Saturday, May 2, 2009

No matter how well I thought I was prepared for Africa, I find that there is always something that surprises me. Granted, I have only been here for a week.
I think the one thing that makes me think of home the most often is the housing in the villages in the bush and along the sides of the highway. It is not that far of a stretch to say that they may have easily come from the Wild West, 100 years ago. There are the dusty main streets, uniformed only in there randomness; the store walls are painted, some bright blue, others white; posts hold up an overhang against which one could imagine some sort of wannabe cowboy leaning against it. One could take the Man without a Name from the Sergio Leone movies and place him in these streets and it would not seem out of place. That is one thing that surprised me.
Another thing would be flying all the way to Malawi to stay in the Korea Garden Lodge. I know what you're thinking, and we have already discussed it. We figure that since there was a relationship between the North Korea and Tanzania and Angola, and part of the quid pro quo was an infiltration into free market economies.
The power going out during dinner. Not a surprise. Being told 20 minutes later that our meal couldn't be cooked because of the power wasn't much of a surprise. Watching Jae ordering multiple entrees, being denied each time until he asked 'what can i have?'...'No. 15 or 16.' was the reply. That, I wasn't expecting.
Driving to the beachside resort today, we stopped in Salima, a market town about 2/3s of the way to the lake. While looking for a picture frame, I came across about the only place I would go to get my haircut: "Jesus is the answer Barbershop". You can't make these things up.
The wood market right before the lake wasn't a surprise, however. Rows of thatched 'huts' with goods inside, sellers on the outside saying anything to get you inside. "my friend....", "come and see...", "i give you good price....", "I'm broke, I need money." Not surprising.
I went into one and was looking at a wooden statue. The man came up to me, telling me that it was ebony, which he got and carved himself. Now. I was a little hesitant on a couple of things. One, that he carved it himself since all the statues look alike; two, that he went to get the wood himself (only because his story changed two or three times in the 30 seconds he was telling me it). What I wasn't sure of was the ebony. First off, the only thing I know about ebony is that it used to be the black on pianos and it was Michael's half of the duet. It didn't look like ebony. So, I bought the gifts, not because I wanted ivory. What I didn't expect was that when I turned around there was a man rubbing black shoe polish onto the carvings with a toothbrush. Ebony, eh.
At the resort on the beach, we were watching the boats go by, with the fishermen selling their wares; paddleboats going by; swimmers in the lake. Jae noticed one particular boat, which had escaped my attention. 3 strokes then bail. 3 strokes then bail. I wasn't sure what he was talking about until i saw a group of 5 fishermen coming in. Two were manning the oars, one had the task of bailing out the water from within the boat. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Our impressions of Africa aren't always the way things actually are. It's easy to see things from our side, saying that this is how things happen or that it's ebony. Sometimes you need to be up close to notice that while the ship still seems to be working properly that there are some major structural issues that need to be addressed.


  1. Sounds like you guys had a good day today and experienced an important part of the puzzle. I laughed so hard at your story about Jae....we learned not to even look at the menu at the restaurant in Wa until we had asked if they had cheese....which they never did. This cut off half of the things on the menu! They also sell a lot of 'ebony' in Mali. We came to the conclusion that this just meant 'black' but who knows for sure?

    One of the things I'd like to hear more about is how to address the structural issues when sometimes there seem to be more imminent needs. It's really hard, I haven't figured that one out yet.

    Enjoy the singing and dancing tomorrow....I wonder who they will call on to speak????? Take care!

  2. so much that is so hard to even begin to figure does a place of such paradox ever really make sense? i think that reading this blog has helped me revisit a lot of places/thoughts/experiences and has been a bit cathartic for me. it's also reinforced the reality that africa is a place to experience, a beautiful people to connect with, a lesson to be learned, a wonder to behold...and not just a 'problem to be solved'. i guess the key is in being willing to live in that place of letting ourselves be surprised, even if that surprise brings with it a bit of disillusionment.
    keep well...