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.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Karonga School for the Deaf, Karonga

We received tips from Karonga locals that there is a school with deaf children, but we got the impression that it might be a unit within the school (think resource room). Much to our surprise and pleasure, we officially included a fifth school in Malawi to MANAD’s knowledge, Karonga School for the Deaf. Like Embangweni, it is funded and operated by the northern Synod of Church Central Africa Presbyterian. It is much smaller and sparsely equipped. We hired a cab from our motel lodge since it was rather a distance from town and we arrived late in the afternoon and the students were doing their afternoon activity, learning and practicing traditional dancing.

We met with the head teacher who turned out to have taught at one of the deaf schools near Mulanje, south of Blantyre. After requesting and securing an appointment to visit the school and its students for the next day, the students demonstrated their dances. I hate to say, but the boys’ dance is much more entertaining than the girls. The girls marched/danced around a teacher banging a drum with various arms, legs, and hip movements. However the boys stood in a semi circle around the drummer with one experienced boy leading. It’s very hard to describe – it consists of synchronized movements with their arms and legs, some boys holding a cloth in one hand. I took a brief videoclip of it and will post it somehow.

The next day, we returned to explore the campus and interview some older students. Children under ages 10 aren’t always reliable informants, requiring presence of parents. Those entering secondary schools are more ideal interview candidates than those of primary age. The school itself is small and rooms are used as classrooms and eating areas, and a couple, sleeping areas. The CCAP is in process of expanding the school – we saw some buildings in progress and shown a design of the new campus.
There are only three classes – divided into age groups. The lessons provided at our visits were; letters via speech and some English and Tumbuka languages in total communication method. Chichewa, despite the national language status is not widely spoken in the North. Sign language presence and recognition in deaf schools is still weak in Malawi. Mountview School one of two schools in Mulanje promotes full sign language while two others rely strictly on oral methods. Karonga and Embangweni use total communication (voice and sign) and teachers – in our very presence – preferred the students to use both voice and sign, not sign alone. The students, hopefully not for show for our visit, were eager to give answers to teacher’s query. In the beginning the teacher would review name signs of each student, and other students would point at the named student.

The enunciating of speech brought back memories of my own speech therapy lessons when I was their age. The teacher would hold a chicken feather and sound (and hiss/breathe) the letter. One student used a stick to indicate the correct letter on the blackboard. The teacher would lead a resounding round of applause. If a student made a mistake, the teacher would make a comical show of disappointment. It is a positive learning atmosphere though with good intentions. It’s a double load (and I can testify to that!) to learn the three R’s and speech each day. When I left the mainstreamed school and transferred to a deaf high school, there I slowly learned critical thinking. It took me years to learn and gain confidence in discussing issues as opposed to being one sided on things. I doubt that oral and total communication method leave room for critical thinking on various school subjects. Back to the point – it was really a trip down the memory lane for me.

The second class was having a maths lesson when we arrived. The location was in a corner of a church. Like the first class, total communication was used. One thing that struck me that day is that they used small rocks and stones for adding and subtracting. The teacher would point at one mathematical question on the blackboard and the chosen student replied with the numerical answer and supported it by counting out (in voice) their answer by placing the correct amount of stones in a chair for all to see. The students had their homework assignments done and with the teacher’s permission, they rushed to the five of us, Euphrasia, Byson, Haji, myself, and Malonji pushing and shoving each other to show us their answers for us to correct. Once order was improved, we were able to mark off the answers.

The third and oldest class held a Tumbuka lesson, in total communication. The teacher used individual words cut out in paper strips; placed one under his lips and enunciated the word by syllable. One word, wazungu, all the students, smiling, pointed in my direction. Confused, I turned to look what was behind me. Euphrasia smiled and said I’m a wazungu (a variation of muzungu). Oh. Ha.

Next, we visited the sleeping quarters. No beds for younger children, not even dressers or wardrobe – the school is that poor. The boys’ room we visited is one large room with dozens of mattresses and mats lined up by the wall with suitcases at the head. There is one bed for a head boy. I have to admit that the room is very clean and orderly. We also visited sleeping quarters for older girls – a small room with maybe four or five beds placed together, sharing few bed nets. The suitcases were at the foot of each bed. The bathrooms were favorable – showers and toilets.
After exploring the partially built new classrooms, we returned to the third classroom for lunch with teachers (the students had cleared out the benches and blackboard, swept the floor). The room was transformed into a dining area with pots of food waiting for us. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of chicken stew and boiled kale with nsima.

Some moments later, the five of us with three teachers in attendance interviewed two oldest students. They were both slightly intimidated by the large group looking at them, the girl more than the boy. Since they did not comprehend much of the Blantyre Malawi signing, one teacher helped translate. I think he did a little of prompting, too. The boy gave a little background and thoughts about pertaining issues around his deafness. The girl mostly shrugged as her answers to baseline query. We did not get much as we hoped out of the visit for the baseline, but finding the school existence and observing the classroom was a big deal for us.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

M1 between Blantyre and Karonga

It is the longest route in Malawi by coach bus I think. Including stops in towns and two layovers (1-2 hours), the trip took about 14 hours. If we took a minibus it might take two days or more and valuable time would be wasted. We, Project Advisor Mbewe, MANAD Executive Director Byson, Haji the interpreter, myself, and a last minute addition, Malonji a Board member set off in early evening and reached Karonga the following morning. Not all went as planned – due to miscommunication (mainly me) I went to the wrong bus station. When the 5pm departure passed and difficult SMS (Blackberry is so much easier) failed to unite me with the others, I decided to take an available bus that was leaving the following hour. No way was I missing out on MANAD’s third and final baseline survey trip. I texted Euphrasia I would be meeting the team in Karonga, and she replied, promising to inform me of the lodge status. My bus left around 6 30 pm and made stops through Zomba and Liwonde. In Dedza, around 10pm or so, I was nodding on and off. Someone shook me awake and it was Euphrasia. I could not believe my eyes, thinking it must be a dream. Euphrasia indicated that I must get up now and go with her.

Confused, half asleep and babbling how she can possibly be there in my bus, I gathered up my things and followed her out to her bus. Byson later told me that he watched the whole thing through the windows from their bus. My head was lolling around with mouth open, and when Euphrasia woke me up I stared at her and went back to sleep. Euphrasia shook me awake again and I was half asleep following her out. We were very fortunate. Their bus had a flat tire and took some time to fix it. The group kept an eye out for my bus, certain that I would catch up. After the flat tire was replaced, they asked the driver to wait a little longer. When they thought they spotted me, Haji yelled through the window until a man replied. Haji asked if a muzungu woman was on the bus and an affirmative was shouted back, he and Euphrasia went to get me. We were happily reunited. She was terribly relieved to see me in one piece.

We went back to sleep, and waking up from time to time whenever the bus made a stop. Once or twice, everyone in the bus had to exit and wait outside to allow the police to check inside and the cargo. All major towns – district capitals I think – have police checkpoints for smuggling purposes. The bus reached Mzuzu at around 5am, the last major town on the route for a two hour layover. We munched on some things, went to the toilet, slept some more. With a fresh driver, the bus departed for Karonga our destination four hours away. A couple hours in, Lake Malawi – my first glimpse – slowly began to come into view. Chitimba, a lakeside town took some time to reach. M1 crossed through the one of the biggest part of Great Rift Valley and the 20 minute drive downhill to the lakeshore was rather disorienting. So many turns in the road, barely long enough for the coach bus to complete each turn. Left, right, left, right, left, right. I cannot imagine driving down that road. Looking at the valleys by the Lake you can almost read that the ancient waters carved them into its present day state. The Northern Lakeshore of the Lake Malawi is the most mountainous and stunning. From our lakeshore lodge in Karonga, we could see Tanzania’s Livingstone Mountains across the Lake – that is where the Lake narrows and taper off. A number of villages depend on the lake for fishing – many, many sardines were being dried on tables (stinky), and the chambo fish (very tasty) hauled onto the shore and sold either smoked dry or fresh out of the water. We arrived at Karonga around 11am feeling very out of sorts and anxious to find a lodge to unload and freshen ourselves up to begin working.

Karonga to Blantyre

It was very uneventful ride back. We had a successful survey over the week and it was hard work. We left Blantyre Sunday evening and arrived on Monday morning in Karonga. For Chitipa, the second town in our survey trip we left on Wednesday afternoon and returned Friday afternoon. On Saturday, we left at noon and did not arrive to Blantyre until around 4 30am. The day before, we rode a four hour trip on a pick up truck on an unpaved road from Chitipa, an isolated town out northwest from Karonga near the Zambian and Tanzanian borders. Before reaching Chitimba to turn off across the Valley, the police checked the bus but we were allowed to remain inside. Euphrasia who was across the aisle from me, remarked that a dog had some fish in its mouth and is running away. From my side, I observed a somewhat lighter skinned man and woman opening the cargo under my window, showing the police their stamped papers and gesturing at whatever was inside. I described the scenery to Euphrasia. She said they are probably Tanzanians transporting their goods to sell in Malawi.
The zigzagging route up the Valley was not as hypnotic as the way down, and for a split second I spotted a Yellow Baboon monkey by the road. That was when I had just put my camera away. Darn darn darn darn.

Mzuzu, again the two hour layover – we were restless, wanting to continue the trip. We sought out some food, toilet and newspapers. The major bus stops never have books or magazines. The shop stands sold food and electronic items such as DVDs, CDs, radios, even large TVs. Insane. A deaf man met us at the stop, a friend of Malonji’s from Lilongwe who is a college student in the area. I met him briefly when I was in Lilongwe at the end of the second baseline survey trip. From the bus, I watched a man, assisted by two men struggle with a large load of charcoal to load it on top of a coach bus. I even videotaped them with my camera. The man, achieving balance of the load on top of his neck, climbed the ladder attached to the rear of the bus steadily. Upon reaching the top he leaned over to let the load roll off. Eventually they loaded four or five large loads of charcoal on top of the bus and tied them down.

The bus left half an hour late and made a couple unscheduled stops along the way. Like the trip to Karonga, the bus lights were turned on whenever the bus made a stop to drop off or pick up passengers. Peddlers selling variety of food and occassionaly socks and toothbrushes would crowd around the entryway into the bus or raise their wares into our windows for us to see. Being a muzungu I sometimes have to beat them away. The bus was full, unlike the trip to Karonga and there was no room to stretch out to sleep. We were sleepy and cranky in Lilongwe, another long layover at 11pm. Upon arriving to our stops in Limbe and Blantyre, we quickly dispersed to our homes desperate for some solid sleep after two days of hard travel.

The budget did not allow us to fly to Mzuzu and Karonga to save some time and energy for work, but we did get a taste of how far it takes one to travel up north and observe the changing environment from the densely populated southern region to sparsely populated north. And the northern region is the least developed with more dirt roads and tiny shops packed with everything one can buy from ladies underpants to biscuits to bleach liquid in one store.