Saturday, December 22, 2007

Vacation starts today

I will be on vacation for the next three weeks, so I don't know how much I will be able to write. Dad arrives tonight at 7, and then we are off for a few weeks of travel. First up is Christmas in Zambia. we are going back to the Kapani Lodge, which so spoiled us last year. Then we will spend a couple nights in Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi, and Zomba. On January 2, we are flying to Cape Town, where we will be spending three nights in the city, then a few days out in the Winelands. I'm very much looking forward to the restaurants in Cape Town. Seeing penguins would be pretty cool, too.

Jorge had an interesting week. As I've mentioned here before, the Malawi authorities seem to have it in for the poor guy. So on Thursday he got a ticket for "failure to display" our insurance information. We had the insurance info, no problem. But it was the first day of the new policy, and we hadn't gotten around to sticking the card in the window. He was in a bit of disbelief that this was even a legitimate crime, so he went to the police station near our house and asked. "Oh yeah - failure to display. That's bad," the secretary tells him. "So what's the fine?" Jorge asked. "It depends. Could be little. Could be big for azungu." You have to love the transparency and fairness of the Malawian justice system, right?

So yesterday Jorge headed back to court. He sat there for three hours, during which time the judge managed to see one case. There were two men, and one had panga-knifed the other in a fight. They were both charged with assault and made to pay a 500MK fine (about 3 dollars). Then the judge and all his staff went on a long donut break, rewarding themselves for the difficult work they had just done.

Finally, Jorge talked the judge into hearing his case. Although we worried that he would get a huge azungu fine, instead he was charged 1,000MK. Twice as much as the man who had KNIFED someone had to pay.

Having done his civic duty and complied with the law, Jorge asked for his driver's license, which had been confiscated by the arresting officer. "Sorry," he was told, "the woman with your license went home already. It's raining," as if this is all the reason in the world one would need to skive off work. "You can go pick her up, though" At this point, Jorge was, well, let's just say he was not in a good humor about the situation. He told them no, he would not give the woman a ride, and she could come to her job to give him his license. For this outrageous act of defiance, Jorge was cursed by the woman. "You Muslims! You people come to this country and think you can do whatever you want." She called down the evil curse of Nkhoma, or something like that, along with a few bible quotes for good measure. Although Jorge helpfully explained that he is in fact Roman Catholic, this did not seem to help.

Well, let's hope the curse was retroactive, and that his 5 hours in court counts as time already served. Heaven knows we don't need our usual vacation drama while my poor dad is visiting.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fighting for their rights

The minibus drivers are on strike today. They are T.O.ed, man, let me tell you. Why? Because the government has passed a law stating that the drivers may only squeeze four people into each row, for a maximum of some 16 passengers.

Now keep in mind that the minibuses of which I speak are typically the same size as your average family minivan, only much, much older. So 16 passengers may seem reasonable. However, if you've ever been in a minibus, you'll know that the driver wants to pack as many paying customers in as possible, and 24 people in a van is not out of the ordinary. (Many of those people haven't bathed in a good while, either, since few people have piped water in their homes). leading to a rather unsafe and unhygeinic commute.

It's strange to go out on the road and see no dingy white vans careening dangerously around corners, or stopping suddenly in the middle of the road to drop off a passenger. Our staff were all late to the office this morning, as the competition for a ride is fierce. Big flat-bed trucks are taking advantage of the opportunity for some quick cash and have taken up the public transport mantle for now, so that is how most of our staff got to work today - looking slightly wind-blown and wide-eyed.

In other news, Malawi has hit the big time. It made the New York Times' list of "Places to Go in 2008." I feel so fashionable and of-the-moment. Here's the bit on Malawi:

Blame Madonna. Safarigoers tended to overlook Malawi, but that has changed since she began her effort to adopt a 1-year-old boy from this tiny African country that lies within the Great Rift Valley. Next July, the luxury lodge Pumulani ( is set to open 10 villas on spectacular Lake Malawi, home to rare cichlids and pied kingfishers.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Overdue pictures

I don't have too much to write about today. I will be off to the field next week, from Sunday to Wednesday, so I figured I ought to post something before next week.

The news in Malawi is:
We had a good storm the other day, but the rains still haven't really started. It's not too late yet, so hopefully they'll start soon and we'll have another good crop next year. Especially since the president gave away half of the strategic grain reserve to Zimbabwe a couple months ago. But that's another post, really. Anyway, the storm knocked down a bunch of branches and trees, and one of the cars in the parking lot outside my office had its windshield smashed in. Ouch.

In preparation for the rains, everyone has prepared their fields, and planted seeds. We get three distinct, seasonal landscapes here: Maize crops and grasses growing as high as your head, covering the land everywhere you loook; then the wild, overgrown, dried out season where everything is scrabbly and brown; then finally, the season we're in now, where the land is all neatly sown and ready for growing, and it looks like the country is covered in freshly vacuumed ochre-colored carpet.

Anyway, here are some overdue pictures from our trip to Zambia in November:

To get from our lodge to the park we had to drive across the Luangwa River.
Man, Jorge loves safaris. But he's so cute when he's all outdoorsy.

We stopped to help dig out another car that was stuck in the sand, only to get our car stuck as well!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Things on cars

All throughout Africa, you'll find that cars are decorated with little slogans, religious sayings, strange bumper stickers. One of my favorites was spotted on the back of a truck heading into Blantyre on the M1:

“Even Dirty Old Men Need Loving Too.”


On the way to work today, the car in front of us bore a sticker saying, “This car protected by the blood of Jesus,” which prompted the following exchange:

Me: “Jorge, did you remember to get the blood insurance?”
Jorge: “No, I forgot.”
Me: “Well, what kind of protection do we have then? Is this car at least protected by the toenail of Jesus?”
Jorge: “No, you wouldn’t want the toenail insurance. It’s too small.”
Me: “So, the toenail of Jesus would just protect a headlight or something?”
Jorge: “That’s right. But he had a lot of blood, so that would cover the whole car.”
Me: “So we need something big. How about the intestines of Jesus?”
Jorge: “Yeah, that would work. That would scare people away.”