Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What say ye?

Working on my blog this semester has been an experience through which I laughed and a lot of times, cried. By writing it from Malawi, Africa, I made make my blog only about Africa. Sadly, not so many funny stories come from Africa. There were some really funny stories about rats, bats, and internet so slow that a pigeon can carry one’s letter faster than it can be downloaded onto a computer :-) But so many stories are about horrific things people can do to one another. It was a major challenge for me because I love to laugh and usually look for humor in life.

This task was very time consuming as well. Because my internet connection is so slow I had to literally spend hours searching for articles that were adequate enough and not too morbid. I wanted to make sure that the articles I was writing would capture the attention of my readers and make them stop and think.

Now that this semester is over and I don’t have to write in my blog any more I want to ask you, my readers: will you keep reading my stories if you do not get points for doing so? Shall I keep this blog or let it rest in peace? What say ye?

Malawi wedding customs

This story comes from my Malawian friend Davis. I asked him for something that goes on in a regular village and this is what he came up with.

A Malawi wedding starts three weeks before the actual wedding day when the bride and groom fist announce that they are to get married. At that point the preparations are in the full swing. The first “battle” the families need to wage is where the actual party will take place. Usually the bride’s family wins and the party will be celebrated in her village. A week before the actual wedding, the partying starts. Every night for seven days from sun down till sunrise young people will dance muganda in a circle around a band playing traditional drums.

At last the wedding day arrives. After the wedding ceremony at the rented hall the couple and their guests will move to the village where the celebrations will shift into full mode. There will be more dancing, singing and the beating of the drums, and lots and lots of delicious food! Special ushers will carry baskets full of wedding cake and village cakes traditionally made in an empty soup can. These slices of cake can range from $.40 to $7 for a piece! The money raised from these sales will go as a gift for the newlyweds. Also guests will be called to a special platform where they will dance and throw money into baskets. This will be one’s chance to show how much money he or she has!

And what sort of wedding would it be without people getting drunk and making fools of themselves? Davis told me about this one man that lives in his village and attends weddings on a regular basis. There he would inevitably get drunk. This man has never gone to school and can only speak Chichewa. But when he gets drunk an amazing thing happens! He starts to speak English! Now, that kind of makes me bitter since it took me 15 years to reach this level of English! And all I could’ve done is got good and drunk! :-) Non alcoholic drinks that are served at a wedding are regular soft drinks and tobwa, a non-alcoholic beer made of corn, millet, and sugar. This beer is thick and one has to use one’s teeth to strain all the particles out of it while drinking. If not prepared properly E coli bacteria can grow and cause some serious health problems that can kill a person if left untreated! Then there is something with a little zing to it, opaque, a beer made with corn and sorghum and it does have some quantity of alcohol. But nothing can compare with the potency of kachasu! It is made of corn hull, sugar, water, animal dung, and lately with ARV (Antiretroviral) drugs! The is no way to measure the alcohol percentage in this particular brew so most of the time it exceeds the safe 40% by far! There are cases where people who drank it lost their sight or even died! To make it even more potent, as if losing your sight is not potent enough, some people put chamba (marijuana) leaves in it. Now that would give you a high to “die” for!

After this one last party the couple is officially married and all of the guest, drunk, fed, and penniless, finally go home!

I laughed a lot through Davis’s interview. To me some of the customs he described were funny and I have lived here long enough to fully appreciate them. At the same time I cannot judge the unknown. I would hate for someone to come over to Ukraine and judge the customs of my people. I sure hope you have learned something new today :-)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sir Harry Johnston International Primary School

Today I would like to tell you about the school my children go to. It is called Sir Harry Johnston International Primary School and is located in Zomba, Malawi. It is named after Sir Harry Johnston, the governor of Nyasaland, now called Malawi. This school is operated on the British curriculum and offers excellent education. Because of this my children write “mom” as “mum” and “color” as “colour!” The other day at the dinner table my son asked me to pass him a bottle of “tomato sauce,” which is “ketchup” in our good old American English! Their little accents are precious. Of course, who am I to talk about accents! :-)

My children are blessed to be able to go to school with children from all over the world with Christian and Muslim backgrounds. They will learn that they are not alone in the world and how to get along with people of other races and religions. Because it is so small, about 70 children, everyone gets special attention.

Sir Harry kids are able to participate in a variety of sports like swimming, football (soccer), cricket, and hockey. Last year my son participated in a malaria fundraiser swim and was able to raise quite a bit of money. They are also able to participate in pottery lessons, drama lessons and other afterschool activities like Chichewa classes and Arts and Crafts. Chichewa is the main Malawian language. They have a brand new IT center where they are able to learn computers like their peers at home.

Although we are so far away from home, I feel that my kids are not missing out on things their peers do but are gaining the kind of experience children in America will never have. The experience of diversity!

Malawi the Beautiful

This whole semester my blog stories have been pretty grim. I bet some of you may even think that I am the most miserable of all beings and absolutely hate living in Africa. But it is not so. Yes, living in Africa is a challenge! Everything from cooking to cleaning takes an effort. Constant power outages and things plainly not working can drive the sanest of souls absolutely mad!

But there is another side of Africa, the easy going side, where no one gets in any hurry. Where people take time to visit one another on a path and neighbors come by just say hello. Where people laugh and find joy every single day even when there is nothing to laugh about. And the countryside: it is breathtaking! I absolutely love to look out the car window and watch the scenery pass by. Magnificent mountains reaching high into the sky and the sprawling plains with a cluster of huts sprinkled here and there. Little children playing with homemade wire cars called galimoto. A man dressed in a Nyau mask made of straw walking through the village with a crowd of people following him. A woman with a huge bucket of water on her head, a baby tied to her back and several other young children tagging along behind. All of these scenes are everyday life for millions of Malawians!

The most glorious of all sights is Lake Malawi, after which the country got its name. Malawi in Chichewa means “flames” and during the sunset it does look like it is on fire. In places the lake is so wide that it looks like an ocean. The lake water is clean and pure and is full of fish that can be found only in this lake. I love to sit on the beach with my feet in the water and watch a sunrise or a sunset. The sunrise is so beautiful with the lazy sun slowly making its way over the mountains of Mozambique, gradually changing the sky into magnificent colors. On the horizon I can see fishermen in their dugout canoes, some just tiny black specks on the horizon. At night they use torches to help them see what they are doing. In the inky darkness I can see those spots of light as if the starry sky fell on the ground.

Malawi’s tropical climate makes it perfect for the lush vegetation. The green is so bright that it is almost poisonous. The wide array of colorful flowers will dazzle you with its brilliance! Purple jacarandas, flaming red flowers of a flamboyant tree, pink and white frangipani, strange looking bottle brush trees, and so many more! Pictures cannot give these colors any justice and the scent is intoxicating.

My favorite time of day is sunset. At sunset the color of the clouds can range from deep purple to light yellow. Sun rays filtering through the clouds make the lighting look semi-dark, as if there is an eclipse. This yellow lighting looks absolutely amazing with all the greenery. My favorite scene is the “pancake” tree in the middle of a green plain with an evening orange sunlight catching its leaves and a heavy dark blue cloud in the background. It is absolutely gorgeous!
Africa has this amazing phenomenon. It gets dark here quick, like “blink and it is dark” quick! And once it’s dark, it is dark! You cannot see your hand in front of your face! The blind darkness is filled with the sound of insects. Sometimes the noise they make is so loud it is almost deafening. The lightning bugs sparkle here and there, making everything look like a fairy tale. I love to go outside on my porch at night and look into the starry Malawi sky. The Milky Way here is absolutely amazing and the stars twinkle in all of their glory. They are so low here that I can almost touch them. During the dry season I can see forest fires skirting the mountains like an expensive necklace. All of these phenomena make Africa as beautiful a place at night as by day. Each period offers its own jewels to gaze upon.

And the rains! The rains are the lifeblood of Africa! They come fast and furious with tremendous thunderstorms that shake the house. Nothing sounds better than the pitter-patter of the raindrops on a tin roof. So soothing! I tend to miss it during the long dry season. You can see the rain move across the country. You can actually hear it come! It sounds as if a raging river is fast approaching and all of a sudden you are soaked through!

And the critters here, oh my! If you are a lover of strange things like I am, you will love this place. You can find anything from poisonous snakes, wicked looking centipedes that are called bongololo to monitor lizards and chameleons that are enormous! Not a day goes by when I do not encounter one of them.

So, takulandirani! I welcome you to Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa! Beware when you come and visit it! Once the African sand gets into your shoes, you will have to keep coming back to shake it out!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Somali pirates capture huge tanker taking oil to US

On Sunday, November 29 a Greek-owned oil tanker, the Maran Centaurus, delivering oil from Saudi Arabia to New Orleans, USA, was hijacked 800 miles off the coast of Somalia. “A spokesman for the Greek coastguard told Reuters news agency that about nine armed pirates attacked the ship close to the Seychelles.” The ship had 300,000 tons of dead weight and 28 crew members, made up of 16 Filipinos, 9 Greeks, 2 Ukrainians, and 1 Romanian. Maran Tankers Management said that the crew was OK. The tanker is now heading towards Somalia.

In November 2008 the Sirius Star, which carried two million barrels of oil, became the largest vessel hijacked by the pirates. It was released in January 2009 after a ransom of $3 million was paid to the pirates.

Somali pirates have been a problem for awhile now. Every few months one can hear news of them capturing this or that ship. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and pirates have been left free to roam the waters in search of “prey.” Recently the pirates started venturing farther into the ocean. They use a “mother ship” to go out into the high seas and then use smaller boats to carry out their attacks. Currently, Somali pirates hold 11 vessels and 264 crew members captive.

Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group Rashid Abdi said that the presence of the world’s navies has made little change to the way pirates behave. “This incident clearly shows the pirates are becoming bolder. So I don’t think the solution is in building the naval deployment there, or increasing the naval deployment. The problem is actually in dealing with the governance crisis which feeds the problem of piracy.”

As long as the companies are willing to pay the ransom, the pirates will go out and capture as many vessels as they can. Over the years I have seen the number of hijacking cases increase. I am sure that there are even more hijackings that are not reported. Obviously, simply patrolling this area is not working. I have an idea on how to crack down on piracy. The owners of the ships need to hire fully armed military personnel that would travel on the ship and keep watch 24/7. When they would see anything approach they would call out a warning to stop or they would open fire and follow through with the threat if the warning was not heeded! The pirates do not hesitate to use brutal force and firearms; why should we spare them? My idea may seem radical to some of you, but why should we suffer being bullied like that? They need to learn that “if they live by the sword, they will die by the sword!” The main problem with my idea is the cost these companies will have to put into this protection but as Thomas Jefferson’s slogan of 1805 states “Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute!”

Rwanda becomes a member of the Commonwealth

Recently Rwanda became the 54th member of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is like a club for the countries that used to be British colonies. Although Rwanda used to be a German and then a Belgian colony, it decided to turn away from La Francophonie and become Anglophone. Rwanda is the second country to join the Commonwealth with no historic ties to Britain, the first one being Mozambique joining in 1995. Information Minister Louise Mushikiwabo in an interview with the Rwanda Daily Times stated that Rwanda is pleased by its admission, “My government sees this accession as recognition of the tremendous progress this country has made in the last 15 years.” Rwanda’s decision to join the Commonwealth was supported by Britain, Australia, Canada and India. It was also backed by Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and the host country Trinidad and Tobago.

Recently Rwanda has changed the teaching language in schools from French to English. The transition is not without problems as Professor Alphonse Ngagi, who has overseen the switch, does not speak English himself! He said, “We are putting a lot of emphasis on English because it is not yet widely spoken here and after all it is the international language.” Universities’ notice boards display announcements written in English. This switch is not sudden as the trade opportunities and relations between France and Rwanda have been poor for years.

Not everyone thought Rwanda would be admitted, though. Before the admission the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) urged Rwanda to increase political freedom and stop the harassment of journalists. Later on the report said, “CHRI acknowledges that Rwanda has what appears to be a well-deserved reputation for governmental efficiency and for being less corrupt than a number of other countries – but its claims about the lack of corruption appear hollow when considering its complicity in the illicit economy of the region.”

Just 15 years ago Rwanda was torn apart by genocide in which Hutu tribe killed around 800,000 Tutsi neighbors. But the county was able to put this ugly past behind and take great strides forward!

Monday, November 30, 2009


What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word corruption? Most Americans have no idea what real corruption is. Visualize a third world county hospital not having basic necessities like gloves because a high level official is refusing to accept the free donation? Why? Because he would rather show off his power than see his people helped? In the Concise Oxford Dictionary the word corruption means decomposition, moral deterioration, perversion, and deformation. But what does it mean in real life?

I will give you several examples of corruption. As you already know, I am originally from Ukraine. In order for me to get married to an American, my husband and I had to jump through so many legalistic hoops that you cannot not even imagine. At that point Ukraine still had a Communist mentality and if you wanted something to happen, you had to “grease its wheels” a bit! At one point we even wondered if it was worth getting married!

The road police did not stop you because you violated some law, but to see if they could find something wrong so they could extract a bribe from you. If you wanted a room in a hotel, you had to pay a bribe! If you did not want to spend hours at customs, you had to pay a bribe! If you wanted to have clean bandages and a clean bed at the hospital, you had to pay a bribe! If you wanted a pain killer during an appendectomy, you had to pay a bribe! I got a C in Algebra in my senior year at High School not because of my lack of knowledge, but because my family could not afford to pay $50 as a bribe to my teacher!

And now we are in Malawi. We watch as a once lush and massively forested county is slowly turning into a desert! Now the trees are cut in the protected national parks and no one cares a bit! Police drive by mountains of chopped wood and piles of illegal charcoal. Sometimes they will stop and buy some. Meanwhile a driver may be fined by the police for not having two triangles while a “junker” with no headlights or windows is waved on through!

Has anything like this happen to you in America? What makes you think that the government is corrupt? In America, corruption hardly exists! I have never encountered problems in America like I did in Ukraine and now do in Malawi. Inefficiency in dealing with the INS? Yes! But they never asked me to “help” them do their job! In order for one to fully understand and appreciate the whole meaning of this word, he or she needs to move into a third world country and live there for at least a month. Then, and only then, the meaning of this word will fully sink in!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hard choices over food versus education in Malawi

This is the first article that I found on BBC Africa that is about Malawi, the country I am currently residing in. Unfortunately it is not a happy one. It is kind of interesting that I found it in the hardest weeks I have had in Malawi so far, with all the fuel shortages and electricity going out for hours at a time.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. People live here from harvest to harvest and if the growing season did not have enough rains, the hunger that year is imminent. The Malawi government has made a new “food security” program which provides subsidized fertilizer and seeds to the poor farmers. It has had success in reducing hunger. But with the government’s increase of “food security” funds, schools are still terribly underfunded. It is uncommon in a typical Primary (grades 1 to 6) school to have up to 200 students to one teacher.

Chilamba school, located in the central region of Malawi, is made of mud walls and a thatched roof. It used to have 2 teachers for 500 students but now a small grant from Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) increased the teacher number. In a small classroom one can see about 100 six-year old students sitting in neat rows, three to a bench, raising their hands to answer the questions. It is not easy to learn in the class with over 100 students and most of the students have to walk a long way and most of the time on an empty stomach. The school does not have funds to feed the children so they are hungry till the end of the day. But with all of these problems this school is still a cheerful place.

The roots of the teacher shortage problem are very deep. Former school inspector Lexon Ndalama says that some of the teachers are not well qualified to teach themselves and the reason for that is that they were taught in the overcrowded classrooms. The solution to this problem is to train more teachers. The new addition to the teacher training facilities is an Emanuel Teacher Training College founded by European church groups. But even with the new colleges opening up “the need for new teachers far outstrips the supply.” Malawi loses most of its teachers to HIV/AIDS and it has been reported that more teachers die due to this disease than the teacher training schools produce.

Education is not a top priority for the Malawi government. There are more pressing needs like keeping ever present hunger at bay. But education can yield solutions to some of the problems Malawi faces. Don Taylor, Education adviser for DFID in Malawi, says that education “enables subsistence farmers to produce more food. It helps reduce the very high birth rates which are a feature of most poor countries. And those things, in turn, lead to better educational opportunities.”

Life in Malawi is not easy for an average person. Even after giving your garden the best care possible the harvest will still depend on the amount of rains; too little and the crop will not grow, too much and it will rot. Some families simply cannot afford to send their children to school to begin with. Although this article talks about the government not having enough money for the education of its growing population, the President was still able to “scrape” enough to buy himself a nice jet! His purchase plunged the country into a Foreign Exchange deficit which in turn led to petroleum and diesel shortages. The best thing the Malawi government can do for Malawi, is to stop the ongoing problem of corruption and focus on the younger generation that will hopefully raise this country from poverty.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

South Africa’s child-parents

“Many thousands of South African children ive in homes with no parents, largely as a result of HIV/Aids. Life is desperate for the children left at the head of their families.”

Nokubonga Oaba was left with her four younger siblings at the age of ten when both of her parents died from TB in 2002. For a while she and her siblings lived with her grandmother but were left completely alone after she passed away in 2004. Now Nokubonga is 17 and they have an addition to their little family, her one week old baby. Sadly, her story is not unique in South Africa. About 150,000 children are raised by other children after their parents die. Many of these deaths are from Aids and the sicknesses related to it. In South Africa there are higher rates of Aids than anywhere else in the world. The Government gives these Aids orphans grants but they are not enough. Reverend Mthimkulu Msikinya, head of the Lusikisiki Child Abuse Resource Center, says, “Diseases such as HIV/Aids have had an enormous impact in the number of children who are orphaned and left having to fend for themselves. We help where we can but in the end a grant can only do so much.”

Nokubonga and her little family have no steady income. When their grandmother was alive, they were able to survive on her little pension. Now they live on handouts from a government grant. She receives 650 Rand ($87) but it is not enough the money runs out in the middle of the month. On many occasions they go to bed with hunger pains. When they run out of food, Nokubonga goes from neighbor to neighbor and begs. Sometimes they give her a little something and sometimes they don’t. The father of Nokubonga’s baby does not help because he is also poor and is still in school. Nokubonga’s sister, Zodwa, sends them a bit of money whenever she is able to get a job. In the meantime the little family survives on grants, food parcels, and old clothes donated to them by the community.

The statistics from the South African Institute of Race Relations are:
In 2002 there were 118,000 children living without parents; by mid-2007 there were 148,000.
Some 146,000 of the children are black.
Eastern Cape Province has the second largest number of child-headed homes in the country.

This story makes me appreciate my childhood and the fact that I got to enjoy it. How many Americans are left with four siblings to raise and feed? Our Social Services may not be perfect but they are there and will take care of a family like Nokubonga’s as best as they can! I just wish South African orphans had the same opportunity as us Americans.

Are South African police trigger happy?

This story is again about the South African police and is related to the previous story.

The South African crime rate is on the rise and the police are under intense pressure to curb it before the soccer World Cup in 2010. The new Police Chief Bheki Cele was appointed by President Jacob Zuma two months into his presidency. President Zuma said that the police need to toughen up to deal with the high level of crime but not to be “trigger happy.” Mr. Cele calls police to use “deadly force” only when necessary. The government recently proposed changes to Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act to allow the police to use “whatever means necessary to effect an arrest.”

But there is a noticeable spike in the loss of innocent lives. Although there are no statistics for the numbers of innocent people who have been killed by the police, there are three recent incidents that the South African media has covered in recent weeks:

Two off duty officers who were “under the influence of alcohol” shot and killed a street vendor who wanted them to pay for the sweets they took from his stall.
On October 31 a trainee officer shot and killed 21-year-old Kgotatso Ndobe when he ran from the police as they were approaching his house. His family said that he was smoking marijuana and got scared that he would be arrested.
And 30-year-old Olga Kekana was killed on October 11 when the police mistook her car for a hijacked vehicle. Two of her friends were injured as well.

Dianne Kohler Barnard of the Democratic Alliance said, “The proximity between the recent spate of police attacks on civilians, and the police commissioner’s wild talk about shooting to kill, is surely no coincidence.” Family members of the victims question the police’s “apparent inclination to shoot first and ask questions later.” The law states that the police are allowed to use lethal force only if their lives are in danger. They are not allowed to shoot fleeing suspects or those who are suspected of committing serious crimes, as it used to be under apartheid. The police “watchdog,” the Independent Complaints Directorate, said it will “not hesitate to take action against those officers who act outside the ambit of the law.” But the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation says the officers are left unsupported, “Heated political rhetoric which encourages the reckless or unlawful use of lethal force does not serve to support them in legal jeopardy.” The officers arrested are currently going through the judicial system.

Giving more power to the police is a double edged sword. South African criminals are some of the most vicious criminals in the world and I can see that the police there need all the help they can get. But there needs to be a system of “checks and balances” to make sure they do not shoot someone just because they have a gun. How does it make them any different from the criminals they are supposed to stop?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No “license to kill” for South African Police

A day after a South African minister said officers should shoot criminals, President Jacob Zuma said, "No police officer has permission to shoot suspects in circumstances other than those provided for by law. The law does not give the police a licence to kill."

South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates. It is calculated that on average there are 50 killings a day! With the 2010 World Cup soccer games being hosted in Johannesburg the government is trying to reassure potential visitors that the country is safe. The government is giving police more power to use force against the criminals. Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula urged the police to “shoot the bastards.”

An incident last week sparked outrage all over the country. Three-year-old Atlegang Phalane was shot by a police officer. The little boy was sitting in the back seat of a car next to his uncle. The officer alleged that the boy had what looked like gun in his hands. After the search of the car no objects that could be mistaken for a gun were recovered. The officer is now charged with murder.

South Africa’s crime rate is high indeed! I have several South African friends and the stories they tell me are hair raising! Police need to crack down on criminals but to kill a little boy because it “looked” like he had a gun? I have a 9 year old son. When he was 3 he liked to play with guns and such but I would never ever dream that an American police officer would shoot him because he had a toy gun in his hands. The laws against the use of excess force are there for a reason and South Africa needs to clear them up so that no further such tragedies occur.

Friday, November 13, 2009

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her!

When I first read this article on BBC Africa this verse from John 8:7 came to mind.

In southern Somalia, 33 year old Abas Hussein Abdirahman, was stoned to death in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the port town of Merka. One of the onlooker said that "He was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving." Why do you ask did he deserve such a fate? For committing adultery with his girlfriend! His pregnant girlfriend was spared, for now. An official from the al-Shabab group said that she will also be stoned after the baby is born. The baby will then be given to the girlfriend’s relatives to be raised.

Islamic groups run most of southern Somalia. This is the third death by stoning in the past year. Last year two men in town were stoned to death after being accused of spying. Also a 13 year old girl was stoned to death for adultery when in fact she was raped.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years now. New president,Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a former rebel leader, was sworn in after UN- brokered peace talks in January. He says that al-Shabab is “spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.” The new president wants to implement new Sharia law, but al-Shabab says it is too lenient.

How lucky we are to live in a country that gives us such freedom! I am not justifying adultery, but is the death of both parties going to make it all right? How about the baby? How is making him or her an orphan going to help? In the Bible, when Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her! “ he meant, Who are you to judge this woman? Are the 300 who stoned this poor man completely pure and without any sin in their lives?

Democratic Republic of Congo army “used aid as bait”

The aid agency of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)- Doctors Without Borders- says that DR Congo used vaccination clinics as “bait” to attack civilians. Thousand of Hutu’s were targeted when they came over to the clinic in the area controlled by rebels to get vaccine for measles. MSF calls this attack in North Kivu as “an abuse of human action.” On Monday the UN withdrew its support of the government army because its soldiers are accused of killing 62 civilians.

MFS said that the clinics are targeted even after security promises from all sides. The immunization is carried out in the Maisisi district, north-west of the city of Goma. MFS operates with the support of the Ministry of Health, whose workers are not able to access this region because it is controlled by the Hutu rebel group FDLR. Luis Encinas, head of MSF in Central Africa, feels that they are being used as bait. “How will MSF be perceived by the population now? Will our patients still feel safe enough to come for medical care?” Charities operating in DR Congo with the support of the UN are concerned with this targeting of the civilians. The Congolese government suspended military action in this area to conduct an investigation into UN accusations of government soldiers killing civilians.

Since January 2009 the UN has been helping the Congolese army to battle the FDLR. These rebels have been at the heart of the unrest in this area, fighting with the local Tutsi population and government troops. FDLR leaders fled to this are in 1994 after being accused of taking part in Rwanda’s genocide.

Imagine going to your local Health Department for your kid’s vaccination. While you are there, the US military arrives and starts shooting at you. The chances of this sort of “horror” equal to zero! We are so blessed to live in a country where we know we are safe when we go to a hospital. But many countries in Africa do not have such a simple guarantee when they venture out of their huts in the morning. Their lives can be taken from them just for being from a different tribe either from the rebel forces or the government army.

Congolese children forced to fight

Sadly, children are abused all over the world. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo they are taken away from their families and are forced to fight in the rebel army. Rebels are doing this to boost up their numbers among the various militias.

This story is from last year but is still very much up to date. It begins with a story of a sixteen year old Jean Vierre, (His name has been changed for safety reasons.). One day Jean, six of his friends, and three teachers were kidnapped on their way home. “We were on our way back from school when we met the rebels. They made us carry some luggage for them and then told us to go with them.” When they got to the camp they were told they had to join the military. Two of the boys managed to escape but before they did, they saw other teenage boys in a similar position.

Eighteen year old Haguma (not his real name) tells us his story. He was taken from his home and told that he had to fight the government soldiers. He was wounded in the village of Mgunga when the rebel soldiers were defeated. As rebel forces were heading for Rutshuru, Haguma tried to escape and was shot by one of the rebels. Government soldiers found him and took him to Goma.

Recruitment of child soldiers is not new to DR Congo but now rebels are targeting entire schools and groups of students. Children are then forced to transport firearms and become combat fighters. In addition they are often sexually abused. Children that have been able to run away from these camps are now in the care of the UK charity Save the Children, located in Goma. No one knows how traumatized these children are or what kind of effect that his trauma will have on their lives in the long run. Save the Children is trying to reintegrate these “child soldiers” back into society. The charity tries to prepare their families for the coming back of their child for he will never be the same. The numbers of these children are huge; even before the outbreak of last year’s fighting and the new wave of kidnapping, there were 3,000 “child soldiers” in eastern DR Congo. By now the number is much higher. Some of the children will never recover from what they have been forced to go through. Fifteen year old John (not his real name) said that, “I was just waiting for the day I would die so that it would end.”

This story is just too common to Africa. Sierra Leone, Uganda, and other countries share similar stories of children being kidnapped and forced to fight. Save the Children “want international condemnation and pressure to stop the practice.” International forces cannot keep peace in every county in the world. Africa itself needs to rise up and take charge of the abuse that goes on this continent.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dangerous African Elephants

This story is about Anton Turner, a 38-year-old Briton, who worked for BBC in Tanzania, Africa. He was working on a show that was tracing the footsteps of the famous British explorer David Livingstone in Africa. Anton was charged by an elephant and was mortally injured. The doctor who accompanied the filming crew treated Mr. Turner and said that he died shortly after being attacked.

A lot of people do not understand how dangerous African elephants are. They are not the cuddly looking elephants we see in the American circus shows. These elephants are mean and vicious and are not hesitant to attack at a moment’s notice. My Malawi neighbors sported two gaping holes on the side of their Toyota Land Cruiser where an elephant charged them with its tasks.

I will tell you a scary story that happened to our family. Well, it was scary for me anyway :-) In April of 2007 we took our friends to the Mvuu Lodge in the Liwonde Game Park. Mvuu Lodge provides guided tours of the park and we felt it was safer to go with them than to venture out on our own. We all piled in into their car and set off. It was my first time to be there so I was as excited as our visitors were. But I still remembered all the stories of charging elephants that I have heard of before. After a little while we came upon a family of elephants with young ones. The driver pulled up very close and turned off the engine. My first thought to that was, “Does his starting motor work well?” I could feel panic build up in me because I have always heard of elephants charging to protect their young. And sure enough, the male elephant started walking slowly towards us. I asked the driver if we could leave to which he said, “Don’t worry, Madam. He is just walking. If he starts to flap his ears and sound his trunk, it means he is about to charge.” And at that moment he did just that! My heart went cold and I thought we were all going to die! All I could do is to plead with the calm and confident driver to start the car and leave that place. Finally the guide could see the panic and tears in my eyes and we left. But what if the car did not start? This blog would not exist!

Eighty four year old Nigerian and his 86 wives

Here is another hilarious story I found on BBC Africa! It is about a Nigerian man Mohammed Bello Abudakar, 84, who has married 86 wives during his lifetime and has fathered at least 170 children. He told a BBC reporter that "A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them."

Most of the women Mr. Abudakar has married came to him to look for his healing power. Most of them are less than a quarter of his age and are younger that some of his children. Mr. Abudakar does not allow his family to take medicine and does not believe malaria exists. When these women came to be healed, and were healed, Mr. Abudakar got “divine” instruction to marry them. One of these ladies, Sharifat Bello Abudakar, who was 25 at that time, came to see Mr. Abudakar about her headaches. "As soon as I met him the headache was gone. God told me it was time to be his wife. Praise be to God I am his wife now." But not everyone has been cured. One of his wives lost two of his children, "They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come." Most of Mr. Abudakar’s wives see him as “next in line from the Prophet Muhammad.”

Mr. Abudakar and his wives do not seem to have any visible jobs that would support them and he refuses to say how he is able to feed and clothe all of his family. In one day his family cooks 80 lb of rice; that is $915 every day. Mr. Abukadar says that everything comes from God. He does, however, ask his kids to beg sometimes. If they all do it they can bring home about $290.

Islamic authorities in Nigerian condemn Mr. Abukadar for marrying so many wives for most scholars agree that a man is allowed to marry only four wives and he has to treat them all equally. But Mr. Abukadar says that there is no punishment for marrying more than four wives. "To my understanding the Koran does not place a limit and it is up to what your own power, your own endowment and ability allows." "This is heresy, he is a heretic," says Ustaz Abubakar Siddique, an imam of Abuja's Central Mosque.

I suffer horrible migraine headaches so after reading this article I have decided, since I am already on the continent of Africa, I might as well go up to Nigeria and see this “healer” and become his wife number 87. But at least I will be his first white wife! :-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Today I will tell you about a wonderful piece of machinery we use at Namikango. It is called a V-Tractor. V stands for “village.” It is called that because it is designed for work in any village. It is very simple to operate and anyone can use it!

In order for Malawians to grow their gardens they have to do hard, back-breaking labor. To ease their work Thom Rich invented the V-Tractor and put it all together in his garage in Lebanon, Indiana. The V-Tractor is a simple tractor that can do tilling, pumping and irrigating, planting, fertilizing, and act as a generator. It can also act as a well drill and its engine can be changed within 30 min. It has been designed with simplicity in mind. The parts are easily accessed and quickly changed. The V-Tractor was first tried out in Malawi in September of 2008.

“The tractor is powered by a Hartz diesel, and utilizes a unique three or four-wheel drive hydrostatic transmission utilizing two independent pumps and wheel motors. The V-Tractor also has an 11 gpm auxiliary hydraulic pump to power attachments. The current M-9 tractor can power a 30 gpm water pump, 10 kW generator set, and cement mixer. A wide variety of attachments are available for development as additional applications for this diverse unit are identified. A simple forward reverse pedal engages the tractor with no gear changes or clutching.”

In 2009 Thom Rich started Agricultural Aid Organization in Indiana. “Now additional trials are ongoing as new attachments are developed and modifications to future unites are carried out.”

Excerpts are from the V-Tractor brochure. If you would like to learn more about the V-Tractor and AAI organization, please go to

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Somali man, 112, weds girl, 17

I first heard this story on BBC World Radio and later was able to find it on BBC Africa. It is about Ahmed Muhamed Dore, a 112 year old Somali man, who wanted a younger wife who could bear him more kids. His new wife, Safia Abdulleh, is 17 years old! She is young enough to be his great-great-grand-daughter! They both live in the same village and “he had waited for her to grow up to propose.” Mr. Dore already has 5 wives and 114 children and grandchildren combined, but it is not enough for him. This marriage is described “as the first of its kind in the Horn of Africa nation for more than a century.” The reactions to this marriage have been mixed. Some people disapprove of it and others say that is OK under Islamic law. Mr. Dore says, “It is a blessing to have someone you love to take care of you.”

My first reaction to this story was uncontrollable laughter which turned into horror! I was also 17 when I got married but not to a 112 year old man! From his last comment I can see that he wanted someone to love him, but could he not find someone closer to his age? Why look for a girl who is 95 years his junior? He wants more children? Isn’t having 114 kids and grandkids not enough for him?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blood Oil

This story is about the Nigerian Delta region and the oil production there. It is tells of people who are stealing crude oil from an illegally installed tap in the oil pipe lines and selling it to the smuggling tankers. For their stolen oil the thieves are paid in guns, drugs, or just cash.

This is becoming a major problem in Nigeria because tens of thousands of barrels of illegal crude oil will disappear into legitimate European and American markets. Nigeria’s president Umaru Yar’Adua calls this “blood oil,” like the “blood diamonds” from Liberia and Sierra Leone. He is asking for outside help to curb the theft of oil and to police the Delta region. But the problem is not the “militants in boats” but corrupt government officials who are dubbed as “godfathers.” A source that did not want to be identified said, “If the president goes after them, they could destabilise the country, cause a coup, a civil war. They are that powerful, they could bring the state down. This is an industry that makes £30m ($60m) a day, they'd kill you, me, anyone, in order to protect it.”

To protect their “business” the illegal traders need “security”- “a gangs of armed heavies.” There are always unemployed youth loitering around that will do anything they are asked for a bit of money. These gangs are usually led by a “commander” and every commander is always in war with the other gang commanders. These gangs are used for a variety of services, ranging from bribing, threatening, and “hot-taping.” Hot-taping is when the oil pipeline is blown up causing the oil company to temporarily shut it down for repairs. During this time an illegal tap is installed. “These militants don't see the process of oil theft as stealing, observers say. They believe they are taking what is legitimately theirs from the companies and the government.”

Gang assisted theft of oil is not the only way to steal it. Because of the heavy military presence in the Delta region, the “oil bunkerers” have been forced to find other ways to steal. “With the connivance of officials from international oil companies, national oil parastatal officials and ships' captains, oil can be stolen through the legitimate process of lifting oil from the dock to the ship.” The International Maritime Organization reported that last year 80,000 barrels were stolen every day. It is hard to be completely sure how much oil is taken out though. Ownership of the shipment can be changed while still in route and documents can be forged, all of this making it difficult to track this oil.

There are several ways this problem can be addressed. An electronic invoice can be used that will track the amount of oil that is being loaded on each ship and reveal any file that have been tampered with. Also with the modern technology oil can be fingerprinted and a file on Nigerian crude oil can be made. This way it can be tracked. And yet another solution is to increase the military presence in the Delta region. But the local activists are already complaining that there is too much military presence in Delta already. “And the Nigerian military is part of that violence, observers say. Soldiers have indiscriminately burned whole towns and killed civilians, according to activists.”

It is sad when such a rich country like Nigeria is robbed by its own people. Oil that can be sold by the government and put into the pockets of regular citizens is smuggled out of the country for the profit of a few corrupt officials. Almost every day I hear on the news stories of violence and militant clashes in the Delta region. International organizations cannot help Nigeria until it “cleans out its own house!”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Disaster Risk Reduction Project

Today I would like to tell about the work Andre VanWoerden does in Malawi. He is working with Emanuel International in Zomba, Malawi, a in Disaster Risk Reduction Project. The project employs 3 staff members in its office and 20 more who work in the Machinga District where 45 villages are located. They try to reduce the risk of climate change and help increase food production. Some of the ways that they try to increase food production is by introducing new crops and small scale irrigation. They try to improve the lives of villagers by introducing them to fuel efficient stoves that use less wood and thereby reduce deforestation. They also encourage replanting of trees to that same end. Also they have started village savings and loan services to help people start their own businesses. To summarize, the project seeks to increase the resilience of Malawian households against any major setback.

One of the examples of the work the Project does is a river rerouting project in the Namasalima area. Several years ago the Domasi river was rerouted so that people could have access to the fertile soil of the river bed. In February 2008 after three days of heavy rains, the Domasi river dyke broke and flooded the surrounding villages. In April DRRP distributed basic household items and made up for the crops that were destroyed in the flood. In October the United Nations Development Project provided funds to DRRP for the repair of the Domasi dyke. Fifteen thousand bags fool of sand were needed to patch it up. This October DRRP decided to reroute the Domasi river back into its original bed. Five hundred men from 13 villages were hired to dig the new route for the river. Another dyke was constructed to keep the river where it should be. Seven thousand bags of sand were used to make this new dyke and for some minor repairs on the old dyke. Because the local villagers planted their corn and tomatoes in the fertile river bed, the workers first had to dig up the entire crop and replant it someplace else. And the work began! For 3 week in the cool early hours of each morning 500 men rushed to beat the rainy season that could bring more flooding. Now 2600 feet of the new bed is done and the workers will be paid today, Friday October 30, with each one receiving a 110 lb bag of corn and 22 lbs of dried beans.

Malawi is a desperately poor country but fortunately there are organizations that are making considerable progress in alleviating some of the most pressing needs. If you are interested in finding out more about Disaster Risk Reduction Project, go to

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Go in pieces!!!

This weekend I took my kids to a birthday party in Zomba. While all of the kids ran around wildly, we, the parents, got to sit down and visit. Since we were all ex-pats, our conversation shifted towards sharing of our favorite Malawian funny experiences. Listening to them and contributing some myself I decided to put them all into a post so you all could enjoy them as well! I do not want to take Michael Rea’s blog away :-) so this one is going to be about Malawi Police itself.

First of all, in Malawi we have roadblocks that are utterly useless! Police will pull you over and ask you questions ranging from whether you have windshield wiper fluid to whether your brake lights are working. Here are some of my favorites:

A policeman stops a friend of mine and asks her, “Madam, do you have a pair of triangles?” She replies, “Yes.” Policeman: “How many?” My confused friend: “A pair!”

My husband, Mark, drives a Land Rover with a huge spare tire right on the hood of the car. A police officer pulled him over and asked, “Sir, do you have a spare tire?”

Last week Mark went to the north of the country. On the way there he was stopped at one of these roadblocks. After the officer was satisfied with everything he told Mark to “go in pieces!”

Here is a story that was told to me by my friends, Tamsin Christie. It happened years ago before Malawi cracked down on drunk driving. One of Tamsin’s friends got completely wasted at a party. On his way home he had to stop at a roadblock. A police officer tapped on his window to ask him something. The friend was so drunk that he could not find the handle to open it! Instead, he accidentally opened his car door and fell out! The officer than said, “Sir, that is why you should wear a seat belt!”

And my last and best story! One time the Alisons, my friends who work in Tanzania, were stopped at a roadblock by an officer with a machine gun. They were told to get out of the car and pop open the trunk so that the police could search it. They did as they were told. The officer then asked them to take everything out of the trunk. Again, they complied. When the policeman tried to look through their things, he could not hold his weapon and search the bags at the same time. So, he gave his machine gun to my friends to hold while he did the searching! :-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ann Thiesen and “The Warm Heart of Africa”

Today I want to tell you about my mother-in-law, Columbia Ann Thiesen. This amazing woman moved to Malawi, Africa, in 1968 with four small children, her youngest one being 6 months old. She did not live in a big town with everything a woman would need to raise her family. She and her family moved to Lubagha Mission near Muhuju village in the north of Malawi. For those of you who do not know where it is, it’s where the middle of nowhere dead ends!

She had to cook from scratch, often lacking the very basic ingredients like oil, sugar, and salt. And she had to cook on top of a wood stove! She had no electricity, no friends to turn to, nothing to make her life comfortable. Because there were no schools around she had to home school all of her children! She dreaded these lessons more than her kids and had to force herself every day to stay on track.

One day she decided to write a book about her life and that of her family in Malawi so her grandkids would know the story. In 1998 her book, The Warm Heart of Africa, was finally published by JC Choate Publications. I want to tell you about my favorite story in the book.

One day my two brothers-in-law, Henry and Mike, decided to make huge feet out of boards, tie them to their feet, and make footprints in the muddy bank of the Rukuru river. The next day the local people were terrified. They had never seen such a thing in their life. Moffat, the man who oversaw the mission, claimed that he knew the creature that left the footprints and that it lived on top of Nyika Plateau. Men were afraid for the safety of their families and women were afraid to go out to gather firewood as the rumor spread about this creature. Mike and Henry were overjoyed in their accomplishment and were planning on going out that night and making some more footprints. But that evening Mike overheard Mom and Dad discuss what was happening. Dad said that he was going to the police in the morning because someone was up to no good. Later on that night both boys came to their parents’ room and confessed to what they had done. As you can imagine, Mom and Dad were furious! At that time Malawi was under a dictatorship and they could have been deported in 48 hours for causing public unrest. But the person who was the most furious was Moffat, the man who claimed that he knew the creature that left those prints, for it made him look like a fool.

This is just one story from the book that contains a rich array of experiences from a remote African country in the 1970 and 1980.

Namikango Maternity Clinic

Some of you may have already figured out that my husband and I are Christian missionaries working in Malawi, Africa. Today I have decided to share with you one of the services our mission offers to the local people.

In 1974 the previous Namikango missionaries decided to open up a maternity clinic that would serve the women in the local area. Thus came the beginning of Namikango Maternity Clinic. In Malawi 40% to 45% of women still have their babies at home or on the way to the hospital. Because of the high mortality rate the Malawi government urges women to have their babies at the hospital. And the village chiefs are chastised for not getting a woman who has gone into labor to the hospital. She is still to go there after the baby was born. To have a baby at our Maternity clinic one had to pay $2 but for some, it was still too much. For that very reason the Malawi government and Namikango Maternity Clinic went into partnership. Now we provide free service to all of the women and the government reimburses our costs.

Here are the services Namikango Maternity Clinic provides:

Antenatal care. The expectant mothers are examined and blood work is done to see if they have HIV or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection.) If the mother is HIV positive she will receive ARV drugs to prevent the baby from getting HIV. Also she is given Bactrin to boost up the immune system and prevent any kind of infection. All of the expectant mothers are given a mosquito net to sleep under to prevent malaria. On average we have around 200 women per week come to receive the antenatal care.

In the back of the Maternity clinic we have hostels where the expectant mothers come to stay as they approach their due date and wait for the baby to arrive. The clinic is staffed with competent midwives that have had lots of experience. If a complication arises, like a C-section, we take the patient in an ambulance to the Zomba Central Hospital where they can undergo a surgery. We deliver about 80 babies a week. Mothers will come in after 6 weeks for their final check up. At this time they are offered the family planning options.

The Under Five Clinic offers vaccinations and checkups for the babies. Before the vaccinations were available lots of babies in Malawi died from polio. Now the polio vaccine is readily available along with DTP, measles, and BCG (vaccination against TB.) All of the children under 5 are given mosquito nets as well. About 100 children come for these checkups per week.

And another service we provide is the HIV testing facility. People can come to us and see whether they have HIV or not. If they are found to be positive with the virus they can receive counseling and join group therapy. If they need to get an exact CD4 count and the ARV drugs they will be referred to Zomba.

Our clinic is not big, only 20 beds, but it is one of the best clinics in the country. We strive to provide the best service we can and help as many women as possible! Namikango Maternity Clinic’s Slogan is “Promoting a Safe Motherhood!”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drought in Kenya

A few weeks back I wrote a post on how the African charcoal industry contributes to the climate change all over the world. I just want to include one phrase from that post, “Global warming means that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter.” This very thing is happening in Kenya right now.

Turkana district in north-west Kenya is always dry to begin with, but now it is getting hotter and hotter. The temperature gets up to 40C and “the air coming through the car window feels like the blast from a load of hair-driers.” Where once rivers flowed now lie dry cracked surfaces and Lake Turkana is shrinking.

Because of such drought people who live in this area are losing their animals. Esther Ekouam has lost 40 out of her 100 goats in the one month. "Now the children are very weak because, as the animals are dying, they are not getting enough food. This is the worst drought we have had here since 1969."

Because people do not want to lose their money, they resort to selling their livestock for a lesser price then they are worth. The whole riverbank has been transformed as people butcher and sell their livestock. It is a sad site to see these people kill off the animals they depend on for meat and milk. “For a Turkana to bring their goats to slaughter is like putting their life on the line.” But goats are not the only animals that starve in this environment. Camels are dying as well, "A camel is the most resistant and it is their last resort. When they are slaughtering camels it is like throwing away the pension." “Between March and October, a total of 15,000 goats and sheep as well as 500 cattle have been slaughtered in central and southern Turkana.”

Another implication of the drought is theft of livestock as people are trying to build up their own herds. “In late September 26 people were killed in one raid. In the village of Lobeli, about 80 km south-west of Lodwar town, Turkana herdsmen are engaged in twin battles against drought and livestock theft.” Another herdsman had 6,000 goats stolen from him.

Joseph Elim of the Riam Riam Organization said "Scientifically we may not know about climate change but we can interpret the weather patterns and say something significant has shifted. We can no longer predict the rainfall patterns. Temperatures have also increased as well as diseases. And when rainfall comes we get floods. If that is what is called climate change then it is here with us now."

Here are the first fruits of the climate change in Africa! I hope that the African leaders will read this story and start doing something to prevent further destruction of Africa’s forests.

Stolen youth of South Africa’s child brides

Among the very first posts I have published on my blog was the one about the legal marriage age in Malawi. Today I found a similar article on BBC Africa.

The article starts with a story about Nolizwi Sinama, a 14 year old girl who was forced by her aunt to marry a 42 year old man. Nolizwi got pregnant a month after she was abducted. "They stole my innocence and my childhood." Her family threatened her with disgrace if she dared to leave her husband. She finally got the courage and left him upon discovering that he is HIV positive.

Another sad story is of 15 year old Nangamso Gezana who was also abducted and lived with her new husband for a month in a shack. “I was like a slave, cooking and cleaning for a man I did not even want. A man who did bad things to me and would not stop even when I cried.” One day when her husband was at work she just walked out leaving all of her belongings behind.

Nolizwi and Nangamso now live in Palmerton Children’s Care Center that used to care only for the orphaned children. Now out of 100 children who live there 12 are the victims of abduction.
The practice of abducting young girls for an early marriage is a common thing among Xhosa people in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. It is called ukuthwalwa. Prince Xhanti Sigcawu defends the custom, “Ukuthwalwa like all our other customs was and remains an important part of who we are as people.”

But not all of the people there think the same. Chief Pathekile Holomisa of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa says that ukuthawalwa should be discouraged. “It has been corrupted by greed for material purposes. It has no place in today's society.” But in the rural areas the practice is still strong. It is hard for the police to make any arrests as the people protect their own.

I cannot even begin to imagine what these young girls feel when they are abducted. Some of them being as young as 11! I still played with my dolls at that age and was pretty na├»ve about lots of things. The South African president should step in and severely punish men that marry girls at such an early age. No one has a right to take away a little girl’s childhood and innocence!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One hundred years of silence

I love to watch the History channel! Every weekend of this month there are special programs on Africa. I have decided to turn some of the stories into posts for my blog.

This is a little known history of the Herero people in Namibia, Africa. They were nearly exterminated by the German colonial soldiers from 1904 to 1909 in what is known as the first genocide of the 20th century.

In 1884 the European states met in Berlin to carve up Africa among them. Among other colonies Germany got what is now known as Namibia. At the time there were hundreds of thousands of Africans living in Namibia but the Germans were hungry for “Living Space.” The German colonizers regarded the natives as an inferior species and soon after their arrival started to take away their land and cattle. The Herero nation rose up to fight the oppressors and thousands of German troops came to Namibia to conquer them.

The Waterberg Plateau is where the first extermination began. In 1904 German troops attacked over 50,000 Herero men, women, and children who were trying to escape them. Those who survived the massacre were forced to flee into the Kalahari Desert, where they died from exhaustion and dehydration.

Swakopmund concentration camp is where thousands of Herero perished in subhuman conditions. When they died they were just buried in the desert in unmarked graves. A lot of the corpses were buried headless as the Germans decapitated the bodies to sell the skulls to museums in Germany. In order to clean the skulls they made Herero women boil the heads and scrape off the flesh. These heads could have belonged to their friends and family members.
Near the harbor town Luderitz lies Shark Island, another concentration camp. This camp was dubbed as “The Island of Death” and was the worst of the 5 concentration camps that were in Namibia. Thousands of Herero lived there in this cold and insidious place. Night and day the prisoners, including children, worked on a railroad. Three-quarters of the prisoners died working on it, which is about 1 man per 100 meters of track. The corpses were decapitated and the heads were taken for Racial Science studies in Germany. They were trying to prove that black people were an entirely different species from whites.

By the time the war was over, 80% of the Herero population had been exterminated! The survivors did not have much of a life to return to as their land and cattle were confiscated to be made available to the incoming settlers. For awhile Herero children were not much more than slaves on the land they once owned. When the Germans lost the colony to Britain after the World War I, the young Hereros were set free and they were able to regroup.

It is hard to believe that human beings can do something as horrifying as this to other humans. I hope this story will help you see the suffering that Africa went through during colonization. Unfortunately I cannot provide a link to this story, so I urge you to look for this program on the History Channel.

Friday, October 9, 2009

KwaZulu-Natal Midlands of South Africa

Because we live so close to South Africa, we get a lot of South African programs. The one I like to watch on Sunday night is the news program called Carte Blanche. This week I found this particular program even more interesting than usual:

“From the disastrous land reform of Zimbabwe, to South Africa, where some believe things are heading the same way. A stand-off between farmers and so called land invaders in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in becoming ugly. Cart Blanche looks at a government program that seems to be falling.”

The program is about the white farmers in the KwaZulu- Natal Midlands and the Land Reform Project. It starts with a story of Colin de Gaspary and the farm he has always dreamed of having and has owned now for 11 years. But now his dream is more like a nightmare, as he has been threatened by thugs who have unlawfully settled on his farm. One evening a fire broke out on his farm and he went to put it out. He was surrounded by some people who severely beat him up with an intention to kill.

This conflict in the midlands goes back decades. The government wanted to redistribute the land but did not follow through. “Land for All” is the slogan for the ruling party at every election. Lots of people have high hopes of getting this land from Land Affairs. Some land has been given to the people but it is not usable for farming. The Land Reform Project has failed since 49% of the distribution is not working out and only 33% is a success.

One of the examples of this failure is that when the Land Reform Project bought once thriving Craigie Burn dairy farm and gave it to the Zibukwe Trustees. But there are no cows! How can a dairy farm make a profit without cows?! So now the trustees are poorer as owners of the farm than when they were mere workers.

Farmers around the midlands are threatened, beaten, shot, and their houses are burned and taken away brick by brick!

The Land Reform Project is trying to put everything back on track and provide better leadership. If things are not taken care of there will be more violence and killing!

People think that if they only had that farmer’s land things would be so much better. But do they consider the funds needed to support this farm? Like in the example of the dairy farm, if they had worked there before they should have known that it will not be productive without cows. Everybody wants land and will go to any lengths to get it, but what then, expect the government to help out at every turn?

Bitter struggle to learn in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is just now starting to wake up after years of bad leadership under Robert Mugabe. I found this story on BBC Africa. In it two Zimbabweans tell of their stories on “Africa Have Your Say.”

Jack, 20, unemployed, Chitungwiza
“I feel bitter that I have lost out!”
In the beginning of his story Jack tell us that Zimbabwe’s educational system used to be one the best in the Southern Africa. He was not able to go to school for the past four years because all of the teachers have gone to teach in South Africa or Botswana, where they can make more money. The students now are taught by student teachers. It has been hard on him since his father passed away and his mother does not make enough money to provide for his family. His older brother works in South Africa and is helping them with food. Before this arrangement his family had nothing and had to stand in a line for 2 hours just to get a loaf of bread. Now education is getting better but it is too expensive since Zimbabwe is now using US Dollars for its currency. Because people get around $150 a month for their salaries it is too much for them to pay $30 for the school fees. So the parents just opt out of sending their kids to school.

Pamela, 24, Accounting graduate, Chitungwiza
Pamela has completed her accounting degree in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. She feels very lucky to do so. When she was in her second year the teachers went on a strike which lasted for 3 months. There were outside lecturers that tried to fill in but because they came only on their free time they were not much help. All this time her parents still had to pay college tuition. A lot of college teachers left to find a better future in other countries. Pamela had to find her own books and was lucky to have a brother who could send them to her. She is about to graduate and has already been able to find herself a job. “It wasn't easy for me to get a job but I managed - it comes down to who you know.” Pamela believes that things are changing and “the future looks bright. For one, the money I get paid is adequate for my needs.”

Can you imagine struggling to pay your own or your child’s college fees and not get the education you were hoping for! We are so lucky to just show up in class with the teacher already waiting for us. Even in Malawi, where I live, a typical students does not have the needed text books and has to depend on reserve books at the library, where they can be checked out for only one hour at a time. I feel blessed that I am able to take my courses all the way from Malawi and the only thing I have to worry about is whether the power is going to hold up while I try to take my test!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency

I would like to share with you one or my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith. This Scottish writer is loved all over the world for his series like Sunday Philosophy Club with Isabel Dalhousie, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, 44 Scotland Street, and my personal favorite, The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency.

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency is based in Botswana, Africa, and revolves around the life of a “traditionally built” Mma Precious Ramotswe. After her father’s death, Precious inherits a herd of cattle; after selling some of it she comes into some money. With it she then rents an office and opens the very first detective agency in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone. Later on the reader is introduced to the slightly obsessive secretary Mma Grace Makutsi who is very proud of her 97% grade in the Secretarial College of Botswana, and J.L.B. Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe’s mechanic and future husband.

Right now the series consists of 10 books. Through the whole series the reader follows Mma Ramotswe as she tries to overcome the grief of losing her child, breaks ties with an abusive husband, finds new love with J.L.B. Matekoni, and keeps the agency afloat. In the books she and her secretary, later on a associate detective, embark on all kinds of adventures as they try to investigate the case of a missing husband, the case of a whole family being poisoned by an unhappy cook, the case of a “dubious daddy,” and many more. The series takes its reader on a journey of philosophical thought, joy, laughter, and tears.

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe. He first came to Botswana, which is just over the border from Zimbabwe, in 1982. His job was “to advise the legal department of the University of Botswana on the drawing up of new legislation for this relatively young democracy (Botswana was created out of the Protectorate of Bechuanaland in 1966).”

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency has been made into a TV series and was aired by HBO earlier this year. Because of Alexander McCall’s books, tourists have been coming to Botswana in search of the movie and book landmarks. I can tell you one thing: after reading all of the books I would like to visit Botswana as well!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

HIV, AIDS, and ARV in Africa

Last night my husband went to the Society of Malawi meeting. On this particular night there was a Malawian expert talking about HIV, AIDS, and ARV (Anti Retro Viral) drugs used to treat AIDS.

I have never known the difference between HIV and AIDS and always thought of it as one and the same. Last night the speaker clarified the difference: HIV is when the blood CD4 (proteins that make up the immune system) drop to 500 and AIDS is when CD4 drop to 200.
When a person gets HIV his CD4 just keep going down. As the sickness progresses the patient will get ailments like shingles and thrush and will experience weight loss. After the CD4 level drops all the way to 200 more serious sicknesses like TB and some forms of meningitis will occur. After that point the patient has less than a year left to live. Right now in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, most of the beds are taken up with the AIDS patients. If a patient comes in with Malaria he or she is simply given outpatient treatment and sent home.

The very first ARV drugs could add about a year to one’s life and the patient would have to take 20 to 30 tablets daily. Later on new drugs came that reduced the amount of drugs to 3 tablets per day and eventually to 1 tablet that contained 3 different types of medicines in it. There are about 22 ARV drugs in the world. In Malawi there are 4 to 5 ARV drugs that are available to patients for free. Those drugs are donated for free by different aid organizations. Also in private clinics 4 to 5 other types of drug are available for sale. Why so many? Because AIDS has different strains and they require different drugs to combat them. There are also different levels of toxicity in the drugs and they can have different side effects. Five percent of patients taking these drugs have an adverse reaction. In Western countries these kinds of medicines will not be used but Africa will gladly take anything it can get. The Malawi government decided that it would be better for 5% of infected people to get this reaction than for 100% to have no hope at all. One common side effect is skin rash that makes patients look as if they had been burned.
The new ARVs can add decades to the patient’s life if taken properly. People do not realize that if they start on ARVs they have to take the complete course of medication at the appropriate time. AIDS can build up resistance to the drug if the treatment is interrupted or administered incorrectly. In Malawi, out of 1 million infected people only 200,000 are receiving ARVs. One of the reasons is that the supply of ARVs does not come in consistently. Sometimes when the hospitals run out there are periods of 3 to 4 months when there are no drugs available.

Another important fact is that some may test negative for HIV after a period on ARVs, but this does not always mean that the patient is cured. The virus stores itself in one’s brain, liver, or lymph nodes and can return later should the patient stop taking regular treatment.

Some of the people in the Western countries think that since ARV drugs are so available, AIDS is not such a serious threat any more. But they need to realize that AIDS is still a major killer all over the world. Right now scientists are trying to find a cure that will heal people from AIDS completely and make this pandemic history!

Monday, September 28, 2009

My husband grew up in Malawi and always wanted to come back to live here again. When we came back in 2003 he had been gone for 15 years. The first thing he noticed upon his return was how so many trees had been cut down. We live very close to Zomba Mountain, one of the most beautiful places in Malawi. In the six years we have been here I have seen it go from lush, jungle like forest, to something that looks like a plucked chicken. One of the reasons for such rapid deforestation is the making of charcoal.

I found this story on BBC Africa and it describes how Africa’s charcoal burning problem contributing to the global warming. Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation explains that “Global warming means that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter." That means that the African dry countries like Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, and more, will get even drier. Most of the people on this continent depend on their gardens for the supply of food for their families. Famine will be even more so common. It is estimated that by the end of this century 182 million people in Africa will die as a consequence of climate change.

Right now Africa losses it’s forest twice as fast as the rest of the world. “Once upon a time, Africa boasted seven million square kilometers of forest but a third of that has been lost - most of it to charcoal.” “Uganda has lost half of it’s forest in the last 30 years. One of the main reasons for such a decrease of forested area is the mass production of charcoal that is used for cooking.” People are producing it as a way to make a little extra money. In Uganda it is reported that the charcoal business “yields 20,000 jobs and generates more $20 million in income every year. In Kenya it is 10 times that figure.” About 20,000 bags of charcoal enter the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam every 24 hours.

Another reason for such rapid deforestation is that only 7.5% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population has access to electricity. Wood and charcoal are the only sources of energy and if something does not change, it may stay that way for ages. Some people are trying to find alternative methods of producing energy. “To the west of Nairobi, Cheryl Mvula of the Tribal Voice consultancy has introduced the extraordinary Cow Dung Fuel Initiative to counter deforestation in the Mara Triangle of Kenya's Masai Mara.” This fuel is made of the cow dung mixed with waste paper and water and shaped into briquettes. “Since the project's inception in March 2009, firewood collection has reduced by 75% in the five villages where the scheme has been piloted.” Other people are trying to use alternate sources of fuel like sawdust, corn cobs, and even banana peel for their fires.

African leaders need to pay closer attention to what is happening to the forest and encourage people to replant the trees they cut down. It is sad when you see a tree cut down but when it is also a fruit tree it takes away the food source as well. If an effective solution is not implemented soon, Africa faces a bleak future indeed!

Four wives

Can you imagine getting married to four women at the same time?! I am a woman, and I remember my wedding day as one of the happiest days of my life. But I bet my husband remembers it a bit differently: me wanting everything to be perfect, my mom stressing over food at the reception, my dad making sure that the priest got to church on time. I am sure I was not the most lovable person on that day and I’m glad that Mark made it through it. Now, imagine the grumpy bride and annoying in-laws times four!

But just the very thing happened is South Africa. Zulu businessman Milton Mbele, 44, married four women between the ages of 22 and 35. Polygamy is a common thing in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa but only the first wife is legally recognized. Thobile Vilakazi, Zenele Langa, Baqinisile Mdlolo, and Smangele Cele all know each other and get along. “We don't see anything unusual about our marriage. We agreed to marry him at the same time because we love him.” In total, Mr. Mbele paid 33 cows as a dowry payment. “He paid 10 cows for Ms Vilakazi, seven for Ms Langa and eight each for Ms Mdlolo and Ms Cele, reports the Sowetan newspaper.” "’Marrying many wives is our culture,’ Mr. Mbele said. ‘However, what is different is to marry all of them at once. I am doing this because I love all these women.’” Mike Dladla says that it is better to marry more than one wife than to be monogamous and cheat all the time.

I am just wondering what all of these women think. What woman in her right mind would want to share her husband with three other women! How did Mr. Mbele decide which of the wives will have the actual marriage certificate? Didn’t he think it will create resentment between them? And what of Mr. Dladla’s comment that men in monogamous marriages are tempted to cheat? What makes him so sure that the four wives will keep Mr. Mbele happy? There is polygamy among the Tumbuka tribe in the north of Malawi. Older wives resent younger wives. Younger wives feel self important and put down the older wives. And when the husband dies there can be a bitter dispute between the children over the inheritance. And here is the worst thing about marrying four women, nagging times four!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

South African rapist: “Forgive me”

Again, this story comes from BBC Africa. As I was looking through this website I noticed a headline stating that burglaries and sex crimes are on increase in South Africa. There were several corresponding stories to go with the article and I picked this one for today’s post.
Dumisani Rebombo talks about raping a girl in his village when he was 15. He was pressured by his “friends” to teach this girl a lesson because she refused to go out with any of the guys. Dumisani was very scared and shaking like a leaf so his friends told him to smoke some marijuana and drink some beer to calm his nerves. After the rape was done he was haunted by what he had done and tried to avoid this girl as much as possible. Later on he moved away from his village in the Limpopo Province and went to live in the city. As time went by he thought less and less about the incident. After a while he got a job with an NGO (Non-Government Organization), where he worked with unemployed mothers. Every time they reported an incident of abuse he thought about what he had done, “It was as if every time I heard of a negative act by a man, I was forced to go back to my own incident.” After living for years with this guilt pressing down on him and not being able to take it anymore, Dumisani decided to return to his village and ask this woman for forgiveness. By doing so he was taking a risk of being thrown into jail if she decided to press charges. But it was a risk he was willing to take. At first this woman did not recognize him. But when he went on to tell her who he was and what he had done to her, he asked her to forgive him. She broke down and cried. She informed him that since the time he raped her she was raped two more times and now she often cringes when her husband touches her. She still was not able to tell him what had happened to her. “Finally, she said that she forgave me, and thought that I had meant well with all that I had said.” Now Dumisani works with young men in trying to prevent them from raping women and “above all, to grow up respecting girls.”

Like I said in the beginning of my post, sex crimes are on a sharp rise in South Africa! Here is an excerpt from another article entitled “Big jump in S Africa sex offences” on the BBC website: “Earlier this year, a survey in parts of South Africa reported that one in four men admitted to having forced a woman to have sex against her will.” I respect Dumisani for being man enough to go to this woman and ask her to forgive him under the threat of even going to jail. Some of you may not agree and say that “rape is still rape” and that he should rot in jail for what he has done. But look at what he has done with his life! He learned from his mistakes and is now trying to teach other young men not to repeat them!

“Nyau- the Heart of Chewa Identity”

“The Nyau is a secret association of dancers” who use “masks and animal structures” it “exists mainly among Chewa.” “It is a dance of grass animals that” are “believed to be” reincarnation “of the dead.” “Nyau is a secret society whose membership is selective and restricted. Originally only men of mature age could be members of the Nyau society*, and the introduction of boys into the Nyau was only a policy to counteract the influence of the mission- schools**.”

I have seen these grass animals carried on the road before but never had a camera to take a picture. It is the kind of sight one would expect when he or she comes to Africa: men dressed in costumes dancing one of their “big dances” (gule wamkulu.) I have also seen men running along the road dressed in sack cloth and a mask over their heads. They are the recruiters and can be dangerous because some of them may carry a panga knife with them. This religion is something that has fascinated me from the first time I ever saw one of these men and their structures.

Last night I had two Malawian couples over for dinner. Among them was Chikalipo, a man who grew up in the central region of Malawi and knew about Nyau. I asked Chikalipo to tell me something about this religion and reluctantly he told me this story.

One day Chikalipo and his friends were going to school. Among his friends was one of his cousins. One of the Nyau runners came up to them and started asking them if they knew anything about his religion. He did this to see if the boys had ever been to one of Nyau initiations. They are looking for boys between the ages of 13 to 15 to teach them about this religion. For in their eyes “A man who does not belong to the Nyau society is ‘like a small child who does not know anything at all’ (ngati mwana wamng’ono wosadziwa chili chose.)” If the boys show that they have no idea of what he is talking about, he grabs them and then drags them off to the meeting against their will. The same thing happened on this particular occasion. The children scattered and the man was able to grab Chikalipo’s cousin and drag him off to dambo, a grass hut in the middle of a graveyard where the meeting is held. The graveyard is something extremely terrifying to Malawian villagers who still believe in spirits. When all of the boys were gathered together they are teased and bullied from one to two weeks and then taught about Nyau ways for another week. After all of this they are released to go back home. This time, however, other children ran back to the village and told the boy’s parents what had happened. The parents grabbed some torches, went to the graveyard, and burned the dambo to get their son back!

There is so much information about Nyau that can be discussed in my blog, but I decided to share this story with you because it is something that actually happened.

* Nyau society- is a part of Malawi traditional religion.
** Mission-schools- the schools that teach with a Christian message.

Exerts are use from “Chewa Traditional Religion” by J.W.M. Van Breugel.

Zimbabwe farmers: “I’m not giving up”

I read this article on BBC Africa. It is about white farmers who have lived and owned farms in Zimbabwe for generations. In this article Catherine Meredith describes an incident that happened on her farm on February 6, 2009. On this particular day she was away in South Africa to visit her son and her husband was alone on the farm. A group of 30 young men showed up and told him that his farm was now taken away from him and given to some Zimbabwean businessman. The businessman is a member of the ruling party under President Mugabe. Catherine and her husband had to go to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, to obtain the court order for eviction. Some of the squatters have not left as of yet and are “drinking and smoking pot quite a bit” on their land. The Merediths live in constant fear that these young men might turn violent. The police are no help because they say they do not have enough manpower. Catherine and her husband took a financial loss as “The man who ordered the crowd to seize our land has allowed his cattle to walk through our maize fields. This has partly destroyed our crops.” But at the same time they have high hopes. “We strongly believe that change is coming to Zimbabwe. My feeling is that we are very near the end of these troubles. We have a new prime minister now. I'm 100% confident that in five years' time, I'll still be living on this farm.”

I got to meet a white Zimbabwean woman once. She and her husband had to leave Zimbabwe with just what they could carry in their hands. Their farm and bank account were taken away from them by the government and they had nowhere else to go. Both of their families have been in Zimbabwe for generations and now they feel lost. They are white on the outside but as African on the inside as anyone else from Africa.

I read this story and feel so blessed not to be kicked off my land at the whim of a rich businessman who fancies what I own. Since Mugabe took over in 1980, countless white-owned farms have been taken away. But instead of developing the land and growing the crops, the squatters leave the fields uncultivated. The people who were working on those farms previously are left with no jobs. Zimbabwe went from being one of the richest countries in Africa to one facing famine every year. Half the time there is nothing to buy in the stores even if you have money; only empty shelves remain. The currency has devaluated tens of millions of percent. One would have to have a suitcase full of money to buy a single loaf of bread. A bus fare is 50 US cents or three trillion Zimbabwe dollars. In fact, right now Zimbabwe is using US Dollars and South African Rand to buy and sell goods. Now after all of the years of corruption there is new dawn in Zimbabwe in the form of Morgan Tsvangirai, their new Prime Minister. White farmers like the Merediths hope that unlike Mugabe, he will let everyone live in peace!

Friday, September 18, 2009


The topic for this post comes from a question that one of our visitors asked us one day at the dinner table, “How do Malawi women feel about being dominated by their men?”

A woman in Malawi is not much more than just a worker. When a boy gets to be of marriage age he will pick out a strong wife who will work hard at home and in the garden and will bear him lots of strong children. Women clean, cook, hoe in the garden, bring water from a distant well, and take care of the children all day long. It is not uncommon to see a couple walking on the road with the man empty handed while his wife is toting a baby tied to her back and a 50 lb bag of corn on her head.

What shocks our visitors the most when they first come to Malawi is that the hostess does not eat at the table with her husband. She will be eating outside on the mat with her children. When guests arrive to her hut she will give up her seat in the guest’s favor and sit on the floor. Her husband gets to remain at the table.

It is pretty shocking for someone coming to Malawi for the first time. But it is not all that bad! A lot of times on the surface there are a lot of traditions that the woman has to show to the visitors. But when the visitors have gone she will become more on equal terms with her husband and some of the husbands are a little afraid of their wives!

We get uncomfortable when we do not understand another culture but Malawians have their own value system, just like we our own. Thousands of years of Malawi culture cannot change in a day! It will happen little by little and has to first come from the inside rather than being imposed by outsiders like us!