And I’m Back

After an interesting, challenging, exciting, confusing, frustrating, outstanding, life-altering summer working for EWB in Malawi, I am officially back on native soil.  It’s been two weeks since my return to Canada and it’s been a very interesting experience.  At times, it has felt like I’m a stranger to that which was once familiar.  At other times, it has been relieving to return to old haunts, familiar routines and this feeling that I once understood to be normality.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the past little while.  We departed from Lilongwe on August 27th and were delayed in Addis Ababa waiting for Hurricane Irene to move away from Washington where we were scheduled to fly through.  Eventually we got off the ground and ended up in Washington via Rome.  Having missed our connecting flight to Toronto, we headed across the city to the other airport where we caught a flight and arrived in TO the evening of the 28th.  After that it was three days in the EWB house running workshops on reintegration, chapter work and communicating our experiences.  After debrief, I headed to Edmonton August 31st and have been bumming around here ever since.  My mind is still greatly scattered in many regards, but I’m working on putting the pieces together.  In the meantime, here’s a pseudo-random list of observations and experiences that have come out of the last few weeks.

North America is incredibly intent on getting my attention and it can be kind of taxing.  When we were waiting at the airport in Washington, I spent about an hour just looking around with eyes the size of saucers at everything there was to see. So many products, so many colours, so many options.  It was a bit overwhelming and I think it ended up taking me about twenty minutes to finally decide on something to eat.  It also didn’t help that I was still measuring things in Malawian prices and refused to pay much more than $3 for a meal and a drink.  I found myself getting caught in an odd sort of tension in that everything was so new and interesting that I couldn’t stop staring at all the fancy advertisements with their fancy products, but I’m not a particularly big fan of consumerism so even though I wanted to ignore the signs, I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.  I suppose that’s why the ad men are paid the millions they’re paid.

People are much more uppity about things happening on time, things working, things being just right and things going according to plan.  I have mixed feelings about this.  When I was in Malawi I found that, generally, people have an incredibly high tolerance for dealing with life’s crap.  When the door falls off the minibus, everyone just sits patiently and waits for it to be put back on.  When a meeting is running several hours behind schedule, everyone just sits patiently and waits for everything to eventually wrap up.  Most Malawians were much more relaxed when situations inevitably went awry and were much better at laughing off less than ideal situations.  But in many ways, this attitude of accepting what’s not great is one of the barriers to Malawi’s development.  If no one is upset when things aren’t going well, then there’s no real incentive for things to get better.  So while at times I think that Canadians might worry a bit too much about everything, that isn’t to say that Malawians couldn’t stand to be a little more uppity than they tend to be.

I am no longer a novelty.  This was something that I hadn’t really given much thought to when I was preparing to come back to Canada, but it is definitely a very different experience to walk into a store and not have everyone stop their conversations to stare at you.  For most of my time in Malawi, I was the only mzungu (foreigner) living in my village so I drew a fair bit of attention whenever I did anything.  It’s kind of nice to be able to blend into the crowd, but it does make it harder to meet new people when you’re just another face.

Electricity will be the death of me.  It’s amazing how easy it is to fall back into old habits, but one week back at classes and I’m already staying up well past my village bed time, reading, playing board games, prepping EWB things and all of those other activities that just weren’t possible in the village after the sun had set.  This is especially problematic when I try to hold onto the other side of village sleeping patterns: waking up at 5:30 AM every morning.  The early rising fell apart pretty quickly though since it’s much harder to get up and go when you’re sleeping on a big box spring mattress that’s so much more comfortable than a four inch chunk of foam.  Not to mention that there is no longer a gang of roosters intent on screaming their lungs out until I get out of bed.

Hopefully I’ll be able to put together a bit more of a cohesive debrief of my experience in the near future to share to the internet, but for now, those are some things that have been on my mind since I’ve been back.

All the best,

Fraser

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Relocation

I’ve officially changed countries.  Check out the new post at http://www.fraserinzambia.wordpress.com!

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Palibe Chosatha – Nothing Lasts Forever

I used to dream of Canada.  I would fall asleep on the bus to Mzuzu and see Whyte Avenue passing by my eyes.  I would fall asleep while writing in my journal late at night and wake up in the engineering building at the UofA in front of an assignment that was due in an hour.  It was usually monotonous things that drew me back.  Those experiences that I had taken for granted when I lived them, but which took on a strange significance when even the monotonous experiences were totally new and different.  I would dream of walking down a street with a sidewalk and streetlights, washing dishes in a sink under running water, grocery shopping in a shop with refrigeration and huge selection or just sitting around in my room on the 7th floor of a 21 storey building.  All these things were growing more and more foreign to me and came to feel more like things I had seen in a movie than my own memories

As time passed, the dreams of Canada grew less frequent.  My mind caught up with my body and my dreams turned to Malawi; crossing maize fields, feeling the warmth of a fire in the morning or stirring the nsima pot.  This country took over my thoughts and my mind and the dreams of Canada dried up and stopped.

Then one night, about halfway through my placement, at home in Mpherembe as we finished our dinner and settled into that between time that lay just after nsima and just before sleeping, the conversation ebbed and a silence ensued.  Once the quiet had gone on for just long enough, my dad leaned forward and asked me, “Don’t you ever get homesick?”

“Homesick?” I asked, not fully understanding what he meant.  I was sitting in my home at the time.

“For Canada.  What sort of things do you miss?”

“Oh, homesick.”  I didn’t know how to answer.  Sitting with my Malawian family in the night, listening to Dad’s stories and enjoying Mom’s nsima, the thought of longing for Canada was probably the farthest thing from my mind.  Of course there were occasions when I longed for my Canadian life; my friends and family, events starting on time, knowing the same language as everyone else.  And of course there were things that I missed being able to find; Harry Potter, ice cream, books, toilet paper in toilet stalls.  But I never once wished that my short four months here be any shorter and I never once regretted the experience I had chosen to partake in.

“We will be very sad when you have to go back,” said Mom and I felt nothing but sincerity when I looked back and told her that saying goodbye would be one of the hardest things I would have to do during my entire time in Malawi.

But now I’ve reached the end of my time in Malawi and the prospect of leaving is no less painful to think about.  We’re heading to Zambia to spend our last few weeks in Africa to ensure that we’re as far away as possible from the potential violence of the coming protests.  When I got the phone call that we were leaving early, I was standing on the termite mound in the middle of the market square, the only place I can get reliable reception within the trade center.  As I looked around at all the things I would only see a few more times, I could feel tears welling up on my eyes.  When I told my Malawi mom about my early departure, the crestfallen look in her eyes nearly broke my heart.  Since then, each night at dinner has been marked by the inevitable countdown of the days remaining.  12…11…10…9…  Until only one remained.

So I’ll pack my bags and bid my final farewell to the mountains and the people that I’ve come to know and love and board the 4 AM bus to Mzuzu, to Lilongwe, to Chipata, to Canada.  And all I can hope is that I’ll one day return to this wonderful place I’ve called home.

So long, farewell,

Fraser

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Whose Rights are Right?

I wrote this post way back at the start of June but it sort of fell off the radar for a while and never actually ended up getting posted.  But given recent events with the government as well as the first lady telling NGOs to go to hell if they come to Malawi to allow men to marry other men ( http://www.nyasatimes.com/national/ngo%E2%80%99s-hit-back-at-%E2%80%98reckless%E2%80%99-first-lady/), it was interesting reading it through and seeing how my perspective may have changed since then.

In the past month that I’ve been in Malawi, I’ve celebrated a national holiday for the birthday of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda (Malawi’s first president), watched a TV program debating the illegality of homosexuality in Malawi as well as spent a week living at a house with a group village headman who has three wives.  And it’s become quite evident that the issue of human rights is not quite as straightforward as I’ve sometimes been led to believe. Dr. Banda was a national hero here in Malawi.  He led the country out from under British rule and made some great advancements in the development of the nation, but was often regarded as a bit of a dictator in the way he ran the country.  He was known to imprison his opposition and quiet dissenting voices in some unpleasant ways.  From a Canadian perspective, where human rights are the name of the game (supposedly), it was a little tough to reconcile these two opposing ideas about a single regime.  It’s very easy to lump individuals into one of two categories: a dictator, oppressor and all around horrible human being or a freedom fighting, democratic, take-home-to-meet-your-mother kind of guy.  But as is often the case, it’s not nearly that simple.  Life under Banda’s rule was apparently not so bad if you didn’t stick your neck out and compared to some of the recent events in Malawian politics, some of the people I’ve talked to about the subject speak longingly of the days gone by when Dr. Banda’s iron rule kept Malawi on track towards development.

But there’s no denying that Malawi is still facing some issues with respect to the debate over human rights.  Most notably, the issue of gay rights has been something that has come up on more than a few occasions in the short time that I’ve been here.  There have been several newspaper articles I’ve seen, some defending gay rights, others condemning them and one which was berating the government for making such an issue of something like gay rights when there are so many more pressing issues for Malawi to be dealing with.  Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, as with most other Sub-Saharan countries and recently two men were arrested for getting married.  Just the other day, during breakfast with some coworkers, there was a debate on television regarding the issue.  My coworkers condemned the defenders of gay rights, primarily based on the word of God and the fact that Malawi is a God fearing nation.  My one coworker made the argument that the white men who come to Malawi saying that homosexuality should be legalized are delegitimizing their own argument since it was their own white predecessors who came through to preach the word of God and  provide the exact opposite message.  The usual arguments regarding whether or not homosexuality occurs in nature, how God created man to be with woman, whether or not it harms anyone/society, etc. were passed back and forth and we both left the discussion totally unchanged in our positions.  Finally, my other coworker said that it was a non-issue since census data indicated that there aren’t any gay men in Malawi anyways, but who on earth is going to admit to a census that they’re gay in a country where being so is illegal?

It’s very easy to sit on a high horse and preach the benefits of human rights and freedoms on issues such as homosexuality, but things were a bit more muddled when I was trying to defend what my one host dad perceived as the lack of cultural freedom with respect to Canada’s stance on polygamy.  He was baffled that a country that works so hard to promote cultural and religious freedom would deny someone a practice that is fundamental to their culture.  As a group village headman, it is very important for him to express his status within his community in order to maintain the authority he possesses to make decisions.  For him, this expression of status is manifested in having three wives to his name.  Now this is a much more complicated issue than just that of polygamy, touching on sexism, misogyny and traditional gender roles, all of which I’ve had different experiences in dealing with, but the fact remained that for him, it was perceived as discrimination for a country to deny him his right to multiple wives.  I tried to explain the perspective that it is seen as an assault on a woman’s right to self determine and choose her path in life, but these concepts seemed strangely romantic and whimsical in rural Malawi where having more children can be the defining pathway to a prosperous future.  Once again we both left the discussion unchanged in our beliefs but intrigued by the perspective of the other.

These experiences have made me to wonder what human rights actually are in the grand scheme of society and the world.  What is the ultimate prerogative of a society and how do the rights of the individual affect the achievement of this objective?  Also, is there any one universal “right” or do we need to respect the individual moralities of individual mortals?  For now I’ll just test out my own way of life and see how it works out. I suppose it’s as my one coworker once said, “These human rights… They have their advantages, but they also have their disadvantages.”

Rightfully yours,

Fraser

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The Good Dilemma

“Now all we need to do is find a way to be able to quantify ‘Good.’”

–          Duncan McNicholl

I’ve come to the stage in my placement where the main focus of my field work is complete and it’s time to get all of the data I’ve collected into some sort of usable form.  At the outset of the research, I had been expecting to find a vast array of non-functional boreholes in all sorts of disrepair and my job would be to examine ways in which CCAP and TLC could support communities in performing the required repairs.  From there, the original intent of the analysis was to understand the main barriers that communities face in being able to perform repair s and recommend a project to explore ways that we can work within the system to break down one of these barriers to get more boreholes repaired.

But in the end, the majority of the boreholes on our list ended up being functional, though many still had some issues with water quantity and quality.  As a result of this divergence from the expected, we adapted our analysis method to glean some insight into some of the issues that still exist in borehole management.  All of the boreholes that we visited had some sort of system in place to attempt to get boreholes repaired in the event of a breakdown.  Typically, this existed in the form of a waterpoint committee, but in some instances, the school teachers and headmaster were in charge of managing the borehole’s functionality.  But it quickly became evident through the research that some communities were doing much better at managing their borehole than others.  One community that I visited had raised over 60,000 kwacha in one year (~$400 CDN) to put specifically towards borehole repairs despite their borehole working fine.  In another community, the borehole was non-functional despite the fact that the repair that was required would cost only 2000 kwacha to perform (~$13 CDN).  This huge gap in the ability of different communities to be able to raise money and manage their borehole was an incredibly significant factor that I was keen to try to pick apart.

And thus arose the question: what makes one WPC better than another in terms of borehole management?  This seemed about just as confusing and multi-faceted a question as I could possibly come up with, but a question that, if we could answer, would provide incredible insight into how to get all WPCs operating effectively.  The problem then became working with the limited amount of information that I had been able to collect through the course of the research.  Of the various pieces of information collected, some of the most relevant bits included; the nearest functioning waterpoint, how many households does the borehole serve, when was the last time the borehole broke down, how long was the borehole broken down, how much did it cost to repair, who repaired it, who performed the repair, how much money does the WPC currently have on hand, how are funds collected and how effective is the collection.  From this, I’ve been trying to tease out a way to determine which factors influence successful borehole management and how these factors could be replicated in some other WPCs.

In the end, the main factors that I utilized for determining the good-ness of a particular waterpoint committee were the amount of money they had in storage, the percentage of households that contribute to fund collections, the time since the last breakdown, the average breakdown duration and the maximum amount of money that the WPC predicts they would be able to raise.  But these indicators don’t come without their own inherent problems.  First off, I learnt partway through my research that many communities buy spare parts as soon as they can instead of storing money around since money can be swindled and lost whereas having parts on hand ensures that money won’t be used for other purposes as well as ensuring that repairs can happen rapidly when break downs occur.  This means that the amount of money that a WPC currently holds for repairs is not necessarily an indicator of how effective they are at raising funds in general.

Once I had calculated the different indicator values for the different waterpoints, I had a new problem: how do I weight each of these indicators when evaluating a final “score” for each waterpoint?  Is the percentage of households that contribute to the maintenance fund more important than the maximum amount the WPC can raise or vice versa?  Is the time since the last breakdown too closely related to the breakdown duration to count separately?  I still haven’t figured out how to box these things down to come up with one ranking for a particular WPC, and to be honest, I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate to try to.

This struggle I’ve been having of how to fit really complex situations into neat little categories is a fairly ubiquitous challenge within development and the world in general.  Evaluating complex systems is never an easy process and has a lot of risk associated with it.  These sorts of analyses involve a vast plethora of assumptions being made and any one of these assumptions can potentially damage your final outcome.  As well, building a robust analysis framework that works for any data set is particularly difficult, especially when working with such a small data set as I happen to be.  For instance, how would an outlier community that currently has 800,000 kwacha available, but that has an average breakdown duration of two years fit in to the analysis?  It doesn’t make sense to force these various and complicated factors into one simple box, but this is something that happens fairly often in development.

The problem then becomes determining how to implement a pilot to address one of the problems that exist in waterpoint management when the various problems and shortfalls that exist are often interconnected and overlapping.  How does one attack a complex problem without falling victim to oversimplification?  It’s a tricky balance to strike, often strife with assumptions, biases, compromises and additional questions needing answering, but when you think about it, that’s the nature of researching anything in this universe.  It sometimes feels like something that is lacking in the development sector is this research element, or at least the communication link between those researching the sector and those implementing the multi-million dollar development projects.  The development sector is driven by implementation indicators: how many boreholes you can drill, schools you can build, orphans you can save, etc. and the imperative to take the time to understand the full nature of a system can at times be lost in the demands to reach your monthly numbers.

So I think I’ll focus more on the active nature of the report; instead of trying to mitigate my uncertainties, present them as next steps, instead of trying to present my findings in isolation, focus on how I can build off previous work and insert my learnings into the current dialogue.  And maybe at the end of the day we can finally answer that age old question: When it comes to borehole management, is there a “good”?

Take care,

Fraser

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Soft Revolution

“Hey, just a heads up, under no circumstances should you be traveling away from the village tomorrow.  Also, you shouldn’t travel around the district at all until you’ve heard from me or another aps.”

–          Text from Devon Carr, EWB African Program Staff

Malawi is burning.  And not in the normal sense where everyone piles up their garbage every morning and sets it ablaze.

President Mutharika has come under fire for some of his policies and practices over the past few months that I’ve been here.  A professor at a university which the president is the chancellor of was fired before I got here for drawing parallels between the conditions that led up to the Libya and Tunisia protests and the conditions that currently exist in Malawi.  The president ejected the high commissioner from the UK for an email implying the president was becoming a bit dictatorial and the UK government cut all direct funding of the Malawi budget shortly thereafter.  Mr. Mutharika was quoted as saying that the federal opposition was “stupid.”  And the government recently passed a bill that prevents the executive branch from being sued for any actions or policies; despite a court injunction being passed that prevented the government from being allowed to pass the bill in question.  Tensions have been rising and things have been growing concerning.

On July 20th, the president scheduled a public lecture to address some of the issues going on in Malawi.  In response to this, citizen action groups across the country began to organize protests for the same day to express their discontent with the state of affairs going on in the country.  The days leading up to this were tense, with rumours spreading like wildfire.  I was in Lilongwe the weekend preceding the week of the 20th and was planning to be passing through Mzuzu on the 19th, but protests were supposed to be centered in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, so I got off the bus to Mzuzu in the Mzimba Boma, about one hour to the south.  I had planned to pass through Mzuzu on the 19th and be far from there on the actual day of the protests, but as transportation very rarely works out the way it’s supposed to, it didn’t seem worth the risk.  The night of the 19th, I was camped out at a guesthouse with Cat, our JF program manager and Robyn, fellow JF (wonderful girl who cooked banana-chocolate chip pancakes on Canada Day).

That night, the rumours continued to escalate and a lot of time was spent getting in touch with all of the EWBers in Malawi and making sure everyone was far from trouble.  Rumours began to spread that the vice-president would be arrested on the 20th  and that cell phone networks across the country would be shut down.  Youth leagues affiliated with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had reportedly already begun attacking people in Blantyre.  And apparently the protests were going to be happening in every district capital across the country (where we were staying).  Things were getting tense, but it seemed like everyone was safe and sound.  Now it was just time to lock down and see how things panned out.

In the morning, the sun still rose and the cocks still crowed.  I went out to grab some bread for breakfast and it was a surreal experience.  People were out, wandering around as usual, but there was a certain tension in the air.  Every time I heard a truck approaching, I’d watch it go by, half expecting the back to be filled with gangs of machete wielding ruffians or hordes of soldiers and police.  With my head on a swivel, I set off to the local grocery, only to find it closed; contrary to the opening hours posted on the door.  Looking down the street, I saw one small shop open, so I grabbed some bread and headed back to the guesthouse.  After getting packed up, we set off from the guesthouse, planning to head to the house of another EWB staff member in Mzimba, Alyssa, where we could lay low for the day and work from there.  As we walked with Robyn, who had been working in Mzimba for a while, she pointed out that many of the shops were closed and there was a noticeable decrease in the number of people on the street.  As we continued along the road, one truck load full of police officers drove by, but things still seemed reasonably quiet so we carried on our way.  It was weird to be surrounded by such normality with all the smoldering embers burning just beneath the surface.

When we got to our safe house, I quickly flipped on the radio to find out what was going on.  I scanned through the channels with that strange normality being reemphasized by the familiar tunes coming over the radio waves; the same tunes they play over and over again throughout the day here.  Eventually I found the news in English and everyone froze to listen to what was happening.  Protests had begun in Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Blantyre and also Zomba with varying levels of violence.  But in Mzuzu, where I may well have been stuck at that very time, groups of protestors had gathered at the ruling party’s regional office and had begun to smash the building and confront police officers.  But then the station cut to a song, because the news only has so much time in the schedule and normality must be maintained.  As we caught more news in bits and pieces, the situation continued to escalate, with the police being overpowered in Mzuzu, the DPP regional office being ransacked and road blocks being set up on the road heading north.  In Lilongwe, a shop owned by one of the ruling party’s MPs was being ransacked, but police and military presence was intense.  In Zomba, groups had begun to march throughout the city, but police confrontations had driven them back to continue rallying and waiting for their number to swell.

And as we listened, we stretched out on the couches in Alyssa’s living room, drinking tea and typing away at our laptops and feeling the tension between normality and the prospect of revolution stronger than ever.  As the news of the protests continued to escalate, His Excellency Dr. Professor Bingu wa Mutharika stopped the news with his public address, which abruptly overtook the radio waves.  He spoke of many things; sovereignty, independence and self reliance.  Throughout the speech, sentiments of defending some of his less popular policies prevailed, but everything he said ended with the idea that he was democratically elected and it is the Malawian population’s responsibility to sit back and trust the government to do whatever the government wants.

And then, partway through the address, the radio suddenly cut out.  There was an extended pause and then some people came back onto the radio, speaking in Chichewa, which none of us knew well enough to have any idea what was going on.  Eventually the news came back on, but it was the exact same recording that had been played earlier in the day.  As we listened, the radio settled into its normal programming despite there being much to report on.  It wasn’t until later that we learned via the Malawian blogosphere that Zodiak radio station, which we had been listening to, had been ordered to stop reporting on the events going on with the demonstrations.  As well, the abrupt break in the speech was caused by undetermined complications.  One blogger joked that it was caused by the very power outages that President Mutharika had just been denying as a non-issue.  Another blogger simply suggested that the presidential broadcasters had run out of airtime credits.

Throughout the remainder of the day, we received trickles of news from the EWBers around the country, various blogs that found their way onto the internet and rumours that made their way to us through word of mouth.  All the while we whiled the day away in a beautiful living room, eating sandwiches and working on various things.  The surreality of the whole experience has never fully gone away.  You hear of places like Libya and Tunisia and assume that all normality stops when this sort of thing happens in order to take care of the issue at hand.  But being here and seeing people go about their normal business in the face of violence and uncertainty in the street, it’s given me a totally different perspective on how the world works.

Since then, things have ebbed and generally subsided, but the situation remains somewhat tense.  Malawi is at a bit of a crossroads and to be honest, I have no idea what’s to come next.

Safe and sound,

Fraser

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Magic!!!

“No no, we don’t believe in magic, that’s all nonsense and none of the younger generation believe in it anymore.  Some older people still believe in the superstitions and some rural areas even practice healings still, but we only believe in Western medicine.” *pause*  “Unless someone you know has cursed you.  In which case you have to go to the witch doctor to get cured.” –          Chicken Legs, guy who took us around Lilongwe and showed us to the witch doctor

So there have been few moments during this summer when I have very much wanted to be back home.  Today is one of them.  As some of you may know, final movie in the Harry Potter heptology (or octology as it ended up being) is out and I’m not around to get dressed up and act foolish for it.  I am a reasonably big fan of the HPott series which has led me to attend every midnight premiere I’ve been able to attend, so to miss the final installment is no small loss to my psyche.  So as a marginally relevant segway to a slightly interesting blog post, I’ll turn my angsty longing into a few tidbits of info on magic here in Malawi.

In Mpherembe, I happen to live rather close to a once prestigious witch doctor.  I’ve had a chance to visit him a couple times and it’s been rather interesting.  Here’s how it works; healings are typically Saturday evening to Sunday morning, though I’ve heard the drumming going on Fridays and I’m told this happens in instances of popular demand.  Around 8 PM on Saturday, people begin to head towards his house and make their way into a church-ish building on his property where the diagnoses are held.  It’s called the temple, and it’s pretty simple with four walls, a roof and a bonfire in the middle of it all.  When I headed over at 8, things were far from starting so I wandered around with the kids for a bit before being invited to go hang out with the Maunda, the witch doctor as he got prepared for the night.  When I came in, he had recently donned his witch doctoring outfit which consisted of some red short shorts and a red tank top with crosses on the front and back (I’m assured he is in no way affiliated with the Christian church).  He was sorting through some bells and putting them on strings to tie around his ankles as well as the ankles of the dancers involved.   Apparently there’re dancers involved.

Once all the preparation was done and Maunda had let the anticipation build sufficiently, we headed to the temple to get the show on the road.  I found myself a nice corner to watch from and settled into the hot, sweaty room full those longing to be cured of what ails them.  Images of “Fight Club” flashed through my head.  Maunda didn’t come in at first and the event was kicked off with some ground rules and the price list.  A diagnosis by the good doctor would cost you 200 kwacha ($1.30), a diagnosis along with the traditional medicine to fix you up is 600 kwacha ($4) and a diagnosis, medicine plus a note from Maunda to your village head would cost the astronomical fund of 6000 kwacha ($40).

Apparently village heads, who are often called upon to make judgments regarding animosity in their villages, will sometimes rule that one or the other party in a case they’re presented with will have to visit the witch doctor to get cured.  The village head then requires proof that the sentence was completed so Maunda will write you a note.  Smells like a bit of a scam if you ask me, but who am I to judge.

Once the ground rules have been set, the drumming begins.  There’re usually three drummers beating a tune and one main dancer at the center of the circle who seems to be entranced for much of the time.  I wasn’t able to figure out exactly what purpose the drumming and dancing have to do with the healing, but I believe it involved getting the spirits flowing and setting the vibe for what was to come.  After a while and quite a few dances, Maunda makes his entrance and the diagnoses begin.  How it works is that if you need healing, you come and talk to one of Maunda’s assistants.  You don’t say what’s wrong with you, just that you want to be healed.  So you get in line and when the healing begins you wait your turn to approach the doctor.  When you’re up, you kneel in front of Maunda and the drumming takes off.  Maunda tosses and sways over you, accessing the spirits floating about your head and causing you harm.  In this way, he figures out what your trouble is and if his diagnosis matches your ailment, he’ll prescribe something to fix you up.  For a fee of course.

This goes on for the entire night, and I literally mean the entire night.  I started dozing around 10 so we headed home, but the next morning I went back with my host brother around 8 AM and they were still at it.

Magic/traditional medicine comes up in other forms too.   At the market, there will always be one or two guys with piles of various roots and bottles of various concoctions to fix you up.  There’s regular news articles about witch doctors who can fly from Malawi to South Africa or North America and back in a night.  And everyone lives in fear of moving about at night since there is an entire army of spirits and beings out to do you harm.  Everyone I’ve met seems to believe in some element of superstition, magic or spirits.  For me personally, my belief manifests itself in a young British kid, marked by the dark lord at birth as his equal, neither of whom can live while the other survives.

Magically yours,

Fraser

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