Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back to Malawi

I am currently in Malawi. It's winter here, which means it's chilly, but not freezing. The sunshine (when it's shining) reminds me of early fall in Minnesota, and I half expect to see the leaves changing. I'm taking this as practice, for when I return to Minnesota, "real fall" will be upon me very quickly. Today was cloudy in Lilongwe, but sunny and warm by the lake.

I'm here for work, which is unsurprising to the careful reader by now. It's a promotion of sorts, but feels like an exile. Either way, it's different from the last time I was here, (2006), as a graduate student. That was for three months, this trip is for three weeks. I find that I've come back just a little too late to find my old friends here, although our public haunts still exist (Chez Ntemba, Buchanan's, Harry's bar (although it's moved...)

There are some new buildings (namely, the new Parliament built by the Chinese) and old favorites (Four Season's). There are more advertisements, more cell phone kiosks, and more banks than I remember. The people are still friendly, warm and laugh when they don't understand you, laugh when they do, and well, laugh in general. There is still so much need, but this time I feel more mature, more equipped to handle it.

This time I come back alone, but with more courage. Today I rented a car and drove out to Lake Malawi, weaving between goats and bicyclists, avoiding the steep drop off where the pavement has eroded. I sat in the exact spot I was four years ago, contemplating nearly the same things: life, love, change and kids playing in the waves. Everything feels different, but exactly the same.

Which leaves me wondering - did I ever really leave this place at all? Do we ever, I mean, leave the places we once inhabited? I might have to get another G&T to contemplate that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paying for It

I recently came across this article from the Foreign Policy blog. Apparently, the French parliament is currently debating a bill that would hold French tourists financially responsible for their own rescues should they run into trouble. It seems as though tourists continue to go to places where they are repeatedly warned is dangerous. The article hints that this may have something to do with a spat between French yachter's and Somali pirates off the horn of Africa.

I have a few opinions about this.

First, the pirate issue. Somalia has been without a functioning goverment for NEARLY 20 YEARS. And, last time I checked, if you are sailing around Africa, you have to go by the Somali coast. Geographically, your options are to continue on or turn around. (You may also go out into deeper waters where the pirates can't get you, but not being a sailor I'm not sure if this was an option for the yachter's). A person can be warned all they want, but if you need to get around Africa, a simple warning isn't going to magically rearrange the Somali coast for you. (Please don't get me started on those ridiculous travel warnings. I think Kansas is probably on there by now. I mean, they might gain more traction if they weren't so busy peddling fear.)

Secondly, did you catch the part about Somalia being without a government for nearly 20 years? It seems to me that the French yachters, by being forced to pay their own rescue costs, are being penalized for a failed state, which to me, should be dealt with on a state level. Why are citizens paying for the lack of action on the part of their state? Isn't that a breach in one of the clauses of the social contract?

On the flip side, there will _always_ be stupid tourists that think that the host government's rules don't apply to them. They will wander whereever they want, smoke/drink whatever they want, fornicate with whatever they want, and think they'll somehow get off the hook. (Case in point: I went to a salon/massage place in Lilongwe this weekend and there was very prominent signage that said "Massages requested to become sexual in nature will not be tolerated and the police will be called." Ew. Could you imagine having to put up a sign like that in a salon in the US? Never.) Even though it pains me to say this, however, I still believe that even they are not exempt from the social protection (they should stay away from me, however).

It sounds as though that, if passed, there will be concessions made for folks like me, who "have to" travel to weird and wicked places for work. But even if this law is meant to "discourage" adventure tourists from taking off to do crazy shit (did you hear about the guy on a tourist visa in Pakistan hunting down Osama Bin Laden?), I have two comments: 1) realistically, what percentage of the population are we talking about and 2) if they are already crazy enough to hunt down Osama bin Laden on their own, and a travel warning didn't stop them, do you really think a fine will impede them?

You might want to invest in a Craze-O-Meter instead.

I Know You Read This

I successfully completed the MS 150, although it rained and was cold the entire time. I'm still a bit shocked that I was able to do it, but also proud. In the end, I raised over my goal, so thanks!

I also received a donation from an old friend, which unearthed a myriad of complicated feelings. I see it forthe nice gesture that it is (thanks) and wish you well, but I want you to know I'm not ready. I'm ok - happy, even - but I'm not ready to forgive.

PS does your pregnant wife know you that you read my blog?

Saturday, July 17, 2010