Tuesday, June 30, 2009

WIHTWH: Luwawa Forest

When timed well with naptimes, three and a half hours north to the hills and woods is achievable with a one-year-old and a three-year-old.

Unfortunately, our camera (arh! which seems to be dying about three weeks too soon) only worked for about a quarter of our time at Luwawa Forest Lodge, where we

- canoed (for about ten minutes),

- played on giant rope swings

- followed trails from maps (Scout is very interested these days in directions, as in, "go to the end of the road; turn left at the t-junction; take your second right..."),

hiked in piney-scented woods,

pounded maize in a nearby village,

- saw the most amazing night sky maybe ever, crowded with stars, and showed Scout the "broad white road in heaven",
- read bedtime stories in front of a big cozy fireplace,
- visited with the travel writer whose books guided us through Malawi and Zanzibar and just maybe even convinced him to include indications for family-friendly places in his edition revisions,
- ate delicious homegrown food,
- and generally had a really really great time.

Then our car broke down on the way home, and we demonstrated how good we are at keeping our cool by staying completely friendly with each other, even though we were still 150km from Lilongwe and it may have been the most expensive day of our lives.

The car croaked at a police check.

Andy (yellow shirt) hopped on a taxi to go to the nearest town to find a mechanic.

The kids woke up from their naps. We stayed put and read stories with the spectators.

We all made it home safe and sound eventually, but it's a serious bummer to lose our car two weeks before we leave.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WIHTWH: fresh roses

Mohammad tipped me off to the wholesale rose nursery just behind Area 12 where we live. They sell locally and export in season to Holland and Germany.

20 stems: 350MK (about $2.25USD)

We fill the house weekly.

(For a while there, Matilda and I were working on a rose delivery business. It was called HomeRoses. Matilda would deliver bouquets of twenty for a profit of 250 MK for the first bouquet and 50MK for each thereafter. It did pretty well as long as I was drumming up business online, but I think sort of petered out after I handed it over entirely to her. Evidence of what some people call "the digital divide." We made some beautiful bouquets though, supplemented with wildflowers and grasses blooming on the dirt road to the nursery.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I sold Gabriel the clippers: part i

Really, it’s just as well I’m put in the position to defend myself on this point, as it brings up so many of the paradoxes of living here that have been on my mind and heart—yes, I do have a heart—since I’ve been here. I’ve struggled to get it right in writing, and it’s difficult to articulate. I’ll be trying as I have time and brains, to explain it to you. It will certainly take a few days, as even after months, I haven’t got it right even for myself.

It’s actually true, everything Andy said, but (vote of confidence noted, Alisa), there is another side to the story. The awkward thing about this is that everythign I say now is going to sound like some kind of defensive explanation, so I’m going to try really hard to turn it into explanations of what it’s like to be here.

I guess I’ll start here:
Economic disparity is the first thing I noticed when we arrived, and it hits you like a wall of smoke as soon as you get off the airplane. Fellow humans in rags, dirty, skinny, stunted from years of not enough calories. Fellow humans with feet flattened and hardened from walking everywhere barefoot. Our weight limit on the airplane had been minimal, considering it was in 6 suitcases that we carried our household here. But the weight I felt stepping off the plane, the burden on my conscience of my wealth—it was much more than whatever we’d payed for in extra baggage.

WIHTWH: strawberry guy

When it's not the dry season, you can see Bunda Mountain from the turn off into Area 12 where we live. It juts right out of the flatness, like a finger poking up. Matilda's village is at the base of it; she says on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, there are "a lot of muzungus walking on it, a lot of!" They grow strawberries there in the winter and spring, and we're back in strawberry season, glory be.

We have an arrangement with a guy who sells them, to come by on Mondays and Thursdays. Sometimes he'll bring fresh masala too, and tomatoes by request.

A Monday morning tap on the gate by the strawberry guy is great reason for rejoicing. Barely able to contain her excitement, Scout runs to get the basin from under the sink, then runs back out to the gate. Isabel loves strawberry guy events too.

We buy four bowls full. It's a nice, flexible way to buy and sell. Today he was a little skimpier than usual in filling them up; I think it's because my attention was distracted taking pictures.

He tolerates my picture taking.

Finn isn't allowed out on the street side of the gate...

but he was ready and waiting to see what kind of excitement would be walking through to his side.

Scout is so dilligent about jobs she feels responsibility for, like carrying all those strawberries to the kitchen to be washed.


Strawberries for lunch!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Missionaries, Mercenaries or Misfits

They say people who live in Africa are either missionaries, mercenaries or misfits. I'm sure we have been all three at one point or another. But as we have started selling things for the upcoming move, Johanna has become much more of a mercenary.

I came home yesterday to find our guard Gabriel with my hair clippers. Johanna sold them to him for $10. His monthly salary is $90.

They happen to not work in Malawi without a converter as they are 110v and Malawi runs on 220v. But the best thing about Johanna's cool $10 profit, Gabriel doesn't have electricity.

WIHTWH: Activity Days Girls

The 8 to 12 year old girls from Primary come over to our place once a month for an activity. They get to help pick it. The first one was making cake with "creme"; we decorated cupcakes with chocolate butter frosting. They wanted to do the same thing the next month, but I learned quickly to double up whatever I was doing for teen club with the these girls. In addition to making frosting, we have learned kinda-almost one-off screen-printing on fabric

and wax-resist drawing.

When I get in a technique groove, nobody is safe: we do it for Little School, visiting children must give it a try, it gets morphed into a teen activity for Teen Club, and then the girls from church give it a whirl. I call it efficient creativity.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

WIHTW: No fear

One of the benefits of living in Malawi is that Scout will go to the bathroom just about anywhere. Home, yes. Fancy hotel, of course. Gas station, no problem. Village mud hole; you bet. She doesn't even need toilet paper.

Here are some pictures of Scout doing her business surrounded by giraffe and water buffalo.

We can't wait to see what she does at the Smith family country club. Can anyone say 17th hole?

Friday, June 19, 2009

WHIHTWH: Soccer Mom

(See that huge bruise on my knee? And the mostly-healed scab?
Now that's what I'm talking about.)

I started playing football a couple of months ago. Before then, my total experience with the sport had been Bend It Like Beckham (twice), that's it. But my friend Jessica convinced me my total novicehood wouldn't matter a speck with this women's team. (She was mostly right, though I think me calling out things like, "So, just double-checking. My team's going THIS direction, right?" or, as I'm throwing in from the end, "Raise your hand if you're on my team!" wasn't always thought as funny as I thought it. It's a mostly-women, mostly-expat team. We even have a coach, this funny, drama-queen of a twenty-something Malawian guy who actually coaches us.

I like it because of the way it has pushed me totally out of my comfort zone. I like the way it pushes me physically (and I really love the totally drenched with sweat/drink a litre of water/purified from the inside out feeling I have when we quit), and socially (ahh! go look like a fool in front of a bunch of people I don't know!), and even intellectually, the kind of body-organising thought like when you're learning a choreographed dance. And once I got into it, I realised how much I love it just for the chance to go play for the sheer pleasure of playing, of doing something fun and challenging outside under the night sky with other people.

As if that weren't enough, as a bonus playing football reminds me that I don't need to be a pro at something to enjoy doing it, or for it to have a significant impact on me and my family. Scout and Finn both think shooting our little soccer ball up the driveway to bang against the gate is the funniest thing in the world. (And Precious, well, he's totally out of my league. In bare feet, no less!)

Moe Willem (you might know him as the pigeon guy) made this point on NPR a while back, though he was talking about drawing, not team sports. (In my family, as many of you know, a ball--especially a team-sports ball--is much more foreign and suspicious an object than a pencil or box of colours.) His point, something my own mum has taught by example for years, resonated like a good header.

Amanda Soule gives links and her take on it here. I'll defer to her links, as I am the last one up again tonight, and better than linking I like snuggling.

ps: the previous post is a picture of our Primary at church. They all got on the bus, with Precious driving, and went to the lake.

pps: yesterday I fell asleep reading to Scout at 7:45, hence no post. What with traveling and viruses, Finn forgot that he was pretty much night-weaned. Last night he started remembering again, because I want to love my family again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

WIHTWH: Weekly dinner dates

with dudes like these, by romantic candlelight. (Truth: Missionaries aren't allowed to eat at members' homes, but we're an exception because we probably won't give them cholera. So we're extra careful to bleach all our produce on nights when we pick them up for their weekly dinner, and I try to make a lot of something that's not made of beans, mince, noodles, jello, and/or Knorr chicken-type flavouring. The trash of the kitchen at church, where they live, is usually brimming with what I take as tips not to cook up on missionary night.)

They used to have a standing Thursday night appointment with us. But then there was American Idol, so we switched to Fridays, which is better all 'round, because we're on the rotation for a load-shedding "scheduled power outage" on Fridays, but the Elders still cheerfully clean up all the dishes by candlelight.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Let the countdown begin!

Just got back from a week in Zanzibar, our last big huzzah before we leave this part of the world. Yep, that's an announcement folks. Four more weeks left in the warm heart of Africa.*

But Zanzibar. I'll skip the superlatives, but it's a pretty darn cool place. A historic nexus of trade, both of spices and slaves, the culture is this blend of African, Indian, and Arab flavours. It's very different from inland Malawi. It's also out in the blueblueblue Indian ocean, so every meal features some kind of fish (hopefully).

We took two flights to get to the island.

The Stone Town market has a big fruit section (we tasted durani, the fruit) (BARF!@#$!--looks like a fat white waterlogged sausage, feels thick and greasy like congealed cheese sauce, tastes like bad meat that's been dipped in chemicals) and a huge seafood section.

It was really hot. We stopped for some fresh sugarcane juice. First a length of cane is roughly macerated. Then half a lime and a stub of ginger are tucked into it, and they're all pressed together. The juice is swirled with some ice, strained in a hand-held sieve, and sipped through a straw. So yum. Finn enjoyed his as you can see, but ever wary of the big D (truly the fastest way to spoil a beach vacation dependent upon swim diapers), Andy limited our refreshment to a few sips.

Stone Town was built by Omani Sultans who occupied and ruled Zanzibar till the 1940s or so.

Stone Town is also famous for it's carved doors, an Indian thing. They are incredibly ornate with flowers and designs. They have a solid post in the middle, and a "male" side and "female" side, named because of the direction the door swings open. Many of them have brass horn type things sticking out of them, decorative reminders of back home in India where they functionally decorated the doors by discouraging elephants from beating the doors in. Some of them have an eerie reminder of what we often forget: who did the grunt work for most of the world's wonders. A border of carved chain was a status symbol to show the Joneses that within these walls dwells a slave-owner.

Andy, mango loveslave, took every opportunity to pursue his mangoQuest. Because mangos are always in season on Zanzibar. Big, juicy, non-fibery ones. (Scout and I fell in love with fresh lychees, also in season. We went on a "shoki shoki" quest of our own into a little fishing village later on in our stay.)

One of the big things to do on Zanzibar is go on a spice tour (a highlight for me). Although they no longer grow for export (except cloves), we smelled and picked and tasted and saw growing: pepper berries, vanilla beans, clove, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, coconut, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, nutmeg, henna...

and lipstick plant.

We also tasted fresh coconut, jackfruit, breadfruit, and starfruit.

Then we went to a fancyshmancy resort on the tip of the island and played in the ocean for a few days.

We took hikes at low tide.

We inspected hermit crabs on the beach at night.

We went for a sunset cruise in a quasi-traditional dhow.

And didn't get a bit of sunburn!

*And so, to make sure we drink up every last drop of Malawi while our cup runneth over, look for daily postings of Why I Heart the Warm Heart. Same time, same place, starting tomorrow.