If you decide to head off to a developing country such as Malawi, there is one word you are sure to hear! In Malawi it is Azungu, but it changes of course depending on the local language. Azungu means “white person”. I was told I would be referred to as Azungu quite a bit, but I actually didn’t really experience this during my first week. In Lilongwe there’s lots of Azungu’s around so nobody called me Azungu and Thyolo was pretty tame as well (although this is because I stayed in the Buma my first few days which is the capital of the district). But alas, I have had several experiences now being called Azungu, one of which was quite unsettling.
I have been working at the District Water Office (DWO) in Thyolo for a few days now and before I go on I must express how beautiful Thyolo is. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been! It is every bit as beautiful as I ever could have imagined Malawi to be. I’m going to try and post some pictures at the bottom of this blog entry if I have time, so fingers crossed! The DWO is unlike anywhere I have ever worked. Everything moves at a very slow pace, not because people are lazy, but because that is the way things work here. On my first day I mostly just introduced myself to people, had a few conversations about the water infrastructure in Thyolo, and worked on increasing the computer skills of some of the staff. On Wednesday I got to go to the field though!
Mr. Banda, the Water Monitoring Assistant (WMA) for Gravity Fed Schemes (GFS), and I went to help out with the repair of a pipe that had been washed away when the river rose earlier this year during the rainy season. Since Thyolo is so hilly it has 4 quite large GFS’s; they consist of an intake gate at the top of the mountain where a spring is located and then the water is transported by underground pipes down several sides of the mountain. There are taps for villages located along the length of the pipes. The civil engineering student in me found it quite interesting of course! Anyways, the scheme is maintained by a repair team who collects money every month from households in every village that is serviced. As the WMA, Mr. Banda went out to monitor the repair of the pipe and I got to accompany him! It was here that I had my first experience as an Azungu.
Along the way we stopped briefly by a school so that Mr. Banda could show me the tap there. As soon as we drove past the school children started chasing us and by the time I had gotten off the motorbike there was literally about 200 children surrounding me, all chanting “Azungu Azungu Azungu” and reaching their hands out to touch me. I felt a bit like the fish in Finding Nemo that the seagulls are all fighting over, “mine mine mine”, “Azungu Azungu Azungu”. It was quite unsettling and made me wonder what a white person represents to them because my presence certainly didn’t benefit them at all. I say they were reaching out to touch me and shake my hand, but looking back they could have just as easily been reaching out for money since many children in the village where I’m staying often run up to me with big smiles and say “Give me my money”. (I don’t think that’s what these school children were doing though). I can’t decide which I prefer, the children who harass me or the children who are afraid of my white skin and run away.
On Friday, I moved in with a family from the office. I’m not really sure how permanent the arrangement is going to be, but I’ll keep you posted. I like living with a family much better than staying in a guest house. Everyone is really sweet, I’m just trying to figure out where I fit in the family dynamic. Right now I am still very much a guest, I try to help out where I can, but I’m also trying to figure out how things work within the family. One of my goals now is to help make nsima some night this week. To refresh some of you, nsima is the staple food here, it is a porridge consistency and you eat it with different relishes. The most unusual relish I’ve had thus far is fish. The reason this was unusual for me was because I was served the entire fish; face, fins, and scales! It took me awhile to figure out how to eat it. Unfortunately my body still seems to be having some problems adjusting to all the new foods and new routine. I usually go to sleep around 9 and wake up around 6.
In other news, it has rained the last two mornings I’ve been here! I thought this was supposed to be the dry season; apparently normal weather laws don’t apply in Thyolo. I was also quite excited to discover that there is a Salvation Army church here. I went this morning; it was quite a different experience to what I’m used to, and it was all conducted in Chichewa so I understood very little. But they sing some of the same songs that I sing at home, I’d never have known though if they weren’t listed in English in the songbook though because the language and tune make songs completely unrecognizable. Christianity is the dominant religion in Malawi; being asked what denomination you are is a pretty common question.
Anyways, call me up or email me this week. I’m a bit slow answering emails, but I’m usually free after 5:30 if you want to call. The time difference between Malawi and Newfoundland is 4.5 hours. So instead of chilling in the UC at 1:00 doing nothing, give me a call! I was going to post some pictures here, but unfortunately it’s WAY too slow and I’m on my lunch break. Better luck next time. Miss you all!