Interlude

We did not know it yet but our commitment to third-class passage on public transport was about to be severely tested. Gary owned a car, and for the next few days we were to be chauffeured around southern Malawi in the comfort of a private vehicle.

 Expatriates

There were two classes of expatriate aid workers in east and southern Africa. The first were those that Gary associated with, idealistic recent graduates from universities around the world. They represented non- government organizations (NGOs) like CUSO (Canadian University Students Overseas), their British equivalent, or the US Peace Corps. They worked as teachers or technical advisors on small projects and always worked and lived with local counterparts. They received minimal wages, and were working out of a sense of altruism, adventure, or both. The second class were scorned by the NGOs. These were major aid agencies like CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) or the World Bank. They worked on large scale, expensive projects like building highways or dams. They often lived in compounds, isolated from contact with the locals, they received high wages, and they introduced western technology and products often inappropriate to the culture of the local population. This was the NGO view, and since we did not get a chance to meet the government agency types, we will have to let that view stand unchallenged.  We were welcomed into the NGO expatriate society and one evening were invited to join them for dinner across the border in Mozambique. Mozambique was in the midst of a bloody struggle for independence. Over 70,000 Portuguese soldiers were attempting to suppress the independence movement. The war made travelling in Mozambique dangerous. The roads were frequently mined, and travel was allowed only in government organized armed convoys. However, we were assured that towns on the border near Cholo were safe as long as you did not travel too far. Several of us, male and female, piled into an old Volkswagen bus. The men with their short hair, the women in long skirts, and long sleeved blouses. After a cursory check at the border we entered Mozambique. The van stopped and the women got out to whip off skirts and blouses revealing halter-tops, shorts, and miniskirts. They said that it was a relief to ignore the dress code imposed on them in Malawi. Somehow though, the clothing seemed ill-fitting. We had noticed already that the men’s clothes tended to be too loose. We now noticed that the women’s clothing seemed a bit too tight. We were told that in the dry tropics, men tended to lose and women tended to gain weight, hence the somewhat ill fitting clothes. Since stylish western clothing was almost impossible to buy in Malawi, they had to make do with what they had brought with them two or three years earlier.

The Zomba Plateau

A day trip to the Zomba Plateau brought memories of home. The ride in a relatively new Peugeot station wagon, a small lake surrounded by pine plantations and a backdrop of forested hills, a traditional picnic, the feel of warm dry air on our skins, and the smell of pine made us forget for a time that we were in Africa and transported us halfway around the world to the southern interior of our home province in Canada. The sense of familiarity, peace, comfort, and security generated by familiar surroundings was quite dramatic, and I understood the need of immigrants to bring something of their old country to their new. The sight of a young man, burdened with a large bundle of firewood on his head, walking along a dirt path towards the road, brought us back to Africa. Carrying, on his head, thirty or forty kilos of firewood gathered from the plantation’s pruning and thinning operations, we was walking some ten to fifteen kilometres down the mountain to be sell it at the local market. He carried a long forked walking stick and when he need to rest, he would balance one end of his load on the stick and stand, stork-like, one leg locked at the knee and the other bent, foot resting on the knee of the straight leg. He would shift legs to rest the other and resume his trek. At no point did he lower his burden to the ground. As we emerged from the mountain depression with its plantations and lake, we were treated to a spectacular view of the Shire River Valley occupying the southern portion of the Great Rift Valley. Alluvium eroded from the highlands has been worked and reworked until the valley floor is almost level. The eroded flanks of volcanic ridges  and cones rose from the valley floor. Unlike the landscapes back home, this ancient landscape was soft, sharp angles and contours eroded away. It had never been sculpted by glaciers and its soft contours could not be mistaken for the young, rugged, glacier carved landscapes of home. The rigid, rectangular grid and geometry of modern settlements and the angular profiles of cinder-block buildings were at odds with the gentle and subdued contours of the land. In contrast the irregular, scattered, traditional settlements of thatch roofed, round wattle and daub huts and fences seemed to grow from the land. I recall passing a beautiful traditional compound nestled at the foot of a hill as we descended to the valley bottom. I commented that it was a shame to see these picturesque villages being replaced by ugly cinder block walls and fences and corrugated tin roofs. Gary promptly took me to task, explaining that these picturesque homes were hot and vermin infested in summer and cold and poorly ventilated in winter. Each year his old school would lose one or two children to carbon monoxide poisoning from sleeping on the dirt floor next to the smouldering fire meant to keep them warm. He wondered what value I would attach to the picturesque versus the clean, vermin free cinder block home.

Cholo to Monkey Bay

Rural Malawi

We were going to have to head north again, but we were not looking forward to the long, gruelling bus rides. Gary suggested that we could avoid the most difficult portion of the trip by taking the lake steamer from Monkey Bay at the south end of Lake Malawi to Nkata Bay, about 2/3 of the way up the lake. He offered to drive us to Monkey Bay and on the way we could visit the Anglican diocese school where he had taken his first teaching position. We drove north, through a dry valley bottom of scrub land and scattered, stately baobab trees, subsistence farms, and villages. A single family would occupy a cluster of buildings sometimes surrounded by wattle fence. The main house, constructed of wattle and daub with a thatched roof sat on a raised, packed earthen platform. Wattle walled thatch roofed out buildings housed chickens and goats, and a wattle fence provided privacy for the outdoor privy. Standing atop wooden stilts, tightly woven wattle silos with removable thatch roofs (nkokwae) stored maize, the number of silos reflecting the prosperity of the family. Adjacent maize fields had small platforms built on stilts or in small trees, often with a thatch roof on which children would sit with a pile of stones to throw at the marauding monkeys intent on stealing the maize crop. A plume of dust marked our passage along a dry gravel road. Slowing to spare a bicyclist the billowing dust storm, we were startled to see him leap from his bicycle and run. We stopped to see if he needed help and as we got out of the car we saw the cause of his panic. A vine snake, well over a metre long, slithered across the road. Its head, held about 30 cm above the ground, was tracking a nearly straight line despite the sinuous movement of its body. The snake’s short, deliberate movements were reminiscent of a stalking cat. A sudden strike and it held a chameleon by the neck. While the chameleon struggled, the snake worked to dislocate its jaw so that it could inject its venom. I was photographing the stalk and strike and, looking through my viewfinder, I was oblivious to a developing crowd of onlookers shouting and warning me off. While highly venomous, the snake is not that dangerous because being back-fanged it cannot inject its venom in anything larger than a few centimetres without first dislocating its jaw. However, the locals fear all snakes and do not distinguish between them. We did not wait for the death throes of the chameleon but helped the man get back up on his bike and on his way. A few kilometres down the road, a crowd of children proudly gathered around an enormous (five metre) headless python. They had found it trying to raid a chicken coop, beheaded it, and  dragged it up to the road to show it off. I asked if the snake might provide a feast for the village but the suggestion was greeted with horror.

Mr. Mahongo’s farm

We visited Gary’s first posting, an Anglican diocese school of about three hundred children many of whom boarded at the school. We met Mr. Mahongo, a Malawian from the north who had a two-year British agricultural college certificate. He had been hired to manage the school’s farm that was expected to feed the staff and boarding students. When Mr. Mahongo arrived, the school had tractors, harvesters, and mechanized flour milling (provided as a low interest rate loan by the World Bank). It was operating at a loss and the diocese had to buy extra food to meet the schools needs. Mr. Mahongo promptly sold the equipment and went back to water buffalo for power. He dug fish ponds to grow tilapia and set up formal experimental plots and plot-trials. Manure from his water buffalo was returned to the land, maize stalks and cobs were fed to the water buffalo after the corn was removed, and corncobs were ground and spread on the fish ponds to feed the tilapia. He was raising a metric tonne of tilapia a year. Bilharzia (blood flukes) are a painful and debilitating parasite in people  and breed in standing water, so the fish ponds could have been problematic. Snails are an alternate host necessary to the life cycle of bilharzia and also happen to be a favourite food of ducks, so Mr. Mahongo introduced ducks to the fishponds. Not only did the ducks virtually eliminate the snail host of bilharzia, they also provided a valuable source of protein and market cash in the form of eggs and meat. Within three years, the school was self sufficient for food and selling a surplus at the local market to help support the school. In addition to being an excellent manager, Mr. Mahongo was very innovative and committed to biological control wherever possible. He quizzed me a little on soil management, but was most interested in what I knew about biological controls. I confessed to knowing very little but offered a few examples that I had read about. He salved my ego by asking my help in setting up an experimental plot designed to test the ideas. He clearly did not need my help but thanked me profusely for confirming the validity of his design. I was very impressed with both Mr. Mahongo and the quality of his education at the agricultural college. He was personable, inquisitive, and anxious to share his knowledge with his neighbours, but he was from the north and therefore not trusted by the locals. He was working very hard trying to convince the local villagers that his yields were not a result of black magic and was quite excited when we visited him. He had just convinced the local village head-woman to work with him in his fields so that he could prove that he was not practicing magic. I was unaware of it at the time but accusations of sorcery and magic were very serious. Three years earlier, trials involving witchcraft and superstition were  transferred from the High Court and were now held in the local Traditional Courts. More importantly, the defendant, if found guilty, could be sentenced to death. I learned a few years later that things had not gone well with the village head-woman and that Mr. Mahongo had had to resign his position and move back north to avoid sorcery charges.

A Lesson in International Aid

We were given a tour of the school facilities. Funded by low interest rate loans to the Malawian government and forced by the government onto the school, they were indeed impressive. In the shop we saw three heavy-duty metal lathes, three large wood lathes, table and band saws, and drill presses. In the home economics rooms we found electric sewing machines, electric ranges, electric washing machines, electric carving knives, and silver and porcelain tea services. There were only two problems. The first was that the school did not have electrical power. It ran a generator to support the infirmary for two hours a night but the generator could not power the electrical equipment. The second was that the children, when they went home, would cook over open fires in a mud-walled thatch-roofed hut and wash clothes in a stream. The boys would do wood working and build with hand adzes and machetes. We did see one thing that might have been of use. The school had a drafting room with multiple sets of drafting equipment like T-squares, set-squares, compasses, dividers, rulers, et cetera. Unfortunately the school was not able to use these either because the loan agreement with the World Bank stipulated that if equipment were broken, it would have to be replaced by the school at market value. The school of course could not afford to replace the equipment and could not therefore, afford to use it. Our suspicions that aid programs were often used as a means of dumping surplus western commodities was later confirmed.

Colonial Attitudes

Gary dropped us at Monkey Bay on the south end of Lake Malawi. There was a resort frequented by South African and Rhodesian whites who had difficulty getting into the rest of East Africa. The management let us pitch our tent under some palm trees near the lake and we spent a couple of days relaxing in the sun. One incident in particular remains with me. We were having a drink in the bar when we overheard two South Africans. One was bragging to the other that they had brought in a nutritional expert to determine the amount of food to feed the miners. They had calculated the optimal amount of food to keep the miners strong enough to work while minimizing costs. I had to leave the bar.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
The Zomba Plateau felt a lot like home. Carrying firewood to market. The Shire Valley from the Zomba Plateau. Traditional villages seemed to grow from the landscape. Development in the valley. Baobab Traditional family compound. A frightened snake scared a man off his bicycle, but was stalking a chameleon. Python caught raiding a chicken coop. Mr. Mahongo in his corn field. On of two large tilapia ponds. View from our tent at Monkey Bay.
 

Interlude

We did not know it yet but our commitment to third-class passage on public transport was about to be severely tested. Gary owned a car, and for the next few days we were to be chauffeured around southern Malawi in the comfort of a private vehicle.

 Expatriates

There were two classes of expatriate aid workers in east and southern Africa. The first were those that Gary associated with, idealistic recent graduates from universities around the world. They represented non- government organizations (NGOs) like CUSO (Canadian University Students Overseas), their British equivalent, or the US Peace Corps. They worked as teachers or technical advisors on small projects and always worked and lived with local counterparts. They received minimal wages, and were working out of a sense of altruism, adventure, or both. The second class were scorned by the NGOs. These were major aid agencies like CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) or the World Bank. They worked on large scale, expensive projects like building highways or dams. They often lived in compounds, isolated from contact with the locals, they received high wages, and they introduced western technology and products often inappropriate to the culture of the local population. This was the NGO view, and since we did not get a chance to meet the government agency types, we will have to let that view stand unchallenged.  We were welcomed into the NGO expatriate society and one evening were invited to join them for dinner across the border in Mozambique. Mozambique was in the midst of a bloody struggle for independence. Over 70,000 Portuguese soldiers were attempting to suppress the independence movement. The war made travelling in Mozambique dangerous. The roads were frequently mined, and travel was allowed only in government organized armed convoys. However, we were assured that towns on the border near Cholo were safe as long as you did not travel too far. Several of us, male and female, piled into an old Volkswagen bus. The men with their short hair, the women in long skirts, and long sleeved blouses. After a cursory check at the border we entered Mozambique. The van stopped and the women got out to whip off skirts and blouses revealing halter-tops, shorts, and miniskirts. They said that it was a relief to ignore the dress code imposed on them in Malawi. Somehow though, the clothing seemed ill-fitting. We had noticed already that the men’s clothes tended to be too loose. We now noticed that the women’s clothing seemed a bit too tight. We were told that in the dry tropics, men tended to lose and women tended to gain weight, hence the somewhat ill fitting clothes. Since stylish western clothing was almost impossible to buy in Malawi, they had to make do with what they had brought with them two or three years earlier.

The Zomba Plateau

A day trip to the Zomba Plateau brought memories of home. The ride in a relatively new Peugeot station wagon, a small lake surrounded by pine plantations and a backdrop of forested hills, a traditional picnic, the feel of warm dry air on our skins, and the smell of pine made us forget for a time that we were in Africa and transported us halfway around the world to the southern interior of our home province in Canada. The sense of familiarity, peace, comfort, and security generated by familiar surroundings was quite dramatic, and I understood the need of immigrants to bring something of their old country to their new. The sight of a young man, burdened with a large bundle of firewood on his head, walking along a dirt path towards the road, brought us back to Africa. Carrying, on his head, thirty or forty kilos of firewood gathered from the plantation’s pruning and thinning operations, we was walking some ten to fifteen kilometres down the mountain to be sell it at the local market. He carried a long forked walking stick and when he need to rest, he would balance one end of his load on the stick and stand, stork-like, one leg locked at the knee and the other bent, foot resting on the knee of the straight leg. He would shift legs to rest the other and resume his trek. At no point did he lower his burden to the ground. As we emerged from the mountain depression with its plantations and lake, we were treated to a spectacular view of the Shire River Valley occupying the southern portion of the Great Rift Valley. Alluvium eroded from the highlands has been worked and reworked until the valley floor is almost level. The eroded flanks of volcanic ridges  and cones rose from the valley floor. Unlike the landscapes back home, this ancient landscape was soft, sharp angles and contours eroded away. It had never been sculpted by glaciers and its soft contours could not be mistaken for the young, rugged, glacier carved landscapes of home. The rigid, rectangular grid and geometry of modern settlements and the angular profiles of cinder-block buildings were at odds with the gentle and subdued contours of the land. In contrast the irregular, scattered, traditional settlements of thatch roofed, round wattle and daub huts and fences seemed to grow from the land. I recall passing a beautiful traditional compound nestled at the foot of a hill as we descended to the valley bottom. I commented that it was a shame to see these picturesque villages being replaced by ugly cinder block walls and fences and corrugated tin roofs. Gary promptly took me to task, explaining that these picturesque homes were hot and vermin infested in summer and cold and poorly ventilated in winter. Each year his old school would lose one or two children to carbon monoxide poisoning from sleeping on the dirt floor next to the smouldering fire meant to keep them warm. He wondered what value I would attach to the picturesque versus the clean, vermin free cinder block home.

Cholo to Monkey Bay

Rural Malawi

We were going to have to head north again, but we were not looking forward to the long, gruelling bus rides. Gary suggested that we could avoid the most difficult portion of the trip by taking the lake steamer from Monkey Bay at the south end of Lake Malawi to Nkata Bay, about 2/3 of the way up the lake. He offered to drive us to Monkey Bay and on the way we could visit the Anglican diocese school where he had taken his first teaching position. We drove north, through a dry valley bottom of scrub land and scattered, stately baobab trees, subsistence farms, and villages. A single family would occupy a cluster of buildings sometimes surrounded by wattle fence. The main house, constructed of wattle and daub with a thatched roof sat on a raised, packed earthen platform. Wattle walled thatch roofed out buildings housed chickens and goats, and a wattle fence provided privacy for the outdoor privy. Standing atop wooden stilts, tightly woven wattle silos with removable thatch roofs (nkokwae) stored maize, the number of silos reflecting the prosperity of the family. Adjacent maize fields had small platforms built on stilts or in small trees, often with a thatch roof on which children would sit with a pile of stones to throw at the marauding monkeys intent on stealing the maize crop. A plume of dust marked our passage along a dry gravel road. Slowing to spare a bicyclist the billowing dust storm, we were startled to see him leap from his bicycle and run. We stopped to see if he needed help and as we got out of the car we saw the cause of his panic. A vine snake, well over a metre long, slithered across the road. Its head, held about 30 cm above the ground, was tracking a nearly straight line despite the sinuous movement of its body. The snake’s short, deliberate movements were reminiscent of a stalking cat. A sudden strike and it held a chameleon by the neck. While the chameleon struggled, the snake worked to dislocate its jaw so that it could inject its venom. I was photographing the stalk and strike and, looking through my viewfinder, I was oblivious to a developing crowd of onlookers shouting and warning me off. While highly venomous, the snake is not that dangerous because being back-fanged it cannot inject its venom in anything larger than a few centimetres without first dislocating its jaw. However, the locals fear all snakes and do not distinguish between them. We did not wait for the death throes of the chameleon but helped the man get back up on his bike and on his way. A few kilometres down the road, a crowd of children proudly gathered around an enormous (five metre) headless python. They had found it trying to raid a chicken coop, beheaded it, and  dragged it up to the road to show it off. I asked if the snake might provide a feast for the village but the suggestion was greeted with horror.

Mr. Mahongo’s farm

We visited Gary’s first posting, an Anglican diocese school of about three hundred children many of whom boarded at the school. We met Mr. Mahongo, a Malawian from the north who had a two-year British agricultural college certificate. He had been hired to manage the school’s farm that was expected to feed the staff and boarding students. When Mr. Mahongo arrived, the school had tractors, harvesters, and mechanized flour milling (provided as a low interest rate loan by the World Bank). It was operating at a loss and the diocese had to buy extra food to meet the schools needs. Mr. Mahongo promptly sold the equipment and went back to water buffalo for power. He dug fish ponds to grow tilapia and set up formal experimental plots and plot-trials. Manure from his water buffalo was returned to the land, maize stalks and cobs were fed to the water buffalo after the corn was removed, and corncobs were ground and spread on the fish ponds to feed the tilapia. He was raising a metric tonne of tilapia a year. Bilharzia (blood flukes) are a painful and debilitating parasite in people  and breed in standing water, so the fish ponds could have been problematic. Snails are an alternate host necessary to the life cycle of bilharzia and also happen to be a favourite food of ducks, so Mr. Mahongo introduced ducks to the fishponds. Not only did the ducks virtually eliminate the snail host of bilharzia, they also provided a valuable source of protein and market cash in the form of eggs and meat. Within three years, the school was self sufficient for food and selling a surplus at the local market to help support the school. In addition to being an excellent manager, Mr. Mahongo was very innovative and committed to biological control wherever possible. He quizzed me a little on soil management, but was most interested in what I knew about biological controls. I confessed to knowing very little but offered a few examples that I had read about. He salved my ego by asking my help in setting up an experimental plot designed to test the ideas. He clearly did not need my help but thanked me profusely for confirming the validity of his design. I was very impressed with both Mr. Mahongo and the quality of his education at the agricultural college. He was personable, inquisitive, and anxious to share his knowledge with his neighbours, but he was from the north and therefore not trusted by the locals. He was working very hard trying to convince the local villagers that his yields were not a result of black magic and was quite excited when we visited him. He had just convinced the local village head-woman to work with him in his fields so that he could prove that he was not practicing magic. I was unaware of it at the time but accusations of sorcery and magic were very serious. Three years earlier, trials involving witchcraft and superstition were  transferred from the High Court and were now held in the local Traditional Courts. More importantly, the defendant, if found guilty, could be sentenced to death. I learned a few years later that things had not gone well with the village head- woman and that Mr. Mahongo had had to resign his position and move back north to avoid sorcery charges.

A Lesson in International Aid

We were given a tour of the school facilities. Funded by low interest rate loans to the Malawian government and forced by the government onto the school, they were indeed impressive. In the shop we saw three heavy-duty metal lathes, three large wood lathes, table and band saws, and drill presses. In the home economics rooms we found electric sewing machines, electric ranges, electric washing machines, electric carving knives, and silver and porcelain tea services. There were only two problems. The first was that the school did not have electrical power. It ran a generator to support the infirmary for two hours a night but the generator could not power the electrical equipment. The second was that the children, when they went home, would cook over open fires in a mud-walled thatch-roofed hut and wash clothes in a stream. The boys would do wood working and build with hand adzes and machetes. We did see one thing that might have been of use. The school had a drafting room with multiple sets of drafting equipment like T- squares, set-squares, compasses, dividers, rulers, et cetera. Unfortunately the school was not able to use these either because the loan agreement with the World Bank stipulated that if equipment were broken, it would have to be replaced by the school at market value. The school of course could not afford to replace the equipment and could not therefore, afford to use it. Our suspicions that aid programs were often used as a means of dumping surplus western commodities was later confirmed.

Colonial Attitudes

Gary dropped us at Monkey Bay on the south end of Lake Malawi. There was a resort fre- quented by South African and Rhodesian whites who had difficulty getting into the rest of East Africa. The management let us pitch our tent under some palm trees near the lake and we spent a couple of days relaxing in the sun. One incident in particular remains with me. We were having a drink in the bar when we overheard two South Africans. One was bragging to the other that they had brought in a nutritional expert to determine the amount of food to feed the miners. They had calculated the optimal amount of food to keep the miners strong enough to work while minimizing costs. I had to leave the bar.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
The Zomba Plateau felt a lot like home. Carrying firewood to market. The Shire Valley from the Zomba Plateau. Traditional villages seemed to grow from  the landscape. Baobab Traditional family compound. Encounter with a Vine snake. Python caught raiding a chicken coop. Mr. Mahongo Tilapia pond View from our tent at Monkey Bay.