Thinking Out Loud

Nothing particular about this post, just a couple rants and random musings.

I’m reading C. G. Jung’s autobiography. He ponders that he has always felt that he has two identities: his current self, in the present time he lives and another that “was an old man who lived in the eighteenth century, wore buckled shoes and a white wig and went driving in a fly with high, concave rear wheels between which the box was suspended on springs and leather straps.” I was struck by this introspection particularly because I often feel quite the same way. He describes a much more elegant and romantic view of the era (think upscale socioeconomical strata) where mine is more along the lines of the setting of “Where The Red Fern Grows” by Rawls (or, if you haven’t read that book, think “Little House on the Prairie”). The distinguishing difference of Jung’s identity and my own is way of life and perhaps I fall into this ‘identity’ more often now because the setting in which I currently live is much like the way of life in this bygone era. It’s hard for me to put this into words.

In terms of pay, I get a meager stipend of $150 (K60,000 in local currency, the Kwacha) a month. It is very little in terms of pay in America but compared to many Malawian professionals, this is a lot. It is certainly more than 85% of the population that rely on farming as their only source of income. My point is that while I sit down and eat rice and beans every day (moan), I look over at my neighbors and know that the little extras I’m having with my meal — the added spices, the coffee with sugar, the eggs — are too expensive for them. It is these times that I wish I could give more. It is in these times that I am humbled.

I thoroughly loath doing dishes and laundry more than ever. I have to do both today.

On the bright side, folks at local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are fantastic and hospitable and the breaks in village life at their respective residences are much appreciated. It is good for morale. I fancy their acquaintance.

I wish I could get my packages and mail from the capitol, Lilongwe. I’m seven hours away and the cost of travel is prohibitive. If you have sent me a package or letter, I still haven’t received it! If you want to send me mail, visit my contact page, found in the main links at the top. When I finally receive it all, I’ll make a post and reply!

“Eternal flames” are not a new concept. Recall that these are fires in impoverished, developing countries that never go out and are fueled by garbage. In the developing world (I don’t care much for this phrase but that’s for another post), trash systems don’t exist like they do in America. The concept of a trash bin seems foreign to many so rather, piles of trash are accumulated and after a time, burned. The fire then becomes a trash bin for days, weeks at a time. These ‘eternal fires’ happen in Malawi (there is one I had been watching for almost two weeks, until it rained). I cringe when I see them and gasp when I smell them. One of the behavioral changes that development workers have been working on for some time is the concept of waste pits — a hole in the ground in which one throws trash that isn’t organic and when is full, is filled back in to decompose out of sight. Many wait until there is a large heap and then light it on fire to flatten it back out. I dug one when I got to my home. The hole is next to a walkway to my landlord’s house (this wasn’t planned). I put trash in the pit — after it accumulates in a bag kept in the house — and he burns it right away. The third time he does this, I ask him why he does this and he responds, “Because I don’t want my friends to gauge your wealth by the contents of your trash or compare your trash to mine.” This was eye-opening. I understood (and have accepted) why the children often are playing in the pits and taking materials from them: they are looking for materials to make toys: tin lids, plastic wrappers to make soccer balls, and plastic bottle caps to make tires for a stick car. But to quickly burn the trash because the contents of the waste are a sign of wealth? Whoa. For example: my trash has discarded Q-tips, plastic from under arm deodorant containers and spoiled Band-Aids (I’m a walking accident apparently). These items aren’t typically found in others’ pits because they are simply luxuries. Humbling.

Rain days are disconcerting and frustrating. Speaking of flames, ever try starting a fire to cook/boil water (to bathe) with wet wood? Have any luck? I need to come up with a better system for procuring wood, drying it, collecting kindling and keeping it dry, etc. It has rained the last couple days and it has been challenging.

That is all for now. Thanks for all the fish.

Picture of my kitchen with wood drying:

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