Posts Tagged ‘development’

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

A Trip to Africa Changed my Life: a continuation of the blogs on Malawi/Zambia 2016

March 11, 2016

busstation LuWhat does being a  developed country mean?  Why are some counties so poor, and others, which started on the road to development at the same time, doing so well?

These were  the questions I had when I traveled to Africa (Tanzania) for the first time, in 1985.  At the time, Tanzania had a 90+% literacy rate. So, why were there no roads, and if there was nothing to buy, why was inflation so  bad?
Being so inspired to learn the answer,  having seen people working incredibly hard with nothing to show for it, I returned to America, took College Level Examination Program Exams( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Level_Examination_Program ),  enrolled in college, and started studying Africa area studies and international development.

The indicators of ‘development’ are : a literate populace,  access to health care and communication, infrastructure to aid economic vitality, a low infant mortality rate, and an ability  for adults to return to their communities the economic investment made in them.  So, how is it that Malaysia and Thailand seem to be doing much better than, say …Greece?  Or so many countries in Africa?

central malawi2The short answer is political will.  The answer gets more complicated  because of  western (oh, hell, American and the European)aid, which  keeps  people engaged in corruption and malfeasance in power.  These are sovereign states.  We have an embarrassing track record of intervening—in fact, in assassinating, elected leaders whom  WE (face it—our tax dollars at work) felt were governing not in OUR interests.    Yet, for all the meddling we’ve done, and the billions USAID has given, we don’t have  much to show for it. We don’t have to go back forever, but just to after the end of World War II.

But this is not what this blog is about. What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that  direct aid to communities, which you can  hold accountable, spurs more development than anything USAID or ODA have ever done.

I had been donating to several groups, and I wanted to see, with my own eyes, how they were doing.  Actually,  I wanted to see what they were doing with my donations.

Zambian Children's Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

Zambian Children’s Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

The first  place I visited was the Chishawasha primary school  in Chishawasha, just north of Lusaka.  Kathe Padilla had seen the poverty in the region, and  also knew how AIDS had devastated families. So, she worked with a local chief to get land set aside for  housing for orphans,  and a school.  Somewhat resembling the SOS Children’s Village model, where a house mother stays with a cohort,  with the assistance of the Glassco Foundation of Canada (http://glasscofoundation.org/ZambiaMainframe.php?page=OrphanageProject.htm),  Kathe had a compound, and a primary school built.  I have been sending books, art supplies, and other miscellaneous items to Kathe, who is in Tempe, Arizona, and she sends a container about once a year.  There are supporters in other parts of the ISA and Canada.  The school is a good size, and they even have a computer lab.  Kathe is also working with the extended families of the orphans on other income generating projects.  I am lucky enough to live in Chicago, and get just about everything I send  for free.  It  costs me about $100 a cubic meter to send the boxes to Kathe and the Zambian Children’s Fund by UPS.  I actually used to send  books to Malawi via M bag, but that program no longer exists.  In any case, I was

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

delighted to see that housing in such great shape and so modern, and the compound so  beautiful.  http://www.zambianchildrensfund.org/  Also, they have so many  helpful projects to help the community with economic development.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

I then went to Malawi, and I had planned to  volunteer with the Lilongwe SPCA (http://www.lilongwespca.org/ ). However, they had just moved, and  they were still a ‘work in progress’.  One way they support themselves is by running a veterinary clinic. Thy were quite busy the day I was there.  The number of pets they have for adoption at any one time varies.  They’ve had a litter of pups for  a couple of months, and they all seem to be well socialized. The kittens they had really needed more human interaction.  I had learned about  them via  http://www.Animal-Kind.org and was able to make several donations to them via Animal-Kind. They’ve unfortunately, had a communication breakdown, but they do get a lot of local support, particularly from expats, but also, from many local Malawians.  At their new  grounds, they will be able to have many more activities, including dog training classes, and they do educational workshops all over the country.  I felt my donations were well used.  Their   new compound is so large, they will be able to house volunteers who might come from outside the country.

mcv1Finally, I went to Malawi Children’s Village in Mangochi (http://malawichildrensvillage.org/about/).  I had been supporting MCV since  inception, with cash donations and  sending books M-bag.  I was a bit disappointed to learn that the books were packed up because they were in the process of moving the library from  one  room to another, but Vincent, the assistant manager, took  us (I arrived as  a few other people were there) on  a tour  of  the grounds.  They now have a secondary school, and  vocational training in bricklaying, carpentry, vehicle repair, and  a sewing/fashion workshop.  They produce a lot of nice items there, and I was able to purchase trousers and several small bags.  They also have made uniforms for local school children.  Attached to the compound is the Open Arms orphanage, which serves infants to age 2—until they are healthy enough to

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

return to their extended families.  Many of the babies have AIDS.  In fact, as I served in Peace Corps, there was a 20—90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to the road.  What kind of difference would this make?  During times of drought and starvation, girls will prostitute themselves for food, and truckers  take advantage of being away from home.  One must keep in mind that this is a somewhat polygamous society, so there  never really was a stigma regarding multiple partners (in spite of the influence of Christianity…and for the most part, both Zambia and Malawi are  very Christian nations:  you pick and choose what works for you…and of course, Jesus forgives your sins…). Malawi Children’s Village is very well-known now, at least in central Malawi, and I found it very gratifying to see how effective the programs are.

Lilongwe bus station

Lilongwe bus station

Partly due to culture, partly due to religious faith, and partly due to access, Malawi is a very poor country.  It is difficult for me to say that  Zambians  are better off, but being closer to Zimbabwe, which  is closer to South Africa, and being a larger country, there are more of the trappings of development  (at least in terms of infrastructure) in  Zambia than there are in Malawi.  I noticed more water pumps closer to the roads in Malawi than there were 20 years ago, and there is a much greater middle class population—-at least in both Blantyre and Lilongwe.  More people are wearing shoes, everyone has a cell phone, and all the women either are relaxing their hair, having extensions put on, or are wearing wigs.  Yet,  literacy has barely improved, there is still very little access to health care, and  rally, people ar  very cynical about their governments.  This is true of both countries.

Hippo in the Zambezi River

Hippo in the Zambezi River

There is  too much cronyism and corruption in both countries. When beneficial laws are passed, they are not enforced.  Except for  the hippos I saw in the Zambesi River, and the monkeys in the park, I saw no other wildlife.  This is a tragedy.  Wildlife tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for both countries.  People who come to see wildlife  support a lot of jobs in the hospitality industry.  If word gets out that there is no wildlife to be seen,  people with money will stop coming to  these countries, and there is virtually no other industries that can  be competitively developed to  support all these people.  We —in America—think we have a refugee problem now?  If we don’t do  something to cause the non-profits now supporting wildlife and environmental conservation to  develop more effective strategies for  educating Africans about the importance of their wildlife heritage, and influencing politicians, we are going to be facing another crisis.

 

 

 

Azungu, Where Are You Going?

March 4, 2016

This blog is about the logistics of traveling around Zambia and Malawi on my trip in Feb. 2016.

Nomadic Matt, a travel blogger, claims you can travel around the  world for $40 a day.  I believe that may be true, especially if you camp out,  or stay in hostels or dorms, eat frugally, and don’t move around that much.  My own costs turned out to be an average of $110.67 a day, and would have been $99 —even less—if I hadn’t stayed in a few places that were over $30 a night ( and hadn’t bought souvenirs or taken a special tour).

For my 17 days on the ground…Lodging cost me anywhere from free (the overnight in Dubai—very much worth doing!!!  Emirates airlines…),  or  $12—to  my big splurge at Fawlty Towers in Livingtone, which was $40 (and there are deals on bookings.com, and possibly  other booking sites).  total:  $293.25.   Incidental groceries/snacks cost me about $35—& that included the kilo (yes—kilo! ) of macadamia nuts I bought from street vendors in Blantyre.  Transport was  a shade over $150.  This was the minibuses and matolas.  My airfare was a shade under $1300, and the visas were $180 because I wanted multiple entries.  I spent  $200 or so on junk:  2 t-shirts from the LLSPCA,  $65 on a dinner cruise on the Zambezi,  extra on magazines, cloth, the tailor, a phone (which I could never figured out—Airtel chargers for calls that don’t go through, and for some numbers, you have to use either a 0 or a + before the number….better to use your own phone if you can make the sim card work).

I have learned from fellow travelers, if you can, do not book your flight in the United States.  Lots of people book via Dubai or Asia.

Bus station, Lusaka

Bus station, Lusaka

You can get pretty detailed maps of Malawi and Zambia (& I bet many other places) on Amazon.com.  Google maps are good for cities.  I traveled in a circle, which added to my costs.  In  hindsight, this was not really the smartest thing to do, but then, I was hoping to get  transport from Blantyre to Livingstone, and this was unavailable.  In fact, it is known that Intercape runs buses from Johannesburg to Lilongwe—but you have to book the entire trip—you can not book a segment.  The lack of transport from Blantyre to Livingstone (through Mozambique) made the trip very much more complicated than I wanted it to be, but that’s how it goes.  I had to go from Blantyre  back up to Lilongwe (via AXA bus), then take a Kobs bus back through Chipata down to Lusaka.  Neither AXA nor Kobs  take credit cards.  You have to pay in local currency.

Birdsnest Backpackers in Lusaka, Zambia

Birdsnest Backpackers in Lusaka, Zambia

So, here’s what I did:  1.  I flew into Lusaka, and stayed at the Birdsnest  backpackers, a low budget ‘hotel’ (rest house) for a couple of nights.  There is nothing to do in Lusaka, no city buses, only minibuses and taxis. I’m told there is a good zoo/botanical garden, but it would have required a very expensive taxi ride.  Lusaka sprawls. You’re in the countryside, but still in Lusaka.   I flew into Lusaka because I wanted to visit the Chishawasha School, which I have made donations-in-kind to for the past several years.  Nkole Chewe (the  manager of Birdsnest) and I went out there on Sunday.

2. From Lusaka, I took the Kobs bus to Lilongwe, It is at least a 12 hour trip.  I did get to see a good portion of Eastern Zambia, but there  was no wildlife.  That is how Africa is now.  I stayed at Mabuya camp, another low budget, but typically African  place, in Lilongwe.  From there, I went to

nearSalima3. Lifua Villagem near Senga Bay.  I did this via mini bus, bicycle taxi (about 1 km only) and matola.  This segment was the most nerve wracking of the trip, because I really didn’t know where  exactly I was going, just north of Senga Bay.  It was as remote as Malawi can be, except it was on Lake Malawi.  I spent the night at the Friendly Gecko, and the next morning went to…

 

Mua Mission

Mua Mission

4. Mua Mission.  Mua is also remote. I didn’t really want to spend the night, but I don’t regret spending the night.  There is a museum there— probably the best in the country, and I would not have gotten to Mangochi by night fall.

5.  In the morning, I went to Mangochi, to see Malawi Children’s Village, a well known place, now.  I got there via minibus, matola, then minibus.  It was more circuitous than I had hoped, as I wanted to go by 1 route, and the minibus driver dropped me at a matola on the way to Monkey Bay, but in the end, this was really more of  a ‘direct’ route.  I  got to   MCV about 2 or so, and got to see the compound, as well as buy some trousers and  some small bags.  I got to see Open Arms, the orphanage, as well.  That night I stayed at…

Palm Beach Resort, outside Mangochi, Malawi

Palm Beach Resort, outside Mangochi, Malawi

6. Palm Beach Resort. The proprietor, Mrs. Breitz, picked me up at Malawi Children’s Village.  It is a very nice place right on the lake.  I was going to try to get a minibus into Mangochi boma (‘city’—if you can call it that), but as luck would have it, a small film crew, at the suggestion of Mr. Breitz, gave me a ride all the way to…

7. Blantyre.   I just wanted to stop by Blantyre Civic, where I used to work, and  stop briefly at the  Blantyre SPCA.  I also got to see Limbe—what’s become of it.  I was in Blantyre from Saturday evening until Monday afternoon, when I took an AXA bus back to…

8. Lilongwe. I got in late Monday, and spent Tuesday getting my stuff back from the tailor, and also  getting some other  cloth.  I left early Wednesday on the Kobs bus to get back to….

Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe

Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe

9. Lusaka—another 12 hour ride back.   I just hung around on Thursday and got a…..

10. bus ticket to Livingstone early Friday. That was  a six hour trip.  I stayed in Fawlty Towers that night, and also went to the museum in Livingstone.   Livingstone really has a ‘suburban’ vibe, and I had a lovely dinner at a   restaurant called ‘Ocean’s Basket’, which I discovered is a small chain. On Saturday, I went to Victoria Falls park, where I spent a good  part of the day, and went on a dinner cruise in the evening—where I saw the main wildlife of the trip:  a few hippos in the Zambezi, and a heron in a tree.  On Sunday morning,

11.   I got a Mahzandu bus back to Lusaka.  It was air conditioned, and thankfully, not playing Christian music videos.  I  got back late  Sunday afternoon, to Lusaka and Birdsnest.  I was going to  go back to Chishawasha on Monday, but I suddenly realized my flight was that night!  So, that was the whole trip, and I will embellish the details in my

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

 

next blog post.

BTW– Azungu, wazungu, mzungu, nzungu…means ‘white person’. Not a slur or pejorative, it is what we are.  Black people are ‘people’:  Muntu or mto.  The ‘root word’ is dzungu—which means pumpkin. I bet some child called us ‘zungu’ and it stuck.

 

 

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.

The Blog About Going Back to Africa

January 29, 2016
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

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

One of my friends said I had to write about this, as just arranging this trip has been an adventure.  I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in 1992.  I was a town planner. Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to be in politically sensitive positions, and I  actually tried getting another agency (NGO) to pick me up, but the times were  pretty tense, as the European Community was leaning heavily on Hastings Banda (Kamuzu) to allow multi-party elections and a free press.

My job was actually development control…and I was briefly given an assignment  financed by UN Development Programme to organize residents of traditional housing areas (that is, residents of urban communities which allowed  squatter housing, or housing that would not pass building codes) to  have control over their water supply…but that didn’t work out due to the Malawi Congress Party, as well as the Europeans leaning on Banda, and the funding was withdrawn in about four weeks.

In any case, I lived in Blantyre and  at one point, the  Government of Malawi —at least through the office of President and Cabinet, wanted me to take  an illegal action and confiscate some land people had title to.  So, it was stressful.  But now it is  over 20 years later, and I want to not only see how things are, but I want to visit some projects I’ve been supporting (Zambian Children’s Fund in Chishawasha, a bit outside of Lusaka), the Lilongwe SPCA, and the Malawi Children’s Village  outside Mangochi.  I will also visit several other projects, and Victoria Falls in southern Zambia.

 

I paid for the airfare ($1268.36, Emirates Air) back at the end of June, 2015. Yes, the airfare has gone down a bit over $200 since, because the price of fuel has fallen…but that could not be guaranteed, so I really didn’t overpay that much, and I spend the night in Dubai.

Doing research on getting transport had taken up a lot of time, as you can’t get any info  directly from the bus companies, or it contradicts what everyone posts on TripAdvisor and ThornTree/Lonely Planet.  That’s how it is. Unless you  join a formal tour company for a ‘safari’, which is extremely expensive these days, you have to be flexible about how you plan to get around. Thankfully, all the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) now have websites, and their people are very helpful about telling you where to stay and how to get there.  I will get into the itinerary.

I knew I had to get a visa for Zambia ($70 plus the certified letter costs), and I actually was thinking of going to Hong Kong this time  because I didn’t want to have to get another Yellow Fever shot—which was required for some time for visas to either Zambia or Malawi.  A Yellow Fever shot (I’ve had 3) will make you quite sick, and is not cheap—you have to go to a  specific travel medical center to get one, and they not only charge about $150 for the shot, but  $$$ for ‘overhead’.  No thanks.

So I sent my passport off to the Zambian Embassy, and it took them  about  two weeks, or did it?  I sent it USPS certified mail, and I got a notice that it was returned, but since I was not home, I had to go to the post office and stand in line…and then, it turned out the   mail person had ‘forgotten’ to take it out of the bag, so they told me they would deliver it the next day…and did not, so I had to go back on Monday, now having no receipt because I had signed it over, and they found it.  It was very stressful.

So, I’m set, just have to pack, but I am on Facebook (Peace Corps Malawi feed) & someone posts last week : “has anyone tried to get a visa to Malawi now that the rules have changed?” What?  A visa had not been needed for Americans or Europeans  since independence, but now the reciprocal deal is  that if  your country charges their nationals for a visa, they charge you (&  the US charges about $160 to Malawians)…so I tried emailing the embassy in Washington, DC, and none of their email addresses are  good. I downloaded the  application forms, and left a message—and the embassy called me back!  They said I could NOT get a visa at the border, to send my passport Fed-Ex and they would  process it & send it back!  So, that was $100 + the $55 to get it there and back.  HOWEVER, I will point out that the official Malawian Tourism site—run by the government—still has the old, inaccurate information on it.  What are you going to do?   What ended up happening is that I sent it, tried to track it, it got to the embassy, and…sat there because of the huge blizzard.  Most embassy offcies were closed, but I left a message and they told me a few people had gone in and would send it back tomorrow.

I’ve budgeted about  $3000 total for this trip. Some places are set up to take credit cards, which is good, and food and transport are still inexpensive by American standards.This is a 20 day trip including  air transit days. Minus the air fare, that’s $86 a day.  Can I do it?  We’ll see.

Big problem is  I am taking a lot of stuff to leave there. About  five  pounds of fabric to be made into clothes,  about 10 pounds of books  as gifts, and other odds & ends.  I never anticipate bringing that much stuff back, but if i can find  bone or malachite jewelry—or bowls, that would be nice.

So, this will be the last blog for a while.I will be spending all my energy getting around.

 

A ‘New’ Economy

January 22, 2016
Topiary and horticulture are skills that you can make a living doing!

Topiary and horticulture are skills that you can make a living doing!

Many of ‘middle class’ working people have  heard stories from older relatives, not just about walking miles to school, but sleeping  with 5 siblings in 1 bed, right?  That their parents were poor, and their clothes were all hand-me-downs, but  everyone struggled.  They all went to school and kept going to school or learned a skill.

The ‘new’ poor are different.  It continues to shock me that a woman would trust a man to support her, and have three kids and have the  sire (dad) end up in jail, dead, or just leave with no obligation.  Now, I know I, personally, come from a family of women who  made it a point to  learn about birth spacing and birth control, and many women do not, and our school systems (particularly the religious ones) do not inform girls of their options.  But the result is another generation of poor people.  Who benefits?  The retail industry, which pays low wages.

Or, how about the woman who had 1 child.  she was doing ok until that 1 child became a drug addict or otherwise invalid, but she bore a child, and now the grandmother has to support them all?    Nobody says to the young mother, “Find a way to bring in some cash.”  No, what  grandma says is that she’ll apply for a housing voucher and get them all a bigger place to live.

Then, we all end up resenting them, not the overpaid people who set up these systems.

Lots of people are down on public education.  Teachers are poorly trained, they don’t have enough resources.  In urban schools, classes are not just overcrowded, but the odds are that  some students will have learning ‘disabilities’ or be disruptive, and slow the whole class down.  Couple that dynamic with  poor acoustics and cold schools…it’s amazing kids learn to read and write.

We are in crisis, and have to come up with more alternatives to educate our citizens.  Really, kids should learn basics of math/reading/writing by the time they are in 6th grade—that’s about age  11 or 12.  Actually, with the internet, there are so many more options and ways of learning kids can be exposed to.    This has to be, because once they start ‘maturing’ and hormones take over, that’s another distraction.   Also, can you imagine growing up in the foster  care system, having your life disrupted every few weeks or months?

Girl Scouts helped me so much.  I learned about cooperation, planning, and raising money for projects.  We have to support more of that.

This is also why we have to support public education.  If our kids are not  exposed to  all the ‘actors’ in their economy, we can’t come up with realistic solutions to community problem.

Yet, our politicians keep bloviating, and are making the teachers unions the devil.  Face it, there are  very few advocacy groups for children’s’ education.

I hope readers will share this on Facebook and start a public discussion on this. I don’t have kids, but these are future citizens/decision makers  I am worried about.

If I won the lottery…

January 15, 2016

Dash&meNov14There was recently a lottery prize that was worth over a billion dollars (or whatever it is after taxes….a lot of zeroes).  I don’t play the lottery.  I am not a gambler. I like to think I take calculated risks.  However, what would I  do if I had the  money  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have?

1.  Pay off my mortgage and make a few cosmetic repairs to my house. It’s over 100 years old.  It’s not really laid out well, but it is in an excellent location, being steps from public transportation and Lake Michigan;

2. Set up a fund for the youngsters in my extended family to either pay for school or a business venture.  However…not to pay for something  frivolous. They’d have to submit a plan.  You can study philosophy or art history after you can earn a living doing something (more on that later…);

3.Set up a fund to assist OPEN  ADMISSIONS ANIMAL SHELTERS so they could care for all pets, not pick and choose who gets saved. That said, this fund would also fund humane education which would teach people interested about animal behavior and husbandry, pet training and grooming, but also on  affecting social policy, so we  could address the mindset that just because you have  just one dog (or cat, or whatever) to breed, it doesn’t mean you should not be responsible for the offspring.   I’d work to  create a fund to  make it a state law that says that if you advertise baby animals for sale,  humane people visit you to collect a ‘humane fee’, and so we have your contact info  (meanwhile chipping the animals for sale…) …so if the pets you sell  are given up, you either take them back or pay a humane group to take care of your responsibility;

4. Potable water is a huge problem in much of the world.  There are many reasons for this:  population growth, deforestation…and fracking.  I’d not only fund getting the word out, but I’d sink wells or develop rain water catchment systems in areas where the population agreed to make girls education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) a priority, and fund  that.  Too many resources have gone into boys…and look what a mess men have made of everything;

5.  I’d also fund a ‘No Birth Bonus Scheme’ in  these locations—paying women to not have more than 2 children.  There is NOT enough water to go around.  I’m not talking sterilization or abortion, I’m talking women making a choice  about resources;

6.  I’d put together a venture capital firm to help inventors with prototypes and patents for appropriate technology and pharmaceuticals;

7.  I’d create a fund so my neighbors could make their housing more energy-efficient and get off the grid;

8.  I’d pay a personal trainer to boss me back into shape.  I am actually pretty strong, but you never push yourself as much as a trainer does;

9.  I’d set up a fund for people with autism to take advantage of the new technologies available which make communication easier.

10.  I’d also set up a  fund for kids aging out of the foster care system, for them to get at least associates degrees or start a business. These are the forgotten in our communities…and often, they are destined to be poor, with  compromised social skills.

I am not much for luxury items.  For me, it’s important to have a functional kitchen, and I love my deep bathtub, but jewels and fancy clothes?  Not me.  I have a travel jones.

So, that’s what I’d do with a windfall.  What would YOU do?

 

 

Planning a Trip to Africa for Winter 2016

August 7, 2015
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

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

My first trip to Africa was Tanzania,  in 1985.  I found a guy who  booked camping safaris, and he suggested  Tanzania because (he said) “Nobody goes there.”  One reason  people didn’t go was because infrastructure was so bad…and I am told, 30 years later, it still is.  And I’ve learned there are many places in Africa where nobody goes.  I wanted to see the last Eden, which I was told would be gone by now…and it is.  It’s gone because of war, drought, poaching, and rapid population growth.

We Americans  think we know it all, and we think Africa has not developed because of tribalism.  That’s not the reason. The reason  Africa stays without infrastructure is elitism that is fostered by western donors.

There  has never been much material culture in Africa except for the coasts, where land was rich enough to support agriculture and social stratification, and trade was easy.  Go inland, and people are so poor due to  non-arable land, it’s all they can do to eek out a living.   Not much time  is left to pursue the arts.  On the coasts, you’ll find metal working (particularly West Africa), carving, even  bark cloth.  More inland, there is more performance and dancing.

What Americans tend to not understand is that women are the farmers in Africa, but the aid has gone to the men:  men who’ve frittered it away, gambled, drank and  wasted it….  with our help.  Women  do the framing, house keeping, and child rearing.  Men sit around and bullshit.

My 2nd  trip to Africa, to volunteer in Kajiado, Kenya, in Maasailand.  We were at a school run by the African Inland Church (Scottish Protestants), and in our enclave, there was a school for blind boys, a school for  physically disabled girls,and our boarding school for girls.  We went into town  to get some provisions.  I was waiting with a government official (an educated Maasai guy), and we were sitting in a restaurant drinking Fantas.  An older Maasai woman weaved over to the table and started talking to me.  Of course, I couldn’t understand her, and my friend said, “She’s quite drunk, actually.”  It wasn’t even 11 in the morning.  She couldn’t have been older  than 40, but it’s hard to tell.  In her younger days, she might have been the  mtoto sweeping out her boma or tending a fire, but she has kids…maybe even grandkids…to do that now. She had nothing to do but drink.  Where did these pastoralists get money to drink? Selling jewelry to tourists.

After graduate school, I joined Peace Corps, and was assigned to be a town planner in Malawi. At first, it looked like I was going to be sent to Mzuzu in the north, but when I got to training, I was told I was going to Blantyre.  BT was the industrial capital of the country.  It was a relatively old city, with a population  of  about 400,000 at the time, and it was essentially ‘planned out’ by the  Scottish/British. Due to a racist dynamic,  there were areas zoned where Indians could not  buy land.  However, they were clever, and due to their political organization, they ended up with the best infrastructure.  I had just gotten my masters degree in urban planning, and what a great place to see how things actually turn out.

AIDS was a huge problem in the  early 1990s. Due to government policy, less than 35% of the population of Malawi was literate, and fewer than 15% of households had  radios.  All information was via rumor. There was a 25 to 90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to a paved road.  There were many factors  causing this, but the main one was poverty.  It wasn’t like the USA and Europeans were not sending  development aid.  It was  just not  monitored and it was mis spent.

I was able to make a brief visit about  two years after my Peace Corps service, after there had been a multi-party election.  It looked like the economy had improved.  Many more women were having their hair relaxed (a large expense in households making under $4000 a year), and more people were wearing shoes.  However, the U N had moved in Somali refugees, and they walked around with rifles.

I have not been back in  over 20 years.  I have been supporting Malawi Children’s Village, the Zambian Children’s Fund (in Lusaka, Zambia), and there were  things I never got to see while I lived in Malawi.

I plan to fly into Lusaka, take a bus to Lilongwe (visit the Lilongwe  SPCA while there), get transport to Mua Mission to see their pottery works, get transport to Dedza to see Dedza pottery…then get transport  down to Mangochi to visit the Malawi Children’s Village.  From Mangochi, I hope to  spend a day in Blantyre & see what the Chinese are doing, Then catch a bus —I hope to Lusaka….but I may have to  go back up to Lilongwe and  go back around.  Then, back in Lusaka, I plan to make it down to Victoria Falls.

The roundtrip airfare with taxes is in the $1500 range.  $100 per day should be more than enough for expenses.  I am not going on a safari, but if anyone wants to join me, there will be an opportunity in Zambia.

Understanding the Greek Economic Crisis…or is it Chicago?

July 24, 2015

Don’t gloat.   Coming to a town hear YOU! You think malfeasance  isn’t happening where YOU live?

https://www.google.com/#q=California+Town+bankrupted+by+corrupt+officials. This is about Vernon California. apparently, their neighbors saw these guys getting away with  this, so: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Bell_scandal.  This is about Bell, California, where the town rulers, elected officials, bankrupted the town before the feds could save it.  You have to remember that lots of  actions are legal if they are not illegal. While we  are supportive of laws chasing drug dealers and addicts around,prosecuting welfare and food stamp fraud…. keeping lawyers employed—we are ignoring the important stuff …because it is boring until WE  get pummeled.

I was listening to an economics professor on the radio talk about what the problem is in Greece.  He said the Greek people aren’t lazy, but their  socio/political system is so inefficient, most Greeks work  2 jobs. He also  claimed that it wasn’t because  Greeks didn’t pay taxes—as the wealthy in all countries get away with not paying taxes.  However, in the USA & much of Europe, there has been a huge middle class that pays property taxes.  This is not the case in Greece, or many countries (it was not the case in Malawi when I was an urban planner in Blantyre in  the early 1990s, nor was it in Egypt—where  people were allowed to occupy unfinished buildings and not apply for  occupancy permits…so not be on the tax rolls).

The economics professor claimed Greece was in trouble because the European (etc) investors continued to  prop up banks making bad loans.  Bingo!

Sound familiar?  Did any bankers go to jail when they did that to  the USA in  2008 at the end of Dubyas years? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_Job_(2010_film)  Charles Ferguson’s  2010 documentary reminds us that—no—we Americans footed the bill.  Puerto Rico is going through the same thing (albeit partly because of being overly generous to her citizens)., but I live in Chicago, where our aldermen and state senators ‘borrowed’ from public employees  pension funds ( http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/07/roots-of-the-chicago-teacher-pension-crisis/) for fripparies:  rodeos,  chandeliers, offices, statues, junkets….and never paid it back— or never put the $$$ in in the first place—taxes we paid!!! & we  stupid citizens not only have to pay AGAIN—but the assholes who did this are now receiving pensions themselves!  Here is the  right  wing take on our situation:http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/07/how_democrats_pillaged_chicago_toward_bankruptcy.html  It’s not just the patronage army, it’s our politicians.

In the past…before the internet…when things got so dire…there were revolutions.  This is how the socialists came to power in many places.  This may seem far afield, but Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren  keep calling for reforms.  The only way to  fight the  malfeasance is un-elect the  rascals and get ourselves a new set of rascals…and as citizens…support the government watchdog agencies and cut politicians pensions.