Hero

Andrea: Eric caught a ride to town today to try to get set up with a cellular modem and airtime for internet access, and hopefully buy a car, but it turns out today was Eid (Muslim holiday) so all the things owned by Muslims were closed, and a lot of stores are owned by Pakistani/Indian Muslims. Malawi is about 80% Christian and 13% Muslim. They get along well enough apparently; a Muslim was once elected president despite being a minority.

When he came home he worked on getting the refrigerator working, by cutting the plug off the extension cord and wiring on the right one. This was thanks to Joel, who has turned out to be the tool hero of this adventure. A typical exchange over the last couple days goes like this. Eric, working at some part or another of settling into the house – be it rearranging the few pieces of overlarge wicker furniture that completely fill our living room, fixing the wicker furniture, hanging mosquito nets, or whatever – says, “I wish I had _______ (pliers, screwdriver, string, duct tape, measuring tape, etc.).” Joel says, “I have some.” If Joel would start charging Eric a rental fee for his multi-tool, it would be a pretty good racket. He also brought his lock-picking stuff so he can practice, but so far nobody has asked to borrow that.

Wed, Aug 7: Obama Bread, Quinoa, and Cockroaches

Andrea: More settling in. Carpenters from the college came to build shelves in an odd little closet off the kitchen, which increased the house's storage capacity by about 600%. Eric and Emma are off to Lilongwe with Moses and Chemimwe, to look for items like a gas burner and an adapter for the fridge so that we can actually do something with food in our kitchen. 

Emma: Coming back from Joel's placement exam at Bishop Mackenzie International School today, we stopped at a bakery to get bread which looked marvelous on the advertisement outside. However, they had run out of bread and only had some very large rolls, and I mean large. We could get ten rolls for 500 kwacha, which is a pretty good price, about 16 cents per roll. (Joel: I'm the one who calculated that...) Chemimwe, who was driving us, told us that the rolls were called “Obama bread” but she didn't know why, and we gave her one bag of rolls. (Joel: She also said there is something called “bin Laden bread” but she didn't know why they were called that either. Beats me...)

Tonight I cooked quinoa for the Maliro family. (Electricity and water on at the same time – hooray!) Moses is doing some experiments with quinoa in hopes of learning how to grow it here, since it is such a nutritious grain. There are hopes it could help combat malnutrition if they can get people to use it, perhaps mixed into the daily nsima. Apparently some orphanage director is interested. Moses leaves Friday for an international quinoa convention in Washington State, and doesn't want to arrive and have to admit he's never actually eaten the stuff! So he sent over a kilo of quinoa from last year's field tests, which nobody here knew how to cook. The first few bites the Maliros were kind of skeptical – I think they expected it to taste like rice but it doesn't – but then they decided they liked it. At least they were polite enough to say they did, and take seconds!

Joel: When we came back from the Maliro's house, we discovered a cockroach on the wall of the kitchen. I think they conduct genetics experiments at this college, because this cockroach was TWO INCHES LONG!!! The antennae were another two inches. I guess roaches as big as mice are part of the “authentic African experience.” Mom took this opportunity to remind us to shake out our shoes before we put them on. (We killed it with Dad's new running shoe, since he wasn't home.)

Andrea: We didn't even find the cockroach until after we'd already spent an exciting time trying to figure out what was whizzing around our living room, catch it, and throw it out. Turns out it was a cricket, which apparently never got the memo that crickets are supposed to hop, not fly. (Joel: ???) But the cockroach was not hiding from the light either, like it's supposed to; it was just insolently hanging on the wall and then the cutting board, grooming its antennae, exhibiting complete disregard for the humans who were really wishing the light would have chased it back into whatever nasty hole it came out of, so we could try to pretend it wasn't there. (Joel: It was sitting there chewing its antenna, looking thoughtful. It was so funny-looking.)

Tues, August 6: First Impressions

Emma: The sunsets and sunrises here are so much faster than further north. It feels like midnight when it's only seven o'clock. (Andrea: It gets dark quickly around 6 p.m., and light again around 6 a.m.) The mosquito nets on the beds are kind of hard to get used to, and rather complicated to get used to. We had 5 suitcases, guitar and trumpet cases, 2 duffel bags, and 4 backpacks to carry through the airport. At least the 6 biggest things were checked, but it was still a lot to carry. Our first long flight, from Atlanta to Amsterdam, was 8 ½ hours and went overnight. I could not sleep a wink, but that was partly because the large selection of movies you could watch on the video screen on the back of the seat in front of you. It included some of my favorite movies, “Tangled” and “Brave.” I fell asleep pretty early on the next flight and woke up in time to be served breakfast, which looked OK, but unfortunately I didn't stay awake long enough to start eating. Next time I woke up, my breakfast was gone and instead there was my lunch sitting in front of me. Joel said he wasn't hungry so I offered to take his tray so it wouldn't get thrown out, but then the flight attendent brought one for me, obviously not understanding that I wanted Joel's instead of mine, not in addition to it. However, I only got a couple bites of fruit before I was asleep yet again. When I woke up the trays were gone and we were landing in half an hour. As we mad-dashed through the airport in Nairobi I was still pretty hungry, and we needed boarding passes. There was no jetway to our next flight, and as we were walking out to the plane we spotted some bats snatching insects out of the air, which was my first glimpse of African wildlife. The next flight I was able to stay awake the whole time, and thankfully they served me supper which I ate gladly. It was quite good – well, the part that I ate: a roll and some butterscotch pudding with a dollop of whipped cream and a shaving of mango. I let Mom have my veggies and most of the rice.

It was nearly midnight by the time we arrived in Lilongwe Malawi, and I was really ready for bed. A friend of Dad's sent a driver to the airport with a van which held all of our luggage. It felt so weird to be on the left side of the street with the driver on the right side of the car, but I suppose we'll be used to it in five months. We didn't get a good chance to get a glimpse of the lovely bed and breakfast we stayed in until the next day, but boy did bed feel good.

The bed and breakfast grounds were about 50% garden, which would require a lot of maintenance, but it attracted vast amounts of birds. I saved some flowers to press, but I'm not sure how well it will work.

Sadly, we hadn't fully recovered from our jetlag before we had to leave the bed and breakfast and head for our tiny two-bedroom house, which we will all be crammed into for the next five months. Apparently we lose electricity for two hours three or four days a week. You never know when the two hours will be, plus there are also unscheduled power outages. 


Joel: Well, here I am in our tiny two bedroom house. Dad will be working at the Bunda College of Agriculture, where we are also living. It's about 30 miles away from Malawi's capitol city, Lilongwe.
Nice things about the house/campus:
    • Nice scenery.
    • A place to live.
    • Friendly people.
Not-so-nice things about the house/location:
    • House smells like glue from the new tiles.
Yesterday, when the power was off more often than not, I was told the water would have to be cold when it was time to shower. I HATE COLD SHOWERS!! Wouldn't you know it, there was a tank of hot water and Emma got a nice, warm shower. Thanks, Mom.
Now for the list of African wildlife seen by me so far: Bats at the airport in Nairobi, birds, some lizards, a little frog, and chickens, if they count.

Andrea: Sorry about the shower Joel. I thought we had a heat-on-demand system - turns out we have a tank of stored heated water like in the US, only smaller. If it makes you feel any better, I got a cold shower too. I'd forgotten how impossible it is to breathe normally during a frigid shower. (Joel: Ha ha ha! -That was me not having a shred of sympathy for you.)

One of Eric's professor friends here, Patson, came by the bed & breakfast to collect us on Monday morning. He took the kids to his house in Lilongwe to spend the day with his girls and guided Eric and I on a major shopping spree. At the first store, where we loaded up on bedding, towels, and a few other household things, Patson went off to find a clerk and spent a while talking with her in Chichewa. Then he came back and told us she'd ring us up with a special employee discount, after which we would give her a nice tip when she helped us take the things to the car. I wasn't sure of the legality of this maneuver, but once I realized how expensive manufactured goods are here some of my compunctions disappeared. Then it was off to a couple of Chinese-owned stores for cheap plastic kitchen items (lurid orange soup bowls, anyone?), and then to a very crowded grocery store owned by Pakistanis (an entire shelf of different curry powders!). (Joel: Huge lurid orange soup bowls. Think mixing bowl. Okay, maybe a little smaller...) We finished up at a more upscale grocery where Patson wanted to buy brown bread so we got some too. At one point along the way we stopped for lunch at an outdoor diner where we got plates of beans (like kidney beans) and cooked greens, along with huge bowls of nsima (cornmeal porridge, a staple here).

We moved into our house here on the Bunda College campus that evening. It was after dark and the power was off, so it was hard to do much sorting out or settling in. With only an electric stove I was resigned to a supper of bread and bananas when Moses Maliro, whom Eric had met before and whom we'd had over when he was visiting Penn State, invited us to his house for supper. They have an electric stove too but also a gas-powered burner, so Moses' wife Chemimwe cooked the whole meal one dish at a time (rice, ground beef cooked with tomatoes, cooked vegetables). Made for a late supper but good to be with such a nice family.

Tuesday the power was off most of the day, and eventually the running water disappeared too. But we rearranged the furniture a little to get the beds closer to the hooks in the walls where the mosquito nets are hung from, and started trying to solve the mysteries of this little house.
  • Why there is a chest freezer in the tiny living room, and since we won't be preserving a year's worth of jam what are we supposed to put in it?
  • Why is the mini-sized refrigerator a South African model whose plug won't fit the outlet?
  • What do we do about the glue that oozed up from between the floor tiles?
  • With a grand total of four tiny shelves in the whole house, will we end up living out of suitcases for five months? (Eric sincerely hopes not!)
  • Why is there a pile of shredded fiberglass insulation in the gunk underneath the burners of the stove?
  • What to do about the fact that the black sheets we bought for the single beds turn your hands black when you touch them? (Not a big choice of colors in that store.) No washing machine of course.
  • Why must every house we move into this month have a leaky sink?
Eventually we got tired of mysteries and went for a walk, up a hill overlooking Bunda College campus. Eric met with Moses about starting some experiments, and we were invited to the Maliro house for supper again since the power was still off.