Malawian Rice Vendor

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Zambia round 2

It was nice to get back to Chipata and Dean's Hill View Lodge. Dean is an affable British chap who is slowly building himself a quaint lodge. Set on a wooded plot over looking the town of Chipata and the rolling hills beyond. Even though we are only 30 kms from the Malawian border and still in the heart of Southern Africa, we seem to be worlds away from Nkhata Bay. Zambia appears to be in much better financial shape than Malawi. There are more cars, and bicycles and the store shelves have a much wider selection available. Even the outdoor markets seem to sell a greater range of vegetables all of which look a lot healthier. We ended up spending a couple of nights at Deans just relaxing and taking in the sights and smells of the heavily Islamic influenced town of Chipata. We seemed to be two of only a very small handful of travelers in town. We spent a lot of time cruising the isles of the local Shoprite market searching for long sought after foods including yogurt! In Malawi we were only able to get our hands on a yogurt like drink that was quite sour and not very flavorful so a liter of yogurt in a variety of flavors was instantly a hit. Along with finding a fresh pineapple, we were in heaven. On the way back from the store with our hands full of groceries we decided not to make the 4km walk back to Dean's Hill, instead we hired a couple of guys with bicycles. We both sat on nice padded seats and let the boys do all the work while we enjoyed the lush scenery. The 20 minute ride back to the guest house cost us .50 cents each. We decided to see if we could make a move Westward the next day towards Lusaka and eventually back to Livingstone. Dean informed us that the best time to catch a bus was early at 5am so we tried to plan accordingly. We got to bed early at night and set our alarm for 3:45am - Yikes! This was so that we could disassemble our tent with enough time to catch our taxi at 4:30am. We double checked with reception that there was indeed a taxi coming at that ungodly hour then fell asleep to the sounds of blaring music from a nightclub down the road. We did feel a bit like senior citizens going to bed so early. We slept ok thanks to heavy duty earplugs which we never leave home without. Jeff woke up at one point and looked at his watch... it was 4:12am!! Obviously we had slept through the alarm. In record time, in the darkness of the Zambian night, we were miraculously able to disassemble our tent, deflate our air mattresses, pack all of our gear and sleeping bags in exactly in 19 minutes, all this from a deep sleep. On cue, the taxi honked his horn at exactly 4:30am as promised. The short ride in the darkness to the long distance bus station cost us only 20kwacha ($4 US) even at that unseemly hour. Upon exit of the taxi is when the real fun began. We did not reserve seats with the preferred bus company the day before (don't ask why we are usually much more proficient)_ As we grabbed our bags, we were literally surrounded by a dozen or so touts each screaming and trying to grab our packs to lure us to their respective buses. Normally this would not have been so bad but at4:30am with no coffee in our bellies and in the pitch dark, it was a bit overwhelming. At one point, Jeff screamed at the top of his lungs to these guys to "BACK OFF" but his voice barely carried over the madness. We were finally able to find a corner to hide and stow our packs. While Jeff sat watch, Erika set off to find a bus that was departing at 5am sharp and hopefully was fairly direct. Of course, each tout proclaimed their bus filled all of our stringent criteria including being the "safest". Erika had the smarts to ask the conductor of the bus that was already full which company he recommended and the gentlemen was nice enough to escort us to the departing bus. Once we got ourselves and our packs loaded onto the right bus, we found a couple of seats in the middle (this is the best spot, not in the back, too bumpy, not in the front, in case of an accident) of course the kid who helped clear space in the empty bus wanted money for placing our bags in the back (about $5) even though he did actually nothing to assist us. He was quite adamant that we should pay even though none of the other (non-white passengers) had paid a single kwacha. We held firm for quite some time before he realized his efforts were fruitless. Luckily the bus took off shortly after 5am thought only half full which we knew meant that it would not be a nonstop affair. Sure enough we made a number of stops picking up passengers and their worldly possessions along the way. Zambian buses unlike their Malawian counterparts seemed to limit the number of passengers. This meant there were no people stuffed in the aisles though we did share the ride with an odd chicken. We were able to make pretty good time on the tarmac towards Lusaka. Zambia in stark contrast to Malawi is quite sparsely populated. We did not pass too many settlements along the way. The scenery consisted of rolling, verdant hills as far as the eye could see. The change in seasons was apparent as they are heading into the "hot" season. Many of the lush trees were starting to lose their foliage. We were able to pull into Lusaka by 1:30pm and by that point we both decided to try and fore go a night in the hell hole called Lusaka and press on towards Livingstone, another 8 hour bus ride away. As luck would have it, we were able to procure the last two tickets for the 2pm bus onward!! We crossed the station and after stowing our packs, climbing aboard the bus just as it was pulling out of the station. Of course, only 15 minutes into the ride, barely on the outskirts of town we had to fill it with petrol so that instantly added a half hour to our long journey. One still can not fathom why they don't fill the bus ahead of time but TIA (This is Africa). The ride to Livingstone was actually uneventful which was a nice change and we were comfortable for the most part as we headed West following the sun as it slowly set over the outstretched savanna. Our backsides started to become sore and the last couple of hours that we spent cruising through the darkness of the Zambian night we fidgeted until we could find a comfortable spot. It was apparent that the driver felt as we did because he seemed to swerve from one side of the road to the other only keeping to the correct side as oncoming lights approached. I must admit I have never been a fan of night driving especially in a third world country. We finally pulled in to Livingstone a little after 10pm some 18 hours after we started our day. Fortunately for us, Jollyboys Backpackers had a campsite available because all the rooms were fully booked. Somehow, we were able to pitch our tent in the dark and shortly thereafter fell soundly asleep, the end of a very long day....

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Farewell Butterfly

We ended up staying in Nkhata Bay through the 17th. The protests turned out to be a non event as the UN intervened and all was quiet. We did prepare for a worst case scenario buying loads of food and having an emergency pack filled with all the bare necessities for an easy escape. We figured worst case we would grab one of the many dugout canoes and paddle as far out into the lake as possible. We laugh now at the thought of us two paddling furiously out into the deep waters in one of those small canoes. It was a good thing that we were able to stick around Butterfly because two occupational therapists arrived on the 17th from England. These two young ladies, Moyna and Yvonne were absolutely incredible. We were able to spend a number of days with them escorting them to the various small villages where all of the different members of the special needs group lived. These two extremely talented women were able to meet each child and after spending a considerable amount of time and obtaining background information from their respective parents through a battery of questions, they were able for the most part to assess each individuals needs and then design a program tailored to help each child try to become more independent. We were both fascinated as we watched these two miracle workers do their magic. Whether it was showing the children that are affected with Cerebral Palsy or Polio, a series of stretches, or helping the learning impaired with charts of repetitive actions, they both seemed to know exactly what was needed for each individual. We learned an incredible amount from these two. The biggest challenge they faced besides working with limited or no resources was in trying to convince the family members that they were there to help. Most people were very skeptical to say the least. Having relied for many years on witch doctors for most of their medical needs, to bring them around to Western ways was no small task. The thought of the villagers was that by saying a few prayers and drinking some concoction, the children would be "fixed". It was obvious to all of us that this method did not work. Unfortunately the families had over the years spent a kings ransom to these "quacks" with no tangible results. Usually putting the child's health more at risk since they did not seek proper medical advice (not that Malawi has much in the way of resources). The wealth of information that we were able to obtain from these two Brits was at times almost overwhelming. However, it gave us such an insight to how one is able to help even a little people with disabilities try to lead more productive lives. At one point, while in the house of a small child whose body was ravaged by the effects of polio we were brought to tears as the ladies tried to lay the girl flat on her stomach to stretch out her poor, mangled limbs. She screamed in pain as the girls tried to massage and coax her to lay flat but to no avail. All in all, it was an incredible week shared by us and these two amazing women.

We made one more long hike up to the home of Jonathan, one of the nightwatchmen. He had invited us several times to visit his village and each time something had come up and we were not able to go (usually one of us had some sort of stomach ailment). The long walk (1.5 hours) was strenuous yet stunning as we climbed the hills behind the lake passing through several small villages along the way. The climb to Jonathan's house was well worth it as we were afforded several beautiful panoramic vistas of the lake below. We were both amazed at how difficult the terrain we had to cross in order to get to Jonathan's humble abode. Both of us in awe of this wonderful man knowing that he made this epic journey twice a day, six days a week in order to get to his job at Butterfly. We had the extreme pleasure of meeting his family.. They prepared a wonderful meal for us consisting of casava (a vegetable tasted much like boiled potatoes) some steamed green vegetables and a hard boiled egg. We were both almost in tears as we realized that the family had enough food to feed themselves and that even one egg was a considerable luxury. We remembered passing Jonathan one day on the way to town a few weeks prior in his hands he was carrying about a dozen cracked eggs and a few almost rotten tomatoes up the hill to his village. We knew he had bought those discards because a whole egg or fresh tomato was well out of his budget. The things we take for granted. After spending a few hours playing with the kids and teaching them hopscotch and a few other games we made our way back down the long, dusty trail in virtual silence, reflecting upon how blessed we truly are.

Our planned departure was scheduled on Wednesday. This was because Alice was to get married on the 27th and most of her family and friends were coming in for the big day and she needed all the available space. We packed up and arranged a wake up call for 4:45am. We contacted a taxi to pick us up at 5:15am so that we were assured on getting a seat on the 6:30am bus heading for Lilongwe. That morning Jeff was yet again not feeling great as his stomach was in turmoil. We sat patiently watching the sun fill the early morning sky and waited for our taxi. 5:15 passed, then 5:30, by 5:45 we were able to get one of the night watchmen to call for another taxi. By 6:15 when neither showed up we decided that we would adjourn back having found out later that there actually was no bus due to the fuel shortage in Malawi. Jeff, not feeling well was secretly smiling inside knowing that a 9 hour bus ride in his present condition would have been hell. Having been evicted from our "luxury" suite, we were put into the last couple of remaining beds in a dorm in the afternoon. We mentally and physically prepared ourselves to get up once again with the roosters. This time, however, we were offered a ride from Roan, a lady who was in Nkhata to attend Alice's wedding. The two English girls, Moyna and Yvonne, decided to leave a day early to ensure they made their flight in time so the four of us set out together for Lilongwe. It was nice to have the company since we all got along fabulously. The 9 hour ride along the lakeshore is the usual, eventful journey. The over-packed, rambling bus which reeked of bad B.O. and vomit made it's way down the Western shore of Lake Malawi. Almost immediately a small infant got hit square in the head with a hard piece of luggage that had become dislodged from the overhead rack. The poor boy continued to wail throughout the long ride as it became obvious he was not well. About two hours further into the journey we witnessed a teenage boy get hit by the truck in front of us as he was riding his bicycle. As the bus slowed we sat helplessly wedged into our seats as he lay motionless on the ground streams of blood oozing from his severly fractured leg. Instinct told us all to go to help but it was impossible to try and fight through the mass of humanity that was crowded onto the old bus. It was probably a good thing that we were stuck only because we were not prepared to help with any medical supplies. With the amount of blood flowing from the wound, we would have all been very much at risk to a number of infections including HIV. It was such a sick feeling knowing that there was really nothing any of us could do. We just hope that this poor kid was able to receive some type of medical attention before he bled out. Further along the road we witnessed another girl whose arm got slammed shut in the bus door as the driver, not realizing she was there, began to move. She screamed in agony as he finally released the door's grip. All in all it was just another "typical" third world bus trip. Thankfully we arrived in one piece and found a great hotel in Lilongwe. Clean, quiet rooms with a hot shower and even water pressure. Best of all, much to Jeff's delight the room price included a breakfast buffet. We both got a great nights sleep and woke refreshed for our next journey over to Chipata, Zambia. After bidding farewell to our new friends, we made the 5 hour journey by a series of different mini buses and taxis to the border. At one point, having to change transportation modes in the middle of nowhere because one mini bus refused to go further. We walked through both immigrations and fetched a taxi for the 30 KM ride back to Dean's Hill View where we had stayed some months prior. Looking back on our time in Malawi, and specifically Butterfly, we are in complete awe in what the two girls, specifically Alice have accomplished in such an impoverished place. Both of our lives have been changed forever and indeed for the better. We just hope that the minute fraction that we were able to contribute in our time spent will maybe make a difference......

morning time

Mornings here are by far our favorite time of day. It is impossible to sleep in here. The day commences at first light long before sunrise the shades of pastel orange and gray streak across the sky illuminating the misty waters of the lake. The sun makes it´s leisurely ascent over the distant silhouette of the mountains of Mozambique. The gentle sound of the waves lapping against the shore wake us. The sound of women as their bare feet slap against the smooth stones coming closer as they near the shore. Their voices sing out like birds. The tones are anything but hushed as they echo against the jungle floor. Several of them descend upon the shoreline like ants to a picnic. Buckets full of soiled dishes and laundry perched perilously upon their heads. Dropping the buckets on the minute strand the clanging of dishes echo softly across the water. Last night’s pots of nshima are allowed first to soak first in the shallows of the illuminous waters. As the dishes soak, the soiled clothes are thrown into the lake one by one. Once wet soap is applied and then the women beat and knead the ragged fabric against the smooth rocks much like a baker kneads his bread. Once finished the lake makes an ideal place to rinse the soap. As the soap quickly dissipates into the clear waters, canoes each hand dug start to appear coming in both directions as just a dimly lit outline of their muscular bodies and paddles can be seen. Most of them are paddling inland from last night’s fishing expedition heading to market with their evening´s catch. The early morning conversations are lively between the passing men in their crafts and the women along the shoreline. The sun continues its slow climb into the sky as more canoes fill the waters. We sit in awe drinking our coffee as we watch the day to day life of these amazing people. Oh how we do love the morning time on the lake.....

Monday, 22 August 2011

Hospital Visit

Unfortunately, we made an impromptu visit to the Nkhata Bay Central Hospital yesterday. The good news is that neither of us was in need of patient care. Poor Alice, though had come down with some type of illness which she thought could be malaria. The same day a number of us including Jeff came down with something that seemed to be food poisoning symptoms. Alice too had complained of general malaise, nausea, achy bones just like the others. Both Jeff and Erika were a little panicked at the time because of the fear of malaria crept into their heads. For Alice after about 3 days of not feeling well and having gone to see the private doctor who administered a rapid malaria test which proved negative at the time, she came home. It is our understanding that the rapid test though effective can show many false negatives before showing a correct positive. Alice finally relented and went by taxi to the hospital. All of us thought she was being silly not going straight away. She was admitted immediately and ended up spending a couple of nights. On day 2, we decided to go visit her. Jeff was starting to feel a bit better from his prolonged ailment so we made the walk over. The hospital is about a half hour walk from Butterfly space and visiting hours are early in the morning which we missed, or noontime. We decided to go at noon and made it over in the searing heat of the day. Upon approach, the first thing we noticed as we got closer to the hospital was many women outside sitting in large groups. Upon closer inspection many of the groups had small fires lit with pots of nshima cooking. Many others sat trying to catch what little shade was available to them for a quick nap. We found the entrance and came into the decrepit building, immediately our nasal passages were assaulted at the stench of vomitous. The dark, dank walls had not been thoroughly cleaned since the buildings inception. We walked down the dimly lit hallways passing several women who sat perched against the scruffy walls. Many sullen and downtrodden. There did not seem to be any hospital staff in sight. We passed several wards along the maze of dirty corridors before we stumbled upon the room that held Alice. The large, sombre room with worn out paint and solitary incandescent light bulb filled the room. The beds which numbered over 20 were sectioned off by 3 foot high cement walls with 6 beds to a section. Upon quick observation we noticed that about two thirds of the beds were filled with the acrid air overwhelmed our senses as sounds of people weeping filled our ears. Looking around there was not a single nurse or orderly to be found. Family members crowded around the various patients trying to talk in subdued tones. The hospitals in Malawi are a little bit different than home. Here they supply a bed. That´s it. Linens, blankets, food, drink, toilet paper water is all brought in from family and friends. The mosquito nets that hung above like cobwebs in the dusty house were filled with many holes. The patient next to Alice who was having a tube inserted into her mouth when we entered, her mouth being pried open with a spoon by her family member. The sound of her retching and choking mixed with the putrid smell was enough to turn our stomachs. Alice did not look good. Her white skin looked gray in contrast to her golden locks. Her arm was hooked up to an IV which was filled with quinine, the medication that treats malaria. We could only stay a few minutes because there were other people in the small space and we didn´t want to disturb. She ended up leaving the following day even though she was due to receive the third dose of medicine. This was because she would have had to stay an additional two nights because there is nobody around on Sundays to discharge patients. We just hope that we do not need the services of the local hospital.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


For those of you that got the chance to read a previous posting, we just wanted to let you all know that we do actually volunteeer more than just one day a week. Though Mondays are by far our favorite days here in Nkhata Bay, we do truly enjoy the rest of our week. Along with special needs school on Monday, on Fridays, we make our way back up to Liwell's. We have been helping his mother, Martha, out with teaching Liwell basic household chores, laundry, dishes, personal hygiene and general cleaning up are things that he desperately needs to learn. We have definitely seen some progress since our initial visit because now when we do our Friday visits, he will usually have his clothes in a bucket ready to be washed. Rachelle and David usually also join us so that they too can get into a routine. We really enjoy ourselves when we go into the village. Many of the village kids come running out from their humble abodes, screaming Hello as they gather around us as we walk the dusty pathway towards Liwells house. The life here is so simple. The women are usually gathered near the house doing various household chores while the men may gather under a nearby tree, talking or playing "bau" a favorite African board game. If the children are not in school, which many do not have an opportunity to go, then they too will follow on the gender lines with the boys running around playing games while the girls are helping with the various duties of the day. Nobody in any of the villages that we have visited have electricity or running water so it is very common to see the small girls carrying large buckets sometimes as big as themselves. They fill these buckets at the communal pump which sometimes is located several KM's away from their houses. It amazes both of us that they have to walk so far in each direction in order to fill just one bucket of water. Other girls and women will have huge bundles of branches balanced precariously on their heads which they take into town to sell for less than $1. Often these girls will go lengthy distances into the nearby forest to gather the wood so their daily journey is several KM's just to make one dollar. None of the houses that we have visited or passed have any type of indoor fireplace so obviously there is no indoor heating. Even though we are situated in the tropics, we are at elevation so the nights can get especially cold. The harsh reality hits home when we see these small girls sometimes no more than 6 years old, struggling to lift and carry these heavy bundles of branches. These girls along with their brothers should all be in school. AJ and Josie have implemented a policy that they will not buy any firewood from these children if they come around soliciting their wares during school hours. As far as schooling goes this is another area that we are trying to help. Tuesdays through Fridays Jeff has been running a tutoring program in the early afternoons. Helping children with math and English with the occasional science or geography lesson for good measure. The kids range from about 9-14 years old. For the most part, all of them are very eager to learn as Jeff has tried to make the lesson plans fun and varied so the kids won't be bored. He has had as many as a dozen students show up for any given class so it is usually only 5 or 6 that will attend on a consistant basis. Erika, meanwhile, has been helping with an afternoon kids club program. Butterfly, through a series of donation and funding from a local rotary club in England, has built a building where the children are able to come for a few hours every afternoon after school. This is an opportunity for them to escape their daily lives if only for a short while. Basically letting them just be kids and be able to play and not have to worry about doing chores. Erika along with the help of AJ and a few other volunteers over the past several weeks have organized games, coloring contests, drama projects and other assorted activities helping take the children's minds off the day to day struggles that they endure. Erika really enjoys all of the kids. Usually the group numbers upwards of a couple of dozen though they are disproportionally boys (the girls are usually stuck at home). It is quite amusing when we walk into town as Erika has become quite a celebrity with these young men. Inevitably one or more shout out her name as we pass by usually coming up to shake her hand and greet her. We have also been providing computer lessons for the community at large. Here at Butterfly, they have built a community resource center where anyone can come and use any of the several laptop computers that have been donated. They are able to check their email or do research all for free. There is also lots of material available for reading from sustainable gardening to infectious disease prevention to general knowledge and other various educational materials. Since most of the people have never ever seen leastwise used a computer, it is quite a challenge teaching them the basics of how to use these amazing machines. All of them are quite keen to learn. We start off just logging on and off and how to get acquainted with the mouse. Erika has concentrated her efforts on teaching both word and excel programs trying to get everyone to be able to produce a resume for themselves. Meanwhile, Jeff has been teaching people on the basics of the internet. It is quite funny how that part of our teaching has evolved over the past several weeks. At first it was just how to be able to access the web and to look up things on Google, people were fascinated by the wealth of information available at the push of a key stroke. Jeff eventually started opening email accounts for people and this led to several people asking about facebook. Now, it seems that Jeff spends most of his time training everyone on the intricacies of Facebook. This has turned into a nearly full time job as each day, more and more people approach Jeff wanting to set up their own account. Many of you may laugh at this but it actually is a very good thing here. Not only are we helping these impoverished people learn about computers and the internet but also we are helping build a social network where they are able to meet other people from the Nkhata Bay area and beyond. Luckily, Jeff has brought a camera with him so now while setting up all of these various Facebook accounts, he can immediately take a picture of these individuals so that they too can have a profile photo for all their friends to see. The smiles that come to their faces are priceless as they get to see themselves up on the computer screen. Since a digital camera is only a distant dream for everyone here they all are fascinated by the instant gratification that the digital world provides.Many have never, ever seen a photo of themselves so it is so cool! Before we left the U.S. we would have never thought in a million years that our miniscule contribution to the impoverished of this continent would be setting up Facebook pages

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

august 17

We are facing a bit of a dilemma. The plan all along was we were to stay here at Butterfly until around the middle of August. Our visa actually expires on the 13th which falls on a Saturday so in order to renew it, we would have to probably visit the local immigration on Thursday just to be on the safe side. Since the initial visa into Malawi is free, subsequent renewals are quite costly for the additional 30 day stay. Under normal circumstances that really would not matter since we have budgeted for visa expenses which can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of any trip abroad. Here in Malawi, things are moving away from normal. Though it received little, if any, press in either the UK or the USA, there was a major event back on July 20th. Huge protests broke out in the 3 major cities of Malawi. Blantyre, the largest, Lilongwe, the capital, and Mzuzu, which is only about 45km's from where we are at here in Nkhata Bay. People demonstrated against the current president. He was elected into office several years back on a platform of being a man of the people. Over his first term, he had actually implemented several policies that the general population liked including a huge fertilizer subsidy program that has helped many of the impoverished farmers around the country. It seemed that Malawi was heading in the right direction. He was in fact so popular that back in 2009 he was elected for a second term along with a parliament that gave his ruling party a super majority. That is when the real trouble began. Shortly after his re-election it was discovered that the president had been accumulating mass amounts of wealth including a huge farm outside of Lilongwe. This, despite the fact, that he was only receiving a fairly modest salary as president. Immediately, many of the NGO's that have been operating in Malawi began to question these improprieties. Many started realizing that some of the funds that were allocated as aid to this impoverished country had disappeared and actually ended up in his pockets. In late June the UK decided to pull it's high commission from Lilongwe and also put a stop to it's aid coming in to the country. This was followed shortly thereafter by the USA following suit and halting most but not all of their financial support. The effects of these actions have had a HUGE impact on the fledgling economy. Gas and diesel shortages abound throughout this tiny nation. We have talked to several people including a few travelers that have been forced to wait in lines up to 7 or 8 hours just to buy fuel. This, in turn, has led directly to a sharp increase in prices across the board. The effects of which are becoming more and more pronounced. Things finally came to a head back on July 20th as thousands of people took to the streets throughout the country. Demonstrations were wide spread and the grossly undermanned police force and army had an extremely difficult time controlling the masses. Several people were shot in various locations with the majority of the casualties happening just up the road in Mzuzu where 16 people were gunned down and scores more were hospitalized with gun shot wounds. Hundreds of businesses were looted, many having been burnt to the ground by the throngs of demonstrators. The mob mentality snow balled to incite the masses. People were angry and rightly so. Though the demonstration happened only on the 20th of July, shops and businesses were closed for several days afterward. We noticed even here in Nkhata Bay that many of the shops were closed and only about a third of the amount of vendors appeared on the streets. The government was successful in the meantime shutting down most if not all communications throughout the country including radio stations, newspapers, TV, internet and even closing the airport for a couple of days to prevent people from getting information. Since that time, things on the ground have begun to deteriorate even more. Petrol has become more and more scarce leading to many of the long distance buses and minivans to be canceled. The ones that are fortunate enough to be running sometimes become stranded in the middle of nowhere for the lack of fuel. This leads up to our dilemma. We really do want to stay here until around the 21st of August. We feel we are able to accomplish quite a bit and are really enjoying our time along this idyllic lakeside location. However, it seems that people and underground groups are planning for more mass demonstrations on the 17th of August. They are demanding that not only the president step down from office, but that a whole list of grievances be addressed. The president has been quoted in the newspapers that he is willing to make compromises but yet he has no intention on stepping down. This could be a major problem. People are angry with just cause. As the August 17th deadline approaches, daily life has become a bit more interesting. Personally we have noticed a larger police presence even here in tiny Nkhata Bay. We have also seen a sharp increase in prices such as basic staples including rice and vegetables. The shared taxis and minibuses have been forced to buy petrol on the black market. Daily scenes of gas siphoning are not uncommon. We have also noticed that far fewer vehicles are out on the roads and that the taxi cues are about half the number of what they were only a few short weeks ago. The pickups that we are dependent upon to get up to the small villages where we fetch our special needs kids, have even tried to charge us double the usual price but since all of the locals that have ridden with us protested we too have argued vehemently that we would only pay the normal 50 kwacha price. But as fuel becomes more scarce, we may have no alternative but to pay these inflated prices. Both of us have talked between ourselves and to others trying to get a feel for what may or may not happen. The overwhelming opinion is that Malawians are a very peaceful people. If anything does happen it will be an extreme minority and everyone has said that we have absolutely nothing to worry about. Neither one of us want to get stuck in Lilongwe or any other big city without an exit strategy. We really do not want to leave this beautiful spot prematurely because we feel we have so much more to give but we may not have a choice.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Seems hard to believe that we have been here at Butterfly for more than 7 weeks, time has literally flown by. We have fallen into a great groove! The philosophy at Butterfly is to contribute to this beautiful community of Nkhata Bay in ANY way possible. There is such a dearth of everything here. This is why when volunteers show up, be it for a few days or in our case a few months, they have the flexibility to help this diminutive village. Butterfly is obviously well known in Nkhata Bay and it's environs. They are involved in several diverse projects, everything from helping to staff the local kindergarten to planting sustainable gardens throughout the locality. There are so many things that we all take for granted back home that people here do not even have a clue exist. People lack basic skills of all types here. The one skill they do possess is the skill to survive no matter what it takes. Most if not all have an enormous desire to better themselves, to try and improve their necessitous plight. Butterfly is trying it's best to help in that area. For example, Josie has started a radio group. They are gathering, writing and producing a local news show in the local language. The news is read over the airwaves for all of Northern Malawi, the idea being that the group will learn how to hone their writing, reading, producing skills etc... With the possibility to make money in the numerous fields within radio. That is just ONE of the endless avenues yet to be opened here. Ourselves, we have found plenty of ways to keep busy. Starting with Monday which happens to be one of our favorite days. Mondays are the days that the special needs kids come to Butterfly for school. The group is absolutely amazing and each child is a true character. We have had so much fun spending all day Monday with these great children. We both have an overwhelming, new found respect for people who devote their careers and lives to this noble profession. We have a friend back home, Amy, who has been teaching special ed for a number of years now. I honestly don't know how she does this day in and day out, it takes a truly special person to dedicate their lives to such an overwhelming need.

Since George, our faithful interpreter, hasn't been well enough since his earlier episode (see earlier story), the two of us have taken it upon ourselves to gather the kids for the school day. This entails going up to the village and fetching them, then bringing them down to the meeting point along the far beach front where the boat is able to pick up the entire group and take them over to Butterfly Space. The village we have to go to is literally a 5 mile walk ALL up hill from Butterfly. We have made the walk a couple of times but lately have been a little lazy and have taken a ride in the back of one of the many pickups that ply this road which cuts about half the distance from our journey. We know we are responsible for walking the kids down the hill to the beach so we can all catch the small boat over and it allows us the opportunity to sleep in just a “little bit”! We head up to the house of one of the older boys in the group whose name is Liwell (pronounced Lye-well). His mother is an incredibly sweet and generous woman who greets us warmly upon each visit. Her English is excellent so we are not in need of an interpreter which makes dealing with Liwell a bit easier. We generally show up at Liwell's house right around 8am but usually Liwell is nowhere to be found. He knows that Mondays are school days but that doesn't seem to matter to Liwell. Liwell is usually out on a little “walk about”. It seems this is an usual practice for him and his mother has no control, part of this stems from the fact that Liwell is well over six feet tall and quite strong. Before attending school Liwell's mother, Martha, insists that he take a shower. She will not let him go without one. But for poor Liwell, getting him to the shower is an ordeal itself so generally we have to wait, and wait... She graciously serves us tea and biscuits while we all sit eagerly waiting for Liwell's return. Eventually he returns and we can hear him from inside the house as he is quite vociferous. Once he is securely in the house then the real fun begins. Among the many of Liwell's afflictions is ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. Once he does meander inside, Martha is constantly trying to coax her beloved son to go outside and take a shower (actually a bucket bath in a little bamboo cubicle outside the house). Liwell wants to do anything BUT get himself clean. He runs around the small 4 room house distracting himself in as many ways as he can possibly find. Meanwhile, Martha keeps telling him that we are there to take him to school and he needs to get in the shower so that he can be clean. This charade goes round and round for quite awhile. Around 9am, two of the other children, David and Rachelle, show up. They somehow instinctively know that Liwell won't be ready. Just the same they sit down in the modest living room and watch patiently as Martha tries to steer Liwell towards his shower. Eventually she does succeed, he actually showers, brushes his teeth and slowly, methodically, gets dressed. This happens all the while as he is talking to whom ever will listen to “lord knows what”. Finally, we are able to get him sorted, we collect the other two kids, say our goodbyes to Martha and march down the dusty track towards the main road. It is about a 10 minute walk to the main road and as we pass each and every house, not only are we greeted but so is Liwell as he seems to be a celebrity in his own right. People will shout Liwell's name and occasionally will return their greeting but usually not as he is in his own special world. On the way to the main road, we pick up one more girl, Chrissy. She is also quite the character. She is the type of person who CONSTANTLY needs attention. She is prone to grabbing things away from people and immediately crying when she can't get her way. This girl knows no boundaries. She too is extremely difficult to keep motivated as we slowly walk towards town. Along the way, she is constantly trying to beg for money from anyone she can. If she does succeed in securing a few kwacha she is off in another direction buying a small bag of peanuts or mandazi (Malawian doughnut). The two of us try to place ourselves both at the front and back of this small pack. In front is Liwell's domain since he takes long, gliding strides. In the back is where Chrissy seems to want to be as she stops EVERYWHERE trying to beg. Erika usually will take Liwell. It is quite an amusing sight watching the two of them going hand in hand, Liwell swinging his hands as Erika tries to keep her shoulder in tact. In the meantime, Jeff is trying to corral Chrissy keeping her from darting across the road where the sporadic cars zoom by at warp speed. Luckily for us both David and Rachelle walk down without any problems, both probably laughing inwardly as they watch us trying to keep the other two in line. It is about a 45 minute walk down the main road to the beach sight. Luckily the other kids, 5 or 6 are waiting as they are able to make it down on their own. The exception being Mauna, he has cerebral palsy and is unable to use his legs from the knee downwards. Luckily, his brother faithfully carries him on his back down to the meeting point. He has to walk down a series of sharp, winding turns from their small village high above the lake. Once we are all gathered, we are able to load onto the miniscule vessel for the short journey across the bay to the adjoining shore. The day with the kids goes by extremely fast as Alice's varied lesson plans always include several games, songs, a cooking lesson of some sort and many different hand/eye coordination activities. Lunch is always served usually around 12:30pm. This is probably the only decent rounded meal these kids will enjoy during the week. Before we realize it is time to go. We carefully herd the group back onto the boat for the return journey to the meeting point on the faraway beach. We give the four kids that we escorted in the morning some kwacha to pay for their return journey back up to the village. We find a motola (Pickup) where the four of them are able to squeeze in then we give the driver explicit instructions to take them to the junction where they can easily walk back to their little village. Since most of the drivers and touts recognize us by now, they understand that the kids need help and they are always very willing to oblige. Once we say our goodbyes and make sure that the four are safely on their way back home, we ourselves start our long walk home through the streets of Nkhata Bay. Since Monday marks the arrival of the weekly Ilaha Ferry, it also coincides with market day. The main street is packed with hundreds of vendors trying to traffic their wares. It is a protracted walk towards Butterfly as we tend to absorb the electric atmosphere and of course we end up buying a few, varied sundries ourselves. By the time we do make it back, both of us are exhausted trying to keep up with these special kids. Usually, we both collapse on the bed in silence reflecting on the amazing day past.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Two Tortugas

Taking it slow…One of the first things I learned about traveling (aside from the realization that people may speak English in the UK that doesn’t necessarily mean we from the USA have a clue what they are saying), is to take things at a leisurely pace. My first solo venture out of the states was to travel from one of America’s most picturesque cities, San Francisco, to London and the surrounding areas west of there. I spent about a week hanging about England trying to get my bearings before jumping on to the continent… Europe… From there it was a mad dash down towards the Greek Islands. I made it down to the islands in less than three weeks not only missing out on a ton of real estate in between but I went so fast that when I look back at old photos from that journey I have a very hard time recalling if the picture in question is in Munich, Brussels or Rome. I went through only big cities and much too quickly. Fortunately since that memorable journey I have learned albeit the hard way to SLOW down. I forget who it was that said “you can’t see it all” but how true that statement is. Even though the world is small it is quite massive just the same. Seeing various famous sights and landmarks around this wonderful globe is truly an amazing privilege. Being able to talk to local people, and even better, being fortunate enough to share a meal learning a little about their culture and to teach a bit about ours is priceless. The two of us have come to realize that having some flexibility in traveling is a great asset. Being able to change course in mid-stream. I once met a kid while I was hustling backpackers in Amsterdam many centuries ago.He had his one month Euro-rail pass, tucked inside the plastic pouch that they hand out to hold ones pass, he had written his whole one month itinerary. Every single train departure time, arrival times and train numbers. He was arriving in Amsterdam in the afternoon catching the early morning train the next day. For anybody that has been there and for those that have not, Amsterdam is worth a bit more than 15 hours. He was off to Where-ever, I remember asking him if he were to meet the girl of his dreams would have stayed. ..........Thank goodness he was able to go get his picture in front of the Heineken Brewery. This is not to say that we do not want to see famous landmarks and historic sights though, we do, but we have found over the years that being stationery in one place affords us the opportunity to get to know a place more intimately. We are able to befriend a few people. Whether it be street food vendors, t-shirt hawks, taxi or tuk tuk drivers or just someone from off the street, they all offer a little bit of local flare and more importantly knowledge to whichever place we happen to be. Sometimes after people have seen us a few times, they realize that we are just not whizzing through. Then they generally set aside the pretense of trying to make a sale and open up a small glimpse into their world. We have been truly blessed to be able to travel our fair share.Yet have only seen but a minute bit of this big blue sphere. In all that time we have learned that by not going too fast, we have been able to relax much more, take things as they present themselves, and enjoy ourselves. All without ever being held to a rigid itinerary. I am certain that we have missed many of the some more famous local landmarks or historic places in countries we have visited. However, if we were to have tried to see all that we could/should have, we would have spent most of our travel time on the various modes of transportation just going to and from the places, and not being able to stop and just enjoy the sights and sounds and most importantly tastes (current area notwithstanding) of the places we landed. There are choices we all have to make no doubt. We have both been fortunate to be able to take longer periods of time “off” to travel but even on our journeys that were shorter periods in duration we have tended to limit our scope of traveling to one or two areas being able to explore them in depth and discover little nooks and crannies well off the beaten path. Every single day seems to bring on a new adventure discovering fascinating places of interest maybe an obscure church or a locals only restaurant and café. I can not tell you how many times we have walked into a place and we were the only "tourists" any where in sight. It is like out of a movie sometimes as we enter and everything comes to a complete halt as everyone looks our way, mouths open in stunned silence. Sometimes we will just park ourselves at a sidewalk café or just on some random curb watching life pass by. To me these are some of the best travel moments unscripted and impromptu. The daily dramas that we have witnessed are indescribable. We may not understand a word that is spoken, however, we comprehend fully the context of the discussions. More often than not, a local will stop and engage us in conversation, sometimes in halting English, but just the same. Often this will lead to some sort of invitation this person’s village or home. When this first happened we were very skeptical needless to say. People in the US do not invite random strangers into their homes. If they did we would automatically wonder what the motive behind the invitation was. Here in Malawi like many other places we have visited many people just want to have contact with Westerners to find out a little bit about far away places that they will probably never, ever have the opportunity to visit. It is absolutely gripping. We find ourselves constantly [pinching ourselves at how amazing this world can be. We have learned so much about other lands, other cultures but most importantly about ourselves. The best thing is that we still have so much more to absorb......