Short Stories

I couldn’t decide on one topic to write on for this week, so I decided instead to write a few short stories for you. They’re all pretty random but I hope you enjoy them!

It’s a long way to Lilongwe

Two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Lilongwe for a team meeting with the rest of the APS team from Malawi. Along the way I discovered my general dislike for traveling throughout Malawi via bus. The thing about the buses here is that they do not leave at scheduled times; they leave when every seat is full and there are people standing in the aisles. On my way back to Thyolo I was forced to wait for two and a half hours for my bus to fill up only to have it break down 25 minutes outside of Lilongwe.

I ended up having to sit on the side of the road for about an hour until another bus showed up, however this bus was already half full and had to fit another full busload of people on it! I’ve never experienced so much craziness trying to get on a bus before! As soon as the bus arrived everyone started running towards it; men started jumping up the sides of the bus to crawl in through the windows and women started passing their bags and children into the bus through the windows! The door was just a huge pile of people not really moving anywhere; so many people were trying to get through the door at once that there just ended up being a jam of people stuck halfway through the door. Luckily I managed to get a seat and spent the next 5 and a half hours crammed between the person next to me and the dozens of people falling around in the aisles.

Bugs

I’ve come to hate ants since I’ve been here. I know they’re small and harmless, but you can’t let them get away with anything or they will invade your space.  I went to the latrine during the night a couple of weeks ago and foolishly didn’t check my flip flops before I put them on. My feet immediately got really itchy but I didn’t think too much of it and continued on my way. When I got back to the house I finally shone my light down on my feet to see that they were completely crawling with ants and that the “itchyness” was actually dozens of ants biting me! I started trying to knock them off with my hands only to have them crawl up my arms and realize that they were crawling up my legs and the inside of my pyjama pants as well. It took me a while to get them all off me and then I spent the better part of 20 minutes on my bedroom floor killing as many as I could. Lesson learned though, never leave your shoes in an ant hill.

I also spent three nights last week being traumatized by the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life. The first night I saw it scurrying across my wall (this thing moves super fast and it jumps) and got quite a surprise! I tried to kill it with my shoe but lost track of it and ended waking most of my family up; they were pretty concerned because they thought I was trying to kill a scorpion, not a “harmless” spider. The second night I caught it crawling up the outside of my mosquito net right when I was getting ready for bed again. This time I resorted to spraying my entire room with doom and sleeping with the door open in hopes that it would leave during the night. No luck, the third night it attacked my net again, but this time I managed to corner it and didn’t feel the least bit sorry beating the hell out of it with my shoe.

Mmm, nnnnsima

I had to add multiple n’s to nsima because that is the way everyone says it in Thyolo, you’ve got to drag out a long n right at the beginning. I made nsima for the first time this weekend! My host mom taught me how to make it, it’s pretty easy. You start off with a pot of water, you let it heat (but don’t let it boil) and then you add some corn flour to it. It is still pretty watery and you stir it until it starts to boil. At this point you put the cover back on and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then you continue stirring and add lots of corn flour until you have the right nsima consistency.

We started off with the normal sized pot that my host mom always uses to make nsima. Nsima is very hard to stir though! I’m telling you, Malawian women have strong arms from stirring nsima and lifting ridiculous amounts of things on their heads. Anyways, my attempt to stir the nsima in the big pot was quite pathetic. My host mom ended up taking it from me and stirring it around. She wanted to make sure I could do it though so she made me make another lot of nsima in a smaller pot!  This time I succeeded even though everyone was dying laughing at the sad little azungu trying to stir a pot of nsima. In the end it turned out well though and my host mom would only eat my nsima!

Borehole Borehole

Over the last two weeks I got to go to the field twice to witness boreholes being repaired; both of the boreholes were Afridev handpumps. The first borehole had been broken for about a year, but there was another borehole just up the road so the committee wasn’t really very motivated to fix it until they found out an MP wanted to build a house where the broken borehole was. This motivated them to get their act together and fix it so that he couldn’t destroy the borehole to make room for his house. The pipe in the borehole had become completely clogged with rocks and dirt so the pipe had to be taken up and new pump rods installed. The MP ended up being pretty pleased because he will now have a functional borehole right in his backyard; he even paid for spare parts. On a separate note, this borehole didn’t even really need to be fixed because it was in the Boma and there was another one 300 feet away; it’s frustrating that there is an abundance of pumps in the Boma and no pumps in more remote communities.

The second borehole had been installed in 2000 and had been broken for about 4 years. I thought it was interesting that the community was repairing a broken borehole after 4 years, so I asked around about it. Apparently this community did not pay a treasurer any monthly fees for their water, but they would pay for spare parts when they were needed. This borehole had the pump rods stolen though and since these are more costly to replace the community did not replace them or fix the pump. However four years later an MP agreed to pay for the cost of the pump rods for this community since they were so expensive. According to one of the water monitoring assistants, if the community had regularly collected monthly O&M fees (which would be smaller than a lump sum for spare parts) they would have had enough money to purchase the pump rods. I have a bad feeling now that after having had spare parts donated to them by an MP; this community is not going to pay fees anymore for their water because they believe they can get what they need for free.

Hope you enjoyed my stories,
Maria

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Categories: Volunteering in Malawi | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Short Stories

  1. Maja

    At home you would call me to get the spider. Now with your experience, I’m sure that won’t happen again!

    Hugs and Kisses
    Maja
    xox

  2. Evan

    Thanks for the stories.

    I had a similar experience stirring TZ in ghana. Most of the family stood around laughing at me, even though I thought I was doing a pretty good job.

    Evan

  3. Nushka

    Hey Maria!
    Looks like you are integrating into the family pretty well! I remember having difficulty stirring the equivalent of nsima back in Koudougou. I have the lamess video of it, even though I felt as though I was doing pretty good for a first try. When I watch the video now I just get embarrassed. Maybe you can get better at it as time goes. Think you’ll try again?

    I also completely understand your frustration and worry about the water points. It’s hard to get the community to pay monthly fees for the boreholes but at the same time it’s not helping anyone if we just keep on giving the parts away and fixing the ones people abandon. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing about your experience when you come back. It’s interesting seeing the difference between Burkina and Malawi WatSan.
    xox take care!

  4. Valerie

    I love your stories! Keep them coming!

  5. Jill Pittman

    Hi Maria,

    Just curious who is doing the repairs on these water points?

    Also are there any monitoring activities that your District Water Office conducts to get information about who in the community is accessing any of these individual water points?

    Keep on Keepin’ on!
    Jill

  6. Hi again Jill!

    So what is supposed to be practiced in Malawi is Community Based Management, meaning that the Community should be trained upon installation of the pump to fix small problems and to maintain the pump. However when you get bigger problems that involve the pump rods it needs to be fixed either by an area mechanic or my a water monitoring assistant. This can take a while because the community will need to save money to replace the spare parts, and in the area mechanic’s case they will need to save money to pay the mechanic. If CBM training is not completed or is not done well though then the community often won’t be able to fix common problems and the community may not be set up with a treasurer to collect funds for when it breaks.

    The short answer to your second question is no, the district is not assessing who uses water points. EWB is interested in doing some field work to assess what happens in multi-water point villages, I’m supposed to get out to the field to look at this issue, however right now I am rapidly running out of time and things are busy at the office. Fingers crossed I’ll get to the field.

    Maria

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