Thursday, July 31, 2008

unexpected wisdom

i just met one of the guys who does maintenance work in our building yesterday. his name is randolph. randolph has at least 4 front top teeth that are covered in gold, is african-american, and wears baggy jeans. i, unfortunately, had labeled him as "different" for these things.

randolph and i just had a beautiful conversation, which went something like this:
me : (in reference to his washing our 13-ft. windows yesterday) you still washing windows today?
r: (as he looks up from his phone that he's holding in front of him & obviously texting) well, i'm just doing a little counselin' now, you know?
me: counseling?
r: friend asked me do we hate to love or do we love to hate? i told her we hate to love b/c love hurts.
when there's pain, that's how you know it's love.
me: (in awe but trying not to get cheezy) yeah, i would agree with that...well when you see Mike, could you ask him if he could turn the air conditioner up? it's freezing in there today!

so, yeah. i got nothin.

The end is near...

And not just because I finished Stephen King's "The Stand" today...

I just booked my last block of hotel nights - and even a ride to the airport on Wednesday morning.

So, I will have 5 nights at the hotel I stayed at last night (see post below), starting tomorrow up until the day I leave. It will be like a mini vacation-within a working-vacation. The biking, hiking trails, and fresh berries are so calling my name...

Get ready America, Eric's coming home!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Live from the Jungle...

Gotcha! You probably thought this was Eric reporting, but nope! Just Pepper here, wanting to fill my fan club in on my first few days at my new home! In this first picture I'm just helping Mom mow the lawn (we both love her new lawnmower that doesn't use gas or electricity (it's the old school kind w/ 4 blades)!

Lots of big things have happened lately....

and I mean big! My first meeting with Bisou was actually pretty anti-climactic; Mom says I normally go CRAZY over other dogs, but I couldn't even tell if Bisou was a dog because his head was so far away from me. Mom got scared when Bisou tried to play with me...I think the whole 15-times-my-size thing made her nervous!

I got to meet my Gammy and Granddad on Sunday. No pictures yet, but I get to meet my aunts Melissa & Rosie this weekend, as well as cousins Rambeau, Ella, and Jackson. I can't wait to see them...wait a minute....

They say that when two beings are in love, you can't tell where one starts and where the other begins...I don't know about that, but I sure do love my cow!

One thing my mom says she is the most proud of is how tough I am. See below for an example!

Well, I guess it's a love/hate relationship.

Gosh, life sure is fun lately. Maybe even too fun...this is how I end pretty much every day:

Hopefully you do too! Have a good one, and thanks for checking in!

In Zomba

Crazy, crazy day. And it's not completely over yet.

I didn't make it to the village, but I did get to spend about 6 hours in total in a crowded minibus, going from Blantyre-Zomba-Blantyre-Zomba. The tour of the village and big joint discussion capstone meeting of my visit is all set for Friday morning, 10am.

Now, I am sitting in a corner room of my hotel on Zomba Mountain - the Ku Chawe Hotel - recommended by my boss as the most amazing hotel he's ever stayed at anywhere in the world. So. It's dark now, but I have to say, it's pretty amazing. As the man from the front desk was showing me to my room, he said, "this weekend, let me know if you want me to guide you to some of the best views around the mountain, we have waterfalls, rock climbing, biking, just let me know." Ok.

my room. yep, that's a stone fireplace in the corner.

view from my window this morning.

fresh berries from zomba mountain. some of the best i've ever had. (no joke)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Things that remind me of Africa

-Wearing the same shirt for days in a row.
-Driving down the middle of the road when there's no one coming.
-Banana trees.
-Indian restaurants.
-Farm animals on soccer fields.
-The smell of eucalyptus.
-Little blue and white notebooks.
-Cold showers.
-HUGE bottles of bottled water.
-Blue band margarine.
-Cell phone coverage.

And others. =)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Back in Malawi

Never mind exploring the country of Malawi, flying on Air Malawi is an adventure of itself.

Granted, my return trip from Dar to Blantyre yesterday went very smoothly. But it's just a unique experience to fly on the national airline of a very small African country.

First of all, the airplane is totally unmarked. Pure white. And, as usual in Africa, there's no boarding gate - they load you up on a bus and take you out to the plane, where you walk up the steps, 1960s-style. When I got in the door, I noticed that my seat number corresponded to an empty aisle, where the bulkhead wall was separating 1st class from the rest of the plane. I asked the stewardess. "Oh, just sit anywhere in the back." Ok. Next, we made an unannounced stop in Nairobi, to pick up other passengers, adding about 3hrs on to the trip. The only thing the whole day confirming that Air Malawi actually existed were the seatback covers on the first class chairs.

But the views were amazing. (I'm so thankful for that stopover in Nairobi!) We flew directly over Kilimanjaro - which reminded me why I am an environmentalist. How can you not be, witnessing something so beautiful, so powerful - and yet knowing that we are changing that beautiful thing permanently (myself included by taking the plane). But the snows are still there, and I was thankful to see them.

Now, back in Blantyre, I'm busily trying to finish up the work here before I head home next Wednesday. I've already been twice to see the met service people here, and tomorrow I'm hopefully going up to the village (for the first time) to talk to some people there.

Malawi is what I always pictured Africa to be. Slow-paced, friendly people, dusty roads, and a lot of people struggling - full of hope - but struggling to make ends meet.

I'll try to have more in the next few days.

Who owns this plane, anyway? =)

Free A/C for the pilot??


Kili with Mt. Meru in the background.

Kili on the way back from Nairobi

Landing again in Malawi.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

So, here's some news...

When you see the image below, what do you think?

a.)"That is the cutest dog in the world!"
b.)"That is a 5-month old beagle/jack russell mix."
c.)"That is Megan's new puppy."
d.)"That really is the cutest flippin' dog in the world!"

Answer...well, all of the above! That's right, after discovering this little Pepper last Thursday (the 17th), hanging out with her three times, consulting with my peeps, and listening to my heart, I decided I wanted to make those hang-out times permanent. I officially adopted her on Thursday (the 24th), but she didn't come home with me for real (except for a "walk-thru" on thursday) until last night. Because she is blind, we wanted to make the transition as smooth as possible for her (from her foster home to her forever home!), so we decided to wait until the weekend so I could have all wk.end to spend with her. I was really nervous b/c she's come from a home w/ 2 other dogs, which is REALLY helpful for her to get around, have a companion, etc., so i didn't know how it would be for her as an "only canine," but she is doing AMAZING. She is just an awesome little being. Come meet her! I don't have any batteries for my camera right now, but I'm working on it...I'll definitely be posting lots of pictures/videos SOON!

I recently heard a great quote I've been thinking about a lot lately, especially given this situation. "Some people say love is blind, but in actuality, love sees everything." (Chris, please refine to make it sound pretty. :))

A restful day

Today was a little window of paradise, otherwise known as the northern-most beach town in Zanzibar. I went to see an area of protected sea-turtles, chatted with a volunteer from the local fair-trade women's cooperative workshop, ate some coconut vegetable curry, and just generally chilled out on the beach. Not a bad weekend getaway!

Tomorrow will be a travel day, and then Monday I'll be back in Malawi.

See you all there!

Friday, July 25, 2008


I just wrote this down on a piece of scratch paper my waiter gave me at dinner tonight:

Zanzibar is Zanzibar. There is no other way I can describe it. It's unlike anywhere I've ever been.

I was so nervous on the ferry ride here. Because of the last time. I was envisioning long hours on the phone with the embassy again - and chewing my fingernails the whole way. But it was easy, and now i'm here. Stepping off the boat, I just tried to make peace with the situation. I decided to just greet whoever I met with love - with a smile in my mind. It worked.

Now that I'm here, it's impossible to be worried about anything in a place like this.

The waiter just brought fresh peanuts, just for while I'm waiting. After he brought me this piece of paper. I rest my case.

I'm sitting on the roof of this restaurant. There is a cool breeze. There are a million stars. I am very happy.

I walked through countless narrow winding alleys to get here. Every corner is mysterious. Boys playing tag in Swahili. An old woman selling oranges. A bike zooming past. I couldn't help smiling the whole way.

In Zanzibar, nothing is closed off. Inside, or outside, there is always a breeze blowing through. There are details everywhere - wood carved doors, always something catching your eye. It's beautiful.

I'm going to the beach tomorrow. To just be.

My food is here - vegetable pulau and (fresh) spiced tea. It's amazing.


I just looked up from my paper. I'm still here.

And I'm going to order dessert. It's a special night.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

near danger... averted.

i went on another walk tonight... in the other direction from the hotel this time. it was a beautiful evening (still is), and i'm trying to soak up my last couple days in dar before i head back to malawi on sunday. so, a walk on the beach.

after a while, these two guys come up to me.

"excuse me, how are you."
he grabs my hand, tries to hold it - not uncommon in africa, but usually after you know someone first.
"i'm very fine, how are you?"
"we are just wondering, if you know that it is against the law, what you are doing now."
"this beach area, it is against the law to take photographs here."
i pull my hand away, back up a step.
"this man here, he is a police officer"
(they are both dressed in old tshirts, shorts, and flip flops)
i think for a minute...
"you guys are crazy."
i start to walk away.
"excuse me, sir. we have told you this, now you must stand up some words. you should be punished, you are breaking the law."
i turn my back to them, start walking away. they follow me.
"sir, excuse me, we must now go to the police station."
i walk quickly, looking down at my feet - i'm about 10min from my hotel, but on the main road. i know that if i just stay walking, ignore them, don't say anything, they'll give up.
but they keep following.
i cross the street. heart beating a little faster now. they're not walking as fast as me, but they're still following.
i know that these kind of guys are a little unpredictable, but usually get bored quickly. they're still following.
if i can just make it back to the hotel, i'll be fine.
"excuse me" (louder, from 100ft or so behind me) "we have said this to you, now you must stand up some words... we go to the police station"
i can see my hotel ahead.
i turn into the gate of the hotel - the luxury of safety, the protection given foreigners with money, is apparent.
they don't follow me inside.

now, i'm back in my room, writing about it on my blog.

i was never really THAT scared, i knew what to do, but it's good to remember that things are different here. everywhere in the world has its own set of customs, accepted behaviors. here, taking pictures of random people at the beach might be culturally unacceptable. maybe this was just tanzania's way of telling me that.

zanzibar will probably be the same way, at least. but to me, the benefits outweigh any potential inconvenience such as tonight. the economics of traveling by yourself in africa. don't worry, mom, i'll be careful. =)

the pictures from tonight.

that last one is by far my favorite of the bunch.

my taxi driver embarrassed me today...

i've had the same taxi driver this whole week in dar. we met on the first day, at the blue pearl hotel in ubungu center where the tanzania met agency has their offices. he's a young guy, about my age, and i like him. generally, if you smile a lot, i like you.

since then, he's been sitting in the same place, at the same time (around noon), every day, waiting for me to finish my meetings.

wednesday we tried small talk - "where you from" ... "usa" ..... "america, is very powerful country". "which type of phone do you have... i need to get a card. my phone doesn't work here." .... "celtel... it is the best" ... "ok, that's what i will get then."

yesterday he gave me a discount b/c "i'm a friend". this morning, also, he arranged to meet me here at my hotel to pick me up in the morning - even though he lives on the other end of town, by the blue pearl hotel.

on the way home today, we talked about barack obama. "he will be very good for africa, and for my country."

we were stopped at a traffic jam/intersection.

outside, a man walked - well, hobbled - up to us. he was wearing knee pads, because he had no legs below his knees. in africa, there is no such thing as wheelchairs. (unless you can afford them, which, how could you if you have no legs and can't work?) immediately my friend, the driver, reaches into his ash tray and pulls out a 100Sh coin (about 10 cents) to hand to me to hand to the man. of course, i'm in stare-straight-ahead-and-ignore-him mode, as i've been taught by all the guidebooks. i handed him the coin, and we sped away. the situation humbled me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

a haiku for tanzania

curry, dhow, and palm -
a mix of cultures under
the african sky.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

a walk around my new hotel nabe...

just got back from a short walk down the street from my new hotel (on ocean rd.) it's beautiful here. i'm just down the street from the undp office i went to yesterday morning - their building is the old american embassy. must be nice, huh?

(this last one is my current hotel)

the market

Here are some pictures (taken this afternoon) from the market that I mentioned in my post last night.

woman on the street

sorting beans and rice

chicken for sale

coconut vendor

selling fruit

down the alley

tanzania meteorological agency

So, things here are a bit different than in Malawi. We haven't had much contact with Tanzania Met (TMA as they like to be called) before I arrived, and they are a bit skeptical (mostly they just want reassurance that we aren't going to "cut and run" like other projects). So this visit has been a little less clear cut - and more diplomatic. I'm meeting with the Director General tomorrow, but I already have the lead agrometeorologist on my side, and I think it will just be a formality to organize things officially, but still - it's definitely not as easy here as it was in Malawi. Plus, I'm by myself.

I did get to meet briefly yesterday with the UNDP country representative for the Millennium Development Goals that is my project's unofficial representative in Tanzania. A smiley Tanzanian guy, very much the politician and bridge-builder. (He had a brand-new 3G iphone) Before he left me, he said "Remember, these are real people out there in the village. They need our help." I think it was the little bit of grounding that I needed to set me on my way.

I'm also scheduled to give a presentation on Friday morning. (Before I go to Zanzibar for the wknd... =)

p.s. also, I switched hotels today - from the dusty downtown to the green tropical beach. same price. how could i not? more later.

Monday, July 21, 2008


check the old posts... there's some surprises! (thanks to high-speed-peacock-hotel-internet.)


Sunset... and that means evening prayers in Dar es Salaam.

Imams chanting, beckoning their flock over loudspeakers to the local mosque.

Women with heads covered rushing past me holding little hands, leading them down the dusty street.

Young men guarding handwoven baskets brimming with rice, beans, tomatoes... everything for sale.

It's a whirlwind.

Could I have been in Union Square a week ago today?

Where another market shops its organic bread and pesticide free tomatoes to people who talk on iphones?

The tomatoes here are pesticide free too, but not because of some do-gooder's choice.

People here are just worried about today.

But there's poverty in both places... (poverty of the belly here, and poverty of the spirit at home)

There's theft in both places... (theft of the future here, and theft of the now at home)

And there's hope in both places... there will be a sunrise tomorrow in both places.

Maybe we're more equal than we think, after all.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In Dar.

Made it to Dar es Salaam about an hour ago. Checked into the Peacock Hotel, and now resting up for my meeting with UNDP and TZ Met tomorrow morning!

What a whirlwind.

I'm even crazy enough to think that I might head back to Zanzibar this weekend before going back to Malawi on Monday (28 Jul). Last time, it was.... interesting. Hope the TZ border guards are more friendly this time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mt. Michiru

So the hike this morning was fun... it was only 2 hrs or so (I thought it would be longer) and only about a 500m (1500ft) elevation gain, but it was nice still, and the views were amazing.

When we got to the gate of the Michiru Conservation Area (the guidebook claimed there was a 'visitor centre'... all we found was a locked gate), my taxi driver and I waited for something to happen. He didn't speak a lot of English (I've found that for being an official language, along with Chichewa, not as many people here speak English as did in Uganda), so I just kept staring out the window, looking at the trees. Pretty quickly, a man ran up and began speaking with the driver. All I heard during this time (about 5min) was, "...*chichewa*....... conservation area.........*chichewa*............*more chichewa*.........conservation area... (some pointing)....*more chichewa*....." The taxi driver then asked me if I wanted to climb the mountain, and I said "sure". "...*more chichewa*...." "Ok, let's go."

I walked up to a little guardhouse, paid 50 Kwacha for the park entry fee (the equivalent of about 40 cents), and I was off.

My guide (armed with a shotgun, though, I'm not sure what for) walked up the dirt road for about 15 min before we turned off on a trail. It seems as though the only two things that people around the mountain come there for is 1) collecting firewood (they have to pay K10 for the permit... and yes, it's a conservation area, but like in most of Africa, there are concessions made to local people trying to maintain their way of life near the park) and 2) to visit a large christian shrine halfway up the mountain. We saw many signs for "The Way of the Cross" and a few fancy looking metal pieces of art (almost) depicting scenes from the stations of the cross. (probably related to the very large, very fancy, and very new-looking christian church I saw in the taxi on the way... it kind of upsets me that people come in and build these churches (as if people in Malawi need a new church more than clean water, or mosquito nets, or jobs for that matter - but don't get me started. At least at this one there was a "workshop" next door). In the background though through this first part of the hike (and again coming down), we could hear women (and men) singing in Chichewa and occasional drums. It was beautiful.

My guide was super nice. (maybe b/c we could really understand each other that much) I saw a lizard on a rock... and got a little excited - stopped and took a few pictures. When I caught up with my guide he made a motion like "what was it?" and I held out my two fingers about 6 inches apart "A lizard". "Oh, a snake...?" Close enough. I did find out that he has been working at this conservation area (about 10-20 sq miles, pretty small) for 17 years. He didn't look too much older than me, but I think people tend to be older than they look here. I imagine he knows the park pretty well.

Walking up the trail, every now and then he would point at a smaller trail and say "A shortcut". We took a lot of shortcuts, and he was definitely in better shape than me. Occasionally, I would stop and "take pictures", to catch my breath. He would also end almost everything he said with "Sure, sure"... as in, "these are natural trees, and those ones are pine... sure, sure". "Are there many animals in the park?" "Yes, we have many animals, sure, sure." ........ "What kinds of animals do you have?" "...Excuse me?" "Which animals are in the park?" "We have many monkeys, yes, many monkeys, sure, sure". I didn't see any monkeys today, but I did see a few pretty cool lizards.

We got to the top pretty quickly, and he pointed out everything you could see from the amazing view. "Over there is <> township, and over there is Chileka airport (the one I came in to), and waaaay there are the mountains of Mozambique." Awesome.

Back at the bottom, I gave him K2000 ($14) for the 2hr hike. I don't know how much I should have given him (they didn't say... but the K50 entry fee was a bit crazily low) - but that's how much I paid for dinner last night. Seemed appropriate.

On the way back to Blantyre city, I took my first "matatu" ride since I arrived. In Malawi, these overcrowded means of public transport are simply called "minibus". At most, there were only 8 people in my minibus (stated capacity of 15) - I think the record back in Uganda was 22.

So, now I'm back again, just 4 hrs after I left. Good trip though.

the road up the mountain

the "trail" and my guide

the first viewpoint

blantyre from above

lizard #1 (he blends in so well!!

lizard #2

carrying firewood

mountains in the distance... "natural trees" in the foreground

from the top

Hurricane season update

So, I've not lost track of my priorities while traveling around Africa the last few days.

Things are brewing out there... and this coming week could be an active one with storms potentially heading for both the Carolinas and the Gulf... but keep reading.

Hurricane season has been off to a quick start so far this year, in both the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific. The Atlantic just got its third system yesterday (with another one to come soon... more on that later) and the E. Pac is up to 6 already. Less than two months into the 6 month season, that's a lot. (Both basins normally get about 10-12 named storms per year). Generally though, when the E. Pac has more storms than the Atlantic, that trend usually holds for the rest of the season (as in El Nino years). So, counter to the pre-season forecasts, what we've seen so far seems to point towards a more normal-ish season for the Atlantic. But as a wise forecaster once said, "it only takes one storm to have a bad season." Very true.

Hurricane Bertha has been alive nearly the entire month of July. A pretty amazing storm, really. It was the farthest east-ward forming storm in recorded history in July (just a few hundred km off the coast of Africa!), and is now the longest lasting hurricane in recorded history in July, and the longest lasting hurricane in the Atlantic since Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Bertha went through two periods of rapid intensification during its lifetime - reaching Cat. 3 twice. Earlier this week, Bertha scraped Bermuda as a Cat. 1 - but other than that has pretty much stayed out of people's way.

Last night, a depression formed off the coast of Georgia - and is expected to barely reach tropical storm strength (it would be given the name Cristobal) as it heads along the coastline toward North Carolina and out to sea. Probably won't be too much of a problem.

The one after that... is what I worried might happen while I was away. Right now, it's not technically even a depression yet... but it will be given the name Dolly when it forms in 2 or 3 days. The storm has remained consistent for the last couple of days off the coast of South America. Its expected track should be south of Jamaica, near the Yucatan peninsula, and into the Gulf of Mexico - where, as you know, hurricanes have a tendency to do some bad things (at least in the last few years). Yesterday, one computer model (GFDL) had this storm hitting Houston as a Cat. 5 next Thursday (Jul 24th). At this point, it should be taken as just barely more likely than science fiction, but it gives you a hint at what is possible - just a heads up.

I'll be giving more updates as things develop.

Friday, July 18, 2008

meeting the director

This morning I met with the director of Malawi Met. He was a very friendly guy, and pledged to support us in our project. I didn't really do a lot of talking, actually, just kind of sat there and listened to him talk with my colleague (who he knew back from his training days). He did seem really interested in what I had to say though when I did talk, and I think he or someone from his staff might join me on my trip next week to the village.

I also got some rainfall and maize yield data that we will use in our contracts for the Malawi village, which we hope to complete this year. That was maybe more exciting to me than meeting the director - b/c my job is living with this data - and trying to get it to do what we want. So, I'm excited to look through it this week.

So, I'm getting used to this, I guess - having some meetings in the morning, writing a report/follow up email to my boss in New York in the afternoon, and then a walk in the evening. Rough life, I know. Tomorrow though is officially the weekend, which means that I can rationalize taking the whole day off to do some hiking. I think I'm going to go here.

I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: My taxi is booked for 9am for Michiru Mountain!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

my walk

so, again, i don't have the capability to upload any pictures... but my walk didn't let me get many really good ones anyway. the age old question in africa: can a black person be a mzungu? (mzungu = "traveller", at least according to david, who if there ever was one was a black mzungu) basically, mzungu = white person/tourist. if there ever was a black mzungu, they would have to look something like carlton on the fresh prince of bel air. plaid sweater and fanny pack.

so, they DO use the word mzungu in malawi. and once again, it's amazing to me how much attention a person can gather just by walking down the street. i took my camera with me, which was kind of the point of the walk, but also just to get out of the hotel, which, though i've only been here 24 hours, seems like i've been in this room for weeks. probably cause i stayed up until 1am last night making my powerpoint for the lecture this morning. i'm going to bed early tonight.

but anyway, the walk. i walked up and down the length of both "main streets" in blantyre - supposedly the largest city in malawi (i'm not disputing that fact, but it would have only taken me about 20 min to do that walk if i had hurried). just so you know, at the intersection of those two streets, there is a small bank, a guy selling phone cards, and a hotel parking lot. very anticlimatic.

the most interesting part was walking through the main market. (i couldn't find the mzungu market - crafts and such) so, africans like their cheap chinese-made electronic gadgets. stall after stall was cell phone covers, misc. power adapters, cheap little toys (like the happy meal kind), one guy was selling handfulls of naked barbies, and i DID see a guy selling suit coats but i chickened out b/c i was getting too many strange looks. i can just hear it: "hey mzungu, what is your size? i give you nice price. where you from? this is your first time in my country? come, please have a look!" as i left the "market" (the one with all the brick stalls and covered roofs), i saw, across the street, on the curb spread out on dirty tarps, the vegetables, potatoes, pyramids of tomatoes, and fish that i had expected to see. guess they know their priorities. there were a couple of awesome pictures i missed of women dressed in brightly colored traditional clothes picking out tomatoes with a baby bundled on their back - but the vegetable sellers wanted to charge me to take a picture of them. so i kept walking.

i stopped at an ethiopian restaurant on the way back (the guy has been living in malawi for 12 years and was dictating prices for a new menu for his employee to write out the whole time i was there). it was nice to have ethiopian food in africa - but about the same. except instead of being in a trendy, dimly lit room in the village, this "restaurant" doubled as a small grocery store (but the only thing i saw for sale was bananas and sweet potatoes), a cd store, a sunglasses store, and also.... you'll never guess.... new suits! but i want a USED one... jeesh.

heading back to the hotel, it was getting dark. the brightly full moon was rising behind some pink clouds, above the mountains on the edge of town. so... i looked to my right, and...... the southern cross!! it was much higher in the sky than i expected. but, i knew it right when i saw it. awesome.

the main intersection in blantyre

on the street, with a baby bundle

vegetable market

street vendor

the southern cross

1st presentation to Malawi Met

This morning I made my presentation to Malawi Met. Pretty anticlimatic considering how nervous I was about it. Actually, it went very well. They seemed very interested in the project, and our willingness to include them as a full partner not just as a data source. I'm meeting with the director tomorrow, to confirm that they're on board.

They were definitely all wearing jackets and ties. I at least had a belt on and my shirt tucked in. Guess I'll need to buy at least a jacket for my next trip. Actually... I might be able to buy one here. A lot of my longsleeve button-up shirts I bought in Uganda. Recycled from clothing donations from the US and Europe. Pretty cheap for good stuff.

The most memorable part of this morning though was probably the breakfast and walk to the met office. Full buffet here at the hotel - and I mean everything. There was a woman making eggs made-to-order, so I had a tomato/green pepper omlette, fresh pineapple, some small croissants, potatoes, juice and coffee. But they had a few different types of yogurt (real yogurt is hard to find in Africa!), and tons of other meat and breakfast things, all impractically presented on big plates with cloth napkins all around. Nothing yet has shown me that this isn't the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at.

But the walk to the met office brought back the out-of-place rich foreigner feeling (if the super fancy breakfast hadn't yet). Several times in the 5-6 min walk I was approached by street children, and walked past mothers begging. Once, a small girl walked past, with a baby bundled on her back - pretty common to have kids here take care of their younger siblings - only this girl was only slightly bigger than the baby. The older one couldn't have been more than 4 or 5. It's just shocking... you think you get prepared for it, but then it's like nope. Not prepared. The worst part is that it's not that great of idea to give to people begging on the street in Africa - b/c you get swamped. So unlike life in America, you can't buy your way out of this one.

UNICEF is high on my list. Donate now.

The whole meeting process, from leaving the hotel to back in my room, including a breakfast meeting, only took 4 hours. So, I'm about to change into jeans/t-shirt and walk around for a bit. Wish me luck... I'm sure I'll have more stories tonight.

malawi met building

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

some bad news and good news...

good news first... meg, you'll appreciate this. i went down to the business center to try to get a better internet connection, and the song playing on the mp3 computer is "O Christmas Tree". Classic, classic Africa. Hey, it's technically winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, right? Speaking of, that reminds me that I want to go out and look for the southern cross tonight.

Ok, the bad news is... Malawi is very similar to Uganda in that the bandwidth for the internet (country-wide, probably) really, really sucks. It took about 10 min to upload that last blog post, and it was only text. I've been trying for about 2 hours to upload a picture from my camera phone (1mb!!) and it's still not done. So, unfortunately, that probably means no pictures from this trip on the blog until I get home.

But the stories will still be worth checking... so stick with me guys!

what just happened?!?

talk about totally different worlds.... I now fully stand behind my earlier opinion that South Africa is very similar to the UK or US. At least compared to Malawi.

Landing in Blantyre about 2 hours ago was like landing in the village in Uganda - directly. Megan, you'll appreciate that. A different world. I saw kids gathering water by a small river, little groups of houses with dirt paths connecting them, some men working on a broken minibus, and the beautiful, rugged landscape of Malawi in the dry season.

Stepping off the plane, I couldn't help but think, where the heck am I, and what am I doing here? About half the plane was filled with a group of people from North Carolina on a mission trip to an orphanage. There were also some white south africans and random other europeans on holiday. Only about 10-20% would I guess were Malawian natives. And those were pretty clearly businessmen. Basically, I felt uncomfortably wealthy making this trip.

There was about 100 school children on the second floor of the airport (and by airport, I'm thinking of the one in Nepal... if you looked at all of our pictures from last fall, you'll remember) - I don't know what they were waiting on, but it reminded me of a school fieldtrip. "Look kids, those are all the people that are coming to visit our country!"

This was also the first time I have ever had someone pick me up from the airport holding my name up on a sign. The met service sent me a driver. My first business trip: Blantyre, Malawi.

About 5 minutes out of the airport gate, we already had to stop to let a man with four goats cross the road. Along the way, the driver pointed out local places to me (the road to Lilongwe (the capital), the boundary of the city, the names of two nearby mountains I had seen from the plane. This whole time we were following an overloaded pickup truck carrying a trailer filled with who-knows-what under a tarp. The driver told me "when you see a truck like this, you can be sure they are coming back from South Africa." "So... are they traders?" "No, they are people that have been kicked out of the country as they were looking for jobs. But these are lucky ones. They got to bring their belongings back with them." Africa. Unemployment is so high in poor countries like Malawi that people will drive 1000 miles to south africa just to take a chance on their booming economy. When a country where 3 out of 10 people have AIDS is considered booming, you know you're in trouble. My driver said that he finished his education 10 years ago (college) and just got his first job last year, as a driver with the met service. And I can see in his eyes that he is very thankful.

At the airport, I changed $50 to Kwacha. This got me about 7000 Kwacha. 500 of this I gave the driver as a tip, 200 I gave to the man at the hotel who took my bag up to my room for me. I have decided I am leaving tips this time. Megan, you have to admit we got a little bit stingy in Uganda.

The hotel. Is. Probably. One. Of. The. Nicest. Hotels. I. Have. Ever. Ever. Stayed. At. For real. When I was checking in, a girl brought me a fresh glass of passion fruit juice (joo-iss). Just so I had something to do while I waited. You can see pictures of my room below. It's pretty self explanitory. It reminds me of all those hotels we went in just for lunch, and to gawk at how people could afford this sort of thing in Africa. Honestly, I'm thinking about switching to another place. Diplomatically, my boss said that I should book at whatever hotel the met service suggested - but I have some serious issues with staying here when those kids back at the airport will probably sleep on matresses on a dirt floor tonight. If they have a matress.

AND a housekeeping girl just knocked on my door, gave me a chocolate mint... "I have this for you"... and left.

More later.

airport in south africa

airport in malawi

malawi village while landing

malawi hotel room (compare with above picture of village)