Friday, 29 July 2011

From Cabin Fever to Markets

So if you’ve seen the news, then you will know what’s been happening in Malawi! It started last week for me – cancelling my travel/research plans for the week as there was uncertainty about what was going to happen and if the roads would be open to vehicles. This is kind of when the cabin fever kicked in.

I spent most of Monday-Friday reading and writing though being able to sit by the pool was rather nice, repetition was driving me slightly nuts. Unfortunately when the FCO advice is to stay indoors (and out of trouble) there isn’t much you can do. It was nice to know thought that most other people were in a similar situation.

So Saturday comes and Karen wakes me up with a text, wanting to know if I want to go to the farm with them. Of course I jumped at the chance to get out of Makys and out of Blantyre. Don’t get me wrong I like being at Makys and there are always interesting people around but sometimes it’s nice to get out for a while. So off to the “work in progress” farm we went, chickens (and cute chicks), lots of veggies and a couple of pigs!  The other thing is that the view is amazing, especially over the river (which I now forget the name of). After a few hours of wandering round the farm and taking photos, we headed back to Blantyre. Karen made a lovely lunch/supper in the afternoon and I think I offered to cook for her one day – I don’t think I specified when this day would be, so maybe sometime in 2020?

On Sunday morning, I went to church with Chris and Estelle, though we left just after communion – for some reason the end of the service seems to take another 25 minutes, so Estelle and I followed Chris and left a little bit early! They were superfit freaks and went for a hike/run – whilst I thought I would locate my book and sit down, I was wrong! Some of the staff from GOAL were at Makys when I got back and I ended up power walking round town with Finbar – most things here on a Sunday close at 1pm, but we did manage to get doughnuts and ice cream on the way back to Makys.

So Monday morning was Visa Renewal Day – thinking this process would take a few hours at least, I was prepared to be there at 8am when the open – kind of in the hope to beat the queues. However Max came to the rescue and asked his driver who is Malawian to take me in. Well the process took all of 23 minutes and by 8.30 I was walking back through town to get to Makys. Everyone was surprised that it was done so quickly, but it proves it can be done!

I managed to get some of my research sorted out and I’ll hopefully be getting out too visit schools next week. I sent off all the emails that I wanted and made a few phone calls! I then decided that after lunch I’d head back into town to try and get some gifts and bits and pieces. It was a rather nice walk round town and I managed to get some nice things!  - My experience at the craft market was interesting to say the least, the self-haggling stall owners did make me giggle.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday reading, then headed back into town on Thursday – this time to locate a Chichewa bible and some Chitenges (Malawian wraps). I forgot to buy some ice cream though.  I had a meeting this morning and planned for going to visit schools next week – so the work finally begins.
First of all – there is the weekend!!!!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Research, potato scones, passion fanta and "ah, ah, aaaaahhhhchoo"

Well if there is one advantage of working from Macky’s is that the view from my temporary office is amazing, there are staff hovering eager to refill my glass (with passion flavoured Fanta) and it’s lovely and shaded.

My research is moving along – slightly on the slow side, but still it is moving. I’ve spent more of my time working from Macky’s and trying to get school visits arranged – unfortunately due to demonstrations planned for Wednesday, I’ll be staying put and have had to postpone my visits to Chiradzulu till next week.

I’ve discovered that my office is actually the gathering place for some of the Malawi Big Wigs – like the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi and the Attorney General! So every other day, I am introduced to a new person who I later find out is rather important. Macky’s favourite phrase when generally pointing me out is “She’s Scottish, We don’t discriminate – Shit happens.”   If nothing else my work environment is not boring, though sometimes with the “sides up” - it can be a bit on the chilly side. (Maky’s restaurant area is like a deck with a roof. The sides are clear tar-pollen; that are tied up during the day)

 I’ve been looking at other accommodation options for Zomba today, trying to find out what’s available and for what cost!  The History Guesthouse is still available, but I’ve decided that living on my own for four weeks, may drive me crazy! Given that it gets dark here by 6pm and unlike Edinburgh, it means going outside is a “no-no-no”.

I took a trip to the shoprite complex this morning – mainly to stock up on some necessities, like water! I did however locate and purchase a tin of Heinz Baked Beans! The staff at Macky’s have got toast down to a fine art, so if I can get them to heat up the beans, that will be lunch one day, and the rest of the beans with dinner!!  -Later I ended up in the other supermarket Savers Choice – I treated myself to a bottle of HP Sauce, I’m fed up of ketchup!

I showed some of the cooks how to make potato scones yesterday – first came confusion, you have potatoes for breakfast? – So after boiling the tatties to make them soft, they were mashed into an inch of their life. Finally folded in with flour and put in the frying pan! Next came laughter, as the scones, browned and started to go crispy. The kitchen staff then had a try of my breakfast before passing approval! When it comes to ordering chips here, I always ask for Crispy chips – so it’s been decided that everything I eat is crispy in some form or another – whether it’s toast, French toast, chips or now potato scones!!

On the weather front, it’s starting to get a bit warmer here :D – but that also means I sneeze more! If it’s cold I end up with a blocked nose!! So it’s a lose-lose situation, in more ways than one!! My psoriasis started to clear up when there was more sun, but then my eczema came back. With lack of sun, the eczema has gone away and the psoriasis returned to its usual state!

So with tissues and factor 50 at the ready – I’m off to spend some time by the pool  and relaxing!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A trip to Zomba...

On hearing (or rather seeing) the words “I made it to and from Zomba in one piece” Sarah Conway’s first words were “blog it, I love reading it”   - so for that reason this blog is for Sarah.

It started at 6am this morning, when I was up early (it was freezing) to get ready for my early morning trip to Chancellor College in Zomba.  I got myself organised and went down to the restaurant for some breakfast – as it was so early, I asked for some toast! When they bring you toast here though it’s a bit like they’ve toasted half a loaf.

So after eating (not all the toast) I was picked up by my driver for the day. I had been previously been warned that you have to remind drivers not to go like a “bat out of hell”. What I hadn’t banked on was my driver taking the “please slow down a little” to heart and driving at about 30 miles an hour for most of the journey. I eventually had to say, you can drive a bit faster – so we agreed a speed, and a quick calculation (thanks to my phone) told me that 80km an hour was the equivalent of about 50 mph.

The slower speed for a good bit of the journey did give me the chance to look at the beautiful surroundings, I just wish I was able to take decent photos from a moving vehicle. On the journey we were also stopped at a police check point, they checked the insurance, tax, driving license and then let us on our way – It probably took all of 3 minutes and was a much quicker check than I had imagined.

Arriving in Zomba (it’s teeny compared to Blantyre – which main street is probably no bigger than Westblackhall Street in Greenock) we made our way to Chancellor College. I went to my meetings, which despite being warned of “Malawian time” started promptly and took about as long as I had imagined. I was hoping to get a look at the house where I am supposed to be staying in Blantyre, but that didn’t happen, so I doubt I will stay there after all.

The return trip from Zomba to Blantyre was about uneventful as the trip there, more beautiful views and more crazy people trying to sell things from the side of the road. Well at least they didn’t step into the road.  We were stopped by police at the checkpoint on the way back, went through the same process and were on our way – so not much drama.

Arriving back at Mackys, I asked one of the waiters if I could have a Fanta – before I could finish the sentence he replied with “Passion” (it’s my new favourite drink, aside from bottled water). I also got a small plate of “crispy chips”. I feel the need at this point, to tell you that Malawian Chips are slightly on the undercooked soggy side. Not in the same soft Scottish way. So I’ve discovered if I ask for crispy chips they are a little more cooked and less soggy – the chips are then promptly covered in vinegar – which the staff find rather funny! Why order crispy chips just to make them soggy?

Well, I’ve spent the rest of the afternoon, behind my laptop (not in my usual seat) but at a table in corner doing some work and reading my newly downloaded kindle book. I’ve discovered that even if I can’t get BBC iPlayer to work, or rather get the Edinburgh University VPN to work properly that I can download books from Amazon (mostly the free ones).  

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

I've been in Malawi for two weeks already...

So I’ve been in Malawi for two weeks now, and ok most of that time has been spent with me camped out at Chez Maky, with my trusty laptop. Doing actual research has been a slow process but seems to finally be moving forward.

Chez Maky’s is situated at the top of Kabula Hill Road above the central business district of Blantyre. The outlook over Blantyre is quite spectacular and watching the sunset (about 5.30pm) is just as amazing.  I’ve acquired a “usual spot” that has become my temporary office. I quite like working from Maky’s, the food here is really good and there is always someone new that I’m being introduced to. 

The first week here, the weather was rather warm during the day and the factor 50+ was a must have accessory for the day. However the second week has been considerably cooler, with more need for jeans and hoodie than the sunscreen.  It does make for a nice working environment though, with it cooling down in the evening – meaning that I get a decent night’s sleep. My room here at Maky’s is also rather nice, with an en-suite that now has hot water!  I must admit the few times there has been no hot water, I have found the cold shower to be more of a wake-up.

I’ve also been causing some staff confusion – I’ve been doing my own laundry – it’s one thing I’m not dependent on someone else doing for me! At first there was a discussion as why I would like to do my own laundry. So after some debating I was brought some washing powder and a huge bucket of water.  – So the hand-washing began! It didn’t take me long to do it – then one of the staff kindly hung my clothes up to dry.  Ironing was even more fun – once the working iron was located, it was again debated as to why I was ironing – well for a start to get the wrinkles out!

With two weeks in Malawi, I’ve also made contact with Marys Meals (some of the staff live next door) and with Open Arms, a “re-homing centre” for toddlers who have been orphaned for various different reasons.  I’ve been out a few times now with Chris and Estelle, normally going to church, but we’ve been on a few detours. It’s been nice to be able to see different parts of Blantyre – even if it is from the safety of the back of a 4x4.

I’ve now got a meeting set up in Zomba, about an hour’s drive from Blantyre – well that’s traffic and fuel dependent.  I’m going to meet some of the staff, that I’ve had contact with and have a look round Chancellor College.  I’m also hoping I get the chance to have a look at the” History House”, the place that I am supposed to be staying at then I eventually move up to Zomba. I’m still not so sure about living on my own, but I think I need to decide if I will feel safe there or not.

So the last couple of weeks have been up and down, it’s mostly been spent hitting my head of a brick wall, though eventually when a brick moves and the wall starts to come down (providing its not on top of me) it feels like it has been worth it.   I’m hoping that it warms up a little bit, though I suspect that I’ll be wearing my warmer collection of clothes for a while to come.