Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Zecomo con bede (Thank you very much in Chechewa)

As i get ready to leave, the temptation is to share some special insights or thoughts about the trip. But, at least right now i don't really have any big revelations.  I had an incredible time meeting new people, seeing incredible sights, and getting back into touch with an old friend.  But while i certainly learned a lot, i didn't have a big revelation or insight.

So instead i'll leave off by just sharing some observations.

1) women in malawi can carry the most amazing and heavy things on their heads.  

2) Orange fanta is a hugely unappreciated drink.  I think i must have drank a case of the stuff already while here.. delicious.

3) Go Malawi Flames in the Africa Cup!  (they just beat Algeria)

4) And lawyers?  They aren't so bad if they can get this type of criticism...

That is it for now...... i know, nothing earth shattering or even that interesting, though i can assure you the trip itself is something i won't ever forget.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I got to explore Lilongwe yesterday a bit.  I hadn't started really travelling overseas until the last couple of years, but i notice that i really enjoy walking around a city and getting lost.  It seems like a strange thing to say, but you really can get a sense of a city's "soul" or spirit after walking around a bit. It would be a lie to say that lilongwe is a beautiful city.  The architecture is very bland, and the city that i got to explore is resembles a long line of mini-malls.  Such as :

But the character of Lilongwe isn't found in the permanent buildings, but much more in the marketplaces that dominate the city.  There is one huge marketplace, that used to be broken up into lots of smaller ones, but the government got tired of complaints of street harassment and forced everyone into a large marketplace area.

i couldn't quite a good picture of the entire market, but to give you a sense, there are bridges such as this one:.  The marketplace is huge, and i think it is the size that sort of got to me.  One area was dominated by produce, another area by clothes, and so on.  The problem was that most of what people were selling was indistinguishable from each other.  This made hawking wares one of the most prominent features of the market.  It didn't help to be one of the few foriegners at the market since it meant that i was constantly being yelled at.  Now most of the people at the market would just yell out things as simple as, "come here and look", "Hey boss, you want these tomatoes, i give you a good price".  OF course, not everyone was trying to sell something at the market, or if they were, they might have marked me as not a potential customer, since i got quite a few, "You china?", "Ching chong ching" thrown my way.  I find it ironic, that traveling 1/2 way across the world, and i felt like i was back in elementary school .

Here is a recording of the marketplace.

I do want to point out something i found really neat, at the marketplace they had one area where people played pool outside...

The other prominent feature of Lilongwe that i found was the mini buses.  It shouldn't be a surprise to most that cars are a luxury that ordinary malawans don't have access to.  And while i saw a ton of bicycles on the rural area roads, the roads in Lilongwe had far fewer bicycles.  (still prominent, but nothing like China in the 80s.).  Instead the city is dominated by private buses, and they were univerally these volkswagen white "mini-busses."  They were everywhere and they charge a small fee. There are no "bus stops", but there are prominent stops that you can find 2-3 mini buses waiting to pick up enough passengers to go to a destination.

There were however, bus depots, or areas where these buses gather to take people outside of lilongwe.  And in many ways these bus areas were even more loud and raucous than the marketplace. People came up constantly to ask if you wanted a cab to go somewhere.Here is a recording done at the depot.

I am not sure there is anything to this, but i find it interesting that in nearly every single city, there are people who like to play games outside. Whether it be chess or something like this African game, which has many names, but here in Malawi it is just called Bao.

Here are some vendors playing,

And here, these men have made their board out of dirt..

I bought a board, and am trying to learn the game as much as i can before i return to the states!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Safari!

(top is bird sounds, left is a leopard and one of her cubs)

I won't clutter this post up too much with musings, thoughts or words...  I went on safari during the rainy season, which is the "cheap" season since the animals are able to scatter about a lot more and aren't confined to drinking holes, and the roads in the park can be flooded and unsafe to travel through, which restricts access.   However, i really lucked out and got to see just about everything (the only animals i didn't see were the wild dogs, which are in the park, but hadn't been sighted for a while).

Anyway.. without further ado... on the very first drive, we found a leopard.. and 2 cubs! This completely shocked me as I was just hoping for a fleeting glimpse of a leopard..

Babies were a prevailing theme, and this baby elephant was absolutely adorable.

The first 2 days of rides we didn't see any lions, and it was looking like that may have been the one animal we would end up missing.. but on the very last ride of the last day, we got wind of some lions and Lion Hunt 2010 was successful, almost too much so!

I also got to witness some pretty cool behavior, such as impalas dueling it out..

I am not going to post too many more pictures of animals, (i ended up taking nearly 500 animal photos) but feel free to look over my picasa web album, i've got hyenas (cute) lots of hippos, elephants, Zebras, some awesome birds and some other incredibly cool animals.

The park itself was absolutely gorgeous and the views were spectacular. Here are a couple of examples.

Here is our guide Fred.

One more thing.. Hippos make the WEIRDEST noises...  it is sort of a snort laugh here is my recording of them.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Children of Malawi

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After a week in Malawi, I can start to understand why Madonna chose to adopt a child from here. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Madonna had absolutely no inclination whatsoever about raising children, was on vacation in Malawi, and after a few days couldn't help but decide to adopt some Malawi children.  Don't worry, I won't fall prey to that impulse myself, but there are definite times where i feel like i am in the middle of the Simpsons episode where all the adults where nowhere to be found (because of a Simpsons and Sons aphrodisiac) and the children take over Springfield.  There are children EVERYWHERE.

A few salient facts before i go on about what i have observed.  1) Malawi is the most densely populated  country in Africa.  It doesn't have the largest population, just the most people in a small amount of space. 2) The average family size is about 8 or 9, which includes 6-7 children.  In fact, more than 50% of the population  here are under the age of 18.

The children, as children are designed to be, are absolutely adorable. They run after cars, wave at strangers, smile constantly, and pretend to know kung-fu.  (Apparently, Malawans are under the impression that if you are Asian, you are a kung fu master, which may explain why i haven't been mugged yet, despite some obviously stupidity on my part.).  It is not unusual to see a train of children walking along the side of the road, completely unsupervised, and with ages ranging from 3years old to what must be 12-13.

Earlier today, i got the opportunity to take a walking tour through one of the local villages that was near the resort we were staying at.  One of the resort workers, who live there, was willing to walk me around and show me her village and, with trepidation, i went.

I was prepared to see small houses, huts even, and was worried about being mobbed for money, or having people try and sell me "handicrafts."  I was only right about the small houses and even then, i was a bit surprised at how cool, and well made they were. I got to see small plots of land used for subsistence farming, livestock such as chickens, goats and ducks.  I saw the local water pump which was established in 2001 and played such an important role in improving quality of life.  But most of all i got to see children. The boys who were making a soccer ball out of rope and plastic bags, the girls who were playing "net ball" (and ferociously and well).  And i was definitely, a source of entertainment for these kids.  It didn't take long for the children to just start following me wherever we went. I turned around and there were at least 20 kids behind me.  And as we walked through the village, more and more kids followed. The kids would all smile, laugh and some would copy what i say, such as "hello".  I didn't want to disappoint the children by being boring, so eventually i asked them all to sing a song for me.  That is what i recorded at the beginning of this post.

It is surprising how quickly you forget that these kids live with poor health care, with a secondary school that is literally 10km away and only accessible to them by foot, and with clothes that in the US only the homeless would wear. I guess big smiles, laughter and singing can do that.

I tried thinking about what happens to a poor country with so many of its citizens being so young.  I can't think  of much that is good about that combination, my only hope is that out of these shining, eager and happy faces a great leader will emerge, and hopefully with more help than harm from us.

Nature So Far

(my video of an eagle snatching a fish)

What is one of the first things that pop into your head when you think of Africa?  And no, don't count Sally Struthers or images of malnourished children.  I bet it has something to do with an animal or nature at some point.  I am no different, in fact, i am a bit of a nature nut, so i was looking forward to finding out exactly what Africa had in store.

Now, I am writing this before i actually go on Safari, a safari that will take me to Zambia and one of the mos famous national parks (Luangwe).  And i trust that after i go on that safari, my views will be very different.

So far, Africa is not much different from the US, once it is developed, much of the same sort of wilderness fills its place.  Let me explain, because i wasn't on safari, i would pay special attention to birds, fish and lizards.  And as i did, i reflected about what it would be like in the state parks back in Illinois, Wisconsin or Indiana.  The birds here are gorgeous as well as the lizards, but they aren't all that different than what is back home, only if you pay attention.

Now there are some obvious exceptions to all of this.

There just aren't that many baboons running around Illinois, and the while the fish eagle does resemble the bald eagle, seeing bald eagles swoop down to catch a fish usually requires a trip to Alaska and lots of patience.
And obviously there was the unbelievably cool cichlids of Lake Malawi.  I won't go too crazy talking about fish, especially some fish that i used to keep in my aquariums at home, but i do want to point out that, Lake Malawi became not just a National Park, but a World Heritage Site, based solely on these fish.  Snorkeling and getting to see these bright blue, orange and yellow fish was a real treat.

I wish i could show you pictures of the baboons that liked to congregate outside my room, or the numerous monitor lizards, or even better yet, underwater photos of the cichlids, sadly my little Canon Elph has let me down, and i will not likely give up my career as a lawyer to be a wildlife photographer... but only barely.

The Roads of Malawi

During this trip I have been lucky enough to travel along the roads of Malawi, especially as i don't have to do any of the driving. (Thanks Saeed!).  The roads here are unlike anything i have ever experienced, well to be more accurate, what is alongside the roads are unlike anything i have experienced.  I think i mentioned already how people use the roads to travel to and fro by either biking or walking, but the more i travel down them, i realize that so much of Malawan life seems to be conducted on the sides of the roads.  

The homes are usually not more than 10-15 feet from the roads, the fields are right alongside the road, and on more than several occasions we have had to avoid livestock (goats and chickens) as they graze and forage along the roads. Groups of children walk along to roads, presumably to go to school, and large marketplaces where they sell anything from dried fish, to flip flops (i bought a pair for less than $1) are right alongside the roads.  Children will sometimes hold out branches of a variety of dead animals to sell as snacks, and women are often seen sitting along the side of the road with a couple of bunches of tomatoes or mangoes.  I can't help but feel as if i am witnessing  cross section of life in Malawi. 

You may be tempted to think that i am mainly referring to sections of the road, that there maybe a bustle of activity for a few hundred feet, and then empty spaces along the road, sort of like the U.S. highway system, only broken up by rest stops or occasional  small towns.  But that isn't what i mean. We have driven several hundred kilometers, spending something like nearly 12 hours of just driving, and driving at 80-100km/hr, and there isn't a clear stretch of road without human activity during ANY part of our drive.  IF there weren't children walking, there would be people hauling firewood, or small stands of vegetables, or small farms with goats foraging.  Pretty remarkable. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year from the Shores of Lake Malawi

We drove from Setemwa, the tea estate to a resort called Pumulani, which is on the shores of Lake Malawi.  Lake Malawi is one of the "Rift Valley" lakes and like the Great Lakes in the U.S.  serves as an extremely important source of freshwater.  Malawi is essentially a landlocked country, but the Lake provides access to fishing and large source of commercial activities, nevermind the tourism.

IT is amazingly gorgeous here, and I will just try and leave you with some beautiful photos... and our celebrating the new year in a pool by the lake.