Wednesday, 23 July 2008

More photos

If all goes as planned, I shall be leaving this lovely country of Malawi tomorrow. I'll spend just under a week in Lusaka before flying home from there.

Just thought I'd share some assorted photos from my last month in Malawi . . .
Photo 1: In May and June I went on many field visits with the cassava project. We talked to farmers, checked on progress, visited fields, etc. In this photo I'm standing with Mr. Chamaza-Banda, a TLC field coordinator, and a girl whose name I quite unfortunately have forgotten, but who works as a volunteer on the project. Volunteers assist the field coordinators in providing support to the farmers.

Photo 2: In early July, I had a series of EWB meetings to attend. Here I am holding a session by the lake - not a bad spot to spend a week.

Photo 3: Near the lodge we stayed at for the meetings was the Malawi cichlid centre. Malawi cichlids are collected at a few key points on the lake, and brought back to the centre where they are sorted and then kept in tanks until being sold. If you go to the centre directly, you can buy any fish there for 200Mk ($1.40), but no one would give me an indication of how much they cost when they're shipped overseas, which is where the majority of the fish are sent.

Photo 4: My tour guide at the cichlid centre

Photo 5: I have undoubtedly seen more stunning sunsets during my time here than I had in all my life previously.

Photo 6: Supports from an old pier (that's what I assume they area anyway) in Senga Bay, Malawi

Photo 7: The Southern Africa EWB crew

Photo 8: A couple weekends ago I joined a fellow EWBer, John Paul Portelli, on a short village stay. John Paul was rather intrigued by how strongly the children took to me - as a guy, he had never had nearly as much success interacting with the women and children as I am able to have. Quite unfortunate, really, as anyone who knows me knows that I'm a little hopeless in interacting with children, while he is fantastic at it!

Photo 9: Hanging out on top of a hill
Photo 10: My village host family

Photo 11: Kabindiza village

Photo 12: John Paul making mud bricks. The bricks are formed using the mould (as shown) and then left in the sun to dry for sometime before being "burnt" in an oven, to set them. Burnt bricks use a lot of wood to be produced, and are therefore yet another strain on Malawi's meager wood resources. Nevertheless, burnt bricks are much more popular than the alternatives (such as concrete blocks or other options, which are vastly more popular in neighbouring countries) because the first president of Malawi, Kamuzu-Banda, put in place policies to promote small scale burnt brick production as a means of increasing incomes in the rural areas.

Photo 13: A woman with her child. The little boy is munching on sugar cane.

Photo 14: Some cute kids with their toys.

Photo 15: Last week I went to visit my housemate Bon at his work - the National Food Reserve Agency. Malawi's national grain (i.e. maize) reserve stocks are kept in a few different silo complexes around the country. Bon works as a Quality Control Officer at the main depot in Lilongwe, where 48 silos are located.

Photo 16: Bon standing by a conveyor belt that brings the maize to the silos

Photo 17: As I've mentioned many times before, Malawi's main export crop is tobacco. While some tobacco farmers work on contract with the leaf buying companies (an intermediate step between farmers and the cigarette manufacturers) the majority sell their tobacco at one of 3 auction floors located in Malawi. The auction floors in Lilongwe are the biggest. It is a rather chaotic place! Edgar works for a leaf grading company, and kindly brought me for a tour of the facility.

Saying goodbye

Continuing with the theme from my last post . . .

I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and family back in Canada, but I’m going to miss my wonderful friends here . . .
It was really difficult to leave my friends, family, and boyfriend when I left for Malawi last summer. A year seemed like an impossibly long time to be away.

Now, the year has nearly passed.

I continue to be astonished by how quickly time has flown by. In a week and a half I will have arrived back in Canada, been welcomed at the airport by various loved ones, and whisked up to the cottage for a few days of relaxing and readjusting.

While I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone when I get back, I’m really going to miss so many people that I’ll be leaving behind here.

I have met some really amazing people here - some of the most kind, generous, and welcoming people I’ve ever known. It is hard to say goodbye, especially since I don’t know when or if I’ll see them again.

Some photos from a couple going away dos I've had in the past week . . .
Photo 1: Me being presented with a gift at my office going away party

Photo2: Last Sunday, I went to see some afternoon jazz at Chameleons, a bar in Lilongwe with my 2 house mates and a few friends (from left to right: Khala, George, Rex, Annie, and Bon)

Photo 3: The EWB crew (from left to right: Me, Megan, JP, and Heather)

Photo 4: After jazz, we went back to Heather's place for a delicious dinner

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Some things I'll miss, and some things I miss less

My departure date is approaching at an alarming rate.

I’ll be leaving this lovely little country of Malawi in just over a week from now, and will be flying back to Toronto from Lusaka on July 31st.

I really do feel at home here, so it is startling for me to consider how far away I will soon be from what have become normal elements of my life here.

While there are things that I’m not sad to be leaving here or that I am looking forward to returning to at home, there are just as many (and probably more) things that I will miss very much. I started jotting down a little list - I may add more to these later.

I look forward to regular hot showers, but I’ll miss bucket showers
There is something about a hot shower with good water pressure that is just so fantastic in so many ways. I don’t think I ever appreciated showers quite enough before. On the rare occasion that I get a good ol’ fashioned shower – water spraying down from an overhead nozzle with just the perfect amount of water pressure - I just revel in its wonderfulness.

That being said, I am also a fan of my usual bathing method – the bucket shower. My daily bucket shower requires just a small bucket full of water heated up on the stove (I’m too big of a wimp for cold showers) – so efficient! I have really gained an appreciation for just how little water is actually necessary to get oneself nice and squeaky clean.

I look forward to the way garbage is dealt with in Canada, but I will miss how little garbage is generated here in Malawi.
My Canadian self was initially rather horrified by the way that garbage is handled here. Take littering, for example. Since I was a wee child I have had the concept of littering being a very bad thing drilled into my head. So naturally, I would cringe at the sight of bottles and wrappers being chucked out of minibus windows or over one’s shoulder while strolling down the street. But, then I thought of how trash is really managed here. It is not like in Canada where there is a system for garbage collection, and where you can often find trash receptacles on street corners and elsewhere. In most cases, garbage is swept into a pile and occasionally burned. At my house, for example, we have a garbage pit in the backyard. In town, all the litter is swept into an open storm sewer and occasionally burned. The burning takes place indiscriminately – whatever happens to be in the pile is burned. Plastic, batteries, paint – whatever!

However, I love how much less waste gets produced here. At my house, so little of what we use comes packaged. The vast majority of our food comes from the market or a family member or friend’s farm. The consumable items we use most often – candles, toilet paper, etc – have minimal packaging. We produce a small fraction of the amount of garbage an equivalent household would consume back in Canada.
Photo: Pile of garbage in the parking lot next to my office. It gets burned every so often when it reaches a certain size.

Photo: Burning trash in the garbage pit in my backyard

I look forward to the wide range of vegetarian friendly products in Canada, but I’ll miss Tasty Soya Pieces and all the wonderful green veggies in Malawi.
Tofu, tempeh, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans – yum!), veggie burgers, TVP, etc. . . the list of vegetarian delights that await me upon my return in Canada are nearly endless! For dinners here I mostly alternate between eggs and soya pieces (beans take tooooo long to cook!).

I do love “Tasty Soya Pieces” though. Tasty soya pieces are a magical Zambian product and are the best dried faux meat product I think I’ve ever had! I’ll fill up any extra luggage space with packages of ‘em! Plus, here there is an abundance of wonderful options when it comes to green vegetables - mustard, rape, pumpkin, sweet potato, and bean leaves, not to mention all the cabbage, Chinese lettuce, etc etc. It is glorious!

I look forward to leaving behind the cockroaches in my kitchen and mice in my ceiling, but I’ll miss house geckos
Even as I write this, I hear mice scurrying around my ceiling. I know that if I step into my kitchen, I’ll be greeted by cockroaches of all sizes scuttling about the floors, counters, and cabinets. So goes life in southern Africa! One kind of critter that I will be rather sad to no longer have lurking around my living spaces are house geckos. House geckos are cute little critters that you often find dotting the walls inside buildings here. They roam around with their handy little suction cup feet, and feast on mosquitoes and other annoying creatures which are seemingly omnipresecnt. Cute AND helpful – awesome!
Photo: My resident house gecko

I look forward to no more rainy seasons, but I’ll miss the predictable weather here.
Oh, the rainy season. How I was not sad to see it go . . . From December – March you can expect at least one sudden downpour a day. The open storm sewers in town become raging rivers while paved roads become flooded pools and dirt roads become muddy, impassible, messes. It is also the time of year that mosquitoes are out in full force, resulting in peak malaria infection rates.

I will, however, miss how predictable the weather is here. You pretty much know what you’re going to get. Back in Canada, for much of the year we have to rely pretty heavily on weather forecasts, as who knows what it will be like outside on a given day. I remember the last winter I was in Canada and living in Waterloo – I’d be in a parka one day, and fine in shirt sleeves the next. Plus, during the dry season here, you can expect beautiful sunny days practically every day - not bad :)

Photo: Ah, the perils of rainy season driving

Photo: A "road"

More to come next time . . .

Friday, 11 July 2008

Visit to the Chia Lagoon

A couple of weeks ago I visited one of TLC’s major projects – the CHIA Lagoon Watershed Management Project. A delegation from the Norweigan government, the current funders of the project, were in town, so the visit was largely meant to show them some of the project sites, and to launch a new initiative. Basically, we were trying to show off what we've done so far . . . Other guests included government staff and members of the media.

The Chia project is a big one for TLC. It includes a whole whack of activities – forestry, soil and water management, fisheries, enterprise development (helping farmers earn income from little specialized business endevours such as honey production or fish farming), etc.

Some background:
The Chia Lagoon is a sizable lagoon of Lake Malawi, a couple hours north east of Lilongwe. The watershed encompasses both a forest and a game reserve, and supports the livelihoods of 55,000 people.

The natural resources of the Chia Lagoon watershed – soil, water, flora and fauna – have been under threat from poor land use practices over the past 20 years, which has resulted in severe problems of erosion and water runoff. The lagoon suffers from major sedimentation problems, which have resulted from these practices and have significant negative impacts on the area’s rich biodiversity and the livelihoods of local communities.

The major problems causing natural resources degradation in the watershed include:
  • opening new land for agriculture
  • cultivation on steep slopes and stream banks
  • poor farming practices
  • uncontrolled cutting of trees for wood
  • setting of bush fires

Impacts on the watershed’s natural resources include:
  • Soil degradation
  • Degradation of natural vegetation
  • Declining water quality and quantity in the Lagoon
  • Reduced abundance and diversity of fish resources in the Lagoon
The project itself has several different components, trying to mitigate some of the key problems facing the watershed and their impacts. These components include forestry (requiring the raising and planting of tree seedlings), crop diversification, fisheries, conservation agriculture, and enterprise development. I’m just going to touch on a few of them here, the activities I visited with the delegation last week.

Improved Land and Water Management Practices

Photo One: A field under “Conservation Agriculture.” Conservation agriculture (CA) aims “to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and subsequently aims at improved livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations,” ( It offers opportunities to produce higher and more stable crop yields, and to reduce labor, time and production costs. This photo shows a field under conservation agriculture; the stalks from last year’s corn harvest have been left in the field, rather than being burned off which is what the usual practice would require. By doing this, the farmer will receive multiple benefits – top soil will be protected from being washed away; ridges in the field will be maintained, reducing labor time next season; biological activity will be encouraged, which improves soil quality; etc.

Photo Two: Dr. Trent Bunderson (4th from the left), the Regional Director of TLC, speaking to the Norweigan delegation

Photo Three: Another means of improving soil fertility is by intercropping (cultivating two or more crops together) your main crop (in this case, cassava) with legumes which fix nitrogen from the air and enrich the soil (in this case, Tephrosia candida is being used)

Photo Four: This tree has nothing to do with the project, I just liked it . . . the bunches of grasses you see leaned up against the trunk are used for thatching roofs.

Photo Five: A fisherman drying his catch of fish from the lake out in the sun. The project is working to improve the management of the fisheries in the lake and the lagoon to increase the sustainability of the fisheries.

Photo Six: The delegation and other guests paddling (the engine wasn’t working) out to the lagoon to check out fish cages where fish are raised. I feared disaster, but they managed to not tip! Fish cage culturing is used to subsidize fish populations in the lake and lagoon.

Photo Seven: Cute kids hanging out on dug out canoes on the shore

Enterprise Development

Photo Eight: An incomplete fish pond. Raising fish in fish ponds is becoming a popular income generation option for farmers in the area.

Photo Nine: Fish pond construction

Photo Ten: Woman with rice. TLC promotes the production of a certain kind of rice; the rice farmers in the project have a buyer who is happily buying all their rice at a good price.

Photo Eleven: rice!

Photo Twelve: more rice!

Photo Thirteen: Bringing in rice from the rice paddies

Photo Fourteen: Jars of honey for sale. Honey production is another practice we have going on in the project. We were told that the farmers had just recently collected honey, so the bees were annoyed and aggressive, so we were unable to check out the hives. Each jar of honey went for 300MK (approx $2.10).

The major event of the visit was the grand opening of a fish market. The idea for the market came from the project fish vendors through the Association who approached TLC for assistance. In the past, the fish vendors have been selling their fish by the roadside under no formal structure and with risks of road accidents. The market is expected to provide improved fish handling, processing and storage with reduced losses, improved hygiene and sanitation, and reduced risks of road accidents. There is also expected to be a diversification in terms of fish products offered (e.g., fish fillets, roadside restaurants). The fish market also has the potential to provide a stronger and more consistent price for fish sales with healthy competition between vendors that is based on product quality.
Photo Fifteen: The fish market

Photo Sixteen: Preparing dried fish, step one. Fish are split open and left to dry in the sun (under a netted screen) for 3 hours, after which time an oil/tomato mixture is applied to them prior to smoking.
Photo Seventeen: Preparing dried fish, step two. Laying out the fish over embers.

Photo Eighteen: Dried fish, ready for sale.

Photo Nineteen: Dried fish sellers

Photo Twenty: The fish market has the advantage of offering refrigeration, to allow for the sale of fresh fish.

Photo Twenty One: Fish market grand opening

Photo Twenty Two: Young girls selling little smoked fish to parked vehicles. They can be eaten as a snack (very tasty!) or cooked further.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Some photos…

I’ve done a horrible job at posting regularly…I have two posts that are sitting on the backburner, but I don’t have time to polish them off before heading off to a week of EWB related meetings/trainings, so I’m just going to throw up some photos for now.

Photo 1: Learning to prepare okra with my housemates’ mum. A couple of months ago I went with my housemate Khala to visit her family an hour or so outside of Lilongwe. Khala’s mum was very excited to teach me how to properly prepare okra. Okra is generally prepared one of two ways here. There is the traditional way, where the okra is cut into thin slices and cooked with tomatoes, oil, pumpkin leaves and some baking soda – the baking soda gives the okra a rather slimy consistency. It isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea . . . it is a little snotty for me. It is also very hard to scoop using a lump of nsima! The other way is the “azungu” or “European” way. In this style, the okra is sliced lengthwise and cooked in tomatoes and onions – delicious!

Photo 2: Khala’s mum is an ophthalmic nurse at the district hospital.

Photo 3: At the end of May, we held a launch for the cassava project I’ve been working on. The launch took place at a field site just outside of Lilongwe, in one of the participating villages. Even the set up, which took place the day before, attracted quite the crowd, including this group of young girls, all diligently carrying younger siblings around.

Photo 4: I live a few minute walk away from a war memorial which opened this past November. It is a rather curious site, as there is a large 4 lane road leading up to it – what must be one of the nicest stretches of road in the country – that doesn’t continue on to anywhere else. It seems like a bit of overkill at present, as the only people that use this road are visitors to the war memorial; that is, of course, except for one day earlier this month when the 2nd annual bed race in support of the Rotary club of Lilongwe was held.

Photo 5:A census takes place once every 10 years here, and it has been going on for the past couple of weeks. This rather reflective, fluorescent fellow is a census worker out in the rural areas.

Photo 6: While tobacco is by far the major cash crop grown in Malawi, cotton is also grown in certain areas.

Photo 7: Cassava! This lovely lady was happy to show off her lovely, well fenced (to keep the pesky goats away) field of cassava.

Photo 8: A local maize mill

Photo 9:Me trying out a dug out canoes. Dug out canoes are constructed out of trunks of wood. They are pretty tippy – manageable with one person, but very difficult to operate with 2.

Photo 10:Hanging out with Megan (another EWB volunteer) in a hammock by the lake.