Friday, July 15, 2011

Coming up Short

The order of the day in Malawi is shortages. It seems just about everything is running low these days – fuel, electricity, forex, drugs…A friend recently saw a news story in the local paper bemoaning the “shortage of models,” which is apparently crippling Malawi’s fashion industry. Half the time, we don’t even have powdered milk for our tea in my office. Life is certainly more difficult these days.

Of course, there’s also my critical shortage of time. And the shortage of words to describe just how insanely busy I have been. Swamped. Overwhelmed. Engaged. Occupied. You see? I have run out already.

But today I’ll try to squeeze out a few words in between bits of my hastily eaten lunch, banking on the likelihood that my 2:00 meeting will be late.

Of course, of all the shortages in Malawi, the biggest news is probably the fuel shortages. For weeks now, there just has not been enough fuel in the gas stations. At any given time, only a handful of stations will have fuel. You can tell which ones these are by the lines of cars stretching in every direction trying to get in, or the rush of people jostling with their jerry cans. The other stations sit empty, traffic cones placed in front of the pumps to indicate that they are dry yet again.

Of course, the fuel shortage is not just annoying for commuters, it is dangerous to the economy. I heard that at one point, even the fuel tankers were running out of gas, unable to make it back to the port in Mozambique to resupply. Naturally, a booming black market trade has sprung up for those who don’t have the time or patience to spend 6 hours waiting in line. The last few times we had major fuel shortages, the government blamed Mozambique for having problems at their port (oddly enough, though, Mozambique itself seemed to have plenty of fuel. Hmmmm.) Now, apparently, the problem is that the government has created sooooo much prosperity through its canny economic choices, that the fuel suppliers can’t keep up with the demand created by all the newly rich Malawians buying new cars.

As for us, we’re no longer so concerned about running out of fuel – Jorge unexpectedly sold our car on my birthday this Monday. In the morning, I had a car. I come home from work, no car.

Huh. I guess that’s one way to deal with the problem of the worn-out clutch and the bald tires we needed to replace. Kind of genius, actually.