Fall in Malawi

A May night in Malawi feels like a North Carolina one in October. Indeed it is fall in Malawi and I am finally putting my sweatshirts to good use. Lilongwe is undergoing a makeover. The dusty Presidential Highway I use to cycle calmly in January is now a four-lane slab of cement and gas-guzzling SUVs racing from one appointment to the next. Indeed the highway is the centerpiece of Lilongwe’s concrete makeover, a symbol of modernity. Not only that, Parliament house was just completed last week and there were thousands of well-wishers to usher in the stunning monolith which is situated right at the base of Lilongwe’s “Capitol Hill.”

Maize, hopefully enough to last the rest of the season

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day Everyone!

Photo Credit Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Photo Credit Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
If you had asked me a month ago what I would have been doing St. Paddy’s day or St Paddy’s Day week I probably would have replied “another typical day in Malawi” (i.e. either doing a narrative transcription or off in search of that next incredible story that just commands me to flip on the audio recorder). I wouldn’t have said “playing Irish music non-stop with a bunch of Irish musicians.” Well that’s exactly what the last week has been ever since this foursome from University of Limerick, Ireland showed up for the Irish Arts Council’s Malawi-Irish musical exchange. Orchestrated by Brona, chair of Malawi’s Irish Art’s Council, we have had some kind of musical performance or demonstration nearly every day. Last Friday (March 12th) there was a huge concert with 300 in attendance. The Irish musicians and myself played a few sets and then an incredible band from Malawi Mafilika played a few sets. For the grand finale all ten of us did an epic jam of Irish dance tunes and Malawian traditional songs in tandem. The crowd went wild. The hi-light had to have been when a talented Irish step-dancer from Malawi’s Irish embassy got up to dance with this Malawian guy. They did Irish steps and Malawian steps together as we-the band surged behind them. From my vantage point all I could see was their backs. When they stomped the last downbeat of the tune I saw silhouettes of hundreds of ex-pats eclipse the back lights and wave their hands in raucous applause. It was exhilarating.
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Beneath The Stigma

Beautiful Lake Malawi - Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Beautiful Lake Malawi - Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Six weeks into the project, I’ve never been so busy. It’s the perfect kind of busy. This week alone we will have done six narratives and there are still many more on the calendar in the coming weeks.

Much of this project’s success has been achieved under the auspices of the UNC Malawi Project. They have a fantastic peer educator support group brought together to educate, counsel, and encourage HIV positive and pregnant women undergoing PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission). Last week I arrived at Bwaila Hospital in downtown Lilongwe for a prescheduled meeting with some of these peer educators. Bwaila can be overwhelming. Walking through the gates, I saw a scattering of dusty buildings punctuated by those brightly colored chitenjes (Malawian print cloth) so many of the women wrap around their babies and themselves. There were so many women…and babies. These women patiently sit and wait and wait. Seeing a doctor in Malawi seems to involve a LOT of patience.
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New Year, New Country

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.”
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