Monday, June 29, 2009

after effects less than two months later

One night I dreamt that I was part of a street scene. Some people seemed either short or shaped different. Upon waking up I realized the short and misshapen people were those who had club feet, flipper arms, and one walked with his bottom on the ground with sneakers cut to fit into his hands. You don't see that kind of scene here in the States with correctable surgery and vaccinations such as polio. The misshapen people I've seen in Malawi were not limited to the poor.

Hygiene is heavily emphasized, especially with risk of cholera. Waiters or servers in any restaurant would come to your table with a pitcher of water and a basin for you to wash your hands. Or, there's a complimentary water jug with soap at the entrance. However in fast food places like the Hungry Lion, a dingy looking sink is screwed into a wall. Least there's running water and soap handy. In more fashionable chains such as Nando's - there's a pretty sink set-up in a nook. Back in the States, I was in a restaurant last Thursday with a friend and we spotted a small bottle of Purell on our table, next to the napkin dispenser. I thought, how nice, not need to get up and go to the toilet to wash hands.

Madonna has Mercy now. Finally. With so many poor people already taking care of relatives, it's unfathomable for someone to come and adopt a child from already overflowing orphanages. Most of the children are already sick from HIV or other communicable diseases. Many orphaned children prefer living on the streets than in orphanages and I can't say I blame them because some orphanages can't take care of every child.

Monday, June 08, 2009

a month and few days after the return

I have more or less adjusted to life back in the US. The excessive materialism (and I'm guilty, too having been sucked into H&M today - but hey I did need new shirts) still bothers me. The very available stacks of toilet papers and paper napkins are still beyond me. Before Malawi, I used loads of napkins to wipe my mouth or hands when eating or drinking, terribly conscious of any mess I might make. After Malawi, I use one napkin or not at all. A couple weeks after return to the US, I was prompted to use a napkin - probably because I was licking my lips and fingers clean. I don't use tissues much as I used to. If I have sniffles I would suck it in or ignore it altogether.

So far, especially in allergy season and having hay fever, I've not been sick other than typical morning sniffles. At all.

I discovered something during my stay in DC in the last few days - I can't do buffet style meals anymore. My stomach goes out of whack and I'm in and out of the toilet the next few hours, sometimes with a ring o' fire or two. Also, since my return I've not eaten many processed or canned food. The food I've eaten since January is usually straight off the stove or freshly prepared. Again, I've not been ill from seasonal allergies and rarely touch the sudafaded. Odd.

Other things beside the food - the streets (not counting cities) seem oddly bare of life. In Malawi, there's people everywhere at all hours - working, loitering, chatting. Even daytime here with no one on the streets is depressing. Highways and streets were not always occupied by automobiles - Malawians also walked on foot or on bicycle usually carrying their wares. There is no one riding on the back of pick up trucks and lorries. Automobiles and people are far apart.

Internet access - practically unlimited especially with the active Blackberry device in my hands - is disturbing. I'm fickle with the internet use because I no longer have to set time to be tied to my laptop for a fixed time frame. Once the fixed internet time was done I could focus on doing other things, not thinking I ought to be checking the laptop or the BB every other minute. I have been lax with my overall daily structure. A month has passed now - no more excuses!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Post from route 50 west - One week and three days after return to the US from Africa

I'm typing a quick blog from the Bolt Bus - quite a change from several weeks ago. The bus has its own internet and my laptop is plugged into a socket. Sweet. After months of being in a mild homogeneous environment in Malawi and upstate New York - I made a stop in New York City for several days. I'm now headed to Washington DC to graduate with my MA in International Development with a concentration in People with Disabilities and tie up any loose ends (like loans - eek) on campus. And see my poor and overworked Academic Advisor :-). New York City was nice and a rude slap. I'd forgotten how many nationalities live and work in the city, and how much I enjoyed its energy especially during peak hours riding the subways. Other than bathroom stalls stuffed full of toilet papers (totally opposite in Malawi) - fashion wasn't scarce either. The 80s style have been creeping in the last several years and after months away - every other young man is wearing Clark Kent style glasses frame. Whew. People watching is great. Malawi isn't a very materialistic country when it comes down to napkin rings and wearing the most trendy hat.

In a way, it's good to be home but I know I'll be back anyplace in Africa in the near future. I just turned 33 years old and is becoming quite set in my ways - but I will make this work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Liwonde National Park, Malawi

I decided to make my own trip before returning to the United States - I chose Liwonde National Park because according to the Bradt travel guide, it's supposedly the more pristine of the game parks in C entral Africa. The park is approximately 548 square kilometers close to Lake Malawi and one other lake, and the Shire River goes through the Park. The park is populated by hippos, crocodiles, elephants, antelope, monkeys, birds, and the African Buffalo. Three days without electricity and the prices were reasonable. Long as I chose only one tour activity I needed not to carry wads of kwachas money since like many places, the lodge I stayed at doesn't take credit or debit, in cash only. I did go a little over because I forgot to include the 16.5% VAT and I was not expecting entrance and exit costs of the Park itself. I was around 600 Malawian Kwachas short (5 dollars).

Chinguni Lodge was my choice of the place to stay, slightly cheaper than Muvuu Lodge, also in the Park. It used to be a home of a game warden so the common rooms were full of skulls belonging elephant, buffalo, imapala, baboon, and hyena I think. The environs were very rustic and nice - I wished I opted for thatched huts that supported covered canvas tents and a patio. I had a nice room inside the lodge with the beds covered by high quality mosquitoes nets, candles, my own hot shower and toilet. The meals - prepared English style - were decent and filling, but when you're not walking around like you're accustomed to, your clothes start to feel awfully tight after several square meals.

A favorite spot of mine to pass the time over the next two and half days was outside in a shade that did not change and breezes were consistent. The chairs were canvas with wooden frames, severed tree trunks served as a side table for either your drink or your feet to put up. The spot overlooked the lagoons of the Shire River. Nice. Sometimes I'd be sitting there with a bottle of Carlsberg Green and a novel or diary. The Lodge is part of the Park so one would be a lucky to spot an animal to saunter by. Once, a yellow baboon visited the lodge grounds munching on this and that in the bushes. It heard the loud rip of the brillo pad as I opened my camera and off it went. The morning I left the Park for Lilongwe and Zambia - I saw a large lizard that appeared prehistoric slowly crossing the open plain maybe 10, 15 yards in front of me. Consulting my guide book - it's a Monitor Lizard, a very big lizard that looks like it came in through a time machine.

I wasn't allowed to walk on my own outside the lodge - once I was wandering after taking some pictures of the baboon and the wildebeest, and a staff approached me on his bike with a note from the management. It said something like "you are not allowed to be on your own - the elephants are not friendly". Whoops. I didn't see any :(

My only mini safari trip was the canoe. It was good - more stimulating along the lagoons but out in the water, was kind of boring. Also, I'm accustomed to be paddling on my own - two men accompanied me; one as my guide (he patiently wrote out the sights) and the other to paddle. We didn't see any crocodiles, but saw hippos at some distance. My best photograph attempt were tops of their heads and fluttering ears. We saw several fish eagles, islands of moving reeds (I never could grasp that concept), and varieties of birds including Egyptian geese. It was a mild trip because many animals basically kept away from people and it was hot outside. The lodge provided a hat woven by reeds, shading my face and neck quite well.

Possibly the most thrilling part of the three-day stay was riding the motorbike. The lodge's safari truck - their only mode of transport - broke down so the lodge sent a motorbike to pick me up. I've never ridden on one before and the ground was uneven so a very nerving one for me. Wearing a helmet and gripping the seat strap, I tried to channel my fright into trust for the driver. Parts of the road were muddy so we skidded one or twice, sometimes the driver would go into the forest between trees, and some bushes scratched at my legs. I was very relieved when we arrived at the lodge but had a small pang of disappointment that the ride was over. The driver thought I was an awfully good sport.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

MANAD in Mulanje, Blantyre

Several days after completing the Karonga-Chipita Survey Trip, I met Euphrasia and other MANAD officials in Mulanje for a five day training in Organizational Capacity Training (how to work as an advocacy, identify issues pertaining to the Deaf, etc). Mulanje is a southern most town in southern Malawi not far from the Mozambique border. Due to long training hours I could not explore much of the area. On the upside, our motel where we also had the training contained a perfect view of the Mulanje Massif (for geological information, go to: behind us. Because of low clouds (not unusual in Malawi) that the Massif is often referred as “Island in the Sky” and we did not get the view of the full mountain until the end of the training when it cleared up. As far as Thyolo, I could see the giant base of the Massif, like Jack the Beanstalk's Giant's Elephant foot through the low and heavy clouds.

A minibus took me to Mulanje, from south of Blantyre via Thyolo (the tea capital of Malawi) on M2 which took over an hour. On the way back with all of us in the minibus – needing no additional passengers) took the M4 road which is a shorter route, a strikingly different scenery. On the M2, within couple kilometers south of Blantyre and all the way to Mulanje were fields upon fields upon fields of tea. I think at the moment all of the tea picked, cured, dried and made into individual cups of tea – everyone in Southern Africa that consists of 12 countries plus the tea loving United Kingdom and Ireland can drink at the same time. Tea plantations are quite busy, some open to tourism (nope never had the chance to go though I’ve planned it one time or other  ). A deaf Malawian I know used to work in a plantation, he and his wife picking tea leaves from morning to dusk. It depends on which company owns the tea plantations – some are generous with benefits for its employees while others are not.

It was rather hypnotic with miles and miles of tea fields and people employed to pick the leaves. In the old days, one had to pick by hand which can be painful. Now they have a special kind of large hand (hedge?) clip with a small basket attached to catch the cut leaves. I observed men and women in the fields with large baskets strapped to their backs, cutting and collecting and tossing it over their shoulder into the giant basket. Long hours for little pay unfortunately.

Thyolo, where I changed minibuses – we passed near one of the largest marketplaces in the country with dizzying variety of produce. There were maybe 5 foot piles of cabbages and kale freshly brought in. I never had the opportunity to shop there.
That’d be sweet. For a while we passengers in the minibus watched touts (conductors) fight over passengers, and one tout dissing a couple who decided to switch minibuses. Often we don’t have the pleasure of choosing what minibus to take. What can really anger a tout is if you go into his minibus and you change your mind and go into another minibus. You either argue with the tout or let the touts argue among themselves. It’s mostly shouting and finger jabbing but I’ve never seen it escalate. Other touts would interfere and calm the angry tout down. Sometimes the passenger would return to the original minibus to shut them up.

Anyways, since I arrived early at Mulanje, I decided to try an Italian place for lunch (real mozzarella cheese!). Couple hours later I was ready to go to the motel – I asked the waiter to hire a taxi for me because I was not in the mood to be piled upon by taxi drivers and pick one, hoping I will not be a sucker and pay too much money. The waiter returned and introduced me to the taxi driver. We went outside and expecting to find a cab, he gestured to his bike. I’d forgotten. Many towns do not have taxi cabs, only taxi bikes. I had my rucksack not only with a week worth of clothing but with some paperwork and laptop inside. The motel is two kilometers down the road with some rises and slopes along the way. I pointed at my rucksack and pantomimed whether the taxi driver is strong? He laughed and told me to get on. I tightened my rucksack, securing all belts and loops, and made myself comfortable on the passenger seat. I was grateful for the extra handlebar too, giving me more security to hold on. Not topple over backwards.

As in any other Malawian town – there are more pedestrians and bike taxis than cars, every other bemused (or amused, depending!) face looked at me grinning. All I could do was wave.. A mazungu with a rucksack, on the back of the bike. The driver pumped his legs up and down the whole way and I was impressed he didn’t stand up for more traction. I gave him a tip for his good humor :). When we arrived at the motel, two MANAD Board members were grinning at my grand entrance.

Mulanje Massif attracts hikers and backpackers around the world – it is no easy feat. Some from my lodge went and returned with sore muscles and nasty blisters on their feet. The Malawian Deaf told me about local myths that the spirits and witchcraft cause disappearances of several backpackers. Evidently the Netherlands and one other country sent their teams and the backpackers were never found. Usually because they never hired guides – people I know went they came back because they hired guides. Better safe than sorry! Several times during training if a MANAD official was very late we’d go “witchcraft! Maybe taken away!”.

will post a picture or two..

Monday, May 04, 2009

Back stateside

Been hit by hay fever already. A nice welcome back. I am in a weird transition phase where I'm back in familiar surroundings (my parents' house) and thinking wow, did I really go to southern Africa then back here?

My 4 year old PC Dell laptop barely survived the trip. The poor thing needs rehabbing. Lots of clean up, backing up, and resting. Its internet won't work. Sigh. Will tinker with it til the internet start working.

Yes, will catch up blogging this week...

ta for now.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Behind in Blogging at Lusaka, Zambia

The last two weeks have been hazy pending the last days in Malawi with MANAD and impending finals via online course. I spent half the time researching and writing, and the other half having anxiety attacks thinking about the finals. I rarely do well mentally and physically at the end of the term. Especially since this is my last semester of my graduate career. To do an online course in a developing country’s weak internet infrastructure in your last term and prone to being neurotic, it ain’t funny. With the slower broadband connection and schizoid wifi – I've given myself so much grief. I think I have much more grey hair now than I came in with on December 30.

I just sneezed and took a look around in the internet café I’m at. No one is looking at me in fright. The Swine Flu hasn’t hit Africa yet (I'm enjoying the jokes on the FB, especially the bogus article about Miss Piggy getting arrested at the border) – so far as the information is released things seem decent. Malaria and AIDs here are scary enough. Perhaps with my uneven tan and faded clothing they think I’ve been here long enough not to carry the virus. I wonder what the scenery will be like when I pass through Heathrow and JFK airports this weekend. They'd probably detain me for sporting a Dorothy Hamill haircut (I had a decent clean up job yesterday from homemade haircuts I’ve been inflicting on my poor hair) the stylist did a good job and my hair was blown dry for the first time since Christmas. Still it’s wee short, but least the stylist cut my hair with intent on growing it out.

I have maybe four posts to write regarding my work with MANAD, griping about the internet, and touristy travel in Malawi prior to Lusaka. Will post again from London or stateside.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chipita Deaf and “not Deaf”

Chipita is a small and isolated town in the highlands close to the Zambian border. M26 is the only road linking Chipita to Karonga, nowhere else. If there was a road from Chipita to Mzimba, a town south of Mzuzu but closer to Chipita – the travel might be easier. The two days were used by returning to Karonga to spend a night and take the reasonably priced coach bus back to Blantyre that leaves only at noon. The town is unpaved with cattle and goats roaming the streets and between marketplaces. Mazungus must be far and few because many children were fascinated by my presence. Many would wave hello or stare at me. One child came up behind me to look at my tattoo on my forearm – I nearly jumped when a fingertip traced my tattoo. A group of school children went out of their way not to cross my path. One girl was afraid of me and her friends tried to pull her across but they took a back alley and around a building.

We had much work to do in only two days and we were exhausted but we plowed on. We stayed at this Roman Catholic Church lodge complete with a bar (“Papists” The Poisonwood Bible’s Bible-thumping Baptist minister Nathan Price would have muttered) for two nights. Exhausted from the 5 hour trip ordeal in a taxi cab on M26 – we retired early just in time for a blackout. Also during our stay, the showers weren’t running but we were supplied with pails filled with hot water for bathing. The hot water at my lodge in Blantyre was broken for nearly two weeks by the time I left for the trip so hot water was heaven for me, even by pail.

We had one solid lead in Chipita – a teacher at Karonga gave us this schoolteacher’s contact information in Chipita. Karonga had called ahead and the schoolteacher that met us – riding his bike – with a stack of handwritten lists of student names. They were all “deaf”. We soon found out that Chipita had an oddity – many, many students and adults had a degree of hearing loss. Many of them complained of an infection in their ear and very few we met were functionally deaf. At least one man we met wore a hearing aid donated by a South African NGO. The rest wanted a hearing aid. And they do not sign. Like in Karonga, a national association for hard of hearing will be better suited for these goals. We also met a hard of hearing school teacher who relied on his students shouting their answers back to him. We distributed survey for the record keeping purposes, that many hard of hearing people reside in Chipita.

Not all is lost. The schoolteacher contact is very resourceful. After meeting a classroom full of students with a mild hearing loss – Project Advisor Euphrasia Mbewe asked them if their doctor said they have hearing loss. Upon replying no, Mbewe sent them out – all left except for one student. Her father came by to affirm that she does indeed have a hearing loss. We hired bike taxis (the townspeople would stare at a long line of hired bikes passing by – one teacher on his bike, four Malawians and one mazungu clinging onto the rear of their bikes) since it was the main mode of transportation. Taxi cab drivers, upon noticing me = my presence means money = would demand higher prices. Not worth it.

We rode out to an edge of town where many villagers lived. We walked through the cornfields, passed a few huts until we arrived at one. A man came out to greet us and several moments later, his wife dragged their 8 year old girl who did not want to be out there with us. She was struggling and kicking against her mother’s hold. She calmed down once she and her mother sat behind the father and once in a while would peek at us. The family only spoke Tumbaka not Chichewa, so there was quite a lag in translating process. The teacher translated the father’s answers into English and Haji our MSL interpreter translated the answers into MSL. Advisor Mbewe wrote down the answers on the survey form. The situation is really sad – the only positive thing is that the family came up with home signs to communicate with the daughter. They are aware of Karonga School for the Deaf, but it is too far and the transport, clothing, and fees for books are costly. The deaf daughter can not benefit from Chipita local schools because sign language is not promoted. The family requested for access to open a small business so they can afford to send her to Karonga. We really, really felt for them.

Word spread quickly about our presence in Chipita. Our first morning there, two men on a bike brought a secondary school age male student who was in Form Four. He was oral and very bashful in our presence. His brother was the informant, filling out information. At the end of our first full day someone left a letter at our motel lodge requesting to meet us the next morning. The man brought his daughter, and his neighbor and wife brought their deaf son. The man and his daughter, it turned out her hearing loss was caused by her seizures (they were advised to get a hearing evaluation from their doctor) so away they went. The second family, like in the village with the little girl, they communicate with their son in home signs. Again, they knew about Karonga School for the Deaf but distance is too great. The village family and the local family recommended Chipita open their own Deaf unit within its schools or establish a school for the Deaf. The latter family also brought a written list of names of families that rely on signed communication with their deaf families.

Our survey trip to Karonga and Chipita was a big success despite starting with very few contacts. We were fortunate because school teachers and families of deaf children needed help and made sure that we knew of it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

M26 Between Karonga and Chipita

There are three signs in MSL for Chipita, a remote town in the far northwest of Malawi near the Zambian and Tanzanian borders. In Blantyre it’s “C” shaped hand sign in front of your face, forming a shape of the very top of Malawi meeting another hand, signifying the border of Zambia. In Chipita, it’s a “C” shaped hand above your head, outlining the top of the country border line. In Karonga, your hand snakes a few turns above your head before becoming “C” shaped and follow the shape like the second sign. The third sign is the most appropriate description especially if one is travelling to Chipita from Karonga.

Chipita, a town due northwest from Karonga is probably 150 kilometers long across southern Africa’s Great Rift Valley including many twists and turns that can last for miles. From our experience going there in a hired cab, and our return trip in a 4x4 pick-up truck the trip takes about 4 to 5 hours. I believe it is the last major motorway unpaved. The current Malawian president, Bingu wa Muthiraka, his paved road projects have made much more headway than previous presidents despite fits and starts with foreign assistance. His re-election campaign (presidential and MP election is May 19)’s motto is something like “look at the work my hands have done for Malawi” frequently with the road projects as a backdrop. M26 is facing delays possibly due to available contractors needed. And there is an uranium mine located on the motorway – we joked that Iran is buying from Malawi. Apparently, the muzugnu presence is far and few so I got more stares than I’m accustomed to. Another joke we had is I’m the real leader of the team, not Euphrasia. Once or twice during the trip, I shamelessly made the act of leading the team just to satisfy the stereotype.

Outside of Karonga, the dirt road is flattened, some areas obviously blasted and shaped for some miles and it becomes rough. Very frequently we come across a road partially collapsed by flooding (rains are frequent between November and May) and lack of maintenance. Some collapses are tiny and others are huge.

The population in northern Malawi is very sparse and the villages are far and few between Karonga and Chipita, including cars that aren’t many. I actually prayed for our cab and pick up truck not to break down in middle of nowhere. There is also a dead cell range smack in the middle. Outside of both towns, villages (growing mainly tobacco leaves, maize and cassava) were a-plenty.

On our trip to Chipita in a hired cab – it took five hours. The automobile suspension is low and whenever we tackled a difficult collapse, the men in our group – Byson, Malonje, and Haji would get out of the taxi cab and walk alongside.
Euphrasia and I remained in the taxi with the driver as he navigated the deep and/or wide crevices. Because the sun beat down on us the taxicab was stuffy and windows remained rolled down despite my left side of face and hair became grimy from the dirt. It took some good washing at the motel that night especially the crevices where my nostrils and cheeks meet. On the return trip to Karonga we rode on a pick up truck with its open bed piled with people, some standing and holding to the Hillux frame (the big black frames attached to the rear of the cab of the sporty pick up truck). The cost was probably almost cheaper by half than hiring a cab. Many lorries and pick up trucks, most of them empty after delivery would make extra cash by transporting people between the two towns, there are no minibuses or buses that travel on the route. Euphrasia and I squeezed inside the cab in one seat, and again I had the window. The driver indicated I should be the one riding inside, being white and all, but I invited Euphrasia to sit in with me. The men in our team were in the open bed with other passengers. The truck being 4x4 and higher suspension despite the heavy load of passengers in the open bed were able to navigate across the collapsed parts more easily than the taxicab and without incident. Once in a while the driver would pour water into the engine under the hood to cool it – the engine is working that hard. The trip back was shortened by one hour. The sun was really beating down and I wrapped my arm in my chitenga because it was burning. My left knee was sore from continually pressing against the door to give Euphrasia leg room, so the driver could shift gears without smacking into her leg. We encountered quite a few pedestrians along the route and the truck made stops for people to board and deboard. More people boarding actually, and I can’t imagine how the many passengers on the open bed with luggage and some produce squeezed inside the truck bed – it’s a regular sized pick up truck.

When we got off in Karonga, the passengers were encased in reddish orange dirt. Haji, our interpreter, used a t-shirt to wipe dirt out of his ears. My rucksack was also encased in dirt. I was grateful that the truck had slightly better shock absorbers than the taxicab and a little less bouncing and rattling around. Hands down, that is the toughest road I’ve ridden on. Some twist and turns would last for quite a few kilometers before returning where we turned, maybe a couple kilometers ago.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Karonga Deaf and the Town

We were very fortunate to find a group of deaf people in Karonga one of the northernmost towns because MANAD, to our knowledge never made contact there. A schoolmate of one of our team members lived and worked in Karonga so we contacted him prior to the start of the trip.

After our appointment with Karonga School for the Deaf, we headed to the market section of town. Limba works as a trained carpenter, sawing and fitting shelves into walls of small shops. Because he is hard of hearing and has many hearing friends, Limba is successful at what he does. He also uses sign language but one can tell he doesn’t use much opportunity to utilize them. The team walked through a semi-maze of shops and found him measuring planes of wood to cut. Two teenage boys assisted with grunt work. After being introduced to the team, he was actually puzzled at the concept of an interpreter but once explained he got it and seemed mildly impressed at the role, saying he’s never heard of one. Limba had contacted several deaf prior to our arrival and they met with us. Since they were illiterate and not reliable informants in how they acquired their deafness (none of them were born deaf far as I can remember), Euphrasia instructed them to take the survey forms home with them to their families and return the following morning. A hearing friend of Limba’s who seemed to hang around the place, took an active role explaining to siblings of the deaf of what is needed to be done (mainly because he can speak three languages, English, Chichewa, and the regional language, Tumbuka) since Haji, our interpreter is fluent both in English and Chichewa, other than Malawi Sign Language (MSL). Limba mentioned that two deaf – one worked as a tailor and another in a hospital were unable to come due to work, but gave us information where to find them.

The next morning, we returned to find the two same deaf individuals in addition to Limba (one never returned – we were told she was on her way from quite a distance. We could not wait for her) plus couple of new faces. They all brought their brothers and one her eldest son. I thought two of them smelled quite fishy and I couldn’t help but think about cholera (the smell is associated with the illness) but it turned out, much to our shock, the deaf mother and hearing son waded across a fast moving river – up to their chests – to meet us. When enquired why they not use a bridge, the mother explained that the bridge is too far away and would add more hours (eeps) to their trip to meet us. Other than Limba, the mother (names kept escaping me unfortunately because I was overstimulated) is the most verbal about feelings about being deaf and problems encountered. She had very little schooling and her primary communication is sign language. Her son communicates with her using sign too but was rather bashful doing it. The two other deaf women we met were not very forthcoming about their views – as if they were never asked what or how they thought and feel. I have met a number of deaf people like it back home in the US and it’s like pulling teeth to get information but they do not do it on purpose – they rarely had opportunity to be expressive with thoughts, feelings and ideas. The glimmer of information we were able to use about the deaf conditions in northeastern Malawi, one woman makes her living by sifting dirt and stones out of rice and beans and paid very little for it, and one man makes an almost decent living by doing a dirty job most people wouldn’t do – collect refuse and dispose of them. (Not all towns have sanitation control – certain neighborhoods in Blantyre, for example, do) The deaf mother ekes out a survival as a villager by growing her own food and making them into meals and selling the remainder of the crop. Her children and her siblings do subsistence farming and odd jobs for the family to survive. They don’t look shabbily poor – just barely to make ends meet and be able to present themselves well. The three, not including Limba, because of their profound deafness, never made it far in school because of oralism. They were either ignored or promoted through. One woman, in a rare moment of clarity, said she was not motivated to do anything because no one gave her reason to. That’s my best attempt at describing her situation in my words. She eventually left school after grade six or seven because she was not getting the benefit of education.

After we left the market, we searched for the two other Deaf. The hospital told us that she was home sick and gave us directions to her home – we did find the deaf tailor, a rather impressionable woman who gave us information however she thought we wanted it. She signed very little and relied on her younger sister who also worked as a tailor as an informant/interpreter. Euphrasia, a veteran in taking surveys immediately became suspicious at the information provided, eventually got the needed information. We ran out of time and unable to find the sick hospital worker, we left for Chipita another target town of our trip.

Karonga was very successful because we only had one person to start with and we added a deaf school to MANAD’s knowledge. We were very fortunate to come across two men with different spectrums of hearing loss – within an hour of our arrival into town fresh off the 14 hour bus coach trip from Blantyre. The first one, Briton, was a Deaf, capital D, from Mzuzu who was in town visiting a (hearing) friend. He spotted us signing and apprehended us, ensuring that we were really signing not gesturing like hearing people. We were very thrilled because he is one of the FEW deaf Malawians who do not use their mouths to form words as they sign (think Ben Moore in DC. MSSDers and Gallaudetians from the 1990s should know! Ben, I say this with love and honor ) – that is how repressively oral Malawi is. One of the motels we hoped to (and didn’t) secure – one man who is hard of hearing boarded there. He works as a senior administration director at the District Assembly office in town. He wears a hearing aid (he can talk on his cell phone easily – he was constantly interrupted by his mobile) and doesn’t sign. What really blew us away is when he informed us that his office did indeed receive the survey forms that MANAD circulated in mail last December. Steven, his name is, forwarded them to some offices such as welfare he thought could be of assistance but they were never returned to him. And MANAD didn’t get any from Karonga area.
Through Euphrasia, one of the things I am learning about is the population limit MANAD can serve – signers only. But for survey reasons we did not discard information from people like Steven. The MANAD Constitution explicitly says the primary mode of communication is sign language. To our knowledge, and probably not yet, there is no hard of hearing association in the country to better serve the interests of people like Steven and people we would soon meet in Chipita.
Karonga town, the sign name of it is “boat” “sailing” due to its proximity and growing reputation as a major northern town situated on Lake Malawi for boaters and hikers (tourism, what else?). The town is also a major crossing point for those coming from and going to Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. I took every opportunity to eat chambo fish because they’re fresh out of the lake, not refrigerated and shipped inland. My family and those who know me well will be shocked to learn that I ate the generous meat portions off its head, neck and behind the gills. Since my sister isn’t around to scrape them off for me, I sucked it in – tried to think of it as chicken as I scraped the skin and gills off the meat, then the meat off the bones, and picking remaining cartilage bones out. I set the remains in the bowl far away from my field of vision, and mixed the meat in with the rice and vegetables. My appetite remained, thank goodness.

Cattle roamed freely around Karonga and one had to watch out for the cow piles. Some resembled dry stacks of pancakes. I had the pleasure of stepping into a couple. One time, I was forced to walk through a herd that was grazing in front of the magistrate court (I didn’t have the camera on me!) they were all bigger than me and though mild-looking, their humps in addition to their horns and hooves seemed threatening. I tried not to jump as one of the cows bellowed in my direction. I must admit the calves with their little humps were adorable.

Long accustomed to southern Africans with the presence of people from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambicans among the Malawians, I was struck by the migrant (mostly beggars) population in Karonga – the Somalis and Sudanese. They were much taller, their facial features showing part Arabic ancestry and lighter skinned. Children were around, and Somali/Sudanese men loitered in groups. I don’t recall seeing the women anywhere. There were also few men that I identified as pygmies. They were much shorter than me (I’m 5’2ish) and well proportioned as full grown adults.
Karonga is more famous for its dinosaur, commonly known as Malawisaurus a 12 meter long remains of a plant eating beast with long neck and tail and tiny head, exhibited at its cultural museum in the among small exhibitions. We just returned from Chipita and we had a free evening before returning to Blantyre the next morning and though tired and fried I was I immediately took off to see it. The museum is nice and small with Karonga’s origins from the Iron Age before colonialism – the Portuguese and English, the local skirmish between British and German colonial armies located along the Lakeshore coast during the First World War. My fried brain, exhausted from the weeklong travel and fresh off the five hour trip on a dirt road through the mountains inside a cramped pick up truck – took in very little information from the museum. Then came independence from the British, the dictatorship and repression under Kamuzu Banda and the eventual lead into democracy today as Malawians know it with Bingu wa Mutharika.

For two days and nights, we stayed at this motel lodge along the Lakeshore. I did have the pleasure of seeing the Lake’s famous sunrise (well maybe after the first 45 minutes) despite heavy clouds. To my disappointment, the shore is fenced off due to security reasons and once we asked permission from one of the lodge staff to unlock the gate and he acted as our brief guide. I think at least 50 feet of marshland between the shore and the fence, we had to walk through a maize garden (what they call cornfields) to reach the solid shore for a look. Sunset had set in and we did not have our flashlights. Cattle also roamed the lodge grounds. Once I showed my exasperation when beef wasn’t available for lunch, I commented to someone that someone could at least walked out there to whack a cow and butcher it. The reply, dryly returned said that the local cattle aren’t tasty.