Friday, July 28, 2006

This Is Pretty Cool

Visited States

Visited Countries

(NB: this does NOT count airports. In my book, you have to set two feet on the actual soil of the place (ie no driving through!)

Also, this map would be rather impressively filled up if you only went to seven countries: Australia, Russia, China, India, Brazil, US and Canada. Don't waste your time on piddly countries like Israel and Japan like I did (note small red speck in the Middle East region)!

To create your own map, go here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Today's Cultural Lesson

Athough there are several others, the main historical tribal groupings in Malawi are the Chewa, Ngoni, Tumbuka and Yao, with the largest by far being the Chewa. The prefex 'chi' means language, so Chi-chewa means "language of the Chewa" and is one of the national languages of Malawi. (Of course, if you go up north and try to speak Chichewa they'll look at you funny because most people there speak Chi-Tumbuka. Sigh.)

Anyway, the Chewa people have many interesting cultural practices. For example, the Nyau is a secret society of dancers using masks and animal structures to reinforce cultural beliefs, ceremonies and taboos. They are usually initiated as young boys and remain Nyau for their entire lifetimes. The big dance, gule wamkulu, is usually done to commemorate funerals. According to this book I was given "Chewa Traditional Religion" by J.MW. Van Bruegel,

"The Nyau dance can take place any time of the year at the occasion of a funeral or a chief or a member of the Nyau association...The really big dance (gule wamkulu)...[takes place] at the commemoration of a the period after harvesting and before the start of the rains, that is especially from August to November."

Meaning, I have seen these dancers walking in pairs on the side of the road. It's pretty cool to be driving along and see two masked warriors-cum-spirits scaring the bejeesus out of everyone they pass. Back to the book...

"The Chewa consider all mysterious powers in terms of "hot" or "cool". Something that is "hot" must not be brought in contact with something that is "cool". The mysterious powers would destroy one another. Once such mysterious power is the power to give life. Sexual activity makes a person "hot". A menstruating woman is also "hot"...

This leads to a lot of interesting sexual taboos, rules and regulations on when, where and how, one can have sexual relations (either with a wife or someone else). If you don't follow these rules, you run the risk of causing mdulo (death/disaster) to yourself or those you love. Mdulo taboos are always related to sexual activity.

"The symptoms of mdulo are said to be swelling of the cheeks and of the legs... pain in the chest and vomiting of blood...Medical officers examining a person said to be suffering from mdulo almost invariaby diagnosed anemia...and chronic malnutrition. [...] The Chewa firmly believe in their explanation of the disease and do not easily accept European explanations or their medicies in the case of a mdulo patient...When we speak of mdulo we do not speak in terms of modern medical diagnoses, but of a complex cultural diagnoses: this child has mdulo - therefore its father must have committed adultry - the father has to confess his fault - the proper medicines have to be obtained from the medicine man and the proper way of applying them has to be followed strictly."

Let me preface the above by saying I have not met a single Malawian who actually doesn't believe in modern medicine (this book is well over thirty years old). However, that's not to say the spirit world is disregarded either (note the Nyau sightings mentioned above).

Anyway, that's not the best part of the book. A person can cause mdulo in a number of ways because there are a great many sexual taboos. During the waits for the rain, the chief cannot have sex for up to six months, for example (he must stay "cool" to attract rains). Sexual activity is also seen to destroy creative activity. Therefore, the other moments in which a man and a woman are (historically) required not to have sexual relations are:

  • when one of the chickens begins to lay eggs
  • when a goat or a pig has young
  • when they plant or harvest
  • when the wife or her sisters are brewing beer
  • when the husband goes fishing or hunting
  • when the wife is making earthenware pots
  • when the husband melts iron ore in a furnace
  • when the husband is making a drum
  • when she is preparing native salt (salt is very "hot")
  • when the village is being moved to a new place until the chief has a new house built.

Whew! I'm surprised they were able to reproduce at all! To be fair, in this book dated 1975 it does say: "These taboos are no longer observed by most of the Chewa. Some older people may still observe them."

But anyway, food for thought next time you're making a drum!

M is for Mdulo,


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Following up

Well, that last post is tough to follow, so I haven't written in awhile. However, that doesn't mean that my life has stopped since visting with Bill. In fact, if anything, it's gotten more hectic. Only a few short weeks left!

In the interest of time and because I am in fact, in Chadd's words, "Listy", here's a quick rundown:
  • Trip up north - full of hard travel on bumpy creekbeds-cum-roads into the bush with an angry administrator, lonely PCV and man who can't afford deoderant. Yum.
  • Eating lots and lots of nsima and surprising the locals by liking it. Not having a bowel movement for six days as a result.
  • Having an entire hotel room to yourself for four days.
  • Then the electricy goes out. At 7pm. Twice.
  • Visiting a prison (please dear God never put me in a prision in Africa) for a pit latrine project.
  • Seeing the "Malawisaurus" museum in Karonga. Yes, they had dinosaurs here! It's totally beautiful and you can talk your way around the exorbant 500mk asking price.
  • Driving through rubber plantation and watching them tap trees for the sap.
  • Falling asleep in the backseat of a landcruiser with BBC Africa on the radio and waking up three hours later in your destination, refreshed, with terrible bed head.
  • Arriving back in town to realize that yes, you have created a life here complete with really nice friends.
  • Moving into new - smaller, cozier - digs. Now we have carpet, and a pool.
  • And spiders! (Try showering with one the size of your hand and we'll see how far YOU leap)
  • And bats!
  • Going to a game park with the following: a sassy Zambia, a UNHCR intern obsessed with hippos and a surly Nigerian-American. Having a blast.
  • Eating vegetables that knocked my comatose colon back into action.
  • Eating so many vegetables so that the rest of my body was knocked comatose instead.
  • Taking a game drive with two italians and a lesbian german couple. Seeing: elephants, sable, impala, water buck, hippos, impala, an owl, elephants and more impala.
  • Watching the sunset on the Shire river.
  • Freezing ten feet from an elephant in front of our cottage whilst everyone ones scampers back inside. Only come unglued when he starts to charge. Eek!
  • Morning "game" walk. End up seeing lots of poop. And birds. Snore.
  • Safari boat ride with four Italians. Seeing elephants, owls, eagles, hippos, hippos and more hippos. Alissa is happy.
  • Having my camera batteries die.
  • Buying a great basket made of garbage from a women's project. Will look good with plant.
  • Singing "Ebony and Ivory" all weekend, poorly. Also, lots of cookies and cream jokes.
  • Watching Belinda get her birthday cake from the staff in a beautiful open air bush restaurant under the stars. Then making her dance around the campfire with a bunch of Englishwomen because they "need a chocolate chip!"
  • Paying $110 to laugh my butt off for two days.
  • Back to work.

So you see, I've been surviving. Magnificently.

Miss you all,


Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Red Pants President

Ok, so there are two versions to this story. The cool version, which will go in my memoir, and the ohmygodicantbelieveijustmettheformerpresident story that I will squeal over the phone to my HMF, best friend, roommates, and general population of France, when I get the chance.

The Cool Version
After a tough half day at USAID, trying to cut through red tape to set my pending trip up north in order, I met some colleagues from UNHCR to discuss the state of Somalia over a bottle of cristal and smoked salmon at the British High Commission. We decided to reconvene after I wrapped up a few loose ends at work and to continue the discussion over fine Colombian coffee overlooking the wild game park in Lilongwe.

However, that was not to be. After arriving home for a quick wardrobe change (to trade my Mahnolo’s for Prada. Nothing says “wild game park” like Prada), I received a phone call from my colleague at the Embassy. President Clinton was waiting at the airport, would I like to meet him?

Delighted, I scooted back into my Mahnolo’s and shimmied off to the airport to take high tea with the former President. As expected, he was charming, witty and able to remember small details about everyone in the room, including myself. After several photo opp’s, I asked him about a small bracelet (we’d call them “friendship bracelets” in prep school). He launched into a quaint tail about an indigenous group in Colombia that he danced with under Hugo Chavez. How delightful!

Unfortunately, our time was too short and the President was due in Rwanda. Soon, he took his leave, but not before I discretely slipped my business card into his hand and told him to call me anytime he was in Africa.

The Absolutely Random Version
Still being sick, I didn’t get up until I heard the car pull up into our drive way at 7:11am. Like a fish resurfacing after the long winter, I bobbed into consciousness with a start – and the sense I’d just had a very restful sleep. However, I had t-minus 19 minutes to get to work. This left me with time to throw my hair up into a pony tail, throw on some pants, brush my teeth and go to the bathroom. Then, work.

Apparently there’s a diesel shortage in the entire country, so unless I can come up with a good reason why I need to go north next week, my trip is definitely cut. I spent all morning trying to come up with a good reason.

To make matters worse, there are some errands I need to run and am unable to, because all of our motorcade had been usurped by the Embassy. Bill Clinton is in town for six hours, to sign a memorandum of understanding with President Bingu wa Mutharaika in regards to his new foundation/collaboration, the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative. Apparently, he needs all twenty-four of our drivers to be at his beck and call, leaving me not only unable to complete half of my work for the day, but also without a ride home. Sigh.

I met some friends of friends for lunch at the British consulate garden, which sells cheap beer and nsima for 150 mk. We almost miss each other because I’ve left my cell phone at home, but they finally show up forty-five minutes later. By this time, I’ve REALLY got to get back to work, so we agree to meet after work (in thirty minutes) to go for coffee. (Remember, readers, diplomats rarely work after 1:30 on Fridays…). This effectively solves my transportation problem and I’m excited to get out on the town on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

True to their word, Belinda and Alisa pick me up after work and we agree to go to my house so I can change out of my awful outfit (note to self: don’t dress before you put your contacts in). Unfortunately, traffic is all tied up because of Clinton’s visit (he takes all our drivers AND our roads? How fair is that?).

I get home just in time to change into jeans and to answer my phone. It’s Alex, the Embassy information officer. Apparently my roommate, Alissa, called him to say that Clinton wanted to meet as many Embassy employees in the VIP room as possible – in forty-five minutes. Belinda just about flips out – she’s Zambian and would give her painful incoming wisdom teeth without novocaine to meet Clinton. I, however, hem and haw. I look at Belinda and am reminded gain of the priviledge I have in even making the decision to go.

I hem and haw because, as my experience in Geneva - and indeed with the Malawian officials - has taught me, these diplomatic visits rarely go as planned. I could be passing up a lovely afternoon of coffee and raucous conversation to sit in a dusty, gold-painted VIP room at the Kamuzu airport for an indeterminate amount of time (probably three hours or more). I wasn’t really excited by the prospect.

Coupled with that trepidation is the fact that I am simply not a celebrity-hound. The closest thing I’ve ever come to celebrity was Sam Donaldson in a parking garage (he wears a lot of makeup). Many of you will remember how I made a fool of myself in front of the New Zealand Ambassador by asking him if he’d ever been to New Zealand before. If anything, I should be shunning celebrity, not chasing it.

However, I knew that in the future - long dusty wait or not - I would've hated myself for not even trying. I decided to change out of my jeans and into my sassy red pants and black suitcoat. Now, for those of you who have seen these pants, you’ll know why I chose to wear them (thanks for sending them, M.!). They are Marilyn Monroe lipstick red, fit me like a glove and are instant confidence boosters. I suspect they are a little magic as well, as I have done things in these pants I would never have the guts to do otherwise.

After racing out to the airport with Alex and flashing our diplomatic cards at all the roadblocks (Alex is so good at this!), we were escorted into the VIP parking lot, past crowds and crowds of curious Malawians and into the VIP waiting area.

It was not at all what I expected. The Ambassador was there, of course. But so was the general service officer, in jeans, and one of our Embassy nurses with her two kids. Apparently, by the time the entourage decided it would be ok to meet Embassy staff, they had no time to get the word out. I was the only one from USAID there.

Furthermore, I was extremely lucky to have gotten the word while I was at home and could change (although, no shower). Our poor nurse had been stuck at the airport all day, trying to pick up some friends visiting from the US. But because of Clinton’s visit, they were delayed in arriving until he left. So, she decided, while I’m here…and pulled out her badge and dragged her kids along to the VIP room.

After waiting and waiting, and playing with the Peace Corps officer’s wet baby Caroline, he arrived. He is more slender than I imagined, younger and with grey-blue eyes. He seemed extraordinarily at ease, and I felt myself relax and kind of let go, as you do when you're first learning how to swim.

Strangely, I didn’t feel nervous as he moved down the line. I was more pissed that my camera had jammed and I missed getting a photo of Alex shaking his hand. His confidence inspired my confidence (or maybe it was the pants). I didn't even think of what I was going to say; I just relaxed and enjoyed the fact that I was in the presence of one Mr. Willam Jefferson Clinton.

Suddenly, he was playing with Caroline next to me. She handed him my keys, which I had used to distract her from pounding on the glass coffee table. He made small talk her parents, picked up Caroline before we could warn him she was wet – but he figured that out in short order and handed her back quickly without saying anything. He still had my keys in his hand, so I tactfully reached over and said quietly, “I am sorry but those are mine, Mr. President.”

Which led him to move on to me. The conversation went smoothly, I clasped his hand in my two (it’s an affectation I’ve picked up in Africa) I introduced myself. I told him I was working with USAID for the summer. We chatted a bit as two strangers meeting through a mixture of mutual acquaintances and happenstance at a wedding buffet line would do. I thanked him for coming, and that was about it. It all felt very smooth and relaxed - it was just as I'd introduced myself a million times before.

He moved onto the Embassy nurse, who was next to me with her two kids (note to self: if you want lots of face time with a politician, stand between a baby and young children). He loved our nurse, as she was from Louisiana and talked to her quite a bit, even after our group photo. Standing next to her, I was naturally drawn into the conversation.

That’s when I noticed the small, dirty friendship bracelet that he had on his right hand. It had even dirtied his cuff (although, with our dust, it could have happened here). Without thinking, in fact, as naturally as you exchange pleasantries at a cocktail party I touched it and said “What’s this?”

That launched him into a story about an indigenous children’s group in Colombia. I didn’t listen much to it, because at that point I’d found my business cards in my left hand pocket and was wondering if I could slip it into his pocket. I decided that there were too many flashbulbs and, given history, it would look a bit strange (um, and illegal?).

After he finished, his entourage signaled that it was time to go. As he disengaged from our conversation, he clasped my hand again. At that point, I had my card in my left hand and I hesitated for a second. Then I actually think the pants took over, as literally the words “What have I got to lose?” fell into my head. I thanked him again for coming and said “I wonder, Mr. President, if it would be possible to give you my card?”

What was he going to say, no? I mean, if he really didn’t want it, he’d throw it away later. I’m sure the Ambassador and everyone else in the room was shocked by my audacity. I mean, who was I, the intern to give my card to the former President? What did I think he was going to do with it, call me? (Or perhaps they were secretly impressed by my chutzpah. Who knows? However, I grew up in the Midwest, I’m genetically trained to think they were shocked I didn’t stick to status quo).

Anyway, I was mostly thinking that he could get me a job with the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative. That he would be so taken aback by my red pants that he’d call me up and offer me a job. I was not thinking of becoming the next intern scandal, I swear. I am still vacillating on whether or not this was a good idea. I’ve probably embarrassed all my colleagues, but who cares? I’m out of here in four weeks –I’ve got nothing to lose. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is my motto.

This from the woman who wasn’t even going to go.

M is for Mr. (former) President.


P.S. This TOTALLY beats the time I kissed the third undersecretary from the Turkish Mission. I'm moving up! :)

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Trip Down South

Last time I posted, I had just come back from Zambia, and had, unfortunately, come down with a cold. This week, I headed down to the southern region for work. It was my bad luck that by that time my cold had turned into a full blown case of the flu.

My plans were to head down to Zomba, a picturesque town nestled in the valley of Zomba mountain and home to the University of Malawi. Incidentally, it is also near the site of Mwandama, the much touted Millennium Village. The drive south from Lilongwe was absolutely breathtaking – at one point the road is actually the boundary between Malawi and Mozambique. My driver, Evance, also served as my surfeit national tourguide for the entire three days (This is the old road, Madam; the new one is across town. This tree is a baobob, Madam. Madam, this is a market. This is where Andrew lives.” My exclamations of “oh really” rapidly turned into grunts of acknowledgement, and then into nods of silence.).

At any rate, Evance was good for several reasons: he took good pictures of me prancing around on the Mozambique side of the road (although, there is no stamp in my passport and no sign to prove it – except for these pictures which you will have to take my word on. So many African borders are like that, it seems), he knew all the cheap spots to eat (our per diem allotments for this trip meant that two of his four kids could go to school for another three months), he knew exactly where to go when I said “It’s just behind the stadium, near the World Bottle Shop” and, most importantly, we visited his in-laws while in Zomba (he had to pick up his four bags of maize). I was greeted so warmly by them and handed a baby (FYI: “aribe kabuduila” means “she’s not wearing a diaper” in Chichewa).

The Millennium Village WAS impressive, but I suspect only because they got quite a lot of money to make it so. They had a great idea to make it sustainable: each farmer was required to give two bags of grain to the chief, who stored it for the school feeding project. Next year, each farmer will give three bags, with two going to the school and one extra to sell so that the community can use it to buy fertilizer and other inputs the next year. They hope to be sustainable (well, they have to be because the funding runs out) in five years.

However, as I was leaving, I got sucked into a committee meeting. It appears that a few farmers had decided not to “donate” two bags. I suspect that this will be an ongoing problem, especially with the increase to three bags next year. And also, one bag’s worth of profits only buys a third of a bag of fertilizer, so they’ll have to up the number of maize bags even more to get everyone a 50 kg bag of fertilizer. It’s simple math. (But I digress. I’m putting cynical Mtanga back in her box and continuing on with the story…)

While that was invigorating, the extension worker who took me around the project had plum wore me out. Because I hadn’t been able to locate any tissues before I left Lilongwe, I was forced to use the handkerchief I’d stolen from my father years ago for it’s actual intention. So that day I wandered around, ankle deep in mud (irrigation project), delirious, with a big red handkerchief dangling from my nose.

That night wasn’t much better. We stayed in an embassy owned cottage on the top of Zomba mountain (oh did my sinuses like that!). What would’ve otherwise been a nice place to stay for a holiday, was murder for someone exhausted just looking for a comfy bed. First of all, it was about thirty-five degrees on the top of that mountain and there was no hot water. I was thankful for a bedroom with a heater, but that didn’t help much when the electricity went out about four am. I was so looking forward to a good nights sleep, but unfortunately, I had eaten some bad stir-fry as well and was up all night with a stomachache and the heretofore mentioned African runs. I didn’t shower (well, I get bonus points for washing the mud off my feet, but there was no towel…) and I had forgotten tea bags, so it was hot water for breakfast and some biscuits Evance purchased at the grocery the night before. Needless to say, I was not at my best the next morning.

There is a great verb in Japanese, Gamberu, meaning: to persevere. For some reason, gambattemasu, “I will keep going” or gambatte “keep going!”have slowly become my own personal mantra, both in Malawi and yes, I’ll admit it, in my life in general. It sounds so damned inarguable when used in the command form (Gambatte! Gambatte! Like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun) that it spurs me forward in all things.

So anyway, I “gambattemasu’ed” my way through the rest of the day, meeting with a smallholder group in Thondwe and an even larger group near the town of Mulange. It was will say something to a few of you if I mention that between the two meetings, I actually FELL ASLEEP IN THE CAR. Poor Evance didn’t know what to do, he didn’t understand that I don’t take naps. He couldn’t appreciate the precedence that was taking place. Understandably, he couldn’t see why I wasn’t hungry and wouldn’t let go of that by now slimy handkerchief.

So when we rolled into Mulanje for lunch, I told him he could choose the place, as it would be him who was eating. He took me to the “best” restaurant in Mulanje, which I think in this case resulted in the “cheapest.” It was a dark, but clean, hole in the wall that served nsima with chicken, beef or liver for 150 kwacha (one US dollar). I decided on a coke and a samosa, which must have confused them, because it took about thirty minutes for them to prepare it. In the meantime, Evance silently shoved in his nsima whilst I lay my head on the table.

But I am only telling the miserable parts of the story. Surely, there were several highlights. There is nothing – NOTHING – like pulling into a village center to be greeted by women singing and ululating (that’s my new favorite verb – it means “make a noise like a turkey” – my own father does this very well). At any rate, about thirty women singing, dancing, and yes – ululating – is so invigorating and warm that it melts away all frustration in an instant.

Also, holding babies, trying to carry a 50 kg bag of maize on my head (FYI for the metrically impaired, that’s about 120 pounds), cheap narchi (that’s mikans for all you Japanese, clementines for the rest of us wazungu) and finding my African grandfather. (***sidebar: taking a note from my Sikh friends, I find it is just easier to shorten my name so people understand it, rather than slowly spell it out each time I meet someone (in this case, about forty people per day). So I have begun introducing myself as Mary, because it is a simple and popular name here. So popular, that the chief of one village claims he is now my ‘African grandfather’ as I supposedly carry the same name as his granddaughter. See? That doesn’t happen with a name like Mtanga...)

On top of meeting with excellent people – talking not only specifically about fertilizer but also broader topics of development in general (great stuff for my thesis) – I was given new perspective on my studies by a woman in Mwandama village. She had earned her BSc in Ghana and was searching for more scholarships to continue her schooling. She asked me if I had scholarships to go to school, I replied, “No, only loans. Lots and lots of loans.” She smiled and said “But that is very lucky!” “How so?” I wanted to know. “Well,” she said, “You have access to those loans.”

Right. How strange to be lucky to be in debt. Yet, in a country where interest rates for fertilizer are upwards of 30% or more, being in debt was just like breathing. At least my loans were (ostensibly) getting me somewhere, rather than further into debt.

The rest of the trip wrapped up quite nicely. Let me just say that I love working for a government where the hotel rate is $95/night. This means that after the awful evening in Zomba mountain, I stayed in pretty much heaven on earth. I was able to eat some soup, take a hot shower and drift off to sleep in a double bed whilst watching ‘Ray’ on satellite tv. Divine. After a quick tour of a local fertilizer plant the next day (please tell me it’s safe to breathe in ammonium nitrate), Evance and I headed back to Lilongwe (only after stopping along the way at individual roadstands to buy onions, potatoes, clementines, okra, garlic, groundnuts and barbeque’d field mice. Yes, you read that right).

So now I am back, with a little over four weeks to go. From this trip I’m pretty much left with the feeling that Africa could kick my ass easily if it wanted to. I will readily admit, I am a big wuss. I like hot water. I like a warm bed. One night in a cold cottage and I was reduced to Mtanga paté. However, I am consoling myself by saying at least I was putting myself out there, even if I did get kicked in the sinuses. And I indeed “gambatemasu’d”.

Monday, July 10, 2006


"Is this your first country, dear?"

"Actually, I think this is about twenty-four...."

In a surprising turn of events last week, I was graciously invited to Zambia by some Lutheran missionary nurses I've gotten to know here in Lilongwe. These women have been living in Lilongwe for almost two years, driving a beat-up range rover with the words "Ambulance" painted on the side, delivering nursing services, food and support on a set route throughout the countryside. I believe they have a combined budget of less than $200,000/year.

These women are truly amazing. And hysterical.

In fact, it was pretty much the most enjoyable trip yet. The three women (two my age and their intern, still in college) all had Minnesota ties, so culturally and linguistically we got along well. Which was great, because eight hours in the back of a dusty Ambulance can make even the most cheerful of God's servants get cranky. (Oh hey! Who ate all the lefse?)

Malawi is just a sliver of a country. And as such, it doesn't take much to get to the border of Zambia or Mozambique from Lilongwe (about two hours to Zambia, in our case). However, once you cross the border, it seems kind of pointless. I mean, yes, you're in Zambia, but the houses look exactly the same. The hills, the shrubs, the people - for all the trouble crossing (I got the hairy eyeball from the "health inspector" when I told him I forgot my yellow vaccination card at home - he let me go with only minor grumbling...) I can see why most people choose to stay at home.

That being said, I am lucky I didn't go just for the change of scenery (or the new stamp in my passport). The ladies I was with were on their way to visit their mission counterparts in Lusaka. High on their list to do in Lusaka: get checked for malaria, go grocery shopping and catch as many movies as possible (we have no theatre in Lilongwe). High on my to-do list: not be in Malawi. And that is pretty much what we did.

After we crossed the border (which took two hours do to randomness like purchasing Zambian car insurance...) it was another eight hours to Lusaka. I was fairly impressed with the road but it did get a little pot-holey for a 70km stretch. For various reasons (bandits, lack of working headlights for most vehicles, people walking in the middle of the roadthat you can't see) driving at night is very dangerous here. Because the sun sets around 5:30, we had to book it to get to Lusaka before it got too dark.

However, once we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms to a very warm, very Lutheran spaghetti supper. I felt a little awkward, not being a missionary, but my MN status opened doors and soon I was just one of the gang. I was really touched by their warmth and kindness.

The rest of the weekend was kind of a blur, really. We did manage to catch two films (16 Blocks = very good, Mistress of Spices = horrible, even with Aishwarya Rai), visit the Lusaka National Museum, eat a home-cooked breakfast, go to an Irish pub, listen to horrible karaoke, eat Mauritian food and attend a wedding ceremony (I could write an entire entry on that one alone!).

The question at the beginning of this entry was posed to me by a nice missionary lady from Texas who told my friend she had "excellent birthing hips". When I gave my response, she seemed a bit shocked, so I winked at her and told her that we'd have to go get a few beers if she wanted any more information. She hooted and gave me a big hug.

All in all, it wasn't an "exciting" trip - no game parks (although we did see a few baboons scampering across the road) and no late night partying (well, sneaking pastries into the Irish pub counts...), but I returned feeling like it was exactly what I needed to do. While traveling as a tourist provides the opportunity for more "adventure", for me it's infinitely more personally satisfying to be part of a connected group.

Sadly, I now have a "fun"over - and a cold.

This week, I'm off down south (Zomba, Mulanje, Blantyre) to visit Jeff Sach's Millenium Village project in Mwandama and talk with more farmers. I'll write more next week.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Random Pictures

The hilly road out of town to the Lake
Fooling around with kids in Moua (crazy azungu!)
One view of the beach
On top of a hill on the way home

Monday, July 03, 2006

More Randomness

Just briefly, before I dash off to the HASH (I'm the only one who join's a runner's club for the walking...)

I have taken it upon myself to keep myself busy and do as many "good works" as I can while I am here. Mostly this involves networking because, being me, I have no bloody idea where to start. Last week it was crises babies, this week, I donated blood.

That's right, I donated blood in a country that has a 15% HIV-AIDS rate. I'm not nervous however, because my nurse-friend suggested it, came with me and held my hand the entire time. (check out her blog at: ) She wrote about an incident where there was only ONE bag of o-positive blood in the entire hospital that she works in. Normally, in the US I am unable to donate blood due to my travels in malarial countries. However, I am firm believer (even though I dislike needles) that giving blood (and donating an organ) truly saves lives.

I watched the fresh needle come from a protected, untampered, unbroken seal. The nurse, Mary, was great. And when it was all over, I got three glasses of juice and lots of cookies. Plus, a warm fuzzy for doing something for someone simply by sitting and breathing. Go donate today! (But, don't overdue it. I wanted to donate once a week for the next seven weeks I am here, but I guess your limit is once every three months...)

So besides that, I also had my first farmer's focus group today. It went...ok. But there's nothing like that high of a) getting out of the office, b) meeting cool people and c) being the slutty american woman in pants - PANTS! Can you believe it! I wore pants. D'oh!

I am busy planning a trip down south for next week - one good thing about working for the government is per diem, of which I am allocated ten whole days. The per diem rate here is ridiculously high (like, $50/day which I cannot spend in a WEEK) which means that will help defray some other costs I'm thinking of incurring (safari to Zambia and Victoria falls).

Ok, I'm off!

M is for Pants.