maandag 21 mei 2018

7 quick takes...

1. Sophie and Doris are sleeping in the bed next to me. Hartmut is out trying to catch some cell phone reception and I am on my bed under the mosquito net. The best place to be when it's evening because I don't like getting bitten. Noisy crickets and loud birds seem to be having a competition to be heard. A perfect moment to write a quick blog about things that happened in the past while. ( I usually take notes in the week so that I only need to work out the notes when I have time to write.)

2. I am reading but look up every few minutes to stare over the headlands. No boat yet. With every minute that it comes later, chances increase that the rumours are true. On the lake is a ferry, a big old steamer that goes up and down the lake once a week, connecting cities and villages. It's the lifeline for many villagers, the only reminder that the world is bigger than the few kilometers between the school, the church and their cassava field. But the big steamer, the Ilala, is in for maintenance. The Chilimbwe is making the rounds instead, a smaller boat, much faster but also much more expensive. The people are waiting for the Ilala to come back but it has been a few months of disappointment. Every week the whispers travel along the coastline. This week the Ilala is back! Everybody seems to have a relative in Monkey Bay (the harbour where the Ilala leaves from.)  who has phoned to confirm; "This week it's really true, the big boat left the harbour!". Hearsay travels fast. The coastline is buzzing, people are preparing their bags to take the steamliner. There is no way to confirm, and the relative has spoken, that should be confirmation enough. I look up from my book again and see a boat coming around the headlands. It's the Chilimbwe. The relative lied and rumours won. Again.

3. "A taxi to Karonga? No problem, we are leaving now now!" We get in the minibus that he shows to us. Half hopeful, half sceptical. Nownow can mean anything. In this case it meant two hours. After two hours of waiting the bus filled up and there is some movement. Finally.  Getting out of the taxi park is harder than a game of tetris. At least; that's what it appears to be to us. The driver has less trouble with the labyrinth. Cars are stronger than people and the goods they sell so when the driver slowly pushes forward, vendors of clothes and food are forced to quickly grab their stuff to make way for the merciless tires of the slow minibus. It works, 10 minutes later we are out on the road and ready to go. The minibus is full but can still get fuller. We stop for every potential customer and more space can be made for the new people, chickens and luggage that needs to come along. Their is worship music, traditional music and an occasional r&b song. The driver's choice of play list is bearable. Two chiefs stand alongside the road, we recognise them by their traditional chief heads. Nobody lets a chief wait snd people shuffle to make space, climb onto each others lap or stand uncomfortably under the too low ceiling to make space for the two elderly man. We are excused from the shuffling game. We got the two front seats for us four and arrive in one piece and in fairly comfortable positions at our first destination for the day.  Now on to the next one. We have no choice but to climb in the back of a van that looks like it's even too old for a scrapyard. No panel is without dents, the sliding side door is missing, the back window is replaced with tape and the back door itself can't close but is held in place with a rope. The back seats are taken to create more space for luggage. Or people, we learn. We sit on top of our backpack, holding on to the girls and our luggage for dear life. The car is only 6 months old, the driver says. 6 months in his hands, after years of service for several other owners, we assume. 17 hairpin bends on a steep bumby road later we arrive. Alive. Another adventure added to our books.

4. The sun has set. Ten minutes ago the evening sky had turned into a canvas with bright splashes of pink and oranges but that has faded. The first stars appear. People light their fires to prepare an evening meal, those who are lucky enough to have a electricity or a solar lamp switch it on and continue with their day. Hartmut and I are sitting on the deck, playing a cardgame. I drink my rooibos tea, Hartmut his beer. The deck is build on cliffs on the edge of a sharp escarpment and the views are magnificent. Sophie comes running to us, pulls our hands excitedly, we have to come!  She shows us the lights below us, clearly lining the lake shore. Cars move, fires flicker. Her face beams, she has tears in her eyes. "This is so beautiful, everybody needs to see this" she says as she runs up to the upper deck where other lodge guests are enjoying their evening. We hear her chat "I have seen something beautiful and I think you want to see it too because it's very pretty." Sophie is a special one, sensitive and bold. Always looking for beauty, always wanting to share her finds. One man came to look with her at the lights. He made her day.

5. It's a little bit frustrating when your child does not want to listen despite your best efforts, despite you knowing exactly what's best for her. Sophie and Doris learned that lesson. They had a bongololo (milipede) child that they build a nice house for. Stones became walls and pebbles and leaves were the bed. They tried to be nice and talked some sense into the milipede, it really was time for bed and he should not crawl out all the time. They showed him how soft the bed was, and comfortable. But their dear child walked away. Having 1000 legs comes in handy when you want to make a quick escape. Reasoning did not help, neither did screaming nor threatening with punishments. Sophie rolls her eyes. "Kids can be so difficult"  I quietly nod in agreement.

6. We had wonderful days in Livingstonia. We met great lodge owners, saw beautiful views and really relaxed. But now it's time to go. Bags are packed but we are not quite sure yet how we wil reach the village almost a kilometer below us. We walk to the road, I have Sophie in the carrier, the other carrier is in the backpack and Hartmut is carrying our big backpack while Doris sits on top of the backpack on his shoulders. It works, but only just and definitely not for 11 kilometers. We walk to a nearby little hole in the wall shop next to road and decide to wait to see what comes first. Either a vehicle (any really) that can give us a lift, or a strong guy who is willing to porter our backpack down while we walk. The latter wins and we walk. We pick the wild flowers that grow in bright colours on the side of the road. We sing songs from the Sound of Music. We try to not slip over the rolling rocks and slippery clay, we only succeed most of the time. But 2,5 hours later we are at the bottom of the escarpment.  17 hairpin bends, sometimes made quicker by steep shortcuts. The views were worth it, the fresh mandazi when we reached the bottom of the road too. Sophie tells me that she really likes hiking because she loves sleeping in the carrier. I also really like hiking, but I prefer te sleep after the job is done. Oh, and we did not see any vehicles going up or down while we hiked. I am glad we did not wait for that.

7. It's half past 8 and I will probably go to sleep soon. We rarely make it past nine, nobody does here. Tomorrow we need to get up early. We have a big journey ahead. We need to hike 60 kilometers and hope to do that in 3 days. Samson, a lovely man from our village is coming with us and has organised meals and beds with some of his family members along the way. I know it will be challenging,as the terrain is not easy, but we are up for it. Enjoy your week!

zaterdag 12 mei 2018

7 quick takes...

1. We got up early, had some quick porridge and hiked up the hill to enjoy the cool morning weather and faster internet. Now we are frantically working in our phones while the girls play, the birds sing and the monkeys jump in the trees above us. The rest of the blog I already wrote. Enjoy your weekend!
2. The lake is moody and grey today. Dark clouds hang over her and rain is imminent. It will be a slow day. Another slow day, because rain brings this already slow world to a near stand still. Rain means that roads are slippery so nobody will come, no work can be done and the waves in the lake will make that the boat comes late. Clouds mean that the solar panel won't make enough electricity to start up the laptop and even typing on the phone won't last long as both my battery and powerbank are almost empty. It's ok. There are no guests and work can wait. A slow day means more cuddles, more books, more puzzles and more crafts. Getting used to a slower pace of life is not always easy but today I am loving it.

3. The grass moves as I put my feet down on the narrow path. Giving way to tiny creatures who do not wish to see their lives end under my soles. Brightly coloured tails disappear in the green. They belong to small lizards that soak up the hot sun from rocks, hunt for insects in the grass and always cause excitement when the girls see them. Every now and then the noise is louder, and the grass has to bend more for bigger species. When we are lucky we see them. Monitor lizards, swiftly moving away from us into the water or under the rocks. At night we hear the geckos, they sit on our roof and our walls, squeaking to each other, pooing on our mosquito nets and chairs. Every now and then one falls from the roof right there where we sit or play. We love them and the entertainment they bring.

4. Talking about reptiles; this week seems to be the week of the snake. First Hartmut saw a green one close to our house. The camera was close by and he took a picture. The locals were convinced that it was a green mamba. (Any green or yellow snake is absolutely 100% of the time a green mamba, every brown or black snake is a black mamba. Always. At least according to them.) However, someone who knows about snakes identified our green friend as a harmless water snake. A few days later the staff killed what looked like a cobra and the day after that we found a snake skin hanging from our roof. The owner was nowhere to be found but the fact that he left his now too small clothes at our roof means that he feels comfortable living so close for us (I hope it belonged to that green water snake.) The girls and I did an impromptu lesson about snakes and I hoped that that was that. Little did I know that the next day's breakfast would be disturbed by another snake. One of the staff members asked if we would like to see a python. A dead one. We left our porridge for what it was and strolled to the neighbour where we saw a python that was killed with a spear and an axe. Our neighbour's daughter is clearly brave and loves her goats a lot, because she was the killer of this over 2 meter long reptile. Now I have had enough snake stories for the next while. Let's move on the something harmless. Butterflies anyone?

5. The loud noise of heavy rocks falling on the soil, hitting other rocks. Singing, laughing and every now and then a moan from someone who is carrying rocks to heavy for their strength. The local women's group is in action and I am enjoying the noises. Many of our guests work or volunteer for Phunzira, a local ngo that does a lot of work in the community and Phillipa, one of the directors is here always for half the year. She is fabulous, a great aunt to the girls and a good friend to us. She is building her own house in the lodge's terrain and since diggers and dump trucks don't exist here all the work needs to be done manually. Everybody knows  that the most powerful workforces are the women and philippa has hired the local group to bring all the needed sand and rocks. This group is amazing. Strong women, driven to help themselves and their families out of poverty by working hard to earn the cash that will take their kids through better education. They have their own microloan scheme amongst each other where they can borrow money to start new business. Interest is steep but determined by themselves and it helps all of them to earn some extra cash by the end of the year. They take on other jobs, like carrying rocks when someone builds a house, to generate extra income. It's time for a break. I did not carry rocks but am invited to share in their meal of steamed sweet potato anyway. Doris sits on my lap, their children sit on their laps. We all chat and laugh, talk about the ages of the kids, the weather and news from the village. We share from one pot, plates and cutlery are an unnecessary luxury. We wait till our hot tea cools down and feed our children before we feed ourselves. I feel included but also filled with respect for these strong mothers and women.

6. It has been a month of lake baths and carrying up water to flush the toilet. A month since we had running water. It is not just us but also the village that is affected. There is a water committee whose job it is to keep water running but they have not been in a rush to get it fixed. The committee is a group of men, and they are not very affected by the lack of running water because it's a women's job to carry the water from communal taps to the houses. The men don't have to walk the extra distance with buckets of water on their head, now that water needs to be fetched from the lake instead of from the taps. We cannot have our guests to not have showers and the kitchen needs water too so our staff has been carrying bucketloads up which is a lot of work. After a month of asking, complaining and begging the water committee to just do their job, they were still not very keen to fix it but then the magical solution came. Money! We offered them some money and that made that they arrived this morning, promptly on time, ready to fix the waterpipes together wity Hartmut and some of our guys, because they all agreed it had been too long. Interesting that money brought the insight that watching women work even harder did not. The pipes are high up the mountain and I expect them to be away all day long. It is worth it though, I am already looking forward to my hot shower. (Update, it took two full days of work but yesterday evening the water was fixed. Hurray!)

7. One of the best perks of our job are the marketing trips that we need to make to different other lodges in the region. Monday (I don't know when I get to post this blog, maybe only on Monday) we will leave Ruarwe with the ferry for a nice trip to the North. We plan to have first a few days in Mzuzu for some essential shopping and a visit to the immigration office. After that we will travel to Livingstonia, an old missionairy settlement on the top of the mountains (they build it there because there are fewer mosquitoes. All the missionaries died of malaria at the two lower posts that they first build.)   We will stay there for a couple of days to explore the mountains, the village and Manchewe waterfal and after that we plan to hike back to our own lodge. We think that it will take us 3 or 4 days to walk back. 'They say' that the terrain is not too challenging and that the views are beautiful. Samson, an amazingly helpful man from the village, will come with us to show us the way, to carry our luggage and to help us to find friendly people where we can spend the nights. I am going to write a brochure about the hike so that more people can do it and we can market it as one of the ways to get to us. We are so much looking forward to this 'working holiday'.

dinsdag 1 mei 2018

7 quick takes...

1. The sky starts turning pink and orange about an hour before the first rays of sunshine appear. I know that because I see it almost every morning. We don't have curtains in our house and as a result we get treated with a magical light show every sun rise. Most of the time it means I can turn around once more and sleep a little longer but today the light show meant that I had to get up because we wanted to go to 'signal hill' to answer emails for the lodge, check on our whatsapp and catch up on the news to see if the world outside our internet-free bubble is still in one piece. But before we go we quickly do a malaria test. Doris had a slight fever in the night and threw up in the morning. You can never be too careful with malaria so rather one test too many than letting it go untreated. Fortunately the test was negative and Doris already seems a bit happier again.

2. I see them staring, pointing, whispering. I know what they are talking about, what their question will be. "Matwinzi?" It's the most common question that I have answered here. More than wanting to know my name or where I am from is the desire to find out if Sophie and Doris are twins. To me they do not look one bit alike and it is obvious that Sophie is taller but the people here do not seem to get that. We get surprised looks when we tell that they are 17 months apart and we even get reprimanded. "You 'mzungus' (whites) always come with your ngos to tell us that we must space our children, that we must wait at least 2 years before we even think about the next one but you don't even stick to it yourself." It's true, the practice of 'spacing children' is widely advocated for. More time between kids means less chance for problematic pregnancies, a fairer chance to make it to 2 years for the smallest baby because he or she stays the youngest for longer and less children all together. It's a good practise and we did not stick to it. But if I tell them that we hoped for a small age difference so that the children could be good friends, and add to that that I don't expect to get more children (at least biologically) the people look at me in disbelieve. I see them stare at my abdomen as if they want to discover a secret, undisclosed baby that I am hiding there. "But you only have girls, you need to give your husband a son. How can your husband not have a son..."

3. The rock has soaked up the heat of the day and warms up our bodies. The cool evening breeze strokes our cheeks. Darkness is pulling over the earth like a blanket and stars are appearing.  The moon is only reflecting the tiniest slice of its full size. Her hand searches for mine, with her free hand she points out Orion. I show her the Southern Cross.  When I turn my head and look at her face, the light is dim; just enough to reveal a small tear appearing in the corner of her eye. A happy tear, I think. Sophie has many happy tears. We stare at the Milky Way. Majestically towering over us, tiny people in a place that means nothing to the world. We listen to the thundering sound of the waterfall next to us, the soft noises of waves breaking on the shore, the final song of a bird before he goes to sleep. "Mam, this is so beautiful, I just want to cry". I squeeze her hand and think about the cheesy credit card commercial. Living here comes at a cost, but this moment is priceless.

4. Last weekend we took a boat to Usisya, stayed there for the night and then hiked back to our own lodge over two days. Hiking boots, baby-carrier backpacks, water, my camera and some snacks. Those items made the list to come along, most others did not because they were too big or too heavy. Even spare clothes seemed unnecessary (gross) and we slept in the clothes we were wearing to cut back on the weight. Carrying two toddlers on our backs was enough ballast.  It was a fantastic experience. We hiked through farmland, beaches, villages and mountains and got a great idea of the landscape that is surrounding our house. We spend the night in a village halfway, in the home of a village headman who kindly cleared out half of his house to make space for us, made us an amazing traditional meal and even cleaned the leaves of the beach in front of his house so that we could sit on fresh clean sand. Sophie learned to pound cassava flour (I wish internet was fast enough to post a picture here.) while half the village was watching, Doris sang every song she knows while sitting in my carrier back pack and we lost 5 kilos of liquid each because hiking in the Malawian sun makes you sweat so much that you can swim in it. You understand that we had great fun. So much so that we hope to do a similar, but longer hike a few weeks from now!

5. The girls keep surprising me with their adaptability. They approach all the new things in their lives with eager anticipation and are so open to learn. We knew that we would not come across 'normal' toilets during our hike and I was wondering how the girls would deal with that. The house where we were staying had a 'long drop', a little mud house with an old potato sack as a door and a deep hole in the mud where the occasional cockroach comes crawling out. You stand over the little hole, do what you need to do and that is that. Both girls used it as if they had always done so, no complains, or questions asked. They really are nice little travel companions.

6. The radish and beetroot are doing great, the zucchini is growing well and I saw the first green sprouts of coriander coming up too. The difficulty to get fresh herbs and vegetables made that 'starting a garden' quickly moved to the top of our priority list and our (ok, let's be fair, Hartmut's) hard work is starting to show fruit. He has been making some flowerbeds, is lovingly growing seedlings in egg trays and takes very good care of our veggie babies. My task in our gardening venture is to come up with recipes so that we can put everything that is growing to good use. A task that I thoroughly enjoy.

7. I hope that posting of this blog will go smoothly. It usually does not and tells me that it has failed to publish, but when it then finally publishes it publishes 5 times the same story. The same happens on social media, and I often look like a fool for posting 6 times the same comment. Believe me, it's the internet, not me. Posting pictures on this blog in nearly impossible so I have given up on that. Please check on instagram (@annekejagau) if you want to see some pictures. We are going to go down the hill again. It is labour day today and because it's a holiday, we only have a few staff members today. I am going to bake a cake (I have no working oven but I am becoming a steam cake expert) for them and look after our 4 guests so that they do not have to work so hard. Enjoy your day!

donderdag 26 april 2018

One of them.

Soccer is big here. We may not know the latest news but we will know whether Man-U or Chealsea won. The local league is equally big and Hartmut is welcomed as if he were a Champions League player. He got claimed by Chinooku, one of the local teams. A team with lots of talent and passion but without a ball so they can only play and practise when another team, with ball, wants to play against them. Last weekend was a big match, a derby against the other team from our village. An important march where Hartmut cannot be missed. Nobody is quite sure when it will start and we get mixed messages: any time between 2.30 and 4. We decide to come somewhere in the middle. Early enough for the second half if the game starts at 2:30 indeed but late enough to not waste hours if the game starts late. The pitch is on top of the hill and it is quite a walk. The mid afternoon sun is still hot. The rocks and sand have been basking in its warmth for long enough to soak up the heat too and the absence of a breeze makes walking to the soccer pitch a warm affair.
The village is quiet, only those who are too old or too young to make it to the top have remained behind. At the top is a buzzing energy. Drums, choirs, flags and hand drawn posters with the names of the players reveal an unexpected fanaticism. The match has not started yet but Hartmut gets shirt number 2. The shirt of shame, they tell us, the shirt for the latecomer. Then the players dissappear and the field gets quiet until a drum marks the start of the match. The players appear from behind some trees, run in a neat line to the middle of the pitch while the drum beats the rhythm and the choirs of wives, girlfriends and fans sing in encouragement. Team pictures are made, some more muscles are stretched and the game begins.
Nobody is quite sure where the lines are, the field is definitely not a straight rectangle, and neither is it flat. The penalty line and the goal differ at least 2 meters in height. Many don't wear shoes, some wear socks but both teams wear pride, passion and sponsored soccer shirts.
The drums never stop, the singing only gets louder. The army of voices marches around the field, waving flags, singing for their heroes. Sophie and Doris sit close to me, clinging to my legs as if they want to crawl under my skin to a place they know, to noises they are familiar with.

We support Hartmut, scream his name, clap for his team. Their grip gets less tight over time, they shuffle forward to sit with the other kids. Two blondies in a sea of short shaved dark heads. They feel like they belong, think that all the kids get offered sweets and bananas all the time. They do not yet realise how they stand out.
Sophie crawls on my lap. We watch the game. Dust blows up in the setting sun where the ball or feet hit the sand. "It's really easy to see where pappa is" Sophie says. I look at the playing men and nod in agreement. Hartmut is always very tanned but will never be as dark as these men. "I just look at all the guys until I see somebody with curly hair and then I know it's my dad." I smile while my eyes fill up a little. Sophie gets a tight squeeze and looks at me with puzzled eyes. "You are right" I say.
The man with the curly hair scores a goal, the first goal in his life, and the field bursts out in jubilant screams. "You must give him a kiss and a hug after the game", the women say. I walk past the men. "Your husband is a fine player, we are happy that he is one of us."

My heart swells. We are happy to be one of them. 

zaterdag 21 april 2018

Sad onions and tinned tomatoes.

A few garlic cloves, half dried out. A sad looking onion, some wrinkly green beans, a few cups of rice, uncooked brown beans and a tin of cream style sweet corn. The harvest of my search in the kitchen was meagre and I was not sure if I could turn it into a worthy meal for me, my family and two guests. Something had gone wrong with the shopping list for the previous day and the boat that came did not bring any of the groceries we had asked for. A few weeks ago, when we were still in Cape Town, that would not have been a problem, the supermarket was around the corner. But now it was getting dark, a boat to the closest supermarket, if I could find one, would take at least 6 hours and then I still had to get back. My best bet would be to try to turn my ingredients into some sort of mexican fried rice dish. 

Just as I started cooking I heard an engine. There are no roads around here so that sound can only mean one thing: a boat! The boat from Nkatha bay had already passed which meant that there was only one explanation for another boat and it was not one that made me very happy. Unexpected guests! 3 British girls stepped of the boat into our restaurant. I welcomed them and asked with a small voice if they needed supper. Maybe they carried food with them, maybe they had eaten elsewhere (although I knew that that last option was virtually impossible as there are not many other places along the northern shore.). "That would be great, the boat ride was long and we are hungry!" I smiled while my heart sunk a little. How was I going to do this?

I opened some more cupboards, found a tin of tomatoes, some soya mince and more sweet corn. That had to do. And it did. Everybody loved it, the guests asked for the recipe and I was relieved. I planned to go to the village as soon as I woke up the next morning to make sure that I would buy all the vegetables that were available to make the next day's supper a little less stressful.

It was just before 7 but the sun was already gaining strength while Limbani and I walked to the village. Limbani is one of the cooks and together we were convinced that we would find some nice vegetables to make sure that supper would be more exciting than the day before. There are a few shops in the village but none of them sell vegetables. Your best chance to find fruit and veg is on the day that the ferry arrives, people carry fresh produce from the market in Nkatha Bay to set up a small market on our beach. On other days, like the day that we went on our veg-hunt, you just go to people's houses and hope that they sell some of the crops of their land. The problem is that most people only grow cassava, and that was not what we were looking for.  We asked around and went to almost every house but the outcome was rather dissapointing. After an hour we left the village with a tray of eggs, a bread and some fresh tomatoes. Not bad but not great either, the bare minimum of what I had hoped for and I did not feel very inspired to turn that into a meal.

It took a a trip to another village, a sharp knife and only a few seconds to make our supper a lot more exciting. Flary, the head chef decided to buy two chickens and took their lives with skillful precision. The slaughtering, removing of the feathers, taking out the organs and cutting in pieces took about the same time that it would have taken me to go to the supermarket in Cape Town and an hour later we had rice and chicken curry.

I have a lot to learn.