Monday, January 19, 2009

What I encounter and observe on Chileka Road, leading into the city of Blantyre are broken down into the following:

I typically leave Grace Bandawe Hotel and Conference Centre at 8am and join numerous pedestrians walking up and down the road, depending where they are going. School children, most of them dressed in white and blue or green (blue skirts or jumpers for girls, blue sweater for boys with school initials embroidered into their sweater) walk up to several schools, past the hotel. Adults, who I assume are teachers and administrative of sorts walk up too. The other professional dressed ones walk to town, I'm assuming they work in the bank, businesses, and retail stores. Most of them wear professional clothing in various degrees of style and newness or wear and tear. Few women wear traditional chitenga wraps over their work clothes.

Hawkers and peddlers – all women, men, and children carry their wares in baskets or bundles on their heads walking down to the city, rarely out of the city. I sometimes see them carrying luggage on their heads too. I’ve observed them putting the bundles on top of their heads – depending on the weight it’s usually the task of two people. The first person held the bundle in her (and sometimes his) hands, and the other to help heave the bundle onto the first person’s head. When they reach the balance they’re content with, the second person lets go. Most of them are poor, wearing secondhand clothes – women often wear chitenga wrap and rarely without children in tow (or tied to their back). Boys sell small meat pies, bread, nuts, cigarettes, and hard candy. Some of them walk among the people selling the wares and others have fixed spots along the road waiting for a passerby to show interest and stop. I’ve not tried them yet – I was warned by someone that my Western digestive system may not tolerate them. One day soon, I’ll ask a colleague of mine to point out anything that I can eat or not. Lastly, but not least – the phone people with plastic tables containing the Top Up logos. They remind me of the phone ladies in “Banker for the Poor” by M. Yunis. There are many of them dotted alongside the road and in the city – with a wireless phone and “top up” stubs for mobile phone units costing around 100 to 200 kwachas, depending on the company brand. I think in town, maybe half a dozen or more would line up on each side of a block. A fair many of them are women with a child or two, and there are a number of men also. Some men would stand on the road or highway median in hopes that someone stuck in traffic (usually by the roundabout or at the traffic lights) would be tempted to reach out and purchase a stub to increase their mobile units.

People outside working: Instead of men mowing the lawn, there are men and young boys swinging machetes the size of a slender hockey sticks cutting down the grass in even and steady arcs. They seem to follow the hockey rule – do not swing higher than your shoulders. Several older men would keep one arm behind his back as a precaution. On much larger lands, I saw a couple gas powered lawn mowers and even an electrical lawn mower, the man taking care not to mow over the electrical cord (think of trying to vacuum a room and holding up the cord). At the large shopping mall outside Blantyre, a man using shears cut grass on a tiny island in the parking lot.
There is a large marketplace, consisting of shacks selling mobile phones, shoes, clothing, repairs, very similar to the one Allen and I walked through in Lusaka, though not as big and sprawling. Some shacks and hawkers even placed themselves on the narrow footbridge across a shrunken creek. The peasants invaded perhaps half the city’s public lands, usually by the highway, the creek, some odd place here and there growing cash crops. The other day I saw a small patch (maybe 6’x6’) of corn. Now it’s been hacked down.

I see quite a number of cars and overland trucks bearing the logo or picture of a NGO office and EU offices driving around town. I’ve spotted a few offices on the outskirts of town. The only major development in works visible is the construction and maintenance of a nearly completed highway between Blantyre and Limbe, sponsored by Japan. The pathwalk alongside one side of the highway is completed and many pedestrians (including myself) walk alongside it. The pathwalk on the other side (towards Limbe) is still being constructed. There are many local workers working on beautifying the median between the roads (decorative stones cemented along the road) and roundabouts. Occasionally I see Japanese foreman and surveyors (both Japanese and local Malawians) checking in on progress and thinking over any snafus that occurred. I saw in the newspaper over the weekend that China is giving more aid to Malawi, and part of it goes to improvement of another highway between two cities somewhere in the southern region I think.

The city centre is compact, filled with many stores and business. Several times I failed to pay attention because at the edge of the city centre the scene suddenly changes into a leafy suburb, sort of like Minneapolis since half the city is suburban. I’m still learning the streets and shortcuts around the city centre so I often have to backtrack to the city centre. There are some parts of it I’ve yet to explore – mostly due to my energy stemming to fits and starts of MANAD (Malawi National Association of the Deaf) and the distance of my hotel from the city. I’m usually carrying my bag full of stuff in anticipation of going over them with MANAD.

By the time I think about exploring the other parts of the city, I’m slick from sweat and covered in dust, and my chest begins to complain from breathing in the diesel fumes from the city’s many, many minibuses (an informal public transportation). Soon I will dedicate a post on minibuses or matolas. I tend to be out and about from 8am to around 2pm. Once in a while I’d stop by Doogle’s a hostel by the bus stop for a beer – if I’m in the mood to walk across the lumpy parking lot full of holes and rocks, minibuses and large buses belching diesel fumes, saying NO to taxi drivers pursuing me asking if I needed a ride. It’s a very popular hostel for mazungus and they have some meals there as well if I’m in the mood for burgers and lasanges. They make WONDERFUL garlic bread. Heavenly. Once I return to my room unit, I’m taking off the sweaty and dust covered clothes then step into a cold (and refreshing) shower feeling clean again. Some reading and a siesta follow. Puttering around my room, walking among the hotel’s gardens, wash an occasional clothing item sort through my pictures and writing, then go to dinner at 630 pm.

My online course begins after MLK Jr holiday and basically waiting for MANAD to actually meet so they can have me follow them to places where the Deaf people work (some weaving factory outside Blantyre employs all disabled folks) and meet, visit Deaf schools near Mulanje, and plan the next survey trip upcountry.


Blogger MCC Brazil! said...

Kate, I'm so enjoying your descriptions! If it is okay with you, I'm going to have EDF 772 students read your blog, too.
Also, your emails are bouncing back to me so I'm wondering if anything I've written has gone through to you? The email ending with this bounces back:

1/19/2009 8:26 PM  
Blogger Kate O. Breen said...

argh - I have to turn off the gally forward to my blackberry. Tmobile promised me that it'd work here, but it didn't. thanks for letting me know.

Sure you can share with your students. any comments from them are welcomed!

1/20/2009 3:23 AM  

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