Sunday, June 30, 2013

Malawi in Pictures

Garrick and I try Nsima for the first time, a paste made from refined corn flour that you roll in your
hand and dip in a tomato based meat sauce.  All Malawians we have encountered cannot believe that we don't have Nsima in the US, as a Malawian "cannot become full" without it.

A typical scene: women fill huge buckets of water to carry back to their households, while men sit chatting just across the street.

We gnaw on pieces of sugar cane, a local treat.  You peel the bark off with your teeth, chew and suck the sweet nectar and spit out the pulp.  Everyone had a good laugh at me because I couldn't get the bark off.

Little guys at the latrine project in a small village outside of Thyolo.  A couple of them are part of the work crew.

Scenes from the bumpy dirt road.  Mt. Mulange is in the background in this shot.

The tea estates stretch for kilometers in the hilly area of the Shire Highlands.  The leaves are all handpicked.

A little gecko that came out to our patio in the night.  Lizards have been the extent of our wildlife experiences so far. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday night party

 As I sit here on my bed, a foam mattress with a hand carved bed frame, cloaked by a blue mosquito net, the mix of African-Latino-Euro dance music pumps away at the pub across the street. It must be deafening inside the bar, because I can hear it loud an clear through the thin walls of the guest house I am staying at, just a short walk away. It's Friday night in Blantyre, Malawi and as much as I wish I could join the sweaty dance party just on the other side of the street, I am confined to the complex, not allowed or really willing to risk going out at night. This really is a shame, because as much as I would like to experience the Malawian culture and night life it is not safe to go out without an escort. What a strange feeling, to become a prisoner because of my ethnicity and origin; I have never quite felt cultural boundaries this strongly before.

We drove into the city of Blantyre today and stopped in a few neighborhoods with our Malawian co-workers where very few Muzungus (white people) visit. We were stared at with piercing eyes by most, but were also received with laughter and pointing or a thumbs up in mockery from the children. What can I do but smile? To some of the kids I said hello or waived from the car, not sure if I should feel like a celebrity or a criminal, resembling some sort of colonial effigy riding in an unattainable chariot from another age in the form of a beat up Toyota 4x4. Of course, my intentions are only the best. We are here to perform an internal audit of our partner non profit that provides comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene projects to the Malawian people, who are severely in need of a bolstering of their lackluster infrastructure. As I look forward to the challenge ahead, I can't help but wish I was able to blow off a little steam from the intensity of this trip by tossing back a beer and joining in on the dance party that is bumping to the beat of the bass just across the street, although it feels like worlds away.   

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Lilongwe is an alternate universe from what most people are used to in the states.  In one day we saw the presidential palace and the government ministries just down the road from crumbling brick housing and children running around barefoot.  The disparity is extreme, and even the government has very little resources...for example the district health office we visited yesterday didn't even have running water or functioning toilets.

Yesterday we drove with government officials to the Mkanda waiting shelter about 100 kilometers from the city.  The last 20 kilometers was a rough dirt road that passed through several villages.  We reached the end of the road and the health clinic and maternity ward that we were sent to assess.  At least thirty pregnant women sat in the dirt or on reed mats outside the clinic.  Just waiting for their time to come and for the one nurse at the facility to hopefully deliver their babies safely. Some had their other children with them, running around in the yard with a few dogs, chickens and goats.  The conditions were truly shocking.  A new building, the waiting shelter, stood new and shiny just waiting for beds to arrive to provide an improved place for the women to stay.  But the clinic still lacked supplies, staff, running water and other dire necessities.  The women stared at us with curiosity and distrust and most of the children laughed at our white faces.  Although the shelter seemed like an improvement, the health official estimated that around 80 women would someday fill the 35 beds that were going to be provided.  As we contemplated the water infrastructure that our organization might be able to provide; a well, latrines and a washing station, it was clear that this was only a small band aid for the more endemic effects of extreme poverty.

Women waiting to give birth at the clinic

From Portugal to Africa

The largest challenge to this blog so far, has not been the writing as I anticipated, but finding an internet connection!  So to catch you up, here is what I have been writing for the past few days...

Leaving Portugal was not easy. The last nights there were Friday and Saturday and the city was alive until the early hours of the morning. On Friday night we walked to the nearby park with a bottle of red wine. All Portuguese varietals of course, that were juicy and delicious and only cost around four Euros, making guzzling it straight out of the bottle appropriate. As more and more people arrived to the park we toasted to our fellow Friday night partiers. Then the crowd stood up and went silent. Two flares shot into the air and boats began to blow their horns in the harbor below. Then church bells from all over town started to ring in the key of C. The cacophony rang over the harbor for about three minutes and the faces of the crowd glowed in the light of the full moon. Then, the noise stopped, the crowed applauded and began to disperse. We had to laugh, because we had no idea of what had just happened. Piqued by uncontrollable curiosity I asked a Portuguese couple about what we had just witnessed. They explained that it was a random Lisbon event, that they had only heard of hours before. We had hit it just right, a small taste of unplanned magic.

Saturday night was even more festive. Walking around the old part of the city after dining on some rather strong and salty cuddle fish at a makeshift outdoor BBQ joint, we stopped to listen to three distinct bands in various plazas. Fado, punk rock and alternative rock bands all drew a dancing, drinking crowd. We stopped in at a pastry shop for a baked apple wrapped in pastry dough and an espresso to top off dinner. How, I wondered, were the women so beautiful and skinny with this kind of gastronomic gluttony at their fingertips? I didn't want to head back to the hotel, because it was our last night in Lisbon, but tragically we had work to do and a flight to catch in the morning. Lisbon on a Saturday night was vibrant and packed with people partying in the streets. The streetcleaners were brushing up the mayhem the next morning as we headed to the Metro station that would take us to the airport, not long after most of the crowd had just gone to sleep.


 Ten hours later we touched down in Johannesburg. A thick mist, tinted red with illumination from the drawn greeted us as the plane screeched to a halt on the runway. I must admit, I wasn't able to sleep much. The anticipation and the cramped middle seat kept me from resting my head and my leg muscles.  One more three hour flights and we will be in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lisbon Tour

We took to the streets of Lisbon yesterday to use our one free day to see the sights.  Instead of paying for a open air bus that takes conspicuous tourists decked out in fishing vests with binoculars (no exaggeration), we navigated trains, buses and street cars to reach our destinations.  We also did some serious walking, as every now and then our stop would pass by before we realized that the train we were on was indifferent to our sightseeing plans.  Although adventurous and exhausting, in my opinion this was the best way to see the city.  When you are forced to ask directions in a jumbled combination of Spanish, Portuguese and English, the extra effort makes the reward that much greater.  Getting home (to the hotel), proved to be the hardest part as the streets wind up and down the hilly neighborhood of Barrio Alto.  Going to show that what is supposedly most familiar can be completely unrecognizable in the tangled twilight.  Mosterio dos Jeronimos, the Torre de Belem, Padrao dos Descobrimentos, Castelo de Sao Jorge, Praca do Comercio, Convento do Carmo and other incredible sights were among our improvised tour.  We even hopped on the infamous Tram 28 to make the jostling, electrified journey on a 1920's wooden streetcar that returned us to Barrio Alto.  Lisbon is unlike any European capital I have visited.  It has regal palaces and cathedrals deposited among cramped neighborhoods lined with uneven cobble stone streets.  Yet everything has a sense of sea side decay, exuding decadence and delight to both inhabitants and passers by.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Always Seeking the Next Adventure

Sometimes getting started is the hardest I'll begin, well, NOW.  I'm seated in a funky little hotel with shaggy green astro turf for carpet, perched on the top of Barrio Alto in Lisbon, Portugal overlooking the city and the Tejo River.  It's 7:00 in the evening and I'm elated and/or slightly delirious from 14 hours of travel, which I started worlds away in Denver, Colorado.

What am I doing here?  For one, I am certainly finding joy in the opportunities that life has to offer.  Even my conversation with a new found friend,  the Portuguese plane passenger now a veterinarian in TX,  focused on what it means to really live.  We talked about adventure, connecting with people across borders and cultures, making a positive impact on the world and finally finding joy in the little things.  Following an insatiable passion for adventure, excitement, enjoyment of the moment and then sharing these meaningful experiences with others, is really what it means to live.

This is the basis for my blog.  An earnest attempt to hone my writing abilities and fuse the desire to communicate the simple yet incredible pleasures that life and travel has to offer.  Take dinner this evening for instance.  Seated on a breezy patio, with cruise ships drifting by in the distance, enjoying salted cod (bacalhao), prosciutto wrapped asparagus and glasses of malvasia blanca and touriga nacional, I contemplated my luck and gave thanks for my good fortune by lifting a glass of ginjinha (traditional cherry liqueur) to the sky.

It's simple to find joy.  I invite you to follow me on this adventure, and then go seek out your own.