Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“Serious, wicked business!” – 17

I’m sitting in the dimly lit, cozy lounge of Kiboko Hotel in Area – 3 in Lilongwe listening to bartender singing along to cheesy songs by Malawian singers (example in the title!). Lilongwe is a sleepy little town that is slowly waking up due to the government moving there with bag, baggage and Parliament. Not particularly organized or well planned, the city is still divided into “Areas” that seem to follow a (somewhat) chronological order through out the city.

Area 3 is the Colaba of Lilongwe. It is right next to the Old Town market and houses the city’s 3 grocery stores, 5 restaurants and 3 banks. As locations go, I’ve just moved to the hippest and most expensive part of town. It is so hip that I walked into a grocery store and could buy my favorite comfort food – peanut butter! – for a very very expensive 700 MK.

Malawi is also clearly plagued with the problem of inflation. I may understand imported peanut butter costing 250 rupees but paying 2000 rupees for an adopter plug and 350 rupees for a meal of curry and rice in Africa seems cripplingly expensive. With the tobacco companies leaving, the tea industry dying out and the lack of any natural resources to exploit, Malawi’s situation is indeed dire.

This week has been full of personal dramas that were blissfully absent for the past so many months. While some of my people managed to destroy relationships due to sheer immaturity and very very bad judgment; I managed to humiliate myself by assuming that friendships wouldn’t change in the course of a few months if I put enough effort into them. For all the advice about letting go at the right time, I’m always depressed by my inability to cut and run when I see that the other person doesn’t care and I’m going to get hurt if I stay. It’s a skill I need to develop – immediately.

For all the sad drama, I know that even if I die alone, I will have lived in the hippest address in Malawi. Now I bet not many people can make that claim :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stranded on the Wrong Beach - Malawi Weekend

Having had a stressful and hectic introduction to Malawi last week, I decided to take up the offer of going to see Lake Malawi with my fellow volunteer and her friends this weekend. Though I was skeptical, my friend insisted that the Lake was so big that there were bays and beaches all along it which had become very popular expat tourist spots. What I didn’t know, was that going with a bunch of white people on a beach trip in Africa is a concept that comes with its own complications, high points and contradictions.

The best parts of the weekend…
  1. Actually finding a beach along the lake, complete with sands, rocks and waves. The dark blue water and the small islands jutting out were untouched and breathtaking.
  2. Peace Corp volunteers! No matter what country I visit, Peace Corp volunteers are a breed of their own. They are interesting people to talk to with very deep insights into the country they stay in and are willing to play drinking games, anytime of the night or day!  
  3. Hitch-hiking our way back to Lilongwe with a bunch of Indian-origin-Malawian guys who were oh-so-helpful. I don't think they imagined their Sunday evening drive to be with 5 noisy giggly girls squished in the back-seat of a Toyota 
  4. Riding bike taxis and being waved at and whistled at by all the villagers. With a caravan of 5 bike taxis carrying firengis, the circus had come to town, clearly!
  5. Meeting the brash, amusing and very cute South African couple. Married for 20 years, with 5 boys and still so in love with each other so as to make fun of each other the whole time!

The not-so-good parts of the weekend…
  1. Trying very hard to mingle with a bunch of North American girls and failing. Feeling sensitive and isolated is the worst thing you can do to yourself in your first week in any new country
  2. Making ISD calls to try and rid myself of the isolation, and calling the wrong person to help
  3. Not knowing how to swim and therefore not being able to paddle boat deep into the lake
  4. Not being liberal enough to go skinny dipping in Malawi
  5. The inflation in Malawi! My weekly allowance all but vanished in 2 days. And I didn’t even drink enough to throw up in the bushes! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Malawi: A Rant

I know I'm supposed to give a new country some time before I go ranting about it but this is a special situation.

Malawi doesn't have enough forex to buy petrol. The country also doesn't have enough forex to import plastic caps required for bottled water and carbon dioxide for carbonated drinks (e.g. Coke, beer and such).

This means that as a foreigner you can't protect yourself from local germs because there isn't any bottled water or soda to drink.
This also means that there are no cars on the road (require fuel), no power at most times of the day (requiring fuel) and no water in the toilets (requiring power to be pushed up in the storage tanks).

In the middle of this crisis, the President went off on an unannounced holiday to Hong Kong last week and took with him USD 500,000 for personal use.
The public, frustrated by the shit it is being put through, protested in July this year resulting in the death of 19 people and other violence. 

This country is fucking awesome. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How the Habesha brain works

A conversation my Habesha (Ethiopian) friend had with our auto driver after he confused me to be a local.
(translated from Amharic)
Me: Man the weather is just perfect after a week in the desert (bla bla blah)
Driver (turns around to stare at me, continues driving): She's firengi??! 
Friend (afraid that he's going to jack up the price): No no, she's half-caste, her father is firengi 
Driver: Ah, that explains it, she doesn't look quite.. Habesha! Where is her father from?
Friend: India. Her mother is from Addis
Driver: Oh very nice! Do they live in Addis?
Friend: No, they live in the US, she's visiting here. She might decide to move here in the future though
Driver: Oh very good. USA is not a good place. People don't remain married forever, they break up. She won't fit in there. She should come back home
Friend:.. ahhh, I think she will finally decide to do that
Driver: Very good. Such a beautiful girl, will definitely find a match in Ethiopia!

At this point we reach our destination. And the driver gets a 2 birr tip :D

Friday, November 4, 2011


Ayzush in amharic means "be strong". Ethiopian culture features this word prominently with people saying ayzush in all kinds of different situations: when one gets hurt, when one is working late, when one isstressed or too quiet.

Genuine and sincere effort is always rewarded, no matter how frustrating it may seem in the middle of the night. Giving up isn't a bad thing, but this is not the time. This is the time to be strong and keep moving.