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Nighswanders’ 2011 Visit day 1

You have to love a country when in the midst of a national fuel shortage; the parliament is debating legislation making flatulence a crime.  “Since the country embraced multiparty politics 16 years ago, people have felt free to fart anywhere” said Constitutional Affairs Minister George Chaponda.  “Public farting has been encouraged by democracy”

We arrived two days ago. The first challenge -getting from the airport.  We had warning.  We received a brief email missive in JoBurg from old Malawian friends from Peace Corps days.  Dr Dick Chilemba and his wife Leona were with us at Nhkata Bay  45 years ago.. ”Severe fuel shortages……working on getting you from the airport to our home”.   As I write this we are grounded at their home.  The search for petrol is on.

We are in Blantyre- the commercial capital of Malawi.  It was named for the birthplace of Dr David Livingstone (Blantyre, Scotland) the first non African to see the “Lake of Stars” (Lake Malawi) so named by the sparkling reflections of the noonday sun..

We are on our annual trip to Malawi Children’s Village-up country, 4 hours from here.  It is also our annual trip to the have-not part of the world.

As a good Anglican friend, one of our MCV Board member colleague from North Carolina says “It is good for the soul”.  Once you settle in and get into the rhythm of life here, new insights take on many dimensions.  There are new lessons each day.

You don’t realize how dependent we are on oil-world over.…that is until you don’t have it.  Buses don’t run, private vehicles sit idle.  Workers stay home.  Normal activities of each day are put on hold.

At times like these here, those living in subsistence fare much better.  They hardly notice.  They don’t use petrol nor do they have electricity.   One’s daily food almost exclusively is from what they raise and have stored form last year.   A cash economy does not exist.  Put away any idealized notion of what this life is like.  Subsistence has a great price: lack of clean drinking water; pit latrines or the bush for a bathroom;  a thatched room , even good ones, that will leak in the blinding rain that frequents this time of year; lack of access to medical care especially Malaria a frequent killer in the lakeshore area where we live when we are here.   This all equals high infant morality, and a shortened lifespan.  When we arrive soon at our cottage we will hear of those whom we know have died in the last year.  There will be many.

Malawi is not a place for the impatient.  Those who live by a well planned day would not do well here.

This was yesterday. Petrol was found; we were packed and planned on leaving a 1 pm. Shuqar,the driver, had arrived at 6:30 am, early enough so the car could get an updated registration from the Motor Borough.  We were well ahead of the curve!!! Or so I thought.

We sent Shuqar (who works forDr Dick Chilemba) off for the registration but had not heard from him by 12.   I called on his cell phone (a useful innovation widely used here).  The registration had not happened today, but maybe tomorrow.  Confused, I called Dick who had the real story.  When Shuqar arrived, they first asked to see
his license which had expired.   The car was impounded!!

Fortunately Shuqar called Dick (who is well known and one of the senior physicians in the country) who went to the police station, paid a fine, got the car, and started the registration process.  It involved a lot of queues: one for the initial paperwork, another to pay the fee at a bank, a third for issuing the certificate…..and the queues are long and the bureaucrats are slow.   As our Malawi friends say with a smile, “This is Malawi”.

Long story short, we were in Blantyre for 2 ½ days before we left for our cottage.

As I have noted in the past, at home when I am taking a shower in the morning, I go through my plan for the day.  It usually happens.  Here I use to do the same, however here no day goes as planned. Each day is a new adventure and there are always plenty of them.