Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Life is slower here. People are used to waiting for things. Men and boys go out very early in the morning--or late at night--to fish in Lake Malawi. It sounds idyllic, but the lake has been badly overfished, so it's hard to get a good catch.

Women cultivate cassava, groundnuts (peanuts), spinach and other greens, tomatoes, onions, bananas, and rice. The nicer houses are brick. They make the bricks themselves, out of the clay soil, and bake them in brick ovens, which they also make themselves.

The ingenuity is amazing.

I've seen children playing with bicycle rims and straw. They use the rim as a hoop, and the straw as a stick, to keep it rolling. It's the only toy I've seen here, although the men carve wood incessantly. But everything the men carve is to sell to the tourists.

I've got a piece of African cloth wrapped around my waist in a skirt, the way the women do here. I'm going to buy a lot more pieces of cloth and bring them back. Cloth and wood.

One of our group saw a man carving using the broken neck of a Coke bottle for a knife.

I ate flies last night. They catch them in a basket or a net, a whole swarm of them, and smush them into little balls and cook them. It didn't taste good or bad--just neutral. Dipping my fingers into the bowl of raw chopped flies felt like touching a bowl of feathers--very soft.

Day after day we have eaten the same food--sema or rice--the sema is made from either cassava flour or maize flour. Neither has any protein, vitamins, minerals or roughage--just starch. It's the staple food. Red sauce, made from tomatoes. Fish or chicken. The chickens here are small, much smaller than the U.S. They roam freely around the village, pecking and scratching, but return to their own roosts at night. They build the hen houses out of straw and elevate them onto a platform made from sticks, to protect the hens from the hyenas that used to be a problem here.

There are no longer wild hyenas roaming, but there are still sometimes hippos who come in the rainy season and demolish the cassava gardens. It's illegal to kill the hippos, but sometimes people do.

Women have very little economic power here even though they do the work that keeps life going--hauling water (on their heads), hauling firewood, also on their heads, ending the gardens, cultivating the food, gathering and cooking it, birthing and raising the children. Women's work.

I want to put my money into a woman's hands, but it is the men who interface most with the tourists, selling their carved wooden objects--salt cellars and salad spoons, tiny chairs decorated with hippos and rhinos and elephants and lions, decorated bowls, paintings of Lake Malawi.

I am so grateful that so far, knock wood, my health has held up well. At least half of our group has gotten sick with some kind of flu which is also passing through the viullage--hacking bronchial coughs, and fever. It looks miserable. I've been eating a lot of protein and taking sleeping pills so that I can sleep through the sound of drunken young Australians partying at this campground.

I've brought three books and not read a single sentence of any of them. I have two blank books and haven't written anything except to take notes, and in this blog and in emails home. I'm just absorbing like a sponge. I don't even know what I'm thinking about, except that it is the girls and women who touch me most deeply.

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