Sunday, March 01, 2009

Kabula and its people, foreigners and local

Kabula, a suburb in close proximity to Blantyre’s city centre, Kabula has an interesting mix of residents varying from wealthy and the celebrity (no idea who), some hostels catering to both foreigners and local, Indian business owners, some whites, several NGO offices including a FICA Small Loans, a Muslim private school, a couple orphanages, and many peasants in the outer reaches of Kabula by the Michiru mountain. On the way back to the hostel from the Michiru Mountain I glimpsed a great vegetable market down Michiru road but quite a walk and I’ve yet to do so. They contain more variety than the supermarket, and cheaper. On Kabula Hill Road there is Chez Maky, a 1930s house that serves a rather boring menu, but delicious food. Their crepes and French pressed coffee are out of this world. I love their crepe filled with chocolate cake and ice cream – sinful. There is a swimming pool at the charge of K500 (a little less than $4) if you do not order their food. I’ve used it and it’s very pleasant. If I have some money and decide to treat myself, that’s where I head to. Additionally, their wi-fi is superfast compared to Kabula Lodge.

Walking on the road towards the city centre, people continue to gawk at me even though I’m not the only white foreigner living in the area, but possibly the regulars have figured out that I don’t hear at all or they just like to look at me. Sometimes children would try to test me out but what can I do, really? Smile at them and wear invisible horse blinds, and proceed. That is part of my deafness that I’m unable to communicate with them with some reservation. Mine is all the way up, especially men who try to talk to me (one tried to sell carved wooden figures after initiating a conversation with me) and sometimes children who beg. It’s not worth my energy. Several times, I walked with a couple other hostel guest and they engage in easy conversation with locals. It’s reassuring for me but I cannot afford to let my wariness down.

Part of the road adjoining Kabula Hill Road is pretty narrow due to some deterioration of the road, with little room for two lanes. At the corner there are some vendors selling bananas and phone charge cards (I’ve bought these from them frequently – so convenient on the way home), pine or ground nuts, cigarettes, and sometimes maize. Automobiles speed by (no speed regulation) and I think my neck has thickened from constantly craning and twisting my neck to check because if the car speeds up I can’t hear the engine. If it’s slow I don’t hear it until its right alongside me. Hearing aids make a little difference. Also they pop up from nowhere, seconds after I’ve noticed. More than once there are inches between me and the car. Once, the speeding SUV was so close that I could feel the engine’s heat. Last week or so, I had the umbrella up (very hot and sun was hard) and someone grabbed it. I looked up and a minibus sped by and the driver shook his fist at me. I retorted by slapping my ears with a “nothing” sign. The driver gave me an apologetic wave. I’ve noticed Africans, yes hearing, in both Zambia and Malawi have some gestures for communication purposes – most commonly, “nothing” and numbers like ten. They are also incorporated in both Zambian and Malawian Sign Languages. It’s been helpful in many situations.

The area is not vulnerable to water shortages (I’m told to blame the Water Board) and electrical blackouts, they can overlap or occasionally happen at the same time that borders on annoying. During the outages, meals consist of munching on available cold vegetables and fruit, bread, other snacks that doesn’t require water or stove to cook. The locals probably have a laugh on our expense – we’re only supplied an electrical kitchen with running water, stove and oven, and appliances. When we have blackouts that interfere with our meals (lunch or dinner) we don’t have access to firewood and charcoal to build a small fire out of a small pot with a tri legged stand and a grate on top. Oh well. I recently saw a blurb in the paper that a local hip hop celebrity put his name to run for the commissioner of the Kabula suburb because of the “old infrastructure” (I have to assume water and electricity), that it’s a shame due to its being so close to the city centre. Two weeks was possibly the worst with water being out for three days, and an hour or two shy of the restoration of water, the electricity went off. The rest of the week, it seemed that the water and electricity took turns to be shut off. It was maddening and I’d lost a few, thankfully a few items in the fridge that I had to throw out. I spent money on dining out if I couldn’t abide another cold meal or one consisted of snacking. If it’s during the day, I would eat out and hope that the power and/or water are restored by dinner time. I have a couple tuna fish cans handy for such dinner outages. The newspapers warned that the blackouts will continue more frequently due to summer rains and the continuing corruption of ESCOM (electrical company) and the Water Board.

One morning, as I started to handwash some clothes some water faucets slowly drained out. It had a domino effect on other sinks and toilets until just after lunch, no running water. In the early evening the electricity went off – fortunately it lasted couple hours – the electricity came back on with running water. We were overjoyed. Now, it’s a daily occurrence either the water or electricity shut off – it’s a good day if it’s only one shut off that lasts couple hours. Candles come cheaply – less awkward and expensive than flashlight batteries when you’re in the bedroom reading, or trying to conjure a meal in the kitchen without cooking and using water. Candles and matches are sold in batches in the stores. I never realized that lighted candles can produce some heat when you’re using two on the table you’re working at. Can get a little hot sitting by the candles. Window and the door are opened in my room to tempt in the evening breeze. The summer daylights hours are very different from the US, even in the height of the season. Sun comes up around 5am and dusk is at 630pm – if the sunlight continued until 8 or 9pm as it is back in the Northeast, it’d be tad easier. So far, the longest and strangest daylight hours I’ve experienced are in Ireland since it’s pretty far up north. 10pm, the dusk time. I can imagine my friends up in Finland will scoff and say so what – I think they’re the same latitude with Alaska containing few hours (or less) of nighttime. Poisonwood Bible, one of the few novels about Africa I read prior to coming here, one of its main characters described that daylight begins and end in the Congo (where the story took place) at 6am and 6pm no matter what season. Possibly Malawi is close enough to the equator to have almost even number of day and night times.

The people I live with and are exposed to daily – cheap rooms, communal bathrooms and showers, and sharing a kitchen to cook in, aren’t the NGOs I hoped to mix in with. There are NGO folks that come and go, they don’t stick around much most of the day. One day, I saw a JICA truck (a very well-known Japanese development agency) but its people were hardly nonexistent and I’ve had a glimpse or two of them. The folks that I live and share the kitchen with are the younger sorts from the UK, Australia, and continental Europe coming in for several weeks or two months to volunteer at orphanages. That is approximately one half. The other half are medical students usually from the UK – a new one from Holland arrived the other day. And there’s the German one. They come here to do rotations, or research on tropical diseases and HIV, or explore practicing medicine in other countries. One of them, a brave one, works with children. She sees dead children – or those that come to die - nearly every day. I don’t know how I can stomach that (and I told her so). This week, she treated children ill from cholera (she said they smell like fish). There are some Malawian interns (doctors) that are staying in more expensive rooms and receive meals at the government’s expense. The child doctor grumbled to me that all that money could go to supplying medicine, not to pay for housing. I opined to her that it’s probably an incentive to tamp down the flight of skilled medical personnel to other countries such as South Africa. For orphanages I’ve heard there are both good and bad ones. I’ve not gotten around to (though I’d plenty of opportunities) visiting them.

Earlier in my stay, I befriended a speech therapist – out of all people. Her task in Malawi is to train rehabilitation staff to work with stroke victims to regain speech. She recently expanded to schools that have students with disabilities. I saw her today briefly after she returned from a two week stint at SOS Village School (the very same that I visited in Lilongwe to meet and screen teachers for the deaf for SLI training). The speech therapist was very frustrated how some teachers and speech therapists treated deaf children and children with disabilities. She asked me for some resources to “inform” them; for instance, a child with severe cerebral palsy unable to speak the staff would WAIT to determine whether the child is deaf or not. My friend told them it didn’t matter – find a way to communicate, even sign language, must be utilized to avoid development delay and affect cognitive abilities. They looked at her as if she came from another planet. It is too bad she doesn’t have much say in training these staff. There are few organizations that come to mind that specializes in training these staff for child development intervention but I need to flip through my resources to give her specific information. I’m glad that I might be of use for her. I can’t imagine her seeing that everyday for two weeks.


Blogger MCC Brazil! said...

Thank you for being careful on the roads, Kate. May your neck grow thick.

Where I lived in Recife, was 17 degrees S long. and our hours were 6am to 6pm. Blantyre is 15 S longitudinal so you are correct about it being close to the equator.

What kind of NGO people were you hoping to meet, I wonder....

3/02/2009 6:47 PM  
Blogger Peg said...

Hello Kate!

Yesterday magazines up by the counters at the supermarket about Madonna adopting another child from Malawi reminded me to check out your blog.

And today goes like Ahh... I see you're doing quite much. Skimmed through some of your journals and stopped to read some in greater details. I had to laugh a bit at some of you stories and quivered at some of the foods you described. Though that's the best thing about experiencing a different culture.

As for the work you are doing in Malawi, it seems exciting and obviously slow and frustrating at times. Guess that is typical of development work and even here in the US. I was wondering, because we had discussed this subject in micropolitic class, was the task and process of your assignment as you expected?

And lastly, are you coming for graduation this May.

Peggy L. Prosser

3/31/2009 10:34 AM  

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