Random Updates

Hey Everyone. This definitely falls into the category of one of my least “thought-out” blog-posts. I just wanted to give a bit of information on how I’m doing here, and what I’m up to.

My Placement

imageAs of last week, I have started getting settled in Thyolo, one of the oldest districts in Malawi (identified with a number “25”, at the bottom of the map to the right; map taken from Wikipedia). I am working with the Thyolo District Government on the future management of four new and/or refurbished piped water schemes in the district. Our initial terms of reference commit me to being here for three months (e.g. until July 9th), but there is an option for extension. The work is pretty interesting, and will warrant a full post sometime soon.

Thyolo is really beautiful, with lots of huge tea plantations. Sometime this week I’ll take some pictures and get them up here.

Living

Currently I am staying at a rest-house here in Thyolo (staying at a rest house = one small room to myself, outdoor bucket showers and latrines, decently comfortable bed). Starting early next week (hopefully) I will be moving to the southern tip of the district to live in one of the communities affected by the water schemes. Because of another personal commitment (Beth coming to visit!) I will likely only be able to stay there for a few weeks, but that is probably best for my sanity; the community where I’ll be living is 1.5 hours by motorcycle to the office. I figure three weeks is probably the maximum amount of time I can manage the three hours of commuting per day, especially in addition to all my other time-demands. (Upon re-reading, I realize the irony of talking about my “time-demands” in a vaguely serious manner, before following up with my next topic. I swear I am busy with work too…)

Champions League

Well, I had to replace hockey playoffs with something. Champions League Football is huge here, and I’m getting really into it. Unfortunately my arbitrary choice to cheer for Liverpool has already resulted in disappointment (although brilliantly exciting disappointment, which anyone who follows such things will appreciate), but now I’m switching to Arsenal (again, arbitrary) so we’ll see how that goes. I’m writing this post offline though, and Arsenal plays tonight, so it could be that by the time this is up on the blog, I’ve been disappointed twice. Let’s hope not.

Also, for anyone who’s curious, I don’t have a TV or anything. I watch the games in a restaurant that’s been converted to a movie theater / sports venue, usually with 1-2 of my friends here who initially showed me the place. It’s basically a small room, with a smallish TV on a table in one corner, and 50-80 spectators jammed onto benches all around it. Each person pays 40 Kwacha to watch the game (about 35 cents) so the owner is actually onto something pretty good. It’s not the most comfortable place in the world, nor is the air inside always the freshest, but every seat has a good view of the game, so no complaints here.

Running

Unlike many previous attempts during my life, since arriving in Malawi I’ve actually managed to cobble together a pretty regular routine of running in the morning. The apparent key: walking. The more tired I am, the more I walk before I start to run. I think it’s what, in sports-science terms, they call “warming up”. The thought of having this “warm-up” drastically reduces my dread of the morning run, and now I can almost say it’s an integral part of my day. Only took 23 years…

Chichewa

Apparently learning a new language is hard. Still, I’m making progress. How much progress, however, I don’t know. Some days I feel like I’m on the fast-track to fluency, others I feel like I’m never going to get anywhere.  The newest challenge is that many people in Thyolo speak Lomwe, but Chichewa is still the national language (along with English), it’s what’s spoken at my office, and most people in the countryside speak it too, as Lomwe is apparently slowly fading away. So I guess all I can do is keep working at it and see where it leads.

Pirates?

Last week I finally bought a radio. I now once again know what’s going on in the world. Unfortunately “what’s going on in the world” seems to mostly consist of piracy, nuclear escalation, and some sort of an economic recession.. I guess it’s a good time to be in a geopolitically insignificant, landlocked country, especially one that isn’t highly integrated into global financial markets.

So shifty…

A sort of a side-activity for me since getting here has been supporting EWB’s in-Canada efforts to demand transparency and accountability from our government in light of a recent shift of Canada’s foreign-aid priorities.

For a quick summary: in late February, the Canadian government announced that we would be refocusing our foreign-aid on 20 countries (down from 25). Further, many of those countries are ones we’ve never had a major presence in before, such as Peru and Colombia. Six African countries previously supported through our programs were dropped, including Zambia and Malawi. Several affected African governments learned about the shift from the news.

While I won’t pass specific judgment on the details of the shift yet (that post is coming soon), I would to draw attention to this: the shift was made without consulting affected governments, without consulting NGOs working in those countries, and without informing or consulting opposition MPs. The government initially issued only a three line press release (in explanation of a policy-shift that will affect millions of people), within which they explicitly said the shift was being made to support foreign policy. This is not how I believe international assistance priorities should be set.

There is currently an online petition available relating to this issue, started by the University of Manitoba chapter of EWB. The petition does not make any specific criticism of the policy, it only asks the government to better explain its decision, and the rationale behind it. Right now, this is only about transparency.

If you have a spare minute, please consider signing. For bonus points, email it to friends, post it up on Facebook or Twitter, or spread it by word of mouth. This aid shift might not seem like a big deal in Canada, but over here it matters. Signing the petition is a small gesture, but it helps – for most Canadians, I think it would be three minutes well-spent.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/canada-aid-shift

If you want to learn more about the aid shift, there’s a plethora of articles about it online. EWB’s internal message board, myEWB.ca also has a new discussion on the subject almost daily. I’d strongly encourage further actions on this, but if you have a minute, please at least consider signing the petition.

Well, that’s it for my random updates for today. Hopefully I’ll be back online sometime soon with additional updates on life in Malawi.

Thanks,

Owen

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4 comments:

  1. Pirates? - http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-you-are-being-lied-to-about-pirates-1225817.html

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  2. Sounds paradoxal, the key to running is walking. I'll try to keep that in mind, I started to run recently too. Trying to get in shape for Burkina Faso ;)


    Max

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  3. Yea the economic market makes getting jobs hard back here. Good think you're over there. Apparently a plan was highjacked at gun-point in Canada as well, in case you missed that.

    And soccer can never replace hockey, but it sounds like a good time watching those games! Just to let you know:
    Boston 3-0 on Montreal
    Washington 1-2 with Rangers
    New Jersey 2-1 over Carolina
    Penguins 2-1 over Philly
    Calgary 1-2 with Chicago
    Anaheim 2-0 over San Jose
    Vancouver 3-0 over St. Louis
    and Detroit 2-0 over Columbus

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  4. not highly integrated , mmmm... check this out

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7931558.stm

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