The long wait is over…..I am in Malawi. The rains have finally come and everyone is giddy and grateful. Flying in to Lilongwe I could see two distinct thunderstorms on the outskirts of the city separated only by a ray of sunlight and a patch of blue.
I met Peter Mawanga in person and feel like I have now formally snipped the red ribbon on the project. Peter is even more articulate in person and we’re both really excited about what this project is, could, and will be. Malawi is a warm country (in more than one way), in fact travel guides will refer to it as “the Warm Heart of Africa.”
I’d say they’re right. There is an incredible positive energy in the air considering the grinding poverty and deadly scourge of AIDS. AIDS is something everyone here is affected by. I actually live within a ten minute walk of Malawi’s National AIDS Commission and NAPHAM (National Alliance of People with HIV and AIDS in Malawi). Every day walking home I see the painted red ribbon on NAPHAM’s sign and am reminded of this virus’ pervasiveness and the urgency to remedy it.
Lilongwe is NGO central. There’s Madonna’s charity, Mother Teresa’s, Partners in Health, CARE, Worldcamp for Kids, USAID, Baylor’s pediatric program, and of course the UNC Malawi project….just to name a few. I remember planning my project last November when someone told me “you know UNC has a pretty big project in Malawi right?”
…Reeeeeally? I emailed them as soon as the semester started back and a year later I get to see the famous edifice that shelters UNC’s work. It was a great satisfaction to stumble upon signs for my alma mater in the middle of this florid African city.
Lilongwe is to quote Frank Sinatra “my kind of town.” It’s a city with access to all of the essentials that big cities offer but it has a laid back feel typical of more rural settings. They grow maize and crops in and around the city and traffic has been sparse giving me the illusion this place is tamer than it probably is (probably just the new year holiday). The markets swell with people in the hot afternoons but I haven’t felt an ounce of claustrophobia since I arrived.
One nice little cultural gem: they have “Obama” chewing gum here. They also have these bread rolls called Obamas. I suppose this is reflective of Africa’s excited affirmation of our president with his African roots, but I think the bread’s former name was losing its luster: the Bin Ladens. Evidently when they first introduced the Bin Laden rolls they “exploded” onto the grocery scene. Maybe the Bin Laden name is passé, but I can’t help but wonder if part of it is you’ll sell more bread in Africa by calling it Obama. Just something to chew on.