Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carole meets Malawi

Like I’ve said in one of my posts, I love “fresh meat” in Malawi! There is nothing like watching one’s reactions to things I have to deal with on daily basis! Today I will talk about Carole, a lady who came to visit us with her husband from Richmond, Virginia. Carole came to Malawi last year and was one of the unwilling participants in my “rat prank.” I will just combine both of her Malawi experiences in one post.

First of all I need to tell you that roads in Malawi are just absolutely terrible! Not only do I have to avoid people but also animals and potholes the size of the Grand Canyon! When someone comes in from Mozambique they think our roads are great, but for your average American they are pretty bad. Carole was one of the Americans who thought they were the worst thing she has ever seen. At one point she told me not to hit so many bumps because she was going to bite off her tongue to which I commented, “I bet Eddie (Carole’s husband) will be happy if that happens!” One has to be an aggressive driver in Malawi or not get out on the road to begin with! I am one of those drivers with a hint of “road rage.” I don’t let people cut in front of me and just bud in if no one will let me in. I drive an SUV, so my motto is that I am bigger than anyone and therefore I have the right of way! Last year on the way to the lake poor Carole was about to have a heart attack and felt we were going to hit every single person on the road. When we finally got there she dipped her feet in water and relaxed, thankful that she was off the road and safe. As she was sitting there enjoying peace and tranquility, Eddie came up and told her about the Bilharzia parasite and that it was going to work its way up her toenails and into her kidneys. As you can imagine, that comment brought Carole’s sense of peace to a grinding halt!

Yesterday I took Carole to Blantyre to get some Malawi wood carvings. While there she decided to treat me to lunch. She took me out to eat at this charming place called Mega Bite. The tables were set outside and it looked lovely. When our food was brought to us we started eating. As soon as we tried to cut the meat we realized that our table was really wobbly and that one of us would have to cut her meat while the other one held the table in place, so we took turns eating. Carole looked like a killer in horror movies sawing at the tough T-bone in front of her. At one point she said, “I think I’m finding some tender spots around the bone!” A bit later she really contemplated eating it like “King Henry or Beowulf!” For dessert we ordered ourselves iced coffee with ice cream. Carole decided that she did not have enough ice cream in her coffee and asked me if we could ask for more. I told her that she could always try! She went off to the main counter and came back about 5 minutes later holding an ice cream cone and mad! She said that when she asked the guy at the counter if she could have some ice cream in a bowl he said NO! “I do not sell ice cream in a bowl and you have to buy it in a cone!” She tried to argue with him but he just gave her a cone in the end. She said, “Did he think I was going to eat the bowl as well?”

At the end of our day Carole asked me how I cope with Malawi inefficiency and having to argue over everything. I told her that I used to get frustrated and mad. After a few years I came to realize that getting mad was not getting me anywhere so I started “going with the flow” and laughing as opposed to crying. Ranting works as well. And the best solution by far is going home every 2 years for 5 months! ;-)

ESCOM- Electricity Seldom Comes Or Most likely never!

So, my spring break started with a bang! Or more like a power outage that I had to live with all weekend long! But since I did not have anything due and had the mother of all migraines, I was OK with it and did not let it upset me too much. We have a generator and so if we get into a dire need, we can always power that monster up and everything will be OK. But burned by the latest fuel shortages Mark was hesitant to get the thing going until I told him I was getting high on the kerosene lamp fumes and soon will be addicted to them to the point of having withdrawal symptoms once the power came back on.

All jokes aside, I am fed up with all the power cuts. The last week before spring break the power would go out every single morning and I would have to get my kids ready in the dark with the kerosene lamps going. There were a couple of times when I was talking to my classmates in Live Messenger and was interrupted due to the cuts. One classmate even thought that I got offended at something he said because I forgot to warn him that I may vanish at any given time. Why do these power cuts happen? ESCOM is to blame!!! ESCOM is Malawi’s one and only electric company that just does not “cut the mustard” when it comes to providing regular and reliable service. I mean, even their website does not work so I had to use an alternative link for you to follow! A few months back the company was sued for the logo they display “Power all day, every day!” because no one ever has it! A few months back the Chief Executive of ESCOM was fired on corruption charges and mismanagement of funds. This week I’ve learned that the EU donated 5.8 billions of Malawi Kwacha to help fight poverty in Malawi and to boost electricity production. I hope the money will go to its intended destination and not to line the pockets of people at the top. ESCOM equipment is falling apart and at present 2 of the 4 main generators are out of order! Some things ESCOM is unable to control, things like people stealing the oil needed to lubricate the power transformer. They use the oil to fry potatoes and sell to the public. There is also the theft of electrical wires to make intricate bracelets to sell as souvenirs to tourists.

I do hope that in the near future we will be able to enjoy a steady supply with no interruption. For it to happen the ESCOM executives need to stop lining their pockets with the profits and try to repair some of the equipment with those funds. And people of Malawi need to realize that they are only hurting themselves when they vandalize the important electrical equipment needed to bring power to their homes and huts!

If any of you who are related to ESCOM are reading this, please, don’t cut my power supply! One day you may do it in the middle of my taking Dr. Evil’s exam and he allows us to reset it one time only!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Alex Series

Yes, today I will talk about my Canadian friend Alex! The girl is hilarious and gives me a lot to laugh about! She makes me laugh every single time I get together with her and today I decided to share some of those laughs with you.

Last week started for poor Alex in a pretty rough way. On Saturday night she was at birthday party with an 80s theme. She dressed appropriately and looked, as she mildly put it, “as a hooker.” As she was walking down the people’s drive she slipped and fell in an awkward way dislocating and breaking her ankle and a part of her lower leg. She did not want to be taken to the Zomba Central Hospital because if you are not dead when you’ve arrived there they will make sure that is corrected! So she was taken to a Canadian couple who work with the Dignitas aid agency and are doctors. Because she was in such bad shape they did not want to take her out of the car and decided to put her ankle back into place right there. Alex said that Jose Shull got in the car behind her, Helen Jones, Alex’s boss, was holding Alex’s leg in place, and Michael Shull was working on her foot. She said it made her think that she was giving birth to a baby in the car! After Michael finished with her foot he said that that type of procedure is usually done while people are put under. Alex’s comment to that was, “And you are telling me this NOW?”

By the time I came to see her in the hospital she already had had her surgery and had a cast on. She was in a pretty good humor and was back to her cheerful self. One of her comments made me roll. She said, “I only broke my foot but it feels as if I had a baby since seems like everyone has seen me naked!” She was griping about her British doctor whom she could not understand, and neither could I for that matter, and his “Is everything cheekary-doo?” comments. When I noticed that she had this stocking on her good leg and I asked her what it was for. She answered, “Well, it’s like one of the nurses so elegantly put it, it’s cause I’m fat!” As you can imagine, I doubled over laughing. I really tried not to laugh but it was bubbling over. So she said, “Well, I would get mad but I will let you get away with it since you are not exactly size 6 yourself!“

Alex is married to this really nice and quiet guy Andre, who is 4 months older that her. Both he and Alex are 29. But whenever people meet him for the first time they think that he is in his teens. I made the same mistake. One day my mother-in-law asked me who was the boy with Alex? While Alex was in the hospital she had people ask her if Andre was her uncle, brother, and--my favorite comment-- son! She was furious and demanded to know if she really looks so old! I told her that the beauty of being married to an older man is that there is no way he will be mistaken for a son! In fact, the wife may be mistaken for a daughter, but that is for him to deal with! :-)

We kept laughing late into the night over some things we have in common and would not be funny to you. One thing I know is that I will really miss her when she leaves at the end of June. One bad part about life in Malawi is that people come and go. They always say that they will write but it never really happens. I miss my loud and obnoxious Alex already because she is so much like me, just as loud and obnoxious! :-) As her quiet Dutch husband Andre said one day, “Are you sure you two are not related?”

FIFA World Cup

This is the first time in soccer’s history that the FIFA World Cup is going to be held on the continent of Africa. This will take place in the Republic of South Africa in the summer of 2010! Average Africans do not see it as being hosted only by South Africa but by the whole African continent. They are very optimistic that with the World Cup coming to African soil that Africa could win its first ever World Cup. They are hosting to win. The World Cup is promising to be the world’s biggest sports event ever. All of the African participating teams have started setting their sights on the cup even though most of them know that they do not have the type of team to lift the world cup. They still are hoping to at least get to the semi finals of the competition, which will be the first time an African team will reach that stage in the senior competition.

The rest of Africa is hoping that South Africa will put up a spectacular tournament that will meet FIFA standards and so pave the way for other African countries to be considered to be granted hosting rights for the world cup in the future. If South Africa does not get it right, it might take a long time for FIFA to consider another African country as a host. If South Africa fails, the whole of Africa fails! So how is South Africa preparing for the World Cup? People from all over the world will arrive in Johannesburg to cheer for their favorite team. It is estimated that 450,000 visitors will come to the month long tournament. Johannesburg has the highest crime rate in the world! What is President Jacob Zuma doing to curb the high crime to make these visitors feel safe? For years the former president Thabo Mbeki denied that South Africa had a crime problem and said that “only racists perceived crime as a problem and that poverty forced South Africans to beg, rob and murder!” Seems like Mr. Zuma is really trying to make Johannesburg as safe as possible for he has increased the police budget by 10% and hired more officers.

The excitement is in the air for Africa! It is her time to shine and show off her beauty. I do hope that everything goes well and another African country will be considered as a host country soon!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oh, stupidity, thy name is “ignorance!”

The world is full of stupid people that I believe were put on this planet to make us laugh. As a friend of mine, Leo, said, “There is no lifeguard in the gene pool!” The other day my friends and I were talking about different stories that happened to them while talking to stupid people.

The first story comes from my friend Tamsin who was born and raised in Malawi. She told me that when she first went to England to attend college people would always ask her, “Where are you from?” Tamsin would always politely answer that it was Malawi, which is located in southern Africa. But once those people heard the words “Southern” and “Africa” mentioned together, they would immediately think about the Republic of South Africa which is known in short as South Africa. Without fail they would ask her, “So, what do you think of apartheid?” Tamsin again would patiently tell them that she was not from South Africa but from Malawi, which is located in the southern part of Africa, but it was like beating her head against a brick wall for they never got her. After being asked the same question year after year, Tamsin snapped and answered one day, “I think it’s GREAT!!!” just to see their jaw hit the floor. Her comment to me was that if they were stupid enough to think that Malawi was South Africa then they deserved to think that she believed in apartheid!

The second story comes from my friend Benjamin, who was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Because of the line of work he is in he has to travel from country to country and meet a lot of people. You would not believe this, but there were cases of people actually trying to see if he was painted black! One story he told me just topped them all! One day he met some lady from Norway who asked him, “I heard that people in Africa live on top of trees since there are no buildings in Africa!” Having a good sense of humor Benjamin relied, “Yes they do! In fact, the ambassador from Norway to Nigeria lives on the next tree top over from my own tree!” Do you know what the lady answered? “Oh, I can’t believe he has adjusted so well!”

And the last story is my very own one. As most of you already know, I was born and raised in Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant blew up, causing massive ecological devastation to the whole world. I was 6 years old when it happened and lived about 150 miles south from the town where the accident happened. My region was not affected because the winds were blowing to the north. When I tell people I am from Ukraine some ask about Chernobyl. I used to joke a few of them that because of it I now glow green in the dark! ;-) But I had to stop, because some actually believed me!

It does not matter where you are in the world. You will always be able to come across some really “bright” people that will ask you the world’s stupidest questions! Do not disregard them unkindly! Just have fun!!! :-)

Piracy- not only on the high seas!

When you hear the word “pirate” what is the first image that comes to your mind? Is it the dashing Johnny Depp? Or is it an old bearded man with a parrot on his shoulder going, “Arrrgh! Yar scurvy rascals!” Or do you think of Somali pirates half way around the world trying to hijack some vessel? How about a regular man or a woman you see every day? Someone you will sit next to in a movie theater or someone who is sitting next to you at a desk in the MSSU classroom. They are the ones I am talking about, the internet pirates who illegally download movies, e-books, and songs every single day!

It is estimated that on average millions of videos are downloaded illegally on a daily basis! But not only are they stolen by people downloading them from “free” sites, but there are other ways to steal! Between 2003 and 2008 a total of 185 movies were nominated for Oscars and 182 of them were “leaked” out on the internet. What is alarming is that 143 of them are the “Screener” copies that were leaked to uploaders by industry insiders. In 2006 it was estimated that the US alone lost $1.3 billion and a total of $6.1 billion was lost world wide. You may think, So how does that affect me? The movie industry has to return its funds one way or another! How will they do it? By increasing the price of a movie ticket for the average movie goer! You may not encounter the temptation of buying one of those pirated movies but I have to deal with that temptation every single day. I have dozens of men with illegal movies from China trying to sell them to me for next to nothing and, I have to admit, it is tempting! I may not have enough patience to wait for Avatar to be released on DVD and then wait a whole week for it to be downloaded with my slow internet.

And what of music and e-books? Music piracy is by far the oldest form of digital piracy, with the sites advertising free music popping up all over the net. It is so incredibly easy to download a song or two for free and think, “Who am I hurting by getting this song? It’s only a song!” But one study shows that global music piracy costs the music industry $12.5 billion in losses every year! Although downloading songs from home seems like nothing it is equal to one going inside a store and stealing a CD!

With the invention of Kindle one is able to buy e-books from all over the world. Statistics show that there are 3,386 downloads per day from 105 different countries! But at the same time Kindle with its PDF format opened doors for e-book piracy.

All of these statistics show how easy it is to take advantage of the free world we live in nowadays. The internet has made it possible for people like me, who live all the way in Africa, to take classes online and earn their bachelor’s degree without having to set a foot on campus one time! But it also made it easy for the others to steal someone’s hard work. How would the man or a woman who just downloaded a song for free feel if someone came into their house and took away the things they got with their own hard earned money? Would they also think whom did I hurt?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


What do you think of when you first hear word “cholera”? One usually thinks of this deadly disease as being in some faraway place and if a person does not travel there, he or she will not get it. For me, cholera is a reality! My husband informed me the other day that we have a cholera outbreak right here in Thondwe. Every single rainy season there is a cholera outbreak in the townships mainly because of bad sewer systems. Heavy rains come and wash human and animal waste into water ways that later on will be used by people to draw drinking water.

What is cholera? In a nonscientific way of describing it is severe dehydration of the body that can lead to death. The Vibrio cholera bacterium enters a human body usually through the drinking water and contaminated food and reaps havoc on the inside. The main symptom is diarrhea. In some cases if not treated, cholera can lead to death within 4 hours if not treated properly. Statistics show that in Zimbabwe this year alone 3,000 died from cholera. It is difficult at times to calculate the actual numbers of death and the sites of the outbreak because of inadequate monitoring.

The first thing I did after hearing the news was sit down with my children and tell them about the sickness and warn them about drinking water anywhere but home. I also told them to make sure they wash their hands. You may wonder: Don’t they wash their hands to begin with? They do but the reality of things is that their Malawian friend may bring them a mango and my kids will eat it on the spot without giving the washing of their hands or the mango a second thought. So how can I prevent cholera without having to “shadow my kids” all the time? Since people can contract cholera from feces infested water all I need to do is stack up on plenty of rehydration salts and make sure that my children drink pure water!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Are you brave enough?

So, I have been studying for my Accounting test today all day long! Reading brain numbing things like Contra Asset and Accounting Cycle can really put one on edge even if there is no test to begin with! By the time I was ready to take my test, low and behold, my internet went out!!! Yeah! You can only imagine how I feel after spending so much time on getting ready for a test that just will not happen! So, I decided to use this time wisely and write my post.

As I was thinking what to write this week, my last week’s experience with the new Sir Harry Johnston teachers came to my mind. I absolutely love” fresh meat” in Africa for my practical jokes, but unfortunately Phil and Jo Wright have been to Africa before and I was not able to pull off my rat stunt. Oh, what shame! Plus, since Phil and Jo were under the impression that they were in the presence of a respectable board member, I decided to tone myself down a bit and act according to the role. I even drove at the appropriate speed limit, did not hit anyone on the way, and got mad at another driver only once! But for me, trying to act serious did not last too long. Once Stephen Christie, another board member and a friend of mine who likes to pick on me and I like to pick on in turn, arrived, my self control left the building. Within minutes Stephen and I were at each other’s throat being downright brutal. I can only imagine what the Wrights thought of our board. As for what they thought of me, well, Phil asked me later on that evening if I have always been mad (crazy!)

But as practical jokes go, I did luck out the day before Phil and Jo left. I was able to get my hands on a nice size sheep’s heart for my Biology lab and had Phil hold it in his lap in the car on our way home. But I actually did not go straight home that day but had to go and hunt down diesel, which is hard to find again in Malawi. So poor Phil got to hold the heart in his lap for about 20 miles before we got home. At home I cut the thing open and could not wait to invite him to see “my open and bleeding heart!” He took it like a real champ and looked at the heart without cringing. When the Wrights were on their way to the airport Phil said that one thing he did not expect to see on his trip to Malawi was an open heart :-)

Well, some of you guys have been reading my blog for 2 semesters now and I would like to ask you a question. After reading stories of me scaring the living daylights out of some poor Scottish girls with a rat kebab and now making sure some poor unsuspecting teachers, who did not even have a chance to sign their work contract at that point, got to see the open sheep’s heart, let me ask you this: Are you brave enough to come and visit me?