Thursday, June 28, 2007

My new toy!

Had a call from Jorge today. Who knew there was cell phone coverage on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater? What a world we live in now – imagine Teddy Roosevelt, calling his wife back in Washington to tell her he’d bagged himself a big buffalo – and that he was sending photos of it to his blog over the phone…

Anyway, he sounds as though he’s having a great time, and that they’ve seen just about every animal he could imagine. “I’m almost sick of lions,” he says. They have one game drive left, and they’re hoping to see a rhino, as that’s all they haven’t managed to catch a glimpse of yet.

But let me get back to the subject of my post. My new toy – I finally caught up to the 21st century and got a digital SLR camera. I was probably one of the last film hold-outs in the world. And I really mean that - I'm such an old fuddy-duddy that I still use a camera from the 1970s.

I had an even older one, the OM-1, which was fully manual – you had to select the aperture and shutter speed on your own every time, based on the light meter, and then focus on top of that. Man, that camera took good pictures. It disappeared while I lived in New Orleans – I think it was pinched during a party. (One of many, many things stolen or destroyed while I lived in N.O. What a black hole that place was.)

I have clung to my poor little Olympus OM-F for as long as I could, but the quality of photo printing has declined so much over the last five years, that even if I took a great shot, it still came out looking fuzzy and green all over. It's just time to move on.

I’m still learning the ins and outs of the new one, but I've posted a couple shots I like so far. Maybe it's just me, but none of the new cameras compares with the clarity and beauty of the photos from my old clunker, though. I think it's that there's too much to fiddle with. It used to just be camera, lens, photographer, and what you did with those three things made all the difference. Not that I'm a particularly good photographer - but at least I want the camera to pull its weight, you know?

Anyway, I'm toyless for a bit - Jorge has taken the camera off to Tanzania, so hopefully I will have plenty of photos to share of his trip soon.

Puppy! My neighbor's dog.

And Jorge, always willing to oblige with a pose.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Weekend at the Lake

I can’t believe I’ve been doing this blog for a whole 7 months, and I haven’t written about the Lake. And yet the lake is such a big part of expat life here. When I say “the lake,” I of course mean Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi takes up 1/3 of the whole country. So it’s big. I don’t know how big, but it must be the 2nd or third largest body of water in Africa.

Lake Malawi is really the main focus of tourism here. There are a couple national parks, some hiking opportunities, and one or two picturesque old missionary towns, but most tourists in Malawi end up at the lake at one point or another.

So naturally, when Ed and Tommy came to visit, we all drove off for a lake weekend. This time, we drove North, to a place called Kande Beach. The hotel we stayed at is a nice little refuge, tucked away from the village and other hotels, and is a favorite spot for backpackers, overland truck tourists, and campers.

I, of course, am none of the above. So Jorge and I rented a thatched chalet directly on the beach. We had to use a communal bathroom area, but with a view like that, who can complain?

I spent the weekend just reading and relaxing, but the guys are never content just sitting still, so they found other ways to keep themselves entertained. Ed and Tommy went out with a friend to visit a local orphan support agency, and ended up being invited to a wedding. Jorge, on the other hand, sought out yet another way to raise my blood pressure and get himself killed.

Out in the bay there is an island – it is probably about a kilometer from the shore. One of our friends got the harebrained idea of swimming to this island. Jorge, never one to be shown up by anybody, signed up as well, somehow forgetting the fact that he’s not such a great swimmer. (Oh, and the picture is of him doing his Baywatch impersonation).

I pointlessly tried to talk him out of it, to no avail (did I really think I could ever sway him?) Fortunately, his two friends were wise enough to bring life jackets. Our friend Glen reckoned it would take about 20 minutes to swim to the island. He didn’t take into account the strong current, which kept sweeping them further and further away from their destination.

On the shore, I nervously watched as they flailed and floated for an hour, before finally reaching the shore of the island. Where Jorge promptly laid down and fell asleep. I, on the other hand, enjoyed my new copy of Real Simple from the comfort of a hammock under a palm tree. (Who do you think is the brains of this operation, huh?)

One of the things Kande Beach is known for is its horse rides. Horses and I don’t mix – there is a long history to this, but I think I really only figured it out the time a horse deliberately walked under an overhanging thatch roof, to try to sweep me off its back. Stupid beasts of burden. But that’s another story.

So while some of our friends went off on the ride, I stayed hammock-bound and got some great shots of the horses swimming out into the lake with riders on their backs. I love this shot of the dog eating a horse’s tail.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

It's a Good Thing

I'm a big fan of Martha Stewart. Yes, I know she's a criminal, bourgeois control freak, but I'm really a "take people as they are" sort of gal, so I let it slide. After all, she's the woman who taught me to make shot glasses out of cucumbers, how to bake bananas foster, and innovative new uses for soup tureens.

So to return the favor, I thought I'd let Martha in on a little idea I have for a new story:

Good Things on Sticks

Think about all the nice things that come on sticks:

Corn dogs
Scare Crows
Chicken Satay
Tiki Torches

And from Malawi, two new entries sure to take the culinary world by storm:

Mice on a stick

and Little Birds on Sticks

No need to thank me, Martha. Just make sure I get a piece of the action if "Mice on a Stick" goes global and gets a mall food-court franchise. I can see the goofy hats already...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

If my life were a screenplay...

...this is how it would describe sailing with Jorge:

[A strapping young man with a handsome physique and muscular legs strides down to the shore. This is our protagonist, JORGE. He is followed by two athletic, slightly older men. Jorge shoves a small sailboat off into the water and the other two climb in, looking nervous.]

[A pretty young blonde, with an air of long, patient suffering, follows the men to the boats, watching their progress. This is our heroine, GWYNETH]

GWYNETH: OK, baby, have fun! Be careful! Avoid the hippo! And do not damage the boat!!!

JORGE: Baby, we’ll be fine. Don’t worry.

[Jorge climbs over the side into the boat, and clambers into the back. The boat drifts into a shallow cove, and starts floating sideways]

GWYNETH: Baby, drop the centerboard!

JORGE: OK, OK...I got it now!

GWYNETH: OK, now get the rudder down!

JORGE: I can’t get it – it’s stuck.

[The boat moves closer and closer toward the reeds]

GWYNETH: Aaaah, get back in here! You can’t steer without the rudder! You’re going to break this boat and [Commodore] Dan is going to kill us!

JORGE: OK, I’m coming back in.
[Jorge jumps out of the side of the boat and pushes it back toward the landing spot. The boat cruises forward and, instead of sliding onto the sand, heads straight for the rocks]

GWYNETH: Turn it, turn it! You’re going to hit the rocks!

[The boat slams with a thud and a sickening scrape into a sharp boulder]

GWYNETH: Oh craaaap. Is there a hole?! Did you break the boat?

FRIEND #1: No, it looks OK…no…wait…Oh yeah, there’s a hole…
[in a falsely reassuring voice:], no, don’t worry, really, it’s more like a scratch.

[Gwyneth climbs around the boat to assess the damage]

GWYNETH: Oh man, you’re going to have to fix that.

JORGE: Nooo, it’s fine! It’ll be fine…

[Gwyneth moves to the back of the boat to check out the rudder]

JORGE: See, I can’t get it to go down.

GWYNETH: Well, just see where this rope ends…

JORGE: Oh…[chuckles] That explains it. It’s tied up still. [JORGE unties the rope] See, no problem.

[Gwyneth shoves the boat back into the water]

JORGE: Baby, I still can’t get the rudder down!

GWYNETH: That’s because you’re in half a foot of water.


[With the boat now pointed out into the lake, Jorge gives a manly jerk of the rudder. The boat careens off to the right, now aiming for the other set of rocks.]

GWYNETH: No baby, the other way! Turn to the left! The leeeeffftt!

[The boat thuds again into the rocks. Gwyneth dashes out bravely into the bilharzia infested water, pulls the boat off of the rocks, aims the hull at the lake and pushes with all her might. The boat moves forward a few feet, then drifts sideways again]

GWYNETH: Jorge, get the centerboard down! [The boat straightens out, but then tips dangerously to the right in the wind] Let go of the sail! [The boat straightens up] OK, now steer left! The other left!

[Finally, the boat hits open water, and Jorge is safe at last.]

JORGE: Baby, are you sure you don’t want to come with us?
[Gwyneth just smiles, waves the men off on their way as though she has done this sort of thing many times before, and breathes a sigh of relief as the boat moves farther and farther away, before turning to head up to the lake house and dutifully await her menfolks' return.]


Well, it really has been a while since I last wrote, hasn’t it? Believe me, I have many topics bubbling around in my head, and I will work hard to catch up.

But today’s post is just a newsy one, since I haven’t got photos uploaded at the moment.

Jorge’s brother arrived last Thursday, along with another friend, and we’ve had a great time showing them around Malawi so far. We took the guys out to the Dam to go sailing last Thursday, then over the weekend we went out the Lake Malawi. I’ll post a bit more about that soon, along with photos.

But the really great thing about visitors? Stuff from home. Granted, you can get just about everything you need in Malawi, but for special items, you have to wheedle your family into stretching their baggage limits to the max. For example, from my sister in December we got Calphalon pans, Martha Stewart mags, and industrial sized shampoo / conditioner.

For Ed’s visit, we really pushed the envelope. Here’s a sample of what we got:

New magazines (beach reading material is tough to come by here)
A hand-held mixer
A new camera (This one definitely warrants its own post, as it is my current obsession)
Scented lotions
Two pounds each of walnuts, pecans, and chocolate chips
About 50 power bars for Jorge

And, my most treasured item….a box of Cheez-its. Oh, sweet heaven. Africa is really the hell-hole home of bad-carb snacks. Pretty much all we get are bacon flavored pork rinds, onion-flavored cheese puffs, and potato chips flavored with tomato, beef jerky, or chicken and thyme. Can we all just say yuck together?

The fellas are off tomorrow to Tanzania, where I’m sure they will come up with many new and exciting ways to endanger their lives. Jorge is a perennial candidate for a Darwin Award, I swear.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Photos from half-marathon

I've finally gotten pictures uploaded:

Here's Jorge, cruising along after about 15 miles (turns out the course marking wasn't so accurate, for those of you puzzling over the milage). Sorry for the crappy quality of the picture. He was moving so fast that I didn't have much time to zoom in or compose the shot.
There's a little itty-bitty Jorge running across the Kamuzu Dam on his way to the finish line.

And here's ME! I walked up to the dam after Jorge passed by so that I could take photos of the other runners.

Jorge's running has been a really good way for us to meet other people here in Lilongwe, as there are quite a lot of dedicated runners. Each Saturday, there is a group run in the morning, followed by breakfast. Today we hosted the run, and cooked up a hefty meal for the runners of pumpkin pancakes, quiche, bacon, buttermilk biscuits (with gravy) and sweet potato hash. Yum.