Archive for August, 2011

Clandestine Catholic Women’s….recipes

Clandestine Catholic Women’s Recipes Balaka Boma, Malawi, Summer 2011 (Catholic Women’s is the name of the hostel I stayed in for 2 weeks while in Balaka)

 1.Nutty Lemoney Egglant Dish

 Ingredients:  1 eggplant  ¼ African Cabbage  Green Peppers  Carrots  Lots of Garlic (=2-3 American Cloves of Garlic)  Ground Nut Flour  Wine  ½ African Lemon  Onions  Water  4-5 table spoons Chutney

Directions: 1. Heat Lots of Garlic and Onion in Oil 2. Add Eggplant 3. Add a little bit of water to quicken Eggplant cook pace 4. Add Cabbage 5. mix 6. add rest of vegetables 7. add Ground nut flour 8. add lemon 9. Add salt 10. add chutney 11. add a bit of achaar to taste 12. after eggplant is cooked, add wine (about 3 pepto-bismo liquid tops) 13. let wine cook out 14. Stir vigorously, the way Malawians walk.

2. Fruit Curry

 Ingredients:  2 Marulas  1 Apple (can also be replaced by pineapple)  1 Banana  ¼ Papaya (if too dry, can add wine for more sauce)  ¼ Lemon  1 African Onion (smaller)  1 tablespoon Achaar  2 tablespoons Ginger Nali  Curry Powder  Raisins  Salt

Notes: Best served over Taro and followed by dessert, Custard Fruit. Also good with basmati rice.

3. Malawi Salad

Ingredients:  Pineapple or Oranges cut small  Cabbage – cut thin and small  Raw green beans  Carrots  Green Peppers  Not a large enough amount of tomato to overpower  Lemon Juice  Salt and Pepper

 4. No-Bake Peanut-Raisin Oatmeal Cookies 

Ingredients:  “Butter” ½ cup – Honey or Sugar (4 cups) – Raisins (to taste) – 1 cup NIDO (or NIDO and Rooibos) – Jungle Oats (6 cups) – Peanut butter (to taste) – sliced snicker bar on top

Directions: Melt butter, NIDO, and Sugar together When boiling, add peanut butter Then add oats Stir – when sort of hardened, make them into cookie shapes!

 5. No Power No Water (except for a quarter –full Nalgene) salad

Ingredients: inner parts of the cabbage – can of tuna – Ginger Nali (too much will make the salad difficult to eat without water) – raisins – water bottle rinsed tomato – carrot (shave off the outside) – onion

 6. Malawi Mango Cocktail –

Ingredients: Cool Rooibos tea – Mango Juice – Malawi Gin Directions: Mix to taste


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A Thousand Words…or so

          For the first time 3 out of 3 of my NGO respondents cancelled on me, leaving me with the entire day free to roam the really bustling town of Balaka, in Southern Malawi. I’d heard that there was a pretty nice view if I walked past all the NGO offices and headed towards the cotton gin that had been built during the colonial era (so the buildings are probably around 60-70 years old). Unfortunately it was pretty hard to take good pictures because of how flat the land is. It was stunning. But what really piqued my aesthetic interests were the people walking around me —it wasn’t like I had never seen kids chatting in fast Chichewa, which quickly switched to mock Chinese as I passed them by (the kids seem to think that all non Africans wearing square-rimmed glasses are Chinese). Nor was it really all that new to me that women were carrying huge suitcases on their heads or men carrying huge loads that towered above them on their bycicles. It still amazes me that they can do it. I want to take the picture to capture just how capable people are as an inspiration to me when my cold, my computer crashing, or the rain gets me down at home. But I know that if I post the pictures, let’s say on a blog or my facebook, without an adequate explanation both of what is going on AND why I took the photo, it will bring to people’s minds: poverty and hardship or stereotypes.
         I think a big portion of taking pictures when living abroad or even at home is novelty or uniqueness. We want to remember something that we don’t see everyday or we don’t feel everyday. We look for novelty in beauty, in landscape, in bikes carrying huge piles of mats, coals, or women carrying huge buckets and baskets of produce on their heads while also carrying a baby on their back, or young mischievous boys carrying rustic hoes across their shoulders, or the agogo (old man) watch guard sitting on the ground in the shade eating watery nsima (maize mill) with his grandson. Too often, however, what is novel to the outsider and for the photographer or journalist who wants to bring their experience back home, is the poverty or the story of “triumph over poverty” or “abuse by poverty”.  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’m pretty sure a huge percentage of those words depends not on the picture itself but on the preconceptions of the viewer and how the picture interacts with the viewer’s preconceptions.
         Perhaps that’s what makes poverty porn so easy. People in Balaka (a district in southern Malawi) or Chilumba (a village in Northern Malawi) are poor. And many if not most of them deserve a better life, whatever that means. But emphasizing their poverty will not make them wealthier and let’s face it, money to buy more necessities (like food, soap, school fees, uniforms, a house, capital for their business, the nice sets of clothes to impress the customer, a radio and newspaper to find out about jobs) and luxuries, (a tv, an extra set of clothes, chairs, an electric stove, a car, a motorbike to get to work faster and travel for more opportunities) is what will ultimately make the individual’s life better (Religion, faith, a better attitude may also do the same but its undoubtedly a much more difficult way to get you from feeling lacking to not feeling lacking), given the infrastructure around them. Of course, infrastructure like better health care, better awareness campaigns and dissemination of health and hygiene information, better roads, etc are necessary but to pay for those things — taxes —the people need to have jobs. And to have  jobs, outsiders and insiders alike need to begin to see the opportunities the novelties that can be capitalized on to make a profit, to hold a job, to support their families. And then the new novelty created from the original can then be capitalized upon to make a profit, to hold a job, to support a family, to pay taxes.
           Right now, Malawi makes much of its buck off of poverty. ‘Malawi is poor, let’s send aid’: Money for this NGO, this governance “issue”, this Malaria campaign, that NGO on lifeskills training (yes life skills training, as in a combination of sex education and confidence building). The taxes from which the government builds some of its own health, roads, and governance infrastructure (although a good proportion of it) come in a large part from the large NGO personnel class. They get taxed anywhere from 20 to 40%. Based upon a couple informal conversations here in Balaka, I know that taxes also come from business owners and renters who pay a land-fee, as well as from bike taxis who pay a right-to-do-business-in-Balaka-fee. But bike taxis make maybe 800 kwacha (at most) a day (this is based on informal conversations with a couple bike taxi guys who told me they give about 8-10 rides a day and usually charge between 40 and 100 kwacha) and while most of the taxed business people include small-medium sized market stall businesses (like tailors, produce stalls, and random necessity shops), the larger tax fees come from the larger NGO offices (around 37), the few large supermarkets (maybe 6-7 in Balaka),  the large restaurants that are affordable (6)  on a daily basis only to the upper tier NGO workers and azungus (foreigners). It’s no wonder that is was the NGO sector that led the recent protests in Malawi – NGOs not the labourers, not the business class, are the key financial stakeholders in the country.
           And to keep them going, they need to both play the “I’ll be nice to donors game” as well as the “hey, you know, Malawi is so poor” game. That’s why of the 40 or so conversations I’ve had in my 7 weeks here about what I think of Malawi–
(a fairly common exchange is:
Malawi Passerby: How are you?
Me: FIne and you?
MP: Fine, Where are you coming from?
Me: Home.
MP: WHere are you going?
Me: Work.
MP: WHat do you think of Malawi?
Me: It’s beautiful. ) 
                                 — of these conversations, they’ve all ended with my conversation partner saying emphatically, “You know you might think it is beautiful, but Malawi, it is so poor. There is so much poverty here.
            So back to pictures. As I was saying: to the individual spectator, the poverty is novel. It looks different than it does in the states. You know a kid carrying a hoe around probably looks poor because we think– o man this poor kid is so dirty looking. Well of course, what 7 year old who has been outside all morning doesn’t. We’d say, oh man this poor kid has to farm all morning. Well maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if our 7 year olds had a bit more responsibility. Sarcasm aside, maybe this kid is or isn’t all that bad off –but the picture only shows you a random (black) African kid carrying a hoe around. It doesn’t tell you if he’s a happy kid with some chores or a smiling child laborer. It doesn’t tell you if his farming because his parents have died of AIDS or his parents sent him in from Lilongwe as punishment for goofing off at school.  But what it does remind the outside is “oh, Africa is so poor—at least I think Malawi must be in Africa because it looks like Africa. Black, dusty, and poor. Oh and you can see the cool safari trees in the background.” And these pictures power the NGO industry. People see the pictures, they send more money. This incoming money becomes the only certain thing in an economic situation which really is volatile and uncertain. This safe haven of relative certainty often draws the most educated individuals into the NGO sector instead of the government, businesses, engineering or medical jobs, or research, or hotel management, or tourism, or construction oversight, or architecture, or creative art and design, or myriad of other things.
        Aid money for the time being is necessary as one of the faster ways to build needed health care, roads, and education systems (not because we know it works but because we know so many other avenues seem to not work or work too slowly or work with too much corruption). But perhaps we could juxtapose the calls for aid with some other novel thing Malawi (enter a has to offer. A lot of work has been done to build profitable enterprises (that obviously pay a living wage, allow for merit-based promotion, and does not threaten the dignity of the workers) outside of the NGO sector, like selling pretty tasty bread or great chips and chicken at more locally affordable prices, or great backpacking tourism around the lake for a wider range of tourists beyond voluntourists. Poverty is not the only novel thing on which to capitalize. Nothing sustainable can be made out of the perception that there is nothing and pictures playing upon our ingrained preconceptions of poverty and Africa will only contribute to the futile attempt.  So if you’d like to see my pictures of these amazing mamas carrying huge baskets of produce on their heads and share with me the type of amazement you’d have watching the Olympics or reading the Guinness Book of Records, then I’d be happy to share them. Otherwise, I’m only leaving my one thousand six hundred odd words for you to peer at instead and the wish that you could have as great a time in Malawi as I have.

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