Thursday, May 31, 2007

Movie Night

I don't have much to write about this week, so I'll tell you a bit about one of our rituals here in Lilongwe: Movie Night at our friend Matt's house.

Matt arrived in Lilongwe right around the same time as me, and had the foresight to bring a healthy DVD collection and projector. Every Thursday night he opens his home to friends (and usually a couple strangers) for a film showing.

You have to understand, of course, that there is no movie theater anywhere in Malawi. Not a single one. So the possibilities for seeing new releases, or even high-quality older films are pretty slim. Most of us get our movie fixes from the backs of airplane seats.

So the chance to see "Casino Royale" in surround sound up on a big screen (well, average-sized wall) is quite a treat. There are not many chairs, so Jorge and I bring our own fold-up camp chairs, while others lay on foam mattresses on the floor. Sometimes people bring snacks, and it's always a nice chance to catch up with friends before and after the film.

In keeping with a real movie-theater feel, we even get to see trailers for upcoming selections. You can see the lineup here. It's always a nice eclectic mix of camp classics, recent releases, and rarely-seen art-house flicks. Some are great, some are unintentionally funny, and some are just plain weird. Like the 1980s Polish film where a woman falls in love with her creepy stalker. Obviously directed by a man.

By the way, Matt has a very interesting, well-written blog himself. One of the few I actually read, to be honest. There's a link on the left (or here) if you're interested.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Remember that crime spree I mentioned?

It caught up to me. Yes indeed, dear readers, I have been the victim of a vicious gang of master criminals.

Actually, I left my cell phone in the ladies’ room at the Blantyre Shoprite. But at the time it was quite distressing.

I spent last week in Nsanje, which is the Southernmost district in Malawi, surrounded on three sides by Mozambique. It’s a lovely, quiet, rural place, and any other time of the year would be desperately hot and mosquito-ridden. But as it’s winter here, it was actually very comfortable.

The disadvantage of going to Nsanje is that it’s about 8 hours away by car. That’s a lot of bathroom breaks, if you’re me. About halfway back home on Saturday, we stopped at a shopping mall in Blantyre for lunch, and to use the facilities. Unfortunately, power was down, as it has been so frequently lately, and the window-less restroom was pitch dark. I used the LCD display on my phone as a lamp and located the toilet.

When I got back to the car I realized I had left my phone. A coworker, who had been just behind me, told me she heard a woman saying to the toilet attendant “Someone has left something here…” as she left the room. So I felt confident that the guards would still have my phone as I hurried back to collect it.

Only they didn’t have it. The female attendant was nowhere to be found, so I waited as the guards located her. She also claimed to know nothing about the phone. I went to a nearby Celtel outlet (our service provider) and asked them to call my phone. It had been switched off. So at that point I knew that in the 3 minutes I had left it, someone had pocketed my cell phone. Dangit. And I knew it was either the woman who found it, or the attendant. Neither one was handing over the phone anytime soon.

Defeated I went back to the car and told my coworkers. But “Aunt” Alice, the matronly dowager of the group, was not letting me go out without a fight. Her own cell phone was stolen not long ago, and perhaps her righteous anger was linked to a need to redress past wrongs. Whatever the case, thank heavens for tough little old ladies, huh?

She went back and confronted the restroom attendant, who finally agreed to “help” find it. She went away for about 5 minutes, then sheepishly returned with my phone. It turns out all of the guards were in on it, and were planning to split the proceeds of the sale, earning about 3 dollars each.

I graciously thanked the guards for “finding” my phone, and went to leave. And you know what those little thieves had the nerve to do next? They asked me for a reward!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'll be better, I will!

Sorry I have been so AWOL this month. It's been pretty crazy with work. And I haven't really had all that much to write about. But look, I have given it some thought and it turns out I have lots of news to share with my dear friends and family:

We had a nice weekend - we went out to the Dam, where a half-marathon was organized. I helped set the course (and got lots of neon yellow spray paint all over my hands. It ain't easy trying to spray paint bushes), and Jorge WON THE RACE! My baby is fast! I will put up some picures once I get off my butt and charge the camera battery.

My brother-in-law is coming to visit in a few weeks. I'm very happy to see a loved one again, and excited to get to show a bit of Africa off to someone who's never been before. Your first time here, everything is so exotic and new. Jorge is busy arranging their trip to Tanzania, where they will go on a safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, then continue on to Zanzibar. Lucky devils.

I'm off to the field for a few days this week, so I'll be gone again. I'm going to the very bottom of the country, 9 hours away, so it will be a tiring drive. But it's nice to get out the field every now and again.

Finally, Lilongwe seems to be in a bit of a crime wave at the moment. There's been a number of house and car break-ins, and the worry has been robbing me of my sleep. I have been assured by our operations manager that my house is one of the last ones in Lilongwe that someone would want to break into, though, because of the security systems. So I try not to worry, and you should too.

Well, that's the news from the 'Lawi.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Please rescue me from blog mediocrity!

Today I discovered that there are at least 2 other blogs out there with "Misadventures" and "Malawi" in their names. I was mortified.

Unfortunately, I have never been much good at coming up with snappy names for things. So those of you who know me, any suggestions for a new name for my blog that represents me and my life?


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Fresh fish delivery

Forget vacuum packed cold-storage containers. This is how true adventurers get their fish home from vacation:

The only problem is that they tend to get a bit dried out. Imagining throwing your fish in the clothes dryer for an hour before gutting it. The skin was like beef jerky, and the tails stood up stiffly at funny angles. The meat was fine though.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Arriba, arriba!!!

Jorge and I had our first real party over the weekend, for Cinco de Mayo. I say “real” because I had a little Mardi Gras party back in February, but it was a weekday, and there was a huge storm, so not many people showed up. So it was really more of a gathering.

Of course, it’s Africa, so everyone showed up about 3 hours late. So I spent the first 2 hours worried that no one would come at all and that I would get a reputation for lame parties. For some reason, my party reputation matters to me very, very much. I have always thrown pretty kick-ass parties, although I’m sure there are a couple duds in there that I’ve blocked from my memory. My wedding was one big 3-day drunken bacchanalia. (And it was awesome, I whisper in hushed, reverent tones).

I think the secret to a good party is this: tight spaces and limited seating. I once held a party in a one-room studio apartment in Washington DC that was so cramped people were actually hanging out in my walk-in closet. At my wedding I had the reception site get rid of 25% of the chairs so people would have to stand and mingle. After all, if you’re already standing, you might as well be dancing, right?

The party had a Latin theme, naturally. Jorge put together a great play list of salsa and merengue music, and you could tell a few people really wanted to dance but were too shy. I got Jorge out on the floor after he’d had a few beers, though. I love dancing with Jorge – he’s exactly the right size for me, and after 6 years, we’ve got each other’s moves down pretty well.

Oh, and the star of the evening? Our one duty-free bottle of tequila, hoarded since March from our last flight through Nairobi . Like Jesus and the fishes, I made that baby last. I think I got about 5 liters of margaritas out of it, and they weren’t weak either. All around it was a really good night.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good photos to document the festivities, but here’s a crappy one of Jorge and me on the dance floor:

And these are the roses we bought to decorate. 100 export-quality roses for 7 dollars. Man I love Malawi.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Daredevil, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m afraid of many things: dogs, cancer, getting hit in the head by sports equipment, spiders, just about anything that lives in the ocean, small aircraft, being lost, angry youth, falling out of boats, being burgled or mugged, elephants, divorce, electrocution, early-onset hair loss…

Most of these fears, I realize, are a bit irrational, so I just get on with things and try not to think about them.

But there’s one thing that terrifies me that I can’t avoid, and which really is quite dangerous: African motorways.

Someone recently told me that Malawi has the highest rate of fatal car accidents per car on the road. For example, India has a lot more car deaths than Malawi – but India has a LOT more cars.

Over Easter weekend, there were two serious incidents involving expats – one was killed when a tire blew out and the car drove off the road. Four more people were injured in a collision when the driver swerved to avoid a bicyclist. Just two days ago one of the health workers that my organization works with was hit and killed by a truck while walking down the road.

It’s not just Malawi, either – Ghana was a nightmare. I remember very frequently sitting petrified in a big UN car, thinking how ironic it would be if I survived cancer only to be killed in a freak accident involving a goat, bicycle and minibus.

The “freeways” here are crumbling, twisty, two-lane roads, with no shoulders. You share the roads with potholes, pedestrians, bicyclists, livestock, and semi trucks. And everyone drives about 85 miles an hour.

For my part, I make sure no one I ride with ever goes too fast, and chide them (or when Jorge is driving, scream) whenever the driver makes an ill-advised attempt to pass another vehicle. We’ve also taken to saying a prayer every time I go on the road with my coworkers (In Malawi, you pray before everything). This makes me feel a little better, actually. At least we’ve got that base covered, you know?