We emerged from our rooms at various times between 5 and 9am, all still groggy from the long journey to Africa and jet lag. I personally was out and about at about 6am. The early morning light shining on the patio area in front of my room was delightful. I ventured out to explore the gated grounds of the lodge, looking for the perfect light and angles for some photos. I then set up my own little yoga and exercise studio on a patio overlooking the Blantyre – using my bathroom mat as a mat. Not exactly the padding of an exercise mat back home, especially given the hard concrete floor of the patio, and no fancy cardio machines to get my heart up, but I had no complaints. Who gets to exercise in those surroundings? I was totally energized by the stunning scenery and the sounds of the City waking up that emerged from below.
My workout was followed by breakfast which consisted of a juice, an omelet, toasts and tea. The omelet became more exciting when the Nita sauce showed up on the table and the tea definitely measured up to Malawi’s reputation. The juice and toasts were however a different story. The powdered juice probably could have glowed in the dark it looked so artificial and the white bread for the toasts must have been laying around for weeks. But then again, no complaints because that is so much more than what 99% of the Malawian population will start their day with in the morning.
From there we decided to venture out to town for the first time. From our lodge, the center of Blantyre can be reached by foot in about 20 minutes. It is actually a pretty pleasant walk but Alice (owner of the Kabula Lodge) recommended we do not undertake on our own for security reasons. The trek down starts with a quiet dirt road (see attached photo) lined with some of these beautiful trees with purple foliage and then becomes paved, busier and much more hazardous as drivers definitely do not yield to pedestrians even though there are a lot more pedestrians than vehicles on the roads – no majority rules here. It also took some adjusting to watch for traffic coming from the opposite direction – a legacy of the English colonial days.
As it was Sunday, a majority of the stores in town were closed. However, the few that were open provided for very good entertainment. I always like exploring grocery stores and other shops when I travel as it gives you a glimpse of local life. At one grocery store, a woman showed up holding a half-alive chicken in her hands (see photo). I guess she was still missing a few ingredients for dinner that night after finding “la piece de resistance.” We picked up a papaya from a street vendor along our walk back to the lodge and settled on the covered patio of the lodge to go over a few maps for our assignment while sharing the papaya. My intention was to go for a run late afternoon but the heat was just too much. Starting on Monday, I’ll go first thing in the morning before breakfast. While using the internet in the common area of the lodge later afternoon, I heard a woman speak Quebec French. We talked for a while. She just graduated from Universite Laval in Quebec City and works for a Canadian NGO that focuses on improving the overall conditions of schools in developing countries. This is her first trip abroad so you could tell that she still was trying to adjust to the culture shock and figure out how to take it all in. It reminded me of how I felt when Kathy and I first landed in Katmandu (Nepal) – my first exposure to true poverty.
We ended the day with a second trip to town to have dinner at an Indian restaurant. I can’t tell you how nice it’s been to dine with a bunch of vegetarians. We ordered a bunch of dishes that we all shared and although it wasn’t the best Indian food, I would give it a very reasonable “B-.” As instructed by Alice, we hired a taxi to come back because it was dark … and with no street lights, dark here is really dark.
My attempt to jerry rig a new set up for my mosquito net wasn’t too successful as I wrestle with the darn thing all night long and woke up with even more bites all over my body and when I say all over … I mean all over … I guess you have to give those flying creature credit for being able to reach some parts of my body that rarely see the light of day – pretty impressive. So I definitely can’t afford to forget my daily dose of antimalarial tablets, which hopefully will prove to be effective against the disease. I guess the one alternative would be to lube up with my Ultrathon insect replellent before I go to bed but I can’t imagine trying to sleep with that 30% DEET nasty stuff all over me.
Before I go, it just occurred to me that I never introduced my four World Water Corps colleagues so here is a brief into. Our team lead is Rob Page who is the CAD Manager with Aquarion Water in Connecticut. He’s led many WFP volunteer assignments before, including two here in Malawi. The other male in the group is Steve Fogg who I will be travelling with during my last week here. Steve is the City Engineer for Weston, a small town near Boston. This is his third volunteer assignment in Malawi. Alyssa Boyer is a project manager Geosyntec in Huntington Beach, CA with CH2M Hill and she just returned from a multi-year work assignment for the upcoming Olympics in Rio (Brazil). This is her first WFP assignment but she’s travelled internationally for work and pleasure extensively. The youngest volunteer on the team is Andrea Berlinghoff, who recently landed her first job as an environmental engineer for Geosyntec in Huntington Beach, CA. This is Andrea’s first trip to Africa.