Airing of Grievances


In a string of unfortunate events, my external hard drive has stopped working. I had a lot of media and important documents stored there including my extensive music collection and pictures. I’m sure there is some kind of software where I could recover the lost data but until I can get to a place to really do some research online, I think it’s pretty well buggered up.

I know this shouldn’t bother me and make me as grumpy as I am but in reality, I feel I’ve lost something important. I suppose since I’m in such a funk, I’ll get the rest of what has been bothering me out too:

It bothers me that there is a particular stigma about alcohol in Malawi. I enjoy beer and I enjoy it cold. I enjoy it with friends, with a hearty meal or for a cause of celebration (best if done simultaneously!). In Malawi, if you drink alcohol you are viewed as a drunk. There is no concept of social drinking or moderation. It is so black and white for many Malawians and if there is anything I’ve learned in life, it is that nothing is at all black and white. This bothers me.

Adoption of 1950s Western Christianity
I did a lot of preemptive reading on Christianity in Africa before I came because I was interested in whether or not I was going to be able to escape the ball-and-chain dogma of Western Christianity. The short answer is no. The same tired God image/language is used here and it has pushed me further into ecclesiastical exile. I keep a child-like hope that I’m going to find something worth finding and I keep coming up short. This bothers me.

Womens’ rights/expectations
The roles and strength of Malawian women is to be admired. It is tough for me to adhere to the culturally accepted gender norms. As a man, I’ve been told (just yesterday) that I shouldn’t wash dishes, do laundry or clean. This bothers me.

“Azungu, give me money!”
‘Azungu’ (pronounced AH-ZOON-GOO) is a less-than-flattering term for a foreigner in Malawi. The presupposition is that because I’m a foreigner, I have money. I’m a Volunteer — I don’t have money. Even if I did, I wouldn’t just hand it out. The kids are typically the culprits, yelling this from the side of the road (they move in packs) but occasionally, an adult will come up to me with their hand out. I don’t have money! I have knowledge, a great work ethic and a kind heart! That’s all I can give you. STOP! This bothers me.

Azungu prices
Because I’m viewed as having money, I am given a ‘special’ price for everything. These inflated prices are affectionately (read: sarcastically) regarded to as ‘azungu prices’. Just a couple of days ago, a Malawian orders a dozen eggs from the shop clerk. K60 each. I walk up and order the same amount and all of a sudden the price went up to K70 each! Another example: my landlord gets a price for work to be done (installing burglar bars in my house’s windows) — K1500. I come out to see the work that will be done and the price doubles instantly! Even my landlord is a bit flabbergasted! Cody, a fellow PCV about 25 kilometers away, orders furniture for his house. The price is agreed upon and the following Monday, I will deliver a deposit to the carpenter to begin the work. When I come back to deliver the deposit, the price doubles! We had an agreed price!? This bothers me.

I live in a sandy area near a marsh. Fleas and mosquitoes love it where I live. While going down the road near night time, I cannot say hello to others because my big mouth will swallow the plague. At any given moment, I can look down and think I’ve spilled a pepper shaker on my ankles and feet. But I didn’t. The little black specks are fleas, eating and drinking my body like a large, fleshy smorgasbord. When I’m lying in bed about to go to sleep, I just feel like my skin is crawling with these little blood-sucking demons. This bothers me.

Not having tools/being reliant
I get annoyed that I don’t have access to tools that I own back in the States — axes, wrenches, saws, ladders, etc. If I had my tools, I could easily do more of the work around the house myself and thus save myself a ton of cash. I don’t have access to my tools and I don’t have the cash to buy them here. This makes me dependent on others to get work done and though Malawians are always willing to help, I feel reliant and a bit violated. This bothers me.

I hated doing laundry in the States, and I hate doing it here. Simple as that. This is an area of my service where I know that I’m going to hate it the entire time. I’ll probably pay to have this done and I’m okay with that, even if I have to sacrifice in other areas. This bothers me.

Refraining from talking about ‘sensitive’ subjects
Peace Corps is an independent organization and thus, Volunteers are independent from host-country politics and matters of religion. Peace Corps has strict protocol regarding taking stances on Malawian politics or religious proselytizing and for very legitimate reasons. Folks that know me might comment that I’m a bit thick-headed and stubborn. Yes I am (but I am working on it). Because I enjoy discussing these ‘sensitive’ issues, it is hard for me to stay neutral and not talk about them. This bothers me.

Not wanting to cook
I loved cooking in the states — not so much here. As I mentioned in my last post, cooking will eventually get old. It already is. This bothers me.

Because I’m in the white minority, I stick out. Also, I’m a red head — I stick out in America but even more so here. The Peace Corps warned all of us of the ‘fish-bowl effect’. This is the feeling you get when everybody looks at you like you are in a fish bowl, tapping on the glass and staring. I can be doing dishes, riding my bike down the road, or just sitting down somewhere and I will get uncomfortably stared down. I say hello in a friendly manner and I don’t get a response back. This bothers me.

English vs. Chichewa
Before coming to Nsanje, I went through an extensive in-country technical and language training that was two months long. I was immersed in the language and had 85 hours of language class. I have a pretty good working grasp of Chichewa. I want to continue getting better at speaking the language. This is made harder when many Malawians speak decent English. When I say hello in Chichewa, respond to me in Chichewa, not in English! I didn’t work hard to learn the language to speak in my native tongue! This bothers me.

Wearing trousers
Africa is hot. It is supposed to be cooler this time of year but it is just one temperature for me: hot. It is going to get warmer the closer we get to December. As a sign of respect, men are to wear trousers. Trousers are hot. I want to wear shorts but I don’t so I sweat like a stuffed pig. This bothers me.

Heads up, Maskell! Every little thing is gonna be alright.

Besides, I don’t care to be anywhere else in the world.


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