2013-04-24

This is my last post; I should have posted something weeks ago. I’ve had a hard time coming up with what to write.  I thought about using my flight home as the main subject: the knee, thigh and ass of my pants disintegrated in Addis airport. Over the course of my flight to London the entire left thigh and right cheek of my pants tore open. With my flight leaving two and a half hours late (Ethiopia Airlines) I ended up running through Heathrow in flip-flops with my pants in shreds. I looked like one of those granola munchers you have to endure in 101 classes – the type who takes a moment to stop listening The Greatful Dead on their iPod to tell you that you’re a slave to your possessions. They typically drop out after first year to join community farms.  I missed the flight. I could stretch this story out but it’s more of a Facebook update than a full post.

I hoped reverse culture shock would provide something worth writing about but it hasn’t. New mothers wearing tight jogging clothing while pushing thick-tired baby buggies and checking themselves out in Starbucks windows was weird to see but that was weird to me before I left. Digression: little kid sunglasses are stupid.

I’ve been at a loss about how to end this but recognize I need to get it over with. So, I have turned to my new training. If the international development sphere has taught me anything, it’s that when all else has failed, use the image of a child.

Ndaziona

Ndaziona

I introduce Ndaziona. I worked with some amazing people, made some good friends, and came to appreciate the country’s beauty but Ndaziona is what will stick in my mind when I think about Malawi. She is a terribly unruly child. The literal translation of her name is ‘I have seen.’  I asked around and a daughter is typically given this name when her mother has endured a significant experience in her life and feels the birth of the child marks closure over that event (or people were messing with me). Based upon my exposure to Ndaziona I expect her mother may name her second daughter Ndaziona after the experience of raising her first.  Ndaziona’s nostrils were perpetually flared when I saw her. Despite her tiny stature, any slight against her was answered with fists, feet and shouting; she was the boss of the yard.

Her interaction with me began with her running up to me and yelling ‘How are you’ at the top of her lungs whenever I passed – a very typical thing for a Malawian child to do when encountering a foreigner. I would reply with ‘I’m fine, how are you?’, my role in completing the first English exchange Malawian children learn. For about 3 months, this would stump her. Occasionally her older brother would stand next to his sister and whisper, “I’m fine,” into her ear. Ndaziona, as was her fashion, would then attack and pummel her brother for assisting her.  Eventually Ndaziona learned the proper exchange and, with new confidence, she began holding my hand whenever I passed by her house. She was the first to do this among the children and initiated the inevitable handholding that then accompanied my presence in the area. She grew bored of me and stopped but most of the others did not.

Mphatso (cheeks) and his friends

Mphatso (cheeks) and his friends

Ndaziona’s brother, Mphatso (Gift), shares none of his sister’s spitfire. He was afflicted with cheeks so enormous that it is physically impossible for him to do anything with his face other than smile. He is gentle and hilarious. One day I was losing at a game of bao and absently watching him. He walked up to a much older boy, perhaps 10, and smiled up at him. The boy was preoccupied, staring at something else and paid no attention to Mphatso. Mpatso, grinning, tilted his head down, raised his hand and flicked the boy’s penis through his pants. Startled and in pain, the boy leapt back a bit and holding his crotch with one hand slapped Mphatso in the side of the head with the other. Mpatso fell to the ground but got up quickly and lumbered away clutching his head. Despite being in obvious pain he had a wicked grin on his face. He made eye contact with me and ‘it was worth it’ was pasted across his face.  I laughed out loud.

These two kids made my day, every day I was in Zomba.

Thanks for following this blog; it was fun to write.  My time in Malawi was great. If you’re new, these are the most popular posts:

Drop Hole Cover – Week 4

Cultural Integration – Week 16

Salima, Science and STIs – Week 20

Camping – Week 31 .

 

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IMG_00152013-02-14

 

Ode to Minibus

Ode to minibus, a point of pride
My home away from home for this highway ride.

Ode to too many passengers and not enough space
To callboys grabbing arms and shouting in my face
To waiting in the depot for no apparent reason
And speeding with bald tires in the rainy season.

Ode to ancient suspension that’s on the brink
To a driver who likes to drink
To ‘Hello, how are you’s and ‘yes, I’m fine’s
And hovering well over the meridian line.

Ode to my possessions piled high in another’s lap
To the side door held shut with a rubber strap
To the conductor, grumpy, cold and unfair
And the man behind me who keeps petting my hair.

Ode to an extended mid-trip search for fuel
To the child in my lap who begins to drool
To constant honking of the horn
And jagged metal; clothes ripped and torn.

Ode to travelling villagers, openly staring
To blown speakers; repetitious music blaring
To a special, increased price for azungu
Hey kid, wake up, do I spell poo?

Ode to cabbages and eggs bought through the window
To excuses for not sharing my contact info
To live chickens, dried fish and hanging meat
And the rotting foam on my broken seat.

Ode to new friends and traveling alongside my Malawian brother
What’s this? You stop here and are selling me to another?

Beelzebub

Beelzebub

2013-01-24

I don’t buy meat very often. Ten months in and this was the first whole chicken I brought home. When I pulled it out of the plastic bag I was horrified. I had literally just put down Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake to prep the bird. Anyone who has read the book knows that it describes a dystopian future where gene splicing has gone amuck – there is a goat crossed with a spider that spews webbing out of its udders. My reading obviously didn’t put me in a great state of mind to encounter claws making their way out of an evicerated anal cavity – though I’m not sure which book would put you in the proper state of mind for that. Fifty Shades of Grey maybe.

–          What am I looking at?

I said aloud to myself; an attempt to force reason into my brain. Overhearing me from the other room and having encountered this abomination before my housemate assumed the source of the fear-induced quiver in my voice and helped me through the experience.

–          They shove the nasty bits back into the chicken for people who want them.

–          Oh.

Metaphor time. I’m not suggesting that my encounter with claws coming out of orifices is a good representation of my encounter with Malawian culture so much as I’m suggesting it’s a good example of ignorance fueled imagination. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up to come here. When I was taken to pick up a medical kit for my trip I anticipated suture supplies, plasma, antidotes, lotion. . . I don’t know – a big box with a bunch of things I didn’t know how to use but would rifle through during an emergency and inject myself with.  I was taken aback and a little pissed off when EWB handed me a $12 kit for day hikers and gave me a hug. The ‘kit’ is sitting next to me as I type this. I emptied it out a while ago and now use it to store my usb sticks. I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life – a far cry from what I was anticipating.

It’s embarrassing to think about this stuff. I could fill pages with how many idiotic assumptions I had coming into this trip. But that’s the point really. We are all pretty stupid so its important we ask someone who has been there to help us force reason into our brains. Right this second for instance there is a man lighting wads of newspaper on fire in my hallway. We asked him to fix our drain and I don’t see the connection but I’m not going to freak out. I’ll keep my ignorance about plumbing from driving my imagination and trust that someone, at some point, will be able to explain to me what the hell is going on right now.

2012-01-14

Melissa thinks she’s fat; Johnny thinks she’s beautiful. They’re friends, best friends, and Johnny doesn’t want to risk what they have. But there are times when he feels like she doesn’t know he exists. What’s truly heartbreaking is that she feels the same way. I don’t know what it will take for them to stop camouflaging their emotions; it’s obvious that they’re made for one another. It’s a classic Malawian tragedy.

I haven’t seen my EWB counterparts in a while.

Melissa

Melissa

Johnny

Johnny

This cost me  $0.09

This cost me $0.09

Why not?

Why not?

IMG_0039

Melissa can fly and is about the size of a mouse. Johnny is almost the length of my foot.

2013-01-07

Over the holidays my sister and I took a trip to Mozambique.  It took us four days to get to the coast.  I’m an anxious traveller. My sister has a Tao approach to travel – meaning she’s flighty. We enjoyed one another’s company but our styles didn’t jive. Given I don’t speak Portuguese we were reliant on her basic Spanish to navigate the country (Note: Portuguese and Spanish do not co-translate as well as people think).  I was forced to rely on my sister’s disorganized ‘whatever will be will be’ approach to life, further muddled by the language barrier. It’s not possible for me to relax when statements like ‘I don’t really know what he said but let’s follow him’ are guiding me through a country that has an assault rifle on their national emblem.

For the first half of our trip I was reading James Clavell’s Shogun. In the novel Clavell slowly stops his translations of simple Japanese words and the reader picks up the basics. To my ear obrigado, thank you in Portuguese, sounds the same as arigato- as in domo arigato, thank you very much in Japanese.  Naturally, I began speaking basic Japanese to Mozambican conductors, waiters and the like.  Domo arigato in place of obrigado, hai  in place of sim – it was confusing for everyone involved

CUAMBA AND THE TRAIN

Cuamba is the worst place on Earth. It’s purgatory for travelers heading from the Malawian border to the coast. This is where you catch the 10.5 hour-long train ride to Nampula, a regional capital. We read that there are no bathrooms in the train’s third class cars; that people defecate into plastic bags and then lob them out the window. We never confirmed this but decided that we would forgo the cultural experience of third class. As a result we had two nights in Cuamba waiting for second class to open up (there is no first class). There are very few places to sleep in Cuamba and the proprietors know you’re stuck so they charge exorbitant amounts for awful accommodation. Again, worst place on Earth.

Train.

Train.

Nativity scene

Nativity scene

The highlight of Cuamba for me

The highlight of Cuamba for me

Laura enjoying one of Cuamba's attractions. Kindly donated by a manufacturer of tetanus vaccines

Laura enjoying one of Cuamba’s attractions. Kindly donated by a manufacturer of tetanus vaccines

Laura spent the majority of our 11 hour train ride like this - leaving me to converse in Portuguese

Laura spent the majority of our 11 hour train ride like this – leaving me to blankly smile at our cabin mates and converse in Portuguese/Japanese

NAMPULA AND DRIVE TO PEMBA

Nampula is a pretty large city and I liked the atmosphere.  A highlight for me was eating grilled chicken while standing on a median. After a night in Nampula a friend of my sister (they met doing science things at Bunda College in Malawi) drove us to Pemba which saved us a full day bus ride over a bumpy road.

A helpful child using a stick to pry an 18-wheeler out of the mud

A helpful child using a stick to pry an 18-wheeler out of the mud

Luckily we were only stuck behind this guy for a short while

Luckily we were only stuck behind this guy for a short while

PEMBA

Pemba is a huge bay with clear waters, coral beds and white beaches. We didn’t encounter many foreign tourists; most were Mozambicans enjoying their country. We spent five days in Pemba swimming, eating seafood and completing a dive course. Our instructor was relaxed and the coral was brilliant. The highlight was diving along a 150 metre drop off. The low point was when none of the bank machines near the water had any money in them. We decided to walk towards downtown to try machines there. It was farther than anticipated.  We got lost and made it home four hours later (still without money).  The Mozambican coast is the hottest, most humid place I’ve ever been. My shirt had more wet spots than dry spots 30 minutes into the walk. Laura and I almost killed one another.

Laura took this photo on our 4 hour walk. That beach is where we were supposed to be. This is when we started arguing.

Laura took this photo on our 4 hour walk. That beach is where we were supposed to be. This is when we started arguing.

Laura in a 1000-year-old baobob tree

Laura in a 1000-year-old baobob tree

IBO

Ibo island is the strangest place I’ve ever been. It’s the gateway to the Quirimbas Archipelago, a cluster of 32 islands. Ibo was used by the Portuguese for spice and slave trade. Laura suggested that it felt like walking through a fashion shoot without all the pretty people – I agreed. We had planned to spend a week here, taking day trips to other islands, but we weren’t thrilled about an extended stay in tiny Ibo or our accommodation – though the food was the best either of us has had since being in Africa. Where we were staying would have been brilliant for people traveling through southern Africa – a simple room in the middle of a village – ‘authentic’ Africa you could tell your friends about. Being used to bathing with a bucket and village kids randomly holding our hands we decided to move on.

Ibo

Ibo. Fort

Fort, the tide is out

Laura snapped this. It's a hominus chorinicus.

Laura snapped this. It’s a hominus chorinicus.

This is what I look like now.

This is what I look like now.

Boat.

Boat.

Laura in the mangroves

Laura in the mangroves. I don’t know how these things survive the salt water. Crabs hang out in them.

This house is tiled with shells.

This house is tiled with shells.

Ibo. Fort.

Fort.

I tried to lift/roll this. I failed.

I was not able to move this

Ancient cave drawings

Cave drawings

Colonial file management

Colonial file management

Laura, pretending she can read Portuguese

Laura, pretending she can read Portuguese

Ibo - rush hour

Ibo – rush hour

If I record an album I'm going to do the cover shoot here.

My album cover

MECUFI

Mecufi is an isolated beach just south of Pemba. We spent some money and stayed in a private bungalow. I couldn’t get over how hot the water was. I had to wade in slowly to allow my body to adjust. I dove in once and the slight sunburn on my face burned from the temperature. The average temperature of the water was 27 degrees.

We moved a little along the beach to another place for new years eve. It was a sandy, all night dance party. I didn’t take photos. It was a lot of well dressed Mozambicans dancing under a big tent with villagers watching from the beach. Fireworks were a highlight for the crowd. We slept for a couple of hours on the beach between 4 and 6am.

Macufi.

Macufi.

WRAP UP

We huffed it on our way home and made it to Lilongwe in three days. I’m glad to have taken the trip but transportation was brutal. If you decide to go, fly if you can and try to avoid December/January – it’s too hot. For me, the most interesting thing about Mozambique was that young men on the beaches often display one to three inches of butt crack. A colleague of mine (who I will meekly avoid naming) told me once that she likes a man with a nice ‘ass-shelf’. I had never heard of an ass shelf before and even now I’m not entirely certain I know what it is but I assume these young guys were showing off their shelves.  It made me furrow my brow in confusion more than it made me uncomfortable. I did not take photos.

Children.

Children.

2012-11-30

There are a lot of kids in Malawi. There are so many kids here that it weirds me out sometimes. The need to cope with the high number of children has no doubt contributed to Malawians becoming the master parents that they are. I have come to the conclusion that Malawians are much better parents than Canadians based on two observations:  (1) Malawian parents don’t hate their children and (2) Malawian children rarely cry. I have determined that the foundation of Malawian parenting success is that they ignore their children.

There are two important consequences to ignoring their children. (1) Malawian parents don’t get worked up about all the stupid things kids do (and subsequently don’t resent their children for controlling their lives) and (2) Malawian children learn to deal with their own issues (and subsequently realize that crying accomplishes nothing).

Here are two observed examples of Malawian parenting:

  • I’m bored
  • I’m shucking beans. Would you like to help me shuck beans?
  • No.
  • Then I can’t help you.
  •  <crying> A boy hit me and kicked me and smeared mango peel on my face.
  • I’m shucking beans. Would you like to help me shuck beans?
  • No.
  • Then I can’t help you.

Inspiring.

This last account is a good segue into the tendency for Malawian children to pummel one another. They kick and punch and push and shove and sit on one another’s heads and no parent or passerby does anything about it. It was a bit jarring at first but I’ve come to appreciate some of the nuance in how this takes places. If I was to write a book on the subject I would call it The Culture of Malawian Children: survival of the fittest but don’t be an asshole. There are some basic unspoken rules of behaviour that everyone seems to follow. Kick, punch and push all you like – just don’t bite, throw elbows, steal or wreck anything owned by anyone else. And most importantly, once someone wins, they win. You can win one of two ways (1) the other kid runs away (DON’T CHASE THEM) or (2) you gain full control over whatever you were fighting over (DON’T GLOAT).  If a mzungu for instance throws a plastic bottle from a bus window towards a group of four 8-year-old boys walking home from school, a full melee will erupt. The boys will beat and tackle one another until one of them has full grip of the bottle. Once that boy has the bottle the others back off without question and conversation picks up where it left off – no hard feelings.

My favourite thing about this system is that it is self regulating.

  • Why did you smear mango on his face?
  • He was standing where I wanted to stand.
  • Yea, I get that, you’re bigger than him giving you full right to kick and punch him for standing where you want to stand but smearing mango on his face was an asshole move.
  • So what?
  • So me and the boy with the lazy eye are going to go sit in the mango tree that the mzungu watching us is hiding behind instead of this one and you can’t come.
  • What if I follow you?
  • Then we’ll go somewhere else because you were an asshole and we don’t want to play with you today.

In Canada you would see the mom of the kid who was beat drag her son over to the boys and scold the aggressor, demanding he apologize to her son. With the apology given she would leave the group to ‘play nice’.  As a result the bully gets to remain in the company of the kid he just beat and the kid who was beaten is marked as a victim indefinitely, continues to be bullied, begins starting fires in the boy’s bathroom and becomes addicted to methamphetamine. The West is broken.  To sum up – ignore your children and let other kids beat them up; you’ll both be better for it.

I have a similar relationship with the children who live around here as I do my houseplants; I like having them around but I don’t interact with them very often. I decided to rectify this by buying some chalk. Chelsea (housemate) did her best to take photos but trying to snap candid photos of Malawian children is next to impossible. Enjoy.

*Disclaimer: I don’t speak Chichewa, all recounted conversations are what I think they were saying based on body language. I’m a good body language reader though.

Wall before children

Wall before children

Children.

Children.

Children.

Children.

IMG_0017

Smallest participant

Fighting children

Fighting children

Andrew. I will write a whole post about Andrew in due time.

Andrew. I will write a whole post about Andrew in due time.

What you think is happening here is not happening here.

What you think is happening here is not happening here.

Chelsea brought her dog. The kids didn't know what to make of someone cradling a dog and talking to it.

Chelsea brought her dog. Kids didn’t know what to make of someone cradling a dog and talking to it.

"My boyfriend loves you." I'm not sure what to make of this.

“My boyfriend loves you.” I’m not sure what to make of this.

Something about people being upset about current events in Gaza.

Something about people being upset about current events in Gaza.

Love.

Love.

Blood Child graced us with his presence and drew a truck.

Blood Child graced us with his presence and drew a truck.

My favourite contribution.

My favourite contribution.

"give me chalk" written in chalk.

“give me chalk” written in chalk.

This kid showed up at dusk with a potato sack tied to around his face and started punching and kicking everyone. Typical Yankees fan.

This kid showed up at dusk with a potato sack tied around his face and started punching and kicking everyone (Typical Yankees fan). It was a fitting end to the day.

I’m fundraising for EWB: https://imagine.ewb.ca/michaelkennedy

Readers,

EWB is starting a campaign called ‘Imagine 2036’. Members of the organization are asked to share their dream future. We’re supposed to describe the world as we would like it to be when children born this year are finishing university.

I’ll be around 50 in 2036. I dream of standing on my porch in my ginch, drink in hand, yelling at other people’s children. It’s a quiet sort of dream but it’s one that I hold dear; it keeps me going. But this isn’t supposed to be about me.

When I started this gig I told myself that I was in it to travel and meet some Malawians. I thought that the international development sphere was flawed beyond hope and that I was really just here to inform my opinion so I would have something to say if for some reason I found myself at a farmers market, on the number 20 night bus or at an NDP convention after party. Turns out I was wrong.

The team I am a part of is helping. We’re sharing on-the-ground realities with national level policy and decision makers and people are listening. We push the notion that understanding and reacting to what’s happening in the field is fundamental to designing strategies that effectively address challenges impacting the sector. And we’re helping to establish feedback loops, independent of our ongoing support, that enable this to happen.

To be clear, EWB has not got it all figured out. The organization is agonizingly reflective and struggles to deliver tangible outputs as a result. But it is this mind numbing emphasis on understanding the ‘big picture’ that sets it apart from so many. While here I have been exposed to far too many organizations that put all of their energy into doing ‘good’, as much ‘good’ as they can easily measure and tell their donors about that they fail to recognize the greater implications of their work. They may make the lives of those in their impact area better for a time, but it happens at the expense of undermining sustainable, large scale development. They end up hurting more people than they help. EWB doesn’t do this, and is showing people why this isn’t a good way to operate. The work is important and I have come to care about it.

So this is my dream for 2036. A colleague of mine says my dream reflects me well – a nice blend of cheese and stupidity. Have a read and if you like my dream and/or my blog I’m asking that you give a donation to support our work.

The minimum, pre-set donation amount on the site is $25 but there’s a spot where you can punch in any amount you like. A quick look at the numbers tells me that if every person who consistently reads this blog gives $7 the $1000 goal I set can be easily reached. So that’s what I’m asking for, $7 from each of you – a beer downtown. Of course I’d be elated if you gave more, but a beer will do fine.

For those of you who don’t know, I have been growing out my hair since I arrived in Malawi. I’m going for the unwashed, khaki pant wearing, development worker look – and I’m pulling it off flawlessly. No, I’m not going to shave my head – I’m not a fool. But if you donate $200 or over to my campaign I will personally send you a lock of my hair wrapped in a red satin bow; a treasure to pass on to your children. Another option is for me send a lock to someone else, courtesy of you. Imagine – An unparalleled gift for a loved one.

If you donate $25 or over to EWB you will receive a tax receipt.

Thanks for the support!