To see pictures of my adventures in Malawi click here for part I, and here for my trip to the lake.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Mind

Thought processes are very strange. I was just thinking about the movie “The Prestige” and thought “How did I start thinking about this?” So I traced my thoughts back. It turned out this line of thought had started when I laid down on a pillow and run my hand under my head to straighten my hair. I noticed how long it is getting which led to thinking about how long I was going to let it grow. This made me think about this coming summer and if I would go to an REU with long hair which made me think of my resume which made me think of my website which is linked to on my resume. On my website there is a quote by Einstein on the front page: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity and I'm not sure about the former.” This made me think of whether the universe is actually infinite which made me think of space, not space as in being more that 100 km above sea level but space as in the space the universe is composed of. This made me think of where there is just “empty” space and no particles (although it is all full of all sorts of things we don't really understand like dark matter and dark energy). I started thinking about the space inside an atom and about if it is actually empty and about electron clouds and quantum mechanics which made me think of the solar system model of the atom and how it was wrong but that made me think of the book “Wheels of Heaven” where angels are controlling each individual atom which made me think of the mode the book was written in and the ending statement that the unbeliever should test the method outlined in the book if they needed convincing which made me think that I'm sure no one has ever actually done that, which lead to thinking what would have happened if it were actually true and had been presented in a scientific setting and how they person would probably have been laughed off the stage. This made me think of the scene in “The Prestige” where Tesla tries to present his discoveries but the audience gets scared and all run out which is obviously how I got to thinking about the rest of the movie and started wondering about how I had starting thinking about it in the first place. This all happened in under a minute.

An interesting exercise is to try and think truly random thoughts, thoughts that are completely unrelated to any recent thoughts or stimuli. I'm not sure that it is actually possible but it is an interesting activity never the less.

Jan 20, 2011 (Thur) – 3:50pm (GMT +2)

Well I ended up not keeping up with my journal very well after the second day at the lake so I will fill in the missing time now.

Saturday we decided to rent some kayaks and go out to the island by ourselves. I realized in the morning that I had lost my sunglasses at some point the day before and an inquiry of the boatmen we had hired yielded no results. I guess keeping track of sunglasses for four and a half months in Africa isn't to bad, I was kind of half expecting that I would lose them at some point during the year anyway. Unfortunately this was only the first of the things to be lost (well, technically second since Jacquie had lost 1000 phone units on the bus on Thursday – about 10 dollars worth). The kayaks were the sea variety which I had not used before but I got used to having a rudder fairly quickly. Megan rode with me since she had no idea what she was doing and the other two girls had at least kayaked before. I had a Ziploc bag in my pocket containing the extra money we had brought with us since we were not sure what the price for kayaks was and sometime during swimming around it slipped out and will probably make some future visitor quite happy. At least it was only 4000 MK (about $24).

The sunset that evening was very picturesque and the girls all posed in front of it to do glamor shots. Back in our room Jacquie and I watched The Invention of Lying or at least Jacquie did. I feel asleep about half an hour in, but I've seen it before.

Sunday we took some kayaks out again and this time the girls rented snorkeling gear as well. The Araujos had taken some kayaks out a little while before and we met up with them at a small beach on the far edge of the bay close to where there is a narrow gap between the mainland and an island. The night before there had been a storm which had stirred up the water a good deal so it was a bit cooler and not very clear. We taught the Araujos little girl (who I think is about 2) how to splash people and after spending several hours snorkeling and relaxing on the beach headed back toward the lodge. This time Megan and I had a different kind of kayak where we were sitting on top instead of inside and there were holes in the seat that went all the way through for water to drain out. A few time I had rocked it just to freak Megan out and one of the times Jacquie saw it and shouted that they wanted to see us tip over. So I promptly obliged, much to Megan's dismay. The lake felt a lot bigger when we were swimming in it just hanging on the the kayak a kilometer from shore. It took us three tries but we managed to get back into the kayak and even beat the others back to shore.

Monday morning we finished packing up and met the taxi the manager had arranged for us the previous night to take us to Monkey Bay. It ended up being a minibus instead of a taxi and they tried to charge us extra since supposedly the rate for minibuses was higher but after arguing for a few minutes they accepted the prearranged rate. Everyone kept saying that we could take a minibus from Monkey Bay to Mangochi and from there get a “big bus” to take us down to Blantyre but, come to find out, we hadn't accounted for the Malawian tendency to just say “yes” to any question posed to them especially if they want you to buy something from them or hire their services. But first we must backtrack to our exciting trip from Monkey Bay to Mangochi. While around in Monkey Bay we had a pickup driver try to convince us that no minibuses were coming and we had to go with him for several hundred Kwatcha more than we knew the price for a minibus. After a few minutes a minibus did in fact come contrary to his protestations and we piled into it along with several Malawians and two other azungus (any one they think looks different, for all practical purposes it can be translated as “foreigner”). We started off toward Mangochi but a few minutes in the minibus suddenly jerked and we started swerving and making all manner of noises that should never emanate from a vehicle which is enjoying good health. It turned out that the back left tire had blown out and we had been scrapping along on the rim which now had a rather large flat spot on one side where several centimeters of metal had been left behind to adorn the last few hundred feet of road.

While the minibus did have a spare tire they naturally had no tools with which to put it on. We waited around for about 20 minutes until they were able to hail a car that loaned them the tools they needed. Finally back on the road but in a few minutes we come once again to a stop, although this time much more gracefully. We ask what is going on and discover that we are apparently leaking break fluid. We all find this very comforting. The driver decided to keep going and eventually we did reach Mangochi alive. Once in Mangochi we tired to find one of these mythical “big buses” and every person we asked told us to follow them and they would take us to a “big bus” but clearly they made no distinction between “big bus” and “mini bus” for that was all there were. Now I think that what we should have asked for was a “coach bus.”

We finally managed to pick a minibus, the crowd of people around us screaming in our ears to come with them was overwhelming to say the least. We ended up once again being with the only two other white people around. This time we sat next to them and enjoy some conversation until they got out at Liwonde. It turned out that he was a retired physics teacher from the Netherlands and he and his wife (who was oriental and never said a word) were spending a couple months traveling Africa. He was quite interesting to talk to and it helped the time pass at a significantly increased pace.

When we finally reached Limbe we caught a bus to Malamulo and collapsed for the rest of the day.

Jan 14, 2011 (Fri) – 11:25pm (GMT +2)

It has been a good day. I got up at 7:30 and went for a short walk on the beach. When I got back Diane was up and we took a longer walk on the beach in the other direction. There were lots of little naked kids bathing in the lake while their mothers were washing clothes or dishes. And of course there were the inevitable vendors telling us how “good” of a price they would give us for this or that nick knack.

Once we had eaten a breakfast of toast and omelets we hired a boat to take us out to nearby Thumbi island where there was good snorkeling.

The water was a lot cleaner out there than it had been on shore and there were hundreds of brightly colored fish swimming around us. We snorkeled for awhile and got lots of pictures with my camera which was safely contained its water proof case.

Around 2:00 the guys who had brought us out to the island called us for lunch which they had been preparing over a fire on the rocks. Lunch consisted of rice, tomato sauce and freshly caught and cooked fish. The fish were quite good and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to separate the meat from the bones. It was the first time I have ever eaten fish cooked in that manner. Things always seem to taste better when they have been cooked over an outdoor fire. Jacquie is unfortunately vegetarian and does not like tomatoes so her lunch consisted of rice and salt.

Once we had finished we headed back into the water for awhile until it was time to go out on the boat and feed the fish eagles. Sadly I only had my point and shoot camera with me and so was not able to get as good of pictures as I could have with an SLR. After we ran out of fish to throw to the eagles we made our way back to the mainland.

Back at Gecko I found a 7 foot tall wooden carving of a mask surrounded by various carvings of animals and African scenes. I immediately fell in love with it and decided that someday I need to have it in my room with a vine growing through it. Someday when I have a ridiculous amount of money to spend on the carving and on shipping it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jan 13, 2011 (Thur) – 2:30pm (+2 GMT)

We are on the bus on the way from Blantyre to Lake Malawi now. Jackie and Diane are sitting to my right and Megan is sitting to my left. We were sitting in the in bus for about an hour and fifteen minutes before it pulled out and during that time we had the vendors trying to sell us all manner of items. The girls purchased some chitenjes (a traditional colored fabric that can be used as pretty much any piece of clothing) during which process one of the men who was behind them asked me if they (the girls) were all mine and if I would give him one. The girls – especially Jacquie – did not appreciate that very much. If I had given in to her wishes to know his identity he would currently be suffering from as much physical damage as she could inflict.

One of the speakers for the bus – out of which they play quite awful music at ear splitting volumes – is sitting directly behind us so we have as much of our luggage piled on top of it as possible. They have an entire case of CDs up front so we are sure to be “enjoying” endless musical selections.


We finally arrived at the Gecko Lounge at about 10 pm after 8 hours of traveling, not counting the drive into Blantyre in the morning. The bus arrived, after a seemingly infinite number of stops, at Monkey Bay which was its final destination. Cape Maclear is somewhere between 20 and 30 km from there over washboard roads. The guy sitting in front of us on the bus offered to call his friend who had a taxi to take us since it was late enough that there were no more Matolas (pickup trucks overflowing with people) going. While we waited for his friend to show up a couple other guys said they would help us and call one of their friends and (after bargaining) said he would do it for 4500 Kwatcha ($30). His name was Duncan and he did actually seem to be quite helpful. He also spoke some of the best English I have heard from a Malawian. Unfortunately his friend ran out of gas (a common problem here) on the way so he never made it. The driver the first guy called showed up but he wanted 6000 Kwatcha ($40). Duncan tried to convince him to go lower but he refused. He said it was due to the lateness of the hour and the condition of the road that needed traversed. Duncan offered to show us to somewhere we could stay in town so we could find a cheaper ride the next day but we decided we just wanted to finish the trip and $40 split between the 4 of us was doable. On the way we made a detour to get fuel since apparently there is no fuel at Cape Maclear. The fuel stop consisted of a a little tiny village where they had a Jerry can with a hose attached to it.

Falls asleep...

7:30 am next morning:

As the driver got the fuel all the kids started looking in the windows and asking for money. Here they have an interesting thing they do where they often do not simply say “Give me money,” they say “Give me my money” as if it somehow already belongs to them. They gave me some very confused looks when I started demanding that they had to give me money. I told they they needed to give us money to pay for the taxi but they decided after a few moments of confusion that they did not agree with that idea. When the driver was done he got back into the car and to out utter delight brought an opened bottle of beer with him. Jacquie started into him like nobody-elses business. He promised he would not get drunk and would get us there without incident but we only felt slightly reassured. Fortunately we did eventually reach our destination after driving on oh-so-wonderful washboard for over an hour. It was to late to do check in but since we had a reservation they took us to our room and said we could do check in the next day.

The establishment itself has a wonderful resort feel to it. The staff are out cleaning up the beach early in the morning, there are hammocks hanging everywhere, the rooms are well sealed against mosquitoes, all the lawns are very well groomed and the whole place just seems to ooze with relaxation. We are staying in the “dorm” which is like a hostel area with many beds to one large room. However this is a much nicer dorm than most. It is split up into sections by reed walls, one room with four beds, one with two and one more bunk bed just kind of out in the “hallway.” There is a shared toilet room and a shower room but they are quite decent. It feels strange to take a warm shower after living without hot water for so long. The dorm has a bunch of lockers that can be used for your valuables. Every since traveling in Europe I have made it a habit to bring a small padlock with me when I travel so I was able to put things like my money and cameras and computer in a locker. If one didn't bring a lock they do offer them at the front desk for a deposit of 1500 MKW (Malawi Kwatcha). The one thing I could wish is that they had an honesty bar so that we could get drinks later at night. The bar was not open when we arrived and I was quite thirsty.

The lake does remind me of lake Michigan to a certain extent. Lake Malawi is clearer, you can see across it (just barely) and it smells a bit more like fish. The beach here is not as nice, it is more like fine gravel than sand and there is a lot of trash floating around from all the villagers. I'm looking forward to going out to one of the islands where everyone says the snorkeling/diving is amazing. I am also hoping we get some good clear nights since I brought my whole huge tripod to do some star photography.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jan 7, 2011 (Fri) - 2:30pm (+2 GMT)

I'm sitting in the car in the pouring rain waiting for Randy to pickup some sheets of glass for a building project that is going on at Malamulo. Elisa is getting back tomorrow with my new hard drive so I can fix my laptop. I am now happier than ever that I bought a netbook to bring with me. It has turned out to be one of the most useful things I brought. That along with my computer tool kit.

The rain is reminding me of two weeks ago when Christy, Jacquie, Anthony, Diane and I went to Mount Mulanje to climb up to the waterfall. It started raining just before we got there and kept raining during the whole climb up, the whole time we were there and the whole way down. Not a real heavy rain, but enough to keep everything wet. The waterfall was a lot larger than the previous times I had seen it due to all the rain we have been having. Usually one can swim up to the base of the fall and hang on to the rocks but this time we couldn't swim closer than about 20 feet. It was still fun even with all the rain and when we got back we made tomato soup (a really good recipe Christy had) and grilled cheese sandwiches with the last of my cheese I got in my Christmas box.

I was finally able to withdraw money from my bank account this week which meant that I could buy food again. Ryan Hayton (the hospital's surgeon) threw out his knee on Tuesday. He has had 8 previous knee surgeries (4 on each knee). Wednesday he flew down to South Africa to get another surgery. Sharlene heard from him after the surgery and it went well, he is just waiting for the hospital to discharge him to fly back.

A few weeks ago I started teaching computer classes for the hospital staff. I have a small computer lab set up with 6 stations so all 39 students are split up over six class periods (I can pretty much count on at least one and usually several of the employees not showing for various – often legit – reasons). The computer knowledge of my students ranges from zero (they have never touched a computer and don't know how to use a mouse or keyboard) to several of the students that are decent typesets and quite familiar with MS Office. After the first two weeks I had assessed their skills and reorganized them into classes of similar skill levels. This last week I had my higher level classes working on typing with Mavis Beacon and my lower level classes making pictures on Paint to practice using a mouse.

Also this week two new people came at the same time as the Lutz' left. Megan is an SM this year from Walla Walla and she was in Namibia but her project ran out of funds so she is going to be here for the remainder of the time. She will be working on starting up a school for the missionary kids and some of the national kids who are of a “certain class” as the pastor put it. Apparently that “class” includes the pastor's kids and the doctors' kids and I think a few others. We all felt a bit odd putting people into classes that way. The other new person is an infectious disease doctor from the States who is going to be here for a month to check things out and see if he thinks Malawi is a good fit for him to spend several years in.

Next Thursday a few of us are going to the lake (finally) for a long weekend. I am looking forward to doing some SCUBA diving as well as being at a beach for the first time since leaving the States. We are going take public transportation up which should be interesting as always.

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year

In about one minute it will be 2011. Everyone except for Anthony and I has already gone to bed. I informed them that they are all lame.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nov 28, 2010 (Sun) – 11:05pm (+2 GMT)

Thanksgiving dinner was quite a success, the only other thing I would have liked to have would have been pecan pie. We had mashed potatoes and stuffing and sweet potatoes and corn and green beans and pickles and olives and Special K loaf and apple pie and apple crisp and pumpkin pie and chocolate pie and ice cream and other things I don't remember at the moment. We all stuffed ourselves till we couldn't eat another bite then had dessert. After digesting for awhile a bunch of us went for a walk to convince ourselves that we were not completely unrepentant gluttons. We walked up to a vacant lot with an amazing view of the valley while the sun was setting. One would think that mountains would make the world feel smaller but in fact just the opposite occurs. In Michigan where everything is so flat I never feel like I am actually seeing all that far.

The house Anthony and I are in now is starting to feel more like a home. When we moved in the only two pieces of furniture were the beds. We have now managed to obtain two dressers, a bookshelf, a desk, a chair and a small dinning table. There is a living room which is about 12 feet by 8 feet, a large bedroom that is about the same, a small bedroom that is about 6 ½ feet by 7 ½ feet, a shower room, a toilette room with a sink that one gets to know very well when one is taking care of business due to the abnormally close proximity of the toilette and sink, and finally a kitchen where when two people are in it they have to take turns turning around. The house has no hot water, no fridge and no stove. There is a laundry machine that sits in the kitchen and has to be hooked to the kitchen faucet to use. There is also a large niche in the wall with a chimney for one to burn charcoal in to cook with. Fortunately we managed to dig up and fix a double hot plate to use. While fixing it I managed to electrocute myself with 240 volts which was rather exciting. The Haytons just purchased a new fridge which should be arriving this week so we will be getting their old one. It will be quite pleasant to be able to refrigerate food and have cold water to drink. Hopefully this week our room will also get fixed since every time it rains (which is nearly every day now) my bed gets wet. I try to move my bed out of the way but since I lost our round of paper, scissors, rock I got the small bedroom and there isn't exactly much space to move my bed if I actually want to be able to open my door as well. All in all things are quite interesting as always. T.I.A.

Nov 25, 2010 (Thu) – 12:56pm (+2 GMT)

I'm sitting in the waiting room of the Limbe clinic waiting – appropriately enough – for Christi to finish up what she is doing so she can ride with Cheri and Elde and I over to the Woods' house for Thanksgiving dinner. My stomach is quite looking forward to it. The last two days I have been trying to figure out how in the world the accounting works at the hospital and have come to the conclusion that it doesn't. After hours and running back and forth between multiple people and them searching for lost receipts and some lucky guesswork we finally figured out what all 10 (really just 8) line items were on my Tech account. It turned out that I an approximately $600 item had been charged to my account that never should have been. We are going to be setting up a separate bank account for the IT department so that in the future it will be easier to keep track of what is going on in the account.

Nov 20, 2010 (Mon) – 11:48 (GMT +2)

At this time last weekend Anthony, Hannah, Diane, Jacquie and I were completely focused on the objective of trying to stay cool, which proved quite elusive. We headed out from Malamulo at around 6:45 Friday morning when we caught a minibus to Blantyre. Once reaching the Limbe (a suburb of Blantyre) bus stop we changed to a large bus to take us up to Liwonde. We all piled into the bus where we all sat in the very back row and proceeded to observe the goings on of the people. Shortly after boarding a pastor stood up and announced that we were going to be having a church service at which point he started leading song service. Everyone joined in the singing and after several songs he launched into a sermon entirely in Chechewa. I don't think in the States anyone would put up with some random pastor leading out a church service on any sort of public transportation.

Once our spiritual dose for the day had been administered we set of on the three hour drive to Liwonde. Every time the bus stopped people would crowd around the windows hawking their wares. At one of the stops in a larger town we purchased some cold drinks, some crackers and a few samosas. The drinks were interesting in that the sellers expected us to drink the whole thing and give the bottle back before leaving the bus stop. If we wanted to keep the bottle we had to pay an extra 30 Kwatcha (~20 cents) for the deposit. Jacquie and Diane didn't feel safe eating the “street food” but Hannah and I quite enjoyed the samosas and I'm not dead yet.

When we arrived in Liwonde we called the Bushman's Baobab – where we were going to stay – and had them come pick us up. We were a bit surprised - some less pleasantly than others – when they arrived in a safari jeep thing (a very technical term) with no roof and a transmission system that had seen many better days. But it was nice being in the open air as we drove to the camp which was located in a small, rarely visited, section of nowhere. On the way we picked up a guy who we later found out was the owner and also discovered to be quite eccentric. He was white Malawian whose family had been in Malawi for 7 or 8 generations. He also drank from sunrise till long after sunset and chain smoked worse than about anybody I've seen. But he did have many interesting stories and had traveled quite extensively, he also knew each of the elephants in the herds that came by the camp by name.

Shortly after we arrived, once we had put our stuff in our sleeping quarters, we all piled back onto the safari vehicle to drive over to where we would be having a canoe safari. We started out in a shallow swampy area, polled through tall grass for several minutes and then broke out into the river. We saw around a dozen hippos, a bunch of impala, water bucks, various large birds and, when we got back to our starting point, a whole herd of elephants. That evening we chilled at the camp - although “chilled” might not be the right word considering the deathly heat. After trying to get to sleep for an hour or so Diane, Jacquie and I temporarily gave up and went out to sit in the common area where it was breezy. The owner was still up and he came over – much to the dismay of the girls – and started talking up a storm whilst knocking back a few beers and going through a cigarette every few minutes. After awhile the girls got fed up with him and went back to the dorm. I ended up staying out and talking with him till 2 am mostly about world politics and related issues. His ability to argue rationally and usefully declined through the night as his blood alcohol level increased. I finally got to sleep for a couple hours before getting up for our safari drive at 6am. The drive was decent, the main problem was that the transmission system on the vehicle kept getting stuck so the driver wasn't able to stop when we wanted to get pictures. The rest of the day we spent most of our energy trying to keep cool. Jacquie had somewhat of a cultural shock breakdown. In the afternoon we ended up sitting in a circle taking turns spraying each other down with a hose. That night we all showered with our cloths on and went to bed wet which was amazingly helpful for getting to sleep. Sunday morning after breakfast we headed back to town where all of us except Hannah caught the bus back to Blantyre. Hannah parted ways to head to the lake before heading back to England.

The bus ride back was interesting. At one point someone got in with a very large box of fish which smelled quite potent. In Blantyre we caught a minibus going to Makwasa. Diane wasn't able to sit in the front this time and she had a rather unpleasant ride back dealing with a bad case of claustrophobia. We arrived back at Malamulo in the early afternoon and just relaxed for the rest of the day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nov 1, 2010 (Mon) – 12:48pm (GMT +2)

Well today we have no power so I have a pot of stew I made last night warming up over a charcoal stove that we are burning wood in instead of charcoal. This morning I got woken up by a call from the guy in accounts saying that they needed me to come down right away to help them finish payroll since they were having problems getting the computers to do what they wanted. The rest of my morning I spent talking with Randy about getting some computer training classes going and helping the college tech guy (whose name I can't ever remember) [Edit: Develious (spelling?)] with their network configuration.

Brazil just had their presidential election yesterday and the Diane is not very happy with the results. I'm very annoyed due to the fact that MI did not get me my absentee ballot in time (I sill haven't gotten it) to vote in tomorrow's election. I found that I could have printed an emergency ballot but I didn't discover that till it was to late to mail it back to the states anyway. I don't see why they American embassy doesn't just have it set up for people to come there to vote, it seems to me like that would make a lot more sense.

On Saturday we went to Mount Mulanje again this time with a whole group of people. We met up with a bunch of the volunteers from Blantyre and made for quite the dense group of white people. As always the falls felt really good to swim in after the hike up. On the way back down it started to dump rain and some hail on us so by the time we were all loaded into vehicles everyone was drenched and muddy. I bought a chess set at the shops by the entrance gate. I haggled the guy down from 8500 Kwatcha to 2300 Kwatcha (about 14 dollars). Of course then I managed to leave it in the truck I road back in but Alex is in Blantyre today so he is going to try and grab it for me.

White people overload

Having fun in the water

Exploring the Falls

Our Muddy Trek Down