New District, New People

OK, so Mwanza District. My new home for the next two and a half to three months. About eighteen hours worth of travel time by bus to get there from Nkhata Bay where I was before. Slightly different in terms of geography. Instead of Nkhata Bay which is right on the lake and has resorts and is a pretty touristy location, Mwanza is nowhere near the Lake, there are no tourist attractions and I am reasonably certain that I am the only Mzungu (white person) in the district. In fact, when I got told I was going to be in Mwanza I took a look at my Malawi guidebook for information about Mwanza and found out they didn’t even have a section for it.

Not a big deal though since I’m not in Malawi to be a tourist. Mwanza District is to be my home base for the rest of my placement through to December, which is nice since lugging my big bag around with me all the time for the last six weeks has been getting a little old.

As far as accommodation goes, similar to Nkhata Bay, Mwzana district had an EWB summer student living here from May to August (her name was Ali, from Regina), and it is her work that I am following up on. Making use of her contacts, I’ve ended up staying with the same family that she stayed with, which is a young couple named Mr. & Mrs. Juma (I still don’t know their first names, they’re big on formality). They live in a village that’s about a ten minute walk from the highway, which is then about a half hour walk from the District Water Office where I’m to be working. They’re both in their late twenties / early thirties, but they’re holding off on having kids until they can finish building their house and save up some money (very responsible of them). Pretty standard village setup, no electricity or running water. Cooking is done using a small little charcoal cooking stove outside (firewood is rather scarce in this part of Malawi), and they have a covered latrine and bathing/washing area. They also raise pigs and chickens for extra money in their back yard.

Mr. & Mrs. Juma's house in the village

My room in the house, mattress and bednet!

View of the pig pens from my room

The covered latrine outside the house. Bring your own toilet paper.

Also, I have my own little (lockable) room with a mattress and bedframe! Also, since I’m going to be here for a while I’ve taken the liberty of buying few creature comforts like bed sheets, a blanket and a full size pillow. It’s quite remarkable how much a few small items like that can increase one’s comfort level. As far as food and rent goes, even though I explicitly offered to pay rent, Mr. Juma wouldn’t accept that and insisted that splitting the food costs would be sufficient. So basically the arrangement is that we’re going to sit down once a week and figure out what food to buy for that week and then split the costs. Food wise they seem to be pretty compatible. I asked Mr. Juma what sorts of food they usually ate and he replied that they liked eating fish, chicken, pork and beef, so at the point I figured this had a chance of working out well.

One amusing story regarding food preparation is that this week they bought some spaghetti to cook for dinner, not because they normally eat it but as a courtesy to me. The problem is that they had no idea how to cook it since it’s not really part of the culture here. Basically they were trying to cook it as one would cook rice by using a little bit of water and then covering it and boiling off the water until all that was left was a big lump of food. Upon realizing what they were doing, I essentially had to intervene in the process and sort them out by directing them to add about three times as much water and then drain the water and take the spaghetti out after twenty minutes. Apparently they had tried cooking it once before long ago, but because they hadn’t cooked in properly it had been a bit of a disaster. This time though it turned out quite well, and Mr. Juma was so impressed by the spaghetti that he told his wife that from now on they would be eating pasta two times per week! We’ll see if that actually comes to pass though, I think Mr. Juma gets exited easily by these types of things.

In terms of employment, Mr. Juma used to work as a coordinator at the local hospital for international VSO volunteers, so because of that his English is quite good, but the funding for that program ran out, so since then he’s started up his own printing shop business (things like photocopying, scanning, CD burning, photo printing, basically anything requiring a computer). He’s got customers coming in, but right now what he needs is capital infusion so that he can buy a big printer that can compete in terms of printing cost per page. Right now he’s using a small and slow one that requires him to do photocopies at a loss in order to build up a reputation and client base. This is where a small business start-up loan would come in handy, but alas I don’t think such things exist in Malawi. My plan is to round upwards generously in terms of the amount I give them for food, which I’m sure would be appreciated.

Outside view of Mr. Juma printing shop - right on the highway

Mr. & Mrs. Juma inside their shop

So yeah, that’s me in Mwanza district thus far. Still doing well out here in Malawi, I’ll do another work related blog sometime soon. Take care everyone!

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5 Responses to New District, New People

  1. Thelma Hanson says:

    Glad to heat that you are “settled” for the next part of your journey. Love the spagetti story. When introduced new food, disasters are pretty much expected. Take care and keep in touch,

    • Kevin Hanson says:

      Thanks Aunt Thelma for the comment. Yes, food is always an interesting experiment over here. I’ve gotten used to most things except the tiny little anchovies-like fish that they enjoy eating…

  2. Ah! It’s so cool to see those pictures and read your stories! Thanks for posting them! That’s super that Mr. and Mrs. Juma have a shop now… he was searching for one as I was leaving. Good call on buying bed sheets. I was too cheap to buy them and every single night I was cold.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    -Ali

    p.s. – If you ever want to email me about work or anything at all – feel free! My email address is alim@uregina.ewb.ca

  3. Hey Kevin!! I am so happy that you are getting comfortable in Mwanza and it’s starting to feel like your own space! Looking forward to hearing more stories! 🙂
    -Karina

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