So I have officially been in Africa for over a month, and I have come to the realization that time indeed does fly. It honestly feels like I’ve been here for maybe two weeks, nevermind an entire month. As my placement continues to progress, I continue to meet new people and learn more about this amazing place I get to call home for the next two and a half months.The beauty of this country continues to amaze me. From all the beautiful trees to the amazing landscapes, it really is something to see. Since I’ve been here there has been nothing but clear skies, and it has been extremely hot. This is apparently the middle of their winter season, and it usually gets to about 30 degrees Celsius. My host family is a true Malawian family, being born and raised here and having never left the country. They were very surprised when I told them that we get down to around minus-30 or minus-40 in our winters back home. This fact has actually escalated to the point that whenever it gets somewhat cold here at night (around 5 or 10 degrees) and I put on a sweater, my host mother would say “Don! You’re not cold, you’re Canadian!”
As time goes by, I continue to learn more and more about the Malawian culture. First thing I’d like to talk about is nsima. Nsima is widely known as the staple food for many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is made from maize flour mixed with water. This is cooked in a pot, and then cut into portions and eaten with another complimenting food. There is a universal way of eating nsima, and it is safe to say that it is an acquired skill. First, you take a piece of nsima from your blob, and roll it into a ball with your hand (this process gets nsima all over your hand, and if you don’t wash it off in a timely manner it turns rock hard). Still holding the ball, you then pick up a portion of complimenting food, and eat it. Nsima is very bland, and generally requires the taste of another food to give it any taste whatsoever. A meal with my host family would look like this:
- Nsima (or rice)
- A complimenting food (beans, cabbage, other vegetables)
- Usually some form of meat
- Bananas (for dessert)
Adapting to the change in food was a process for me, but I can now say with confidence that I prefer nsima for my meals here in Malawi. I have even started helping my family prepare dinner. At this moment they don’t trust me with too much (they’re just avoiding burning the house down), but I have been making nsima with their charcoal stove. Basically what you do is you boil water, and add this maize flour as you go. By the end of it, the mixture is incredibly flipping thick. I have begun to incorporate making nsima into my weekly workout routines, as I am often sweating after the process (jk, I am in perfect shape).
Now, let’s shift away from food and my incredible physique for a while. There are a few things that I have noticed about Malawi that irritate me slightly. One of these things is the stares. I have come to the conclusion that I am the only white person in the entire Kasungu district, and with this fact comes a lot of eyes. Walking to work I get looked at by everyone I pass; not in a way that causes me to fear for my safety, but stared at nonetheless. While I do understand that it is rare to see a white person in a city not called Lilongwe in Malawi, it is something that causes a slight uncomfortability. There are people (say on my walk to work for instance) that are beginning to know me by name and recognize me, so that is a sign of progress. The next thing is the traffic infrastructure, or lack there of. Malawi has no street lamps, and very little traffic lights/stop signs: basically every interaction between vehicles is in the hands of the drivers’ discretion. In a country where walking is a major mode of transportation, traffic can be quite frightening. When cars are zooming by going 70 km/hr on a road weaving through lines of people, accidents become somewhat frequent (more frequent than Canada). Last week when I was in Lilongwe, we took a taxi to our friends’ house for dinner. On the way we got stuck in a traffic jam for around 20 minutes, not really knowing why. Before we knew it, we got to a four-way intersection, with backed up traffic coming from each direction. This intersection was an enormous mess, with people going through the intersection at their own discretion. It reminded me of the game “Unblock Me”, where you have to move other wooden blocks to get one singular block through an opening. Bottom line is the transportation systems here are very liberal.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is my work. A lot of the work I have been doing to this point has involved meetings. From DEC (District Executive Committee) meetings to DCT (District Coordination Team) meetings, I have been able to meet many interesting people, and I’ve been able to build an understanding of how different NGOs work and coordinate with one another within Kasungu. The project I am working on demands an understanding of these systems, and how different stakeholders interact with one another. A lot of the work depends with meeting with others, which depends heavily on their schedules. People are busy all the time, and to get anything done you really need to pursue what you need. Coming into this placement, I was constantly told “be prepared to not do as much as you’d like to.” Being the very ambitious person I am, I took that advice and blew it off; I’d be able to do anything, wouldn’t I? But that definitely is not the case. The work being done here by many of these NGOs are focused on short-term but innovative projects that allow them to monitor and evaluate the effect of these projects on the community. By finding what works effectively within these different sectors (water, hygiene, education, etc.), they are then able to scale-up or mobilize these projects to different districts. On a grand scale the impacts of the projects are often very low in terms of significance, because they often deal with complex problems. Seeing the work being done by these NGOs has been helping me understand how many different factors contribute to poverty, and how insignificant my work is in the grand scheme of things. I’m just a little minnow in the ocean of International Development. But all I can do is keep swimming, and hope for the best (dang that is poetic).
Here is a picture of my super cool host brother to wrap things up.
-DC, signing off!