The summer before last was my first attempt at international research. I spent about 3 months in Southern Malawi working as an intern, research assistant and eventually research fellow for a project studying educational outcomes throughout the Southern region (outcomes indicators included: health, socio-economic status, and educational attainment). In my spare time, I commuted from Liwonde to Zomba (see map, below) where I would spend the day photographing newspapers at the National archives for another project on HIV knowledge in Malawi. Each day that I spent in the archives (more than 20 all together) was spent in much the same way:
I woke up at 7 am and caught whatever mini-bus was available at the main stop in Liwonde. The next 30-90 minutes were spent in unpredictable conditions ranging between a speedy and safe ride into Zomba with few stops and a hell-for-leather death trap on wheels careening between villages before stopping to pick up everyone and their mother in clown-car fashion that would have been funny if it were not for the terrifying pace and the clearly inebriated driver. You get the point – mini-buses = an unusual form of public transportation. I would then walk from the bus depot in Zomba town up to one of the cheaper bakeries for a delicious breakfast of jam buns or croissants. After hiking up the big hill after Zomba’s one traffic light (all that is required to be considered a “city” in Malawi, I arrived at the National archives where I would either start my work on a box that I already had or I would spend 2 hours filling out necessary documents to take out a new box of papers and then waiting for the clerk to find the appropriate box (sometimes quick and easy, sometimes impossible. Lunch was whatever I had managed to scrounge together in the morning and a big thermos filled with Chombe Tea (so cheap!). I would spend this down-hour chatting with the clerks on duty (i.e. the clerks playing Bao and waiting for me to get through a box) and occasionally going for strolls in the surrounding area. After finishing up my day around 3pm, I would make my way back to the bus depot and head back to Zomba where I would hope: (a) it was still light when I arrived and (b) there were people selling already cooked maize (corn on the cob cooked over charcoal) or sweet potatoes at the small market down the street from out “pad”.
One of the highlights of my days on the Liwonde-Zomba commuter circuit was the discovery of awesomely funny newspaper articles in old editions of “The Nation.” As I am a bit too busy with my upcoming move and with saying goodbye to Vancouver to write any well-considered posts, I will do a little feature on some of these articles. Check back in the near future for the next article.
First Up: Rodents of Unusual Size – Does this mean the fire swamp is in Chinamwali?