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Archive for August, 2011

The last month and a half has been chock full of uncertainty for various reasons.  Most significantly, there has been a fairly significant amount of political conflict and unrest throughout Malawi as a result of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s questionable policies.  When I arrived in Malawi almost four months ago (wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long!), the problems were already relatively apparent; however, things have gotten steadily worse over the months.  Most obvious to the everyday person is the fuel shortage — or, more appropriately, fuel crisis.  There is a consistent (and ever increasing) issue with accessing both petrol and diesel, thereby leaving many people unable to do their work effectively, as well as increasing minibus/taxi prices for the masses.  Other major complaints against Mutharika include (but are not limited to): lack of ForEx available, a bloated cabinet using up government funds, Mutharika purchasing a private presidential jet despite other major internal funding issues, the Malawian currency (the kwacha) being pegged and leading to issues with IMF funding, Mutharika kicking out the Ambassador from the UK (one of Malawi’s largest donors) as a result of some minor leaked criticism from the Ambassador, etc.  (For further background on the issues, here is a good blog summarizing events that have occurred over the past year leading up to recent anti-government protests:  http://habanahaba.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/situation-report-malawi/)

 

Anti-government protests took place last month (July 20th-21st) in various cities across the country and ended up being a lot larger and more violent than most people–or at least I–had expected.  They had originally been planned as a single day, nonviolent protest, but ended up as a two day debacle with 20+ people left dead and many more wounded.  Many houses and cars of people associated with the ruling political party were burned down, as well as other random targets (including a brand new UNICEF funded Hilux Truck at the Karonga District Water Office — which I saw the burned out hulk of first hand).  In the aftermath of the July 20th protests, Bingu made little effort to respond to the demands of the people, and was almost acting worse than previously.  As a result, even larger protests were planned for the 17th of August.  In the weeks in between July 21st and August 17th, things were looking calm and normal throughout Malawi, but rumors were flying right and left about the upcoming round of demonstrations and their increased intensity.  There were even rumors of coups and military protests against the president possible to happen the week before the 17th.  EWB therefore decided to take a “strategic retreat” (aka evacuate our team) to Zambia for the few days surrounding the 17th, at which time we would have our usual monthly team meeting.

 

During the weeks prior to our evac, I spent a bit of time in Karonga District (in the north) following up with Duncan on research he had begun a year ago, a bit of time in Salima checking in with Ge/Maggie (our village mom)/Salima’s District Water Office, then in Lilongwe for a while showing around some new members of our team who had arrived.  Each of these was fun and interesting, but still not moving myself in the direction of any long term goals related my work — which has been an aspect of my past few months that has been quite frustrating.  But in the middle of all of the uncertainty about political protests, uncertainty about work, and some personal uncertainties I had been struggling with as well, came the first moment of clarity:  I finally found out my placement!  Megan, one of our Team Leaders and my coach, went to visit a particular district that seemed like it could be a good fit for me to work in, and was very impressed with the district.  So, after much anticipation, my new home is….. (drum roll please)…. Mangochi!!!

 

The other major moment of clarity was finally getting to discuss with Megan, in significantly more detail, what I would actually be doing in Mangochi and a projected timeline for my work.  I didn’t have the chance to visit Mangochi before leaving for Zambia, but had millions of ideas about it already building up in my head — both excitement and apprehension continuously increasing.  I headed to Zambia with no real clarity, but with at least a light at the end of the tunnel encouraging me to keep pushing forward.  Our Zambia evac itself was filled with little worth writing about (mainly lots and lots of meetings), except for two hilarious border crossings with 15 azungu (white people) carrying way too much luggage/food and looking entirely unreasonable.  The highlight of the week was that the protests in Malawi ended up being called off at the last moment, and there was absolutely no violence on the 17th!!  The protests were replaced by peaceful talks with the president, which he finally agreed to take part in at the last minute.  Although the second wave of demonstrations were cancelled (or rather, postponed indefinitely), it  is still unsure how and when the political tensions in Malawi will be resolved.  There is even talk of protests already being planned for September 17th in case the talks with Mutharika do not go well — and so the uncertainty continues.   (Two good websites to keep up to date on the news are www.malawivoice.com and www.nyasatimes.com)

 

But on the positive side, after our return from Zambia a few days ago, I took the bus down to Mangochi and have spent the past two days exploring my new home!  Despite the fact that everything about my new life is entirely uncertain — where I will live, who I will be friends with, how work at the district water office will go, etc. — there is still a serene sense of clarity and contentment in simply knowing that this is where I’ll be staying for the rest of my time in Malawi.  I now have an actual picture of what the town looks like and have met briefly with the people I will work with, thereby clearing the fog away at least slightly.  I promise to write more about Mangochi soon — but I’ll just say that, on first impression, I love it.  Looking forward to putting down some roots and finding yet another place, in yet another random corner of the world, that I will happily call “home.”

 

Peace, love, and new beginnings,

Lis

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