Friday, May 27, 2011

one of the few trash cans on campus and this is how it usually looks

lighting in rooms is terrible so we use our headlamps for reading - good thing we brought lots of AA batteries

Here's why the lighting is bad.  Even in the best of homes you find one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and they seem to have nothing bigger than a 60 W here.

Washing clothes Malawi style

An addendum to yesterday's quest to get the ringer on my phone fixed.  I went back to the store at 1:30 they were closed for lunch.  Finally I went back again at 3 and the problem got fixed but it was a lot of walking. Then i got a mini to go to main mini station and bus died just before the bridge - after about a mile.  The conductor said "we are dropping here" and everyone had to get off and there is no money back. So I hoofed it about a mile through a very congested area to the buses from my area - got on a bus that had to be pushed to get started, and had no springs so I rode home banging my head on the ceiling and was happy to arrive.  Not a good day in minibus land.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Everyday life in Malawi 5/24-26

Everyday life in Malawi for me

Everyday life in Malawi for me
Internet is too slow for pictures today so will post later

I haven’t written much about the mundane stuff of trying to live in Lilongwe so I thought I’d give you a sketch of my day.  I am always up by 6AM.  I am usually awakened by the unlocking of the bars over the door to the garage or the kitchen door, or by the gardeners trying to catch the dogs that run loose all night in the compound as a deterrent to robbers.  (Riley the big alpha shepherd probably would scare the heck out of most Malawians, the other dog, a golden retriever mix is so submissive and sweet I think he isn’t much of a guard.)  Once up, I make my way to the kitchen and if we have power I turn on the hot water pot and fix my one cup Melita filter with nice Mzuzu coffee grounds.  Then back to my room to dress and plug in my MP3 player tuned to BBC so I can listen to Network Africa and World News.  Without this lifeline I would not know what is going on the world since the Malawi paper hardly covers local news and I only can watch CNN or Al Jezeera at the house occasionally.  Once I am ready for work I wait for whomever is taking me to work – I often ride with Regina since this was our agreement when I moved in but she has now gotten tired of taking me so then the college was picking me up and they come whenever they get around to it but they don’t want to do it either so now I am using a taxi if I have to get to work early and on time and the minibus otherwise.  If I use the mini bus I have to go out to the road and wait for a bus with room to pass by.  Once I get to minibus central downtown I walk about ¼ mile to the section of the area where the buses for the hospital load.  The road is a madhouse of cars, people, carts, and etc.  There are no sidewalks and you walk in the mud in rainy season and in dry season in dust- the walk way is rutted and uneven and if a minibus or taxi is in a hurry they have no compunctions about driving on the walk way and you better get out of the way. I think I take my life in my hands everytime I do this. If you walk in the area where there are sidewalks you have to be very careful and watch every step since they are placed over drainage ditches and often have huge holes, broken areas and sometimes things like cut off metal pipes sticking up.  Once I get to the area for buses to the hospital I get aboard one and if I am lucky it is nearly full and it leaves right away, if I am unlucky I wait until it is full.  The mini takes me only to the roundabout at the bottom of the hill so I walk about ½ mile up hill with my briefcase, water etc. to the college.  Once I arrive I go up to my office for which I have only one of the two required keys so I have to go look for someone with the other key.  My office mate is usually not in and if she is she disappears quickly.  (She seems to do very little work and spends a lot of time dealing with her own stuff).  If there is a meeting and I arrive on time I wait until enough people arrive to start the meeting.  If there is no meeting or class I try to get online immediately since the internet is much better early in the AM.  Once on the internet I wait some more, for it to load, for documents to download, etc.  If I have any personal business to take care of I have do it between 9-5 and I must walk to the roundabout catch another mini and go to the business – seemingly nothing can be done by phone.  For example when my phone stops getting internet as it often does for mysterious reasons, I have to go to Airtel to get it fixed, if I need bus tickets I go to the depot but sometimes find I  cannot buy tickets until the day  I am leaving. I sometimes have to go to the Cultural Affairs section of the US Embassy to conduct business and they are in a building in city center that I have difficulty finding.  There is one store that has some things I can get nowhere else that is closer to the College than to town so I usually take my lunch hour once a week to walk there.  Although most of my colleagues have vehicles I have been offered rides only 4 times in my entire tenure at the college. There is a petrol shortage in the country off and on so that is part of the reason but people don’t offer even if you are going the same way.  Most days I work in my office or attend meetings.  Meetings tend to be extraordinarily long – 5+ hours and tea with scones and lunch are nearly always served.  Lunch is the same every time – Nsima, rice, chicken, chambo (local fish), greens, and some type of dessert- fruit, jello or occasionally custard.  Coca Cola, Orange Fanta and water as well as tea are served for beverages.  I work with some individual students on their papers and helped students study for my final by answering questions. If I came with Regina she calls and says she is ready to go and I must be ready in 5 minutes or so to leave or find other transport.  Last night I left after 5 PM and did not get home until after dark on the minibus.  The power was out as it usually is on Monday nights and Regina kept calling me because she was afraid I would not be able to find the house. (I had no problem and the minibus drivers are very familiar with the landmark I use to tell them where to stop).   She came out on the road in the dark to make sure I got in OK and I know she is scared to be out in the dark so I appreciated her effort. 

Once home if there is power either Regina or I will cook.  She usually won’t eat what I cook but she has rather awful eating habits and some nights she doesn’t eat at all.  She seems to eat to live rather than live to eat.  Once dinner is cooked and consumed I clean up whatever mess I have made and wash dishes then go back to the room and work or read.  Sometimes Clint, Regina and I talk a bit but we mostly don’t eat together. 

By 9 PM we are locked in and Regina has gone to bed.  I usually read or work, make tea have a cookie or two and go to bed. 

When I first moved in we had a maid/cook but she quit in early March and since then I have cleaned my suite every Sunday, and paid the gardeners’ wives to wash clothes or washed them myself.  See photo.  I am not very good at washing by hand and wringing is a challenge especially since I tore my rotator cuff.  Almost all Africans wash clothes this way, so they think I am a wimp because I would much rather pay to have it done.  Last week everyone was harvesting maize so I had to do all the washing myself – I don’t mind doing the easy stuff but this time I had to do everything.  Clint helped me wring thank heavens but it is hard for him too because of his arthritis. 

On Saturday I usually catch a mini to downtown Lilongwe and do my shopping which usually involves going to at least 4 stores that are not all in the same area because no one store has everything you need. Last week SPAR a South African company opened a huge new supermarket that stays open until 8 PM everyday INCLUDING Sundays. (Everything else closes at 1300 Sundays or isn’t open at all).  This store seems to have most things I might need so I wish it had opened earlier.  (PS most Africans also have to go to 3-4 stores to get what they need so it’s not just my American tastes that require broad shopping).  Since I have a terrible addiction to Diet soda (which I have been unable to kick) I have to look at several stores to find Coke Light (the Pepsi here is awful) and when I do find it I try to buy a case which means I also have to call the taxi to bring it home.  Taxis are not cheap here although I am sure I pay more than Malawians. I usually can get the rest of my shopping home on the mini.

 I continue to be a novelty on the mini’s since I have never seen another white person on my mini except Clint and the Dutch students.  I am sure whites ride them but not in great numbers.  Despite all the hassle of not having a vehicle I am very happy I don’t have one.  Besides driving on the other (R) side of the road which is always a challenge, the minibus and taxi drivers are aggressive, there are bicycles all along the sides of the roads and they don’t have bike lanes, there are crowds of pedestrians everywhere and people and animals running into the street. If there is an accident a huge crowd usually converges on the vehicle and begins shouting in Chichewa – the crowds I have seen look threatening to me and I would be scared to death.  The embassy recommends that no one drive at night because you can’t see the pedestrians and bikes and many cars have no tail lights and some no headlights.

One thing that I can’t help noticing is the garbage on the roadside especially the blue plastic bags that are scattered everywhere.  People routinely throw trash on the ground or out the car windows. It is very difficult to find a trash can in a public area or even in an office.  There is no trash pick up in most of the city – the majority of people just dump trash into a pit on their property.  When I first arrived I tried recycling my aluminum cans with the metal collector but he stopped taking them and I couldn’t find anywhere else to take them.  The worst collection of trash is found on the banks of and in the Lilongwe River since there is a big market along the banks.  The river is terribly polluted but I still see people bathing in it right down town where the pollution is the worst.  Next to the bathers are the men who are washing used shoes for resale and up on the banks are several outhouses.  The conditions remind me of Belen in Iquitos.

The other thing I find remarkable is the number of men I see peeing on the side of the road.  I am used to seeing this in Micronesia but there at least people tried to be modest about what they were doing.  Here they let it all hang out and seem offended if your eyes look in their direction which is often unavoidable since they are often right in front of you. 

Then there are the trucks – the trucks in this country seem to be in terrible mechanical shape spewing huge clouds of black smoke, riding on bald tires and often overloaded.  We saw one the other day that was about to tip over because it was poorly loaded and overloaded. I have seen several big trucks with their wheels in the concrete drainage ditches at the side of the road.   These ditches are usually 4 ft deep so when a wheel gets stuck the vehicle is usually resting on its axle.

Since dry season began the weather is cooler which I like but Malawians are all bundled up in jackets in the early morning and evening.  The air is full of dust and smoke because many people burn their cornstalks and bean plants rather than composting. In addition the political situation is deteriorating. ‘

Last month the President sent the British high commissioner home because he criticized the President in a private cable that got leaked.  The cable said the President was on his way to becoming a dictator which is something the local papers have been saying for some time.  The British who supply 40% of the health budget and about 20% of the entire budget have suspended aid, sent home the Malawian ambassador to London and rescinded the invitations to the Royal Wedding and to Queen’s birthday party.  Two campuses of the University of Malawi have been closed since Feb and Mzuzu University (another government run college) has been closed since Dec apparently due to lack of funds.  Everyone at work and on the street is concerned and anticipating not getting paid. Foreign Exchange which is necessary to purchase goods outside Malawi is at record lows and is part of the reason for the lack of petrol.  Nevertheless 15 faculty from KCN will spend next week at an expensive resort in Mangochi planning the MN curriculum in Education apparently paid for by Columbia University in the US through a grant.  Meanwhile who is teaching the students?

More of daily life in Malawi – May 26, 2011

Last night I was awake at 2AM with the worst muscular pain of my life.  I felt like I had the superflu and then I decided I must have Dengue but there is no Dengue here.  So I took a some Advil and finally went back to sleep.  Today I feel better but I may have some weird virus who knows and I am unlikely to find out here.  

Two days ago Regina’s cousin and his wife were invaded by a group of 25 or so robbers armed with machetes who broke into the house in the middle of the night despite their having guards, motion sensors and an electric fence.  The robbers took apart a section of the brick wall, beat and tied up the guard and took his keys gained access to the house and broke down the doors.  This is a young couple and the wife is pregnant.  They were not harmed but were very shaken and came to stay with Regina for a couple of days until their doors were repaired.  The security company which promises a 7 minute response time showed up in 25 minutes, far too late to do anything.  Someone had to go and fetch the police.  Regina is now very nervous and soon will be living in that big house all alone.  And she has no panic button or security company but there is a neighborhood watch.  I worry about her.

Yesterday, thanks to our guests one of whom works for the cell phone company, I discovered the ringer on my BB is not working so this morning I rode with Regina downtown, caught a minibus and went up to Consumer Electronics where all my phone stuff is done.  Usually they open at 8:30 so that’s when I arrived only to discover today they aren’t opening until 9:30 and of course they will close at 5 on the dot. This is Africa! (TIA)  So I walked back down the hill to the bank where only one of three cash machines was working so there was a long line.  While standing in Line I heard someone shouting and another person shouting back.  There is a concrete platform on the corner at this intersection in the heart of Lilongwe where preachers of all sorts stand and preach at passerby.  I don’t know what he was saying except he repeated tomorrow morning a lot.  Down below the platform was a man who was clearly mentally ill wearing a woman’s head scarf and shouting back at the preacher and mimicking his gesticulations.   I know I shouldn’t laugh but it was very funny to watch. 

I caught a minibus to the roundabout below the college and got to work.  I need to go pick up my husband’s passport at the Cultural affairs dept of the American Embassy today because it will take two weeks to process his visa extension of 7 days.  The embassy recommended we just pay whatever penalty the Malawi government assesses.  I went to the transport officer to ask if I could get a ride to City Center for this purpose because it is quite far and I get lost every time I go there because the place is very confusing and I don’t go very often.  The college is supposed to provide transport for official business and this counts (although they take locals everywhere for all sorts of reasons that do not seem official to me).  When I asked I got the usual we have only one car (they have at least 8) and “I don’t know if anyone is going” etc.  So I just said I need to go so let me know when I can get a ride.  I also decided to ask what time they were scheduled to pick us up for the farewell dinner we had been invited to tonight.  The college is providing dinner for me, Clint, Regina and the new Dean of Faculty – this would be the first and only time we have been asked to dinner.  The transport officer said “it hasn’t been booked”.  So who knows? TIA  

The internet is too slow for pictures today so will add them when I can TIA

Monday, May 9, 2011

Carol and Clint together in Malawi
Clint and Ru Zeng in Malawi

Our Chalet at Nhkata Bay

Nhkata Bay

Nhkata Bay

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Nhkata Bay

May 3, 2011
Nhkata Bay and beyond
The blog has been silent for a while because I have been very busy with work, the arrival of my husband and another guest.  At work I am developing workshops on writing and evaluating multiple choice test questions and on a graduate seminar on qualitative research.  We have our first data from the research study and thanks to Ru Zeng who is visiting me the data has been entered into a spreadsheet. 
Easter here is a four day weekend beginning on Good Friday.  I stretched it to 5 days and went with Ru, a former student to Nhkata Bay a beautiful place on the northern end of Lake Malawi.  We took the bus from Lilongwe to Mzuzu – the coffee capital of Malawi.  My friend Heidi, an English language fellow from Blantyre, was already on the bus when we boarded in Lilongwe.  (Her day on the bus eventually stretched to 14 hours!).  Although we were told this was an express bus – it stopped a lot and the ride took 7 hours for a 4 hour trip by car.  Because of the holiday the bus was absolutely packed with people standing in the aisles and luggage and bags of produce everywhere. 
Northern Malawi is quite beautiful with highlands, hills, and many more trees than the south and central regions. Some of the trees are evergreens.  However commercial logging and clear cutting is also common.  We had pre-booked a guest house at St. John of God vocational college.   For the equivalent of $28.00 each we had a three bedroom house with kitchen, living room and cable TV with breakfast cooked to order included – quite a deal.  However after the long bus ride the amenity we were most interested in was the shower – which unlike most in Malawi had a powerful stream of water – unfortunately it was cold the first night because the geyser didn’t get heated since we flipped the wrong switch.  In the morning we paid our Mzuzu taxi driver the equivalent of $10/each to drive us to Nhkata Bay.  The ride was beautiful through rolling hills with trees and small villages – the road was full of potholes but our driver knew it well and successfully dodged the largest holes – some of which would certainly have broken an axle.  At the crest of a hill we caught a breathtaking glimpse of the impossibly blue waters of the bay.  We continued through the small town of Nhkata Bay which was full of Peace Corps volunteers on holiday.  Then we started up perhaps the worst road I have seen here – I know I would have turned my 4 wheel drive around before I got far up the road but our taxi driver soldiered on only occasionally striking bottom.  After what seemed like a long time we reached Mayoka Village on the shores of Lake Malawi.  We were then confronted with some interesting steps – lots of them down into the village perched on the hillside with magnificent views. The stairs were quite treacherous as like most stairs here they were of different heights, were very steep, and had no railings.  I was grateful it did not rain all weekend.  We were shown to a lovely 2 bedroom chalet with fabulous views of the bay.  We each had a comfortable mosquito netted bed and shared another lovely shower.  The water in the bay  was cerulean blue, warm, and full of colorful fish.  The whole place reminded me of Micronesia. Many of the fish looked similar to those I saw diving in Micronesia but this is fresh water.  Apparently all the fish in Lake Malawi come from a common ancestor but they certainly don’t look it.  The predominant colors are yellow, white, and electric blue. Because I injured my shoulder (partial rotator cuff tear) in a fall the week before I was afraid to get into the water but I finally couldn’t stand not snorkeling so I did – it was worth it and I tried very hard to paddle with one hand and two feet.  The fish were so lovely and I even saw an eel which looked quite different than the ocean eels.  I had hoped to dive in the lake but that is not to be as my shoulder is healing very slowly. 
The village, and in fact the whole area was full of young volunteers from the US, England, Germany and elsewhere.  Every night there was a big party somewhere – thank heavens the one at our place occurred the night before we arrived.  Every morning we saw hung over young folks either making their way back from the party or hanging around looking miserable.  I don’t miss those days. 
We spent our time in the bay sitting around in the sun, reading, paddling in the water, visiting with Lisa a Fulbright student who has been collecting data in the bay for several months and relaxing.  I hardly knew what to do with myself all this rest.  We ate some excellent food but we had to wait a long time for our orders.  One lunch order arrive 1 hr and 45 minutes after we placed it!  As Lisa says TIA!  This is Africa!
After our relaxing weekend it was back to the guest house in Mzuzu for Ru and I and off to the overnight bus for Heidi.  Our bus left early Tuesday morning and was overfull with people standing in the aisles beating the people in aisle seats over the head with their bags.  It seemed like a long journey but actually was shorter than the trip to Mzuzu.  I missed a day of work. But I don’t think anyone missed me. 
Wednesday night I was busy cleaning my room because Clint was coming on Thursday.  You cannot imagine how excited I was to see him.  I arrived at the airport about 5 minutes before the plane was due to land. I discovered that the only way to find out if the plane landed was to pay 100Kw to go up to the observation deck and watch it land!  No arrival and departure boards in Lilongwe airport.  I saw the plane come in, waited until the buses picked up most of the passengers to bring them to the terminal and then went downstairs and waited and waited and waited.  Finally about an hour after the plane landed a large group of South African soccer players emerged followed by a very tired and happy Clint!  He looked very good and said he slept all the way from London to Joburg.  He was a bit disoriented and kept saying how warm it was even though for us it was a very cool day.  When we got home Ru came back from an excursion to Dedza and made us all a lovely Chinese meal.  For once the power did not go out!
Since Clint’s arrival I have been busy and he has been resting.  On the 13th we’ll go to the southern part of the Lake and to Blantyre hopefully to visit the tea plantations as well as for me to attend the graduate students’ presentations.  I have to be back later that week as I am doing a series of workshops on writing multiple choice questions.  In the meantime I am plotting a way to go to Zanzibar when I finish at KCN.  It may not work out but I sure hope it does – it’s the spice capital of Africa.
Pictures will be posted as soon as I have enough bandwidth

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A trip to Dedza and a change in the weather

Dedza Mountain from the cafe 
Dedza Mt after the rain began.

Dutch students in front of pottery

Acacia in bloom

Lodge at Dedza pottery

Woodfired hot water heater and satellite TV (which didn't work).


April 12, 2011
Ever since I heard about the Dedza Pottery I have wanted to visit it and this weekend I finally went.  Riding minibuses literally means you take your life in your hands especially when you need to go 83 Km (about 50 miles) in one but that is what I did Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon. When the bus left Lilongwe the 4 rows of seats each held 4 tightly wedged people.  I was lucky to be on the outside of the rearmost seat meaning I had a window and a real seat rather than a fold down with no back and two twisted metal stumps where the back used to be.  By the time we got about 40 km we had let off a few people including the man next to me whose lap was full of multicolored buckets, but of course we had also picked up a few more.  I asked the driver to let me off near the pottery and he took me to the bus depot – amazingly Dedza has a real bus station with an outdoor waiting area and brick seats.  Once there I asked “where is the pottery?”  The minibus driver shouted something in Chichewa that I didn’t understand and the next thing I know this rather tall skinny guy with a bicycle taxi is standing in front of me.  I looked at the pillion on the back, then looked skeptically at the rider and said, “I’m not sure I want to do this”.  He said “200Kw” and I said once again “I’m not sure about this”.  He said,” is it too much”?  I asked how far it was and he said, “far”.  So I decided to try it.  I climbed on astride, the seat was padded and not terribly uncomfortable, I had rests for my feet and two handles to hold onto.  Then he took off pedaling like mad – he has no gears.  He had a heavy load with me and a backpack that weighed at least 15 pounds but he pedaled valiantly up the hills and coasted happily down them until we came to the road for the pottery which is unpaved, rutted, muddy and had a very steep hill.  I said “I will get off and walk up the hill”.  He said, “not yet”.  Then he pedaled a few hundred more yards before he had to stop.  We walked up the hill, me somewhat breathless and he breathing normally.  Then he hopped back on and insisted I join him as he rode up a moderate slope to the pottery gate.   I paid him 500 kw and felt he earned a lot more than that but I know better than to go too far above the prevailing Azungu rate. 
When I arrived at the Pottery the sun was shining, the Dutch girls were just leaving having had a breakdown in the car they were in and were on their way back to Lilongwe to get a new cap for the car’s water reservoir.  I checked into the lodge, did a brief tour of the pottery shop (see photos) and went up to the restaurant for lunch.  I had heard it was good and it was.  I had Persian goat which was very well seasoned but as usual with goat fairly tough.  I enjoyed the view of Dedza Mountain (see pictures) and the grass and maize covered hills.  There were also lots of yellow acacia trees in full flower and some orange wildflowers.  By the time lunch came (about 30 minutes as nothing is quick here) the mountain was obscured with clouds and it soon began to rain quite hard.  The rain continued on and off throughout the rest of the weekend and it was as I had been warned –cold.  I brought a long sleeved T-shirt and a very light jacket thinking it would be enough but by evening I was wearing the jacket, a shirt, and both T shirts. Lunch was followed with a good cup of real brewed Mzusu coffee.  Plans to walk to the cave paintings were shelved since the walk was far and the rain relentless so I graded papers and read a bit.  About 5 PM I went for a walk down the muddy road to investigate some artists’ stalls I had seen on the way in.  It was really too dark to see much so I promised to return the next day.  When I came back a met a British woman and her two grown children who were visiting her staying in the room next to me.  We had a drink together (meaning I had a Coke Light) and I learned she was working for a small UK charity in Blantyre teaching pre-school teachers for 18 months.  We had dinner together and this time I tried the rice and beans which were also excellent –although we waited over an hour for dinner.  After dinner we had the renowned Dedza Pottery cheesecake.  The cheesecake was tasty – not quite New York style but close with real cream topping.
The pottery was started by British man who married a Malawian and currently employs over 150 local people. Most of what they do is special orders – they will make entire sets of dishes, they make a lot of decorative tiles to order as well as casseroles, flower pots, vases, and variety of figurines.  The lodge is a recent addition and they now have another lodge, shop, and restaurant in another town on the lake that was the center of the Arab slave trade.  
 In the morning it was still cold and rainy so I read a bit, shopped in the shop, walked down to the stalls and bought a doll and some handmade paper. Then I  had lunch of bread and cheese I had brought with me and packed my purchases into my now bulging backpack and walked a km or so down to the main tarmac road.  I had no sooner arrived than I was picked up by a minibus and began another harrowing ride. This time I was on the fold down seat in the next to back row with my backpack on my lap and those twisted stumps of what used to be the seat back looming behind me.  There was a large bag where my feet should go so I had to twist and put my feet to the side.  By the time we got to Lilongwe my hip was so cramped I wondered if I would be able to walk.  The bus was full when I got on but he kept stopping and at one point he had 19 people in the bus including 2 babies.  There were never less than 17 and no one was comfortable.  At one point I could see the driver, tooling along at 70-80 km per hour and adding airtime to his phone. (This involves entering a 16 digit code into the phone following a 4 digit number).  All I could think of was good Lord doesn’t he know he has 18 people in this vehicle and if he gets in an accident the two people closest to the sliding door will be ejected and killed because the door doesn’t shut right, I will be impaled on these two posts, the two babies will fly out the window that has no glass, and we will all have concussions from the luggage stuffed into the back that is only half secured.  After that I decided to stop thinking and besides my hip was in so much pain I couldn’t think much anyway except “how much further?”
When we arrived at the road to my house I did get out.  My leg did hold me up.  I did not fall flat on my face as I’d feared I might.  Things at home had settled after a tense week and I was glad to be home except two of my purchases were still in the pottery’s shop since the girl forgot to pack them in my bag and I thought she’d packed them inside the casserole I bought Regina. 
Although it was warm and dry when I got home as evening fell I noticed it was much cooler than usual. For the past two days it has been fall-like – cool crispy mornings and evenings with warm mid-days.  Last night about 2AM I had to find the blanket Regina gave me when I arrived that I thought I would never have need of because I was COLD.  Malawians say they have only 2 seasons, Summer and Winter.  I guess winter has arrived.  Seems quite odd and backwards for someone from the northern latitudes.  Tonight, however, the stars were bright and crisp in the sky as they are in winter – except here I see the Southern Cross (my favorite constellation) and the good ship Argus on the horizon while Orion is high in the northern sky and the big dipper is upside down. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Freedom won; Freedom lost - April 3, 2011

April 3, 2011
Freedom won. Freedoms Lost?
This is a summary of what I have learned from reading the newspapers here in Malawi and talking with Malawians about the issues and history. I will attempt to report situations without injecting my opinion but I suspect that my bias will show nevertheless. This view and any opinions expressed are mine and not those of the US Government or the Fulbright commission.
In 1964 Malawi gained independence from Britain and Dr. Kamuzu Banda was elected as the first President. In the course of his many terms he became a dictator outlawing other political parties and limiting free speech. According to some Malawians I have spoken to people opposed to the president also disappeared, were beaten, or impoverished. People were and to some extent still are afraid to speak out against the ruling party. Kamuzu Banda developed many important institutions including the University, the hospital in Lilongwe, and the first parliament building. Many structures and institutions still bear his name even though his rule was repudiated in 1994 when the multiparty system was instituted by popular demand and Muluzi was elected president. Newspaper articles from that time and people I have spoken to describe the beginning of his term as a breath of freedom. Ordinary people were excited to at last have a voice in the political affairs of the Nation and to right to speak freely in support or opposition to the ruling party. Muluzi served 2 terms which is all the Constitution allows. In 2004 Dr. Ngwathe, Professor Bingu wa Mutharika was elected. [Ngwathe is a title bestowed on the President by the Traditional leaders and the closest translation is great leader]. During his first term Mutharika was by all reports a good leader but when he was re-elected in 2008 he began reducing freedoms and grooming his brother to replace him. The closer he comes to the time when he must leave office the more autocratic he has become. Muluzi was indicted for fraud and continues to fight for health care to which as former President he is entitled. In the last several months two actions supported by President Mutharika have been at the center of the news and of the concern of the international community. The first is a section of the Penal Code which in direct contradiction to the Constitution empowers a cabinet minister to ban any publication considered detrimental to the people and he need not give a reason. The press and the international community are up in arms about this and continue to express concern although the President insists that this statue does not limit press freedom. Several donors have rescinded funds because of their concern about the law as well as another law criminalizing homosexuality. The US which had promised billions to improve the Malawi power system withheld funds because of this law until Friday when they agreed to release them after apparently being reassured that democratic values would be upheld. In addition the Malawi Electoral Commission who should be working on local and district leader elections scheduled for this month has been suspended for misappropriation of funds. (The funds involved seem a lot less than those another department is accused of misappropriating but that department is still operating so it seems that more is going on here than just misappropriating). The Electoral commission was told on Friday they could go back to work – so perhaps that is related to the release of US funds but I don’t know that is the case.
The most important issue for academics is the apparent loss of academic freedom. Before I describe the events it is important to understand that the President of Malawi serves as both the Chancellor of the University and the Chief of Police. Also the University of Malawi consists of 5 constituent colleges – Chancellor College (Humanities and Liberal Arts), Polytechnic (Engineering and Science), Bunda College (Agriculture), College of Medicine, and Kamuzu College of Nursing. Chancellor, the College of Medicine and Polytechnic are headquartered in Blantyre 4 hours south while Kamuzu is in Lilongwe and Bunda is 36km southwest of Lilongwe.
On February 12, a lecturer in Political Sciences at Chancellor College reportedly told the students that situations like the petrol crisis in Malawi were similar to situations that led to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. A student in the class reported the statement to the Inspector General [IG] (the working chief of police for Malawi). The lecturer was taken to the police station and questioned by the IG in person. The IG asserted that he interrogated the lecturer out of concern for national security. Although the IG insists that the lecturer was not under arrest, the lecturer says he was coerced into going. The President publicly support the IG’s actions. The faculty council at Chancellor demanded that the IG and the President apologize and assure faculty of their guarantee of academic freedom. Both the President and IG refused to apologize and insist that they have not infringed on academic freedom. Section 34 of the Malawian constitution reads: “every person shall have the right to freedom of opinion, including the right to hold opinions without interference to hold, receive, and impart opinions”. As a signatory of the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility (1990), the country agreed that “no African intellectual shall in any be persecuted, harassed or intimidated for reasons only of his or her intellectual work, opinions, gender, nationality or ethnicity”. Those who support the IG s actions describe him as “having a little chat” with the lecturer who they point out was not arrested. I have great difficulty seeing anyone summoned by the country’s chief law enforcement officer for a chat at a police station as not under coercion or threat.
After several attempts to negotiate the situation, the faculty at Chancellor went on strike and refused to teach until an apology was issued and assurance of their academic freedom given. In the meantime the faculty member who was questioned has left Malawi and gone back to Norway where he was educated and where according the Norwegians I have talked to (one of whom was his classmate) he is well respected and will quickly find work. Several people have said he will be a great loss to Chancellor College and to the country.
In early March the lecturers at Polytechnic College joined their colleagues in the strike and in late March some of the faculty at Bunda College also joined. In the meantime the students were all still on these campuses without much to do and they joined the protests by the faculty. The feelings at the college of nursing are mixed. The non nurses in the department are very concerned and even outraged. Some of the nursing faculty are concerned but many said “we don’t know what really happened” and “we have to continue to take care of patients”. When I asked them if they worried about their own safety if they said something that the government didn’t like no one expressed concern. However, there is a lot of talk about the issue in Chichewa, some of it impassioned, and I don’t think I know what they really think. Nevertheless, the faculty of nursing and the faculty of medicine have not joined the protest nor have they shown any public support for the other lecturers.
On March 22 the University of Malawi Council gave the faculty on strike an ultimatum to return to work within 48 hours. The council then issued forms titled the “resumption of teaching” to be signed as a commitment to return to work. On March 24th the striking faculty at Chancellor and Polytechnic burned the forms “because they were illegal and an extension of the contempt of court conduct”. The University Council then went to court seeking an injunction to require the striking lecturers to go back to work. The President and the IG in the meantime continued to refuse to assure academic freedom and to insist it was not infringed upon. Neither made any attempts at mediation and the situation escalated.
This week the leaders of the boycott were fired and the participating lecturers suspended. Some of the students who had joined in demonstrations were arrested, however I also heard that some of the students arrested weren’t doing anything but were just on campus when the police came. On Friday all of the students on the striking campuses were sent home. (This may have been precipitated by the reported death of a student from Polytechnic on Thursday following the use of tear gas on the campus.) The faculty at Polytechnic went into “negotiations” and the Chancellor faculty remained on strike. Nothing has been solved and several legal briefs have been filed. For six weeks the government of Malawi has been paying for the students’ tuition and maintenance and the lecturers salaries and there has been no teaching or learning at 2 colleges. Academic freedom is certainly in jeopardy and so is education. Malawi cannot afford to waste resources – fiscal or human in this way but there seems to be no accounting for the stubbornness of officials or faculty who feel threatened. I am sure this situation will continue to unfold and I will keep you all updated.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wildlife park Zambia and more of the falls

Impala family
Water buck
White Rhino - so called because of color inside mouth not outside color
Close up Impala
Baboon Thief

Boiling point at Victoria Falls with double rainbow from Zimbabwe bridge
Baboon Mom - the one I had a tug of war with over the trash bag

Zebra baby those stripes are so fabulous!
Zebra mom