Rebecca Jacobson
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And To Think The Burning Piles Of Trash Once Attracted My Attention

November 2, 2009 @ 1:55 AM | Permalink

Five weeks into my yearlong stay in Malawi, I’ve been reflecting on those aspects of life I thought would remain forever foreign but have already become familiar. When my plane landed, I peered out the window and found myself overwhelmed with how tremendously different it all was — the tarmac so covered in dust I couldn’t see the asphalt, the brightly clad onlookers standing on the observation deck just to watch the jets take off and fly in, the impressive loads carried atop the heads of pedestrians, the deep purple jacaranda blossoms, the enormous quantities of firewood piled onto antiquated bicycles, the burning piles of refuse, the infants strapped onto women’s backs with vibrant swathes of fabric, the trees shaped like broccoli florets, the goats grazing by the roadside. But by now, most of these things have grown commonplace. What else barely makes me blink twice?

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As an obvious foreigner, I attract a great deal of attention on the street. This attention manifests itself in marriage proposals, travel requests (“take me to your country!”), and all variety of name-calling. So far, I’ve been every member of the family (sister, baby, mama — but not yet yo’ baby’s mama), friend, girlfriend, miss, madam, customer, azungu (a respectful term for a white person), mzungu (a less respectful term), and “I LOVE YOU!” The other day, a group of university students crowded onto a bus called out their windows. “A-ZU-NGU!” they hollered. “MWASWERA BWANJI?” they asked. I was walking along a busy thoroughfare during rush hour. The bus was a good distance away. “NDASWERA BWINO! KAYA INU?” I shrieked back, my hoarse voice straining to return the afternoon greeting. The students cheered. Several pedestrians cast me surprised looks, but I continued along, delighted with my laboriously pronounced Chichewa syllables.

The singularities of Malawian transport have been growing on me as well. It’s not just the minibuses that produce disconcerting death rattles and heave any time a passenger shifts their seat. On my way to a party a few weeks back, I was picked up by four Malawian guys crammed into a puny sedan. The exhaust pipe dragged on the ground, the steering wheel was half-intact, and the side view mirrors had been rendered useless by the opaque packing tape that affixed them to the body of the car. The passengers took generous swigs out of a bottle of gin. I held my breath and hoped for the best.

The insects in my house now generate resignation rather than disgust. I sigh at the parades of ants, whip out my can of insect killer, plug my nose, and spray the six-legged offenders. I favor the ominously named DOOM, which has special formulas for crawling insects and flying insects. There’s even DOOM Fresh!, a combo formula that leaves those creepy crawlies dead and my domicile smelling juicier than an orange grove.

I would estimate that power outages have occurred more than half of the days I’ve been in Malawi. And I’m lucky to be in Blantyre, which is on the electric grid — much of Malawi isn’t. I hardly notice the blackouts anymore. Once the electricity cut as a friend and I were chatting in my kitchen. We carried on the conversation in the dark. I have, however, developed a newfound appreciation for generators. But there are times when even those don’t do the job — while checking my e-mail last week, the generator’s reassuring hum sputtered. G’bye, Internet. “What happened?” I asked. “Generator ran out of fuel,” reported my Malawian friend Robert. “Ah, I love…” I began. “Malawi,” Robert finished.

Indeed. And it happened so fast.


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Rebecca: I love the ending and I LOVE the second picture with the bright blue guy and the sepia tobacco. Angela

Angela Allen on Trafficking in Tobacco 2009-09-29

Thanks Angela! The second photo is my favorite as well.

Rebecca Jacobson on Trafficking in Tobacco 2009-09-30

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