Two messages from Stephanie Harvey from Malawi, Africa,
where she is spending part of her sabbatical.
Stephanie was one of my fellow riders of the Bike Atlanta ride.
Before that, she also cycled across India.
Tony is her husband, and Eva, not yet 3, their daughter.

 

Tue, 26 Feb 2002 03:41:20 -0500 (EST):

Hello. Greetings from Malawi. Apologies to those who have already heard some of this, e-mail facilities are limited in Malawi, so I have to limit my Internet time.

We arrived in Malawi on January 20. I had thought that the airplane schedule was perfect – the plane took off at night and arrived in the morning, and there is little time difference between the U.K. and Malawi. We could go to sleep in England and wake up in Malawi – wishful thinking. The only one who got a full night’s sleep was Eva! We arrived in Lilongwe excited but exhausted. We tried to get to Zomba right away, but the bus had already left and there wasn’t another one until the next day. We could have taken a mini-bus, but they seemed a little cramped. We later discovered that mini-buses have effectively driven the big buses out of business, and that they are much more convenient and faster than full-sized buses.

So we made our way to the rest-house we had stayed at in 1995. It was still standing, but looked as though it had received no maintenance since our last visit. It was pretty awful, really, but we just wanted to sleep. Unfortunately, Eva didn’t want to sleep at all, so she bounced around the room while we dozed off. We slept most of the day and all night. Then we made our way back to the bus station, and boarded the bus for Zomba. It took a long time to get to Zomba, since the bus stopped everywhere possible between Lilongwe and Zomba. That’s another reason mini-buses are popular – fewer people means fewer stops. Tony wants me to mention the intimidating road block just outside of Zomba – complete with army personnel and tanks!

We arrived in Zomba and were bombarded by people asking if we wanted a taxi. We told them that our friend was coming to pick us up, but several people followed us to the phone in case he didn’t come. Wapulumuka Mulwafu did come, and I was so happy to see him! We met in 1994 when I was doing my Master’s Degree in Minneapolis. Wapu was doing a PhD in History, and we spent a lot of time together. Tony met him in 1995 when we were last in Malawi. We hadn’t yet met his family, though.

We stayed with the Mulwafu’s for about a week. There are three boys in the family – five, seven and nine years old, plus a thirteen-year-old niece who lives with them, plus a worker, plus Mrs. Mulwafu’s sister. We were given the room that the three women and girls usually share, so they were moved to the boys’ room, and the boys were moved into their parents’ room. It was really great staying with them, but we could hardly stay any longer than a week.

We did enjoy our stay, though – chatting with Wapu about the past and present in Malawi, helping the children with their work, playing with all the children, including Eva, and just adjusting to life in Malawi. I started to brush up on my Chichewa, but without a book of any kind it was a slow process.

Meanwhile, we started to look for a place to stay longer-term, since we are in Malawi for three months and wanted to stay in Zomba for at least two. We applied to Malawi Housing, but they wouldn’t rent us something for such a short stay. We found one place that rents on a daily basis, but at very high rates (three times as much as we are renting out our house for in Winnipeg!) and the location isn’t ideal – quite far from the market place. We also have another friend here, Lori, who we know from Winnipeg, and she said we could stay with her for some time (but not two months!) We were beginning to think about staying with Lori and going on long trips around Malawi to give her some breathing space. But that wasn’t ideal, as we really wanted to settle down after spending four months running around Europe!

Wapu invited us to attend an auction, which he was involved in running. We went along for something to do – and we are very glad we did. I was sitting watching the proceedings when a young man named Thomas came up and started to chat with me in Chichewa, asking what I was going to buy. I told him that I couldn’t buy anything, since I didn’t have any house. He said that he and his wife Alice have a big, empty house, and he would ask Alice if we could stay with them. She said “yes” and here we are!!

So what are we actually doing? We are surprisingly busy. I am helping Alice with Mathematics, since she is writing exams in a few subjects this year. Thomas wants me to help him to improve his French, but so far we haven’t found time! He is “Assistant Librarian / Information and Communication Technologies Consultant” at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. I am working very hard on my Chichewa, which is coming along. I haven’t found a Chichewa guide in any of the bookstores, but Lori leant me hers and it’s helping a lot. We are all reading a lot. Activities of daily living take a lot of time here, since there aren’t any labour-saving devices like washing machines, so we spend a fair amount of time just washing our clothes, cooking, walking to get supplies and to see friends. We spend one or two hours walking every day! We live part way up Zomba plateau, so it takes about twenty minutes to walk down to the market place and about forty minutes to walk back up!

I had wanted to work in Malawi, but didn’t manage to set anything up from Winnipeg. However, we recently visited Cheshire Home in Blantyre, which serves 350 children with disabilities. They do not have a Speech-Language Pathologist. I had written to them from Winnipeg, but apparently they didn’t receive my letter. I met with several employees there, and suggested that I could provide some training to their rehabilitation assistants – I suggested a total of three days, and I gave them a list of topics I could present. They were very interested, and I’m waiting to hear back from them. Meanwhile, I am working on some presentations that I can give so that it won’t be such a huge rush to prepare them when I hear from them. They are also going to contact Kachere, which trains the rehab assistants, and invite them to the training sessions.

We went to Blantyre because we had to renew our 30-day permit to stay in Malawi. The process to renew it was very efficient, although they wouldn’t extend it beyond another 30 days. Just before we went, I managed to get in touch with a Malawian friend, Tom Kavinya, who stayed with us one Christmas in Winnipeg. He lives in Blantyre. Like Wapu, his house is very full of relatives, but he asked his niece and her husband if we could stay with them. He also drove us around and took us out to eat, and generally spoiled us! I wanted to visit Providence School where I taught for two years, and then spend some time around nearby Mulanje Mountain. Tom actually drove us from Blantyre to Providence School, and would have picked us up a few days later if we’d phoned him!

The visit to the school was a little bit of a disappointment. I knew that my close friend, John Sato, had died, and that it wouldn’t be easy to visit. But everyone I knew from my days in Malawi had moved on, and even my old house didn’t look all that familiar – the trees I had planted had been cut down and the house had been painted. When we visited in 1995 we stayed with John Sato at the school, and chatted a lot with several teachers who were still there from my days. I felt very much at home. But this time I definitely felt like an outsider. It was good to go to the school, though, if only to say good-bye.

We then went on to Likhubula, which is at the base of Mulanje Mountain. There are natural pools there where the water comes down from the mountain. We spent three lazy days and nights swimming in the pools. We had a shock when we arrived, though. We had got a lift with folks working in Migowi, about 45 km from Likhubula. When we got to the huts, we realized that I had left our food in their truck! I was quite upset, but not as upset as I was when I realized that I was also missing my wallet. Luckily, we were able to get beans and rice from the market in Likhubula, and later that night the food turned up. An enterprising fellow cycled to Migowi to retrieve the bag of food! And the director of the huts where we were staying let us phone Tom, who found the wallet in his car. What a relief!

We’re back home in Zomba now. Alice’s sister is visiting, so I have two Mathematics students (and also one more Chichewa teacher!) Eva is very happy to be here. She gets along really well with Alice and Thomas. She has started to speak a little bit of Chichewa, and to babble a lot in what sounds like Chichewa. She follows Alice around the house, and when I ask her to come, she says “No, Momma, me helping Alice with Mathematics!” (I’m not sure how she thinks she’s helping, but if you ask her if she knows Mathematics she says “One and one is two.”) She has a doll, named Carol Napolo, who she carries on her back. She explains lots of things to her:“When you see a Malawian guy, you say ‘Moni abambo.’ When you see a Malawian woman, you say ‘Moni amayi.’ She also says “Me my baby’s mommy” (about 100 times every day). Eva loves nsima, the staple food here, made from maize flour. She is no longer a vegetarian, but a pescatorian (“Thomas told me babies eat fish”!), though she has only eaten fish a couple of times and just a tiny bit each time. She is fascinated by maps, and can find Zomba, Lilongwe and Mulanje on the map (only on one specific map). She loves to write in an exercise book, just like everyone else in this house, and has recently learned to write her name, as well as “A” and “T” (“Mommy, me writing a “Alan” / a “Tony.”) Eva’s still more comfortable with adults, but she now enjoys playing with other children a lot.

The main problem in Malawi right now is a maize shortage, which is very serious since maize is the staple food here. The price of maize has skyrocketed, and there is a lot of hunger. Apparently, the shortage could have been avoided – it was partly caused by maize being sold in neighboring countries. There were also problems at the university when we arrived – a student had just been shot and killed in a conflict with the police, and the university was temporarily closed. However, Malawi is still a very peaceful, friendly country.

The public health situation has been grave since we arrived, with cholera and malaria outbreaks in various parts of the country, as well as the high prevalence of AIDS. We are very careful about the food and water we give Eva, and also about keeping mosquitoes away from her as much as possible. Not to mention snakes! There was one in our bedroom the other day. I thought it was a worm and was about to pick it up when it moved in a most unwormly manner (yes I know that’s not a word). We unfortunately had to kill it, since we didn’t know if it was dangerous or not and we couldn’t take any chances with Eva around.

That’s all our adventures for the moment. If you want or need to get in touch, the phone number here is (265) 527 732.

Love to all,
Stef, Tony and Eva
 

Mon, 25 Mar 2002 06:02:44 -0500 (EST):

Friday, March 22, 2002

Greetings from Malawi!

Another snake story

We were walking along in Zomba town one day, when we were approached by three women with a basket – the kind that is used for maize flour or ufa. They motioned for us to come look in the basket, and it was pretty obvious that they wanted to sell us the contents. Curious to see what was inside, I peeked in – and quickly jumped back. It was a rather large snake, coiled up inside! I wasn’t sure whether it was alive or dead, but told them “Pepani, sitimadya nchoka!” – sorry, we don’t eat snakes.

A few days later Ishmael was here. He’s a relative of Thomas, our host’s, and lives in one of the small houses on the grounds here. He started telling us about three women, who had been trying to sell a live snake. Apparently, after trying us Azungu (whites) to see if we would buy it, they took it into China Save to see if the Chinese folks would be interested in some snake steaks. But they also said that they don’t eat snake. Then they tried to hawk their wares outside of China Save, and were stopped by police. The other vendors were surprised that the police stopped them, and were asking “Ah! Could it be that the snake was stolen?”!!!

Other creatures

We have seen a lot of interesting creatures since arriving in Malawi. Geckos, iguanas, chameleons, snakes, enormous spiders, multitudes of insects, and a number of different bird species here, including Hummingbirds and Sunbirds. We don’t have to go very far to see all this wildlife – there is a brightly coloured wasp – metallic blue and yellow - currently making its nest in the house! We also had a lizard in our bathtub. Tony just told me it took two days to get out. Recently, there have been swarms of flying ants leaving their nests, and the birds are enjoying feasting on them. This morning, we saw what looked like snow falling. In fact, it was ants’ wings floating to the ground. There are monkeys living across the road from us – today they were visiting our yard. We often see mother monkeys with their little babies on their bellies. Our friend Lori was here today, and pointed out a plant which she described as “shy”. When you stroke or touch its leaves, the leaves curl as though the plant is wilting before your eyes, but then re-open a few minutes later.

Food

The tropical fruit that is readily available and cheap is a real treat – guavas, bananas, pineapple, avocados, and papayas. I am enjoying it a lot. There is also a good variety of vegetables, some of which I know and others that are becoming familiar – pumpkin leaves, turnip leaves, and unidentified vegetables. Maize, pumpkins, potatoes, yams, and okra – all are in season. It’s ironic that in this country where plenty of food grows on the trees there is a huge problem with starvation. This year is particularly bad. But from what we understand, it is not because there isn’t enough food but because the price of maize is high, and people can’t afford to buy it. Tony is eating a lot of nsima, the national staple food, made from ufa - maize flour. Most ex-patriots don’t really like it too much.

Food in the local grocery store is also a little cheaper at the moment – Easter sales are on. We did notice, though, that there were some signs saying “Easter Special”, and the same price we saw last time we were in the store!

Eva’s progress

Eva is continuing to grow strong and to develop new abilities all the time. She is picking up a fair amount of Chiche? a now, though she is still shy about speaking to most people. She is asking “Why” questions all day long, some of which are a little difficult. “Why me born in May?” “Why me no likes peanut butter?” “Why you love me?” She definitely is not taken in by false dichotomies – ask her if she is Canadian or Malawian and she replies “Canadian AND Malawian. ”I have been tutoring Alice in Mathematics, and Eva likes to say “Me doing Mathematics. Mommy, eight point eight is…”

Work

I have found a couple of projects to keep me busy and out of trouble since our arrival here. The first was helping to edit a publication for the Wildlife Society of Malawi – our friend Lori is currently working for them. I also gave a daylong presentation at Cheshire Home in Blantyre, on basic speech and language assessment and intervention. Following the presentation I was contacted by a family who wanted me to work with the father – he had a stroke three years ago and has had very little language therapy since then. The family members are Indian Malawians, and it is interesting talking to them. We also get some nice perks from working with them – they have fed us two wonderful meals, and they also took us up to Ku Chawe Inn on Zomba Plateau for coffee. We were really surprised at how far Ku Chawe was, since last time we were in Malawi we walked down from the inn to Zomba. This time we had planned to do the same thing, but as we sat having coffee we saw the clouds rolling in, and decided to get a lift down the mountain. We weren’t far down when the downpour started, and we were really happy to be in a car and not on foot – especially with Eva.

Azungu!

As Azungu (whites) in Malawi, we are quite noticeable. People are always very interested in talking to us and finding out what we’re doing here. It is amazing how many people know us or know of us. The other day, Thomas’ sister was visiting. We were introduced, and she said that she sees us every day! The funniest thing, though, was when Alice took a taxi home. She gave directions to the house and the taxi driver said “Oh, you live where the Azungu live”!!! It’s even more surprising when you realize that we have never taken a taxi in Zomba.

Departure

We’ve been here a little over two months, and will stay only another few weeks. It seems like such a short time! We will also have two visitors from France, Sandrine and Marie, so we will be visiting a number of places in the South of Malawi. Then we’ll be going back to Europe and then to Canada at the end of May.

Stef, Tony and Eva

Stephanie Harvey
Stef's e-mail