Monday, May 31, 2010

Back home

I'm back in Malawi, and as busy as ever. As much as I love to travel, I always feel such a deep sense of relief and calm once I finally get off the plane, make it through immigration and customs, and get on the road home. It's all so familiar to me now, so comforting. I know just where on the road there will be pumpkins for sale, or to watch out for the intersection where minibuses clog traffic. "Ah!" I was pleased to note while on my way home, "Mice are back in season!" After coming from a big city, the expanses of land where you see nothing bit scrubby grass and bushes for miles just soothes me.

Of course, then I get home, and there's a dead car battery to deal with, a shady dealership that doesn't want to honor its warranties, post office employees who fail to show up for work...all the usual African nonsense. Still, it's good to be home.

I'm still working on getting the next round of trip photos up, but in the meanwhile, I thought I'd share our very typical exchange from this afternoon's commute home:

Jorge: "Did you see the new embassy that just opened right around our house?"

Me: "Nooo....which one?"

Jorge: "Don't you see the sign?"

Me, looking up and reading the sign above my head: "Ah, yes. The Christ Embassy. That will be useful." [Note: I am not making the name up. Most likely it's a new storefront church.]

::Long pause::

Me: "Do you think their consular office is open? I want to get a visa for heaven."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thy people doth protest too much!

One of the things we have found interesting in Argentina is the total culture of protest. There seems to be a march, or a protest, or a rally, or just random people chanting everywhere we go. On our second day in Buenos Aires, we went down to the city center and visited the building that is the seat of the national government. In front is a famous square where many protests and rallies have been held over the last century. I took one look around and said ¨they must have had one heck of a protest here yesterday,¨because of all the trash and flyers scattered all over the square. What was particularly striking was that there were many, many empty trash cans in the park, but apparently, rather than walk 15 feet, everyone seems to have tossed their soda bottles on the ground instead.

We walked further into the city and noticed that all the turn-of-the century buildings were covered in graffiti with political slogans. I go tthe strong sense that the point of protest was as an excuse for hooliganism, not to actually improve conditions in the country. It left a very bad impression for both of us.

Then, the other day, we were watching the news. Three young men in their twenties had had sex with a 14-year old girl, videotaped it, and were scummy enough to show it around. Fortunately, they have been arrested and will face charges of statutory rape, and possibly child pornography as well.

And what was the response from the community? Why a protest, naturally. But not for who you think - it was a rally of women protesting for the release of the three men. Yes, they were marching to show their indignation at the arrest of three scumbags who had broken the law. Their reason? Because the girl was known to be promiscuous. I can only imagine how horrible it must be for the poor young woman and her family, having to see her community on the news, marching through the streets, no doubt chanting something classy like ¨Let them go, she´s a ho.¨ It goes to show just how far things still need to move for women in the country, I suppose.

Personally, I think they should all pack up their banners, put away their spray paint, and do something that will really make a difference - go to work, perhaps? Vote? Throw away your trash in a grabage can, even?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It can´t all be smooth sailing

So overall, we have had a pretty straightforward, easy trip in Argentina. This is a big surprise, as those of you who have followed our other trips on this blog should know, because when we travel something ALWAYS goes wrong. Visas are incomplete, reservations are cancelled randomly, backs are thrown out, whatever. It´s always something.

Anyway, I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the blog and reassure you that we´ve had our share of flubs on this trip, but they´re pretty minor compared to usual. So here are some of our misadventures so far:

1) One of the most common search terms that leads people to my blog is ¨South African Airlines sucks¨. Every month this is in the top ten, along with ¨Gwyneth Malawi¨ and ¨Coolest pet ever¨. There is a reason for this, and it is my total disdain at the incompetence and occasionally outright ineptitude of SAA. For example, when we boarded our flight to Johannesburg from Lilongwe, and finally got a moment to look at our seating assignments, we discovered, to our great dismay, that the ticketing agent had seated us in three very separate, very far-flung seats. Lucky little Milo got a seat all by himself 15 rows behind me, and Jorge and I were seated nowhere near each other. It´s not like they didn´t know we had a child - Milo was standing on the countertop babbling away the whole time we were checking in.

But fine, we figured the flight attendant would sort it out. She went back to the row where Milo was seated, explained the situation, and asked the two people seated around Milo if they would switch with us. And would you get this - one of them wouldn´t move! Are you kidding me? He won´t move to let a parent sit with their baby? What sort of special level of a-hole-ness is that?

So of course, I´m ticked. I take Milo to the seat and say ¨so you´re the guy who wants to help look after my child, then?¨And he smiles, totally vapidly, and says ¨I don´t mind! I have a little one myself too.¨ To be fair the guy seemed more clueless than obstinate, and three minutes seated next to Milo, who kept trying to claw his way over the man´s lap while yelling ¨Daddy! Daddy!¨did the trick. As if it was his idea, the man turns to me and says ¨Hey, why don´t I switch seats with your husband?¨ Well, yeah, how´s that for an idea! So it ended up being fine in the end.

2) In Salta, we rented a car, and asked for a car seat. To save a bit of money, we decided to pick up the car on the second day, before heading off on the road. Before leaving the airport, we asked about the office hours. ¨We open at 9 and close at 9¨ they told us.

The next day, we go to the EuropCar office to collect the car seat. Only to find they´ve closed for lunch. That´s reasonable, I suppose. Then we notice - it´s a FOUR HOUR lunch break! What kind of lazy people take lunch from 1 to 5 PM?

We ended up calling the staff on their cell phone and getting them to come back to give us the car seat, but it meant sitting in our car with a tired, fussy toddler for two hours. No fun.

3) A few days ago, we arrived at the airport to check in for our flight from Salta to Buenos Aires. Only the ticket agent couldn´t find our reservation. A few minutes later, we discovered the problem: our reservations were for the following night! Jorge had booked the tickets for the wrong day, and neither of us had noticed the mistake. Fortunately, though, the ticket agent was able to change our tickets, and didn´t even charge us anything.

4) Yesterday we headed out of town to spend a few days on a country estate. We had arranged to catch the 10:30 bus, and at 9:30 were ready to leave for the bus station. However, Jorge just needed to pop across the street to buy some diapers for Milo. Half an hour later, bearing a complicated tale of woe involving a security guard and multiple exits, my frazzled husband returned. We grabbed a taxi, but as we sat in traffic, it became increasingly obvious that we were never going to make it in time. Finally, we arrive close to the station, 10 minutes late - only to see that the street, a random side street at that, has been closed for a protest! The buses were unable to pick up the passengers, so they were late. We had time to collect our tickets then walk a few blocks away where the buses were waiting for us. Saved again!

So you see, it´s not that we haven´t had our share of mishaps, it´s just that apparently South America is a little more laid back when it comes to screw-ups like us, as opposed to, say, the inflexible Cambodians or the quarrelsome Egyptians!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Hear that? That is the sound of all my pent up stress starting to slowly leak out of my pores, like a over-inflated inner tube finally starting to release pressure.

Tonight we are here: and it is every bit as nice as the pictures suggest. Even better, in fact, as I just dicovered they have a spa, and have booked a facial and full body exfoliation for myself tomorrow evening. They even have a room completely dedicated just to relaxation. with big lounge chairs looking out at the vine-covered hillside. There is nothing around, just mountains and vineyards, and we hear the dinner (which is included, making this an incredible bargain on top of everything else) is also fabulous. Now, if I didn´t have a demanding two-year old to contend with, I think I would be just as about as relaxed as I have been in years.

I could so get used to this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Photos from Argentina

In front of the central courtyard in the ´Casa Rosada´- Argentina´s White (well, pink) House, which is open for tours on teh weekends.

Milo playing with the wildlife at the Buenos Aires Zoo. They pretty much let you feed everything except the lions and bears!

A particularly lovely tomb at the Recoleta Cemetary

Jorge and Milo playing soccer in La Boca, the neighborhood famous for its soccer team and rabid fans.

Milo and me in front of a beautiful old home in Colonia, Uruguay

This is the police car in Colonia. I am not making this up.

Milo in Colonia


Standing at the top of the ¨Devil´s Throat¨ waterfall at Iguazu falls

Just a few of the many waterfalls making up Iguazu Falls

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Well, hello from Argentina. We arrived in Buenos Aires on Friday, April 30th, but we stayed in an apartment with no wi-fi, so no blogging for me. Honestly, there hasn´t been much free time until today either.

Had a nice time in Buenos Aires - there are so many parks and playgrounds for Milo to run around in, such a change from Malawi. We took a day trip to beautifully preserved Colonia, Uruguay, and managed to take in a few of the museums - the museum of Latin American art, which was wonderful, as well as the Museo do Bellas Artes, which had a few stunning 19th century pieces I loved. We also went to the Evita Museum, which left us with more questions than answers. Trying to get a handloe on the history of this country has been very frustrating, everything we read is infuriatingly vague. I´m often struck here, as I am in many of the African countries that I´ve visited, that a dark history passed only very recently, and yet now the country seems so calm and modern. I always wonder in places like this what toll the political instability and violence has really taken on the culture and psyche of the people - it´s something the people themselves always seem to want to gloss over. Hence the vague historical descriptions in museums, you see.

Anyway, I am digressing into the philosophical, and I haven´t even eaten breakfast yet, not a good combination.

Milo is managing well, although restaurants don´t open until 8PM, meaning he has had quite a few late nights. We´ve tried to go back to the hotel to let him get an afternoon nap, but that´s worked only a few times. Also, he now refuses pretty much all food, and asks for juice about 350 times a day. Sigh, That´s what long international flights with free juice will do.

This past Friday, we left Buenos Aires and flew to the very northeastern tip of the country, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet, to see Iguazu Falls. I believe these are the 2nd largest falls in the world, after Victoria Falls, but having seen both, I have to say Iguazu is more beatiful, the way the water comes pouring out of the jungle everywhere you look. I can only imagine what those early explorers must have thought when they first came across this gorgeous place.

Alas, the USB port on this computer does not seem to work, so I will have to try from another computer.

No idea what we will do today. Jorge is sick with a cold, and since he is a man, he is on the verge of death, naturally. I´m hoping for a chill-out day, then tomorrow we fly to Salta, in the Northwest.