Monday, May 4, 2009

My dad told me how to pay off cops. The old licenses used to have two parts; the first was the plastic photo, the second a piece of pink paper that would be folded so that it and the photo would slide into a case of some kind. He would say that one would slip a $50 bill inside in case the police pulled one over for speeding. When that person inevitably was, he or she would simply pass the the license to the cop and wait for him to return a few minutes later without a ticket and a 'watch your speed. i won't be so nice next time. have a nice day'. Now, the first thing I'm thinking of now is that $50 was a lot of money back then, and if speeding tickets are expensive today, then how fast must one have been going that a $50 would smooth everything over. It could be the equivalent of paying someone $100, maybe more, for a speeding transaction today. That is, in my experience almost 27 m.p.h. over the speed limit.
The first time I paid off a cop was after a Bob Dylan concert on spring break in 2000. We were in Montana and it was roughly 2 am. There was absolutely no one on the road. So certain am I of this, that I am still convinced that the state trooper was laying in wait in some field and came flying off an embankment of some sort to catch us. I was riding shotgun and my roommate Mike was driving. I woke up my two other roommates who were sitting in the back seat. The cop came to the window told us that we were going 25 mph over, asked for the id and went back to his car for a long time. Finally, my roommate got sick of waiting and went to the cop car. He returned promptly with a question. "Does anyone have $40 or we're going to jail?" Providentially, we did. And that was the end of that.
"Can you buy me some groundnuts?" That was how the cop asked for the 'contribution' today. Macson, the driver was caught off-guard by it so much he laughed; then he opened the change drawer and gave him the 15 kwatcha that Jeff had given him yesterday. It wasn't subtle in the least. At least the woman cop had tried to beat around the bush, and even confiscated Macson's license and made him go to the police station, find her number, call her at home, get new permits, and then asked him again how much money he had. But the wheels had already been greased.
Tradition is more important than education (thanks Hans and Hennie). This is what we've seen. The staple food here is Nsima, which is maize--basically corn-- that has pretty much all of its nutritional value sucked out of it, and made into a bland, thick, sticky blob resembling stiff cream of wheat. They do this because their mothers did this. They have been taught about rotating crops and other foods, but that's not tradition. They have rows in the fields a foot deep so that the soil is piled up into tall spines. Their fathers farmed this way. They use large pots for cooking after the harvest despite going without food for 1/3 of the year. Small or even medium sized pots don't cross their minds; it is not tradition.
There have, however, been positive steps. We saw some today. We went to Gamenzi village, the same village as the Malaria Control village. There they had an orphan's nursery school, staffed by volunteers, from 8-11 am, which had offered free meals to whomever came. The food has been provided for by USAID. They bring other children in as well, so as to not alienate the orphans for being orphans. We were treated to some of the things that they have been taught. They would bring these kids who were maybe 3 or 4 up in front of everyone to show that they were able to say their prayers, or count to 10, or the names of the months in English. All were quite cute doing it. We got some information from the volunteer teacher about what size of class they have (this one was 70 orphans/kids), and how many (4), and where they were located (there's 3 other ones in 3 other villages--no idea which ones, nor where they are). But the non-traditional thing about this was that it started 12 months ago because they saw the need.
The need was that there is (and i've counted) a bazillion kids who would be playing hookey if there was a school; who would be at home if they had (a) parent(s); who would be eating breakfast if they had any food.
This village, I think, is a bit different than the other villages. The mfumu (chief) seems to be very interested in improving the lot of the community; the most proactive. So much so that the men, when we returned to the shade tree and bore hole (water well), were working on bamboo mats and wicker baskets so that they could sell to raise money for some food and for the volunteers that do so much. Jeff and I tried to do some mats and he did fairly well, he says. I would have preferred to know that it is better to slide the bamboo slats onto the knife/needle than to try and push the needle/knife through the slats; that does not work well. Jae and Heather fared better than us, but they were making baskets; that hardly counts. We were sweating after we were finished.
There are some concerns for tomorrow's meeting but nothing that should deter us from the final outcome, the reason why we came. The main one being that we are very persistent in that we want it to be community based in Kamenzi district and not church based. It is a fine line to walk but, as our Ubuntu group has discussed, one which we feel is essential. Specific people on their side want it to be church based, and if not, then to stack the committee and the meeting tomorrow with people who "happen to also be part of the church" here. It's just another form of greasing the wheels.

In other news, Heather tried to carry a bucket on her head with some help from some of the ladies here. If there's a photo of her by herself in front of the church, I want you all to know that I saw someone holding it up for her. Sorry, Heather. You probably thought you did it yourself.
Jae was blessed with many abilities; biking in Malawi is not really one of them.

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