Archive for February, 2016

The Warm Heart of Africa & ‘Big Heads’

February 26, 2016
miles from anywher you'd call anywhere, except right on Lake Malawi

Lufua Village miles from anywhere you’d call anywhere, except right on Lake Malawi

I am starting this blog post with a link to an excellent article that Alexander  published…you can see how many years ago.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1991/12/16/an-ideal-state

For those new to me, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer Urban Planner in Blantyre, Malawi in 1992.  I joke that I undeveloped the country, but my main job was development control, and helping the country modernize their  procedures.  I failed at almost everything because there was no political will.  Worse, there was a drought, and these were the last ruling days of Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.

When you are a Peace Corps Volunteer, you develop a fondness for your country.  Thus, I supported Malawi Children’s Village, and have been in touch with humane societies in Lilongwe and  Blantyre.  In future blogs, I will do more of a description of these organizations.

I don’t think there is one of us who doesn’t feel that they want to leave the world a better place.  I was a founding board member of Uptown Recycling Station in Chicago in 1984—one of the first community based recycling organizations in the country, and this effort kickstarted an industry.  So, you do what you can…and this  was the reason I  returned to Malawi, and also spent time in Zambia—-to see if my  support  has been making a difference.  I am happy to say it has. So, it was worth the effort just for those reasons.

As far as this being a vacation…I can hardly call it that.  Let’s start with the currency issue.   You can see the difference.  In America, we go to the bank & just assume we are not being given counterfeit bills.  But that was not the problem, I learned.  The unofficial policy in both Zambia and Malawi was not to change  $100 bills that were older than 2013.  I even had trouble at the banks, and the American Embassy was of no help.  As I explained to  my African friends, nobody in the USA uses $100 bills.  They could see how crisp the bills were.  I told them only gamblers, dope dealers, & people buying & selling cars use $100 bills. the rest of us use credit cards.  I thought the reason for this  discrimination was counterfeit bills coming in from South Africa. Ah, no:  the reason is….the Asians (Indian/Pakistani)  population hoards them, and if they dear a devaluation, floods the market and causes rapid  inflation…so by banning the  street or bank conversion, they are forced to bank them.  So I had to be very frugal, and use credit cards where ever I could—which was difficult.  Nobody takes a credit card outside of the big cities.  In the past,  the currency discrimination was against ‘small heads’ (bills  minted in  the 1980s) vs the ‘large heads’.  Now, they want to see that mylar stip and the liberty bell in gold.

What has changed in 23 years?  Literacy is up by  about 25 % for both men and women, and AIDS is down (though  there is a cohort of people—-probably age 35+—which is missing,  Both countries are now very young), and people seem to think that the economy is much better and growing.  This is a subsistence agriculture country.  Into the 1800s (we have to go this far back for you to understand Africa) Malawi was sparsely populated. The Ngoni had gone from  south Africa up to the Congo, then back down  through Zambia and  into Malawi, the Chewa were there, and the Yao came in from Mozambique, mostly to  escape the slave trade….but due to tsetse fly,  people couldn’t farm all over. The soil wouldn’t support it, anyways. For  centuries, these people raised millet as their staple, a  drought resistant grain. When the Europeans came in, they supported the planting of maize over millet, and maize is not drought tolerantThe drought issue  could be cyclical, but  for the past  30 or so years, the problem has been  deforestation.  Most of this is caused not by slash & burn agriculture, but  harvesting wood for charcoal for cooking.

Starvation  is still a huge issue, especially in the rural areas, but  actually, Malawi is very densely populated and some what urban.  What I  did notice is that  virtually everyone was wearing shoes—even if it was cheap BATA  or Chinese jellies ( in the early 1990s, only about  30% of people wore shoes) and virtually every woman gets her hair done, whether it be relaxed, or, mostly, extensions or wigs.  When I served, no woman  got her hair done—less than 5%.  Again, these are women with no electricity or running water. Another surprise:  everyone had a cell phone. No joke. I was in a way off the road in Lufua village.  I had to take a truck to get there, and  people had cell phones. They buy battery packs in markets to charge them.

More people are running ‘matolas’ (Toyota 4 x4) and minibuses, so  Stagecoach, the  old buses  imported from Blantyre, Scotland, are gone. They used to run on a schedule.  Now, the vehicle goes when full. Finally, Whitex, the  regional cloth looms, is gone.  They produced unique designs. Now, all the cloth is wax print & faux wax print from Mali, Tanzania…and India or China.

I will write more about  my experience in next week’s blog post.

 

 

The 2nd Blog About Going Back to Africa

February 4, 2016

I’ve been doing research almost every day on transport, say, from Mua mission to Mangochi (in Malawi), and places to stay.  Google ‘Lilongwe to Lusaka by bus.’   You can get Lusaka to lilongwe, but not the reverse. Traveling in inland Africa  is so …difficult. Roads are bad, transport is badly regulated, bus companies go out of business or  radically change their routes.

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

I paid for the airfare back in June 2015.  I did this after Zambia removed the requirement for a Yellow Fever shot. Having had 3…I would have gone to Hong Kong or  Costa Rica if the requirement was still in place (no word on Zika—now in the news…).

I sent my passport to the Zambian embassy for a visa in October of 2015—before the ‘holiday rush’, and checked the Malawian embassy website—still no visa needed. Apparently the requirements changed  just after I checked the website.  From $0 to $100.  How did I find out? By checking the Peace Corps Malawi Facebook page…someone just happened to post asking if anyone had trouble getting a visa!   This was now the middle of January, 2016.   So, I checked the embassy website again, and sure enough, yes, a visa is now needed. Why?  It’s only fair:  they charge  now for whatever country  charges their ‘nationals’ for a visa, and the USA charges $161.

So, I emailed the embassy.  All the emails bounced back. So I called…and they graciously returned my call, and told me, as the website says, they could get it done in 5 days…and to Fed Ex my passport.  I asked if I could get one at the border, and they said I couldn’t.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I could picture having to get off a bus at the Zambian/Malawi border, and being asked for $100 & to fill out forms, and a bus not waiting,  and being stuck.

So, I got the application, flight info, photos, passport together and Fed Exed it.  This was on Jan.19.  It got to the Embassy on Jan. 20.  On Jan 28, I called to ask how things were going. Not well. Seems that—due to the blizzard that hit Washington, DC earlier in the week, the embassy had been closed, because the roads had not been cleared (let alone the sidewalks).  But, I was assured that  the passport would be sent out  on Friday, Jan.29.  But it wasn’t.  I checked the  Fed Ex tracking number—for the return envelope I had sent, and it was still sitting there!

Now, I’m frantic.  I can’t get on the plane without a passport.  I called my credit card company, Chase Freedom, because they insure  for ‘trip interruption ‘ when you pay on their card (my airfare).  Ah, no…they never heard of anything like this, but this wasn’t weather related as far as they were concerned. So, then I called the travel insurance company, WorldNomads.net, to see if I was covered.  No, If it is not explicitly listed  in their causes, no.  I am not covered.  I call Emirates asking about penalties for rebooking.
They tell me to call the travel agent to see about fees.  What to do?

I decided to call FEdEx and arrange a pickup at the Embassy for Monday morning. I even offered to pay overnight express.  Funny thing—they say the Embassy has already paid it on my tracking  number!  They just have not set it out!

Here’s the thing:  if your envelop is not ready to go, the Fed Ex driver will not wait.  Due to the embassy people being behind on everything, they  did not see that it was not picked up on Friday, then on Monday, they had a question about the address (I had it sent to a local receiver  due to my running around), but it finally got out Monday night.

So I have a few other questions & continue to email contacts in Malawi. What denomination bills should I get, as the exchange rate is Mkw 726.38 to  $1 USD…and do I need to bring my heavy  electric converter to recharge my cell phone.

You Can’t Miss it!

Since roads are often unmarked (but everyone knows what they are…)

Here’s an example of  directions I got for  Chishawasha Children’s Home outside Lusaka:

From Kathe Padilla: You will probably need to take a bus from the main bus station downtown out Great North road.  About 5 K out of Lusaka (going North) there is a
Police Checkpoint, where all the automobiles and trucks are checked.  A bus may or may not get checked, I am not sure.  Three K beyond that check point
on the left hand side is a large sign for the Chishawasha Children’s Home of Zambia.  It is quite a few years old by now, so it is looking old (presuming
it has not been re-painted since I was there in July of 2015).  Take that road (a dirt road named Minestone road, but there is no sign for the road) and walk
about 4 tenths of a kilometer and you will see the gate, which says Chishawasha Children’s Home and the school itself is visible from the road. FYI the school
is pink)  Go to the guard and tell them that Aunt Kathe invited you to come visit and the guard can direct you to the administration building.  You will want to
talk to Mary or Carol.
Another way of arriving at the same place is:  about 7 K from Lusaka (again on Great North Road a few K past the police checkpoint) there will be a large billboard sign on
the right side of the street for “Spinalong”.  When you see that sign look down the road (going North) toward the left side of the road and pick out the
tallest tree on the horizon.  That tree is located just at the road where you will need to stop (you should see the CCHZ sign before the bus stops).  Againwalk 4 tenths of a K and you will see the CCHZ gate.
Good luck.  It really is quite easy to find.
And….
Directions on getting to  Friendly Gecko Rest House, outside Senga Bay, in Malawi:
Public transport is pretty straight forward from Lilongwe to Salima, and you can get minibuses from the main bus station.  From Salima, you will want to take a minibus, truck, or whatever transport you find towards Senga Bay, but make sure to let them know you want to get out at the Lifuwu turn-off (parachute battalion)If you get lucky, you’ll find a truck going directly to Lifuwu.  If not, when you get to the turn-off you can hire either a bicycle taxi or a motorcycle to bring you to the village.  When you arrive, you can ask anyone where the azungu cottage is, or pay your taxi a little extra to get you to our guesthouse.
And here are directions to Malawi Children’s Village:
I asked:
I plan to  come from the north—from Mua Mission.  If you are closer to Monkey Bay, there is no reason for me to go all the way into Mangochi—especially if I  catch a matola. So—-once I get to Mua, should I take  M10 towards Malemba?”  Then, towards Mzima Bay, or south then towards Club Makolola?
Response: We are south of Monkeybay Mangochi road.  From Club Makokola we are almost 3 kilometers going south.  When you catch Matola just tell them you are dropping at MCV.  Everybody knows this place.  We are looking forward to meeting you soon.