Saturday, July 9, 2011

Building a Resource Center

The two weeks in between my journeys to the rural Malawian countryside were spent in Blantyre working on establishing a resource library at a local feeding center.  This is a project that Joshua has been envisioning for some time and it was now up to me to bring these plans to fruition.  I approached this task with a very rough understanding of what was expected and unsure of how much progress had already been made on turning this library into a reality.  As it turned out, no detailed plans had been drafted, no books had been gathered, and no budget had ever been formalized.  Needless to say, this project was sure to test my patience and perseverance. 
            My first week back in Blantyre was spent perusing the city for books with Stevie, one of Joshua's field officers.  The main place we targeted was the National Library Service, from whom we received over 200 titles through their book donation program.  Stevie and I also took time this week to hit up local bookshops and did some price comparing to ensure we always received the best bargain.  The following week was more of the same and also involved me shadowing a few of Joshua's field officers to gain a greater insight into how Joshua runs their organization.  To give you an idea of ambition versus practicality, my desire was to have completed this resource center by the end of these two weeks.  However, it is now four weeks later and still no finished product, but I promise the end is near! 
            As Stevie and I wandered the crowded streets of Blantyre, I was also afforded another very educational opportunity.  I learned how to navigate the mini-bus system!  To gain an appreciation for Malawian public transportation, you must first understand that the majority of Malawians live on less than $1 a day and therefore must rely on public transport as their means of transportation.  Malawian public transport is also very different from public transportation in the United States in that there are no time schedules or pre-determined stops along a particular route.  Rather, minibus drivers often take the most circuitous routes possible in order to pick up the most passengers and thus make more money.  Unfortunately, this leads to very frequent stops and long journeys that seem to last forever because drivers love to over pack their minibuses, leaving you essentially squashed into a sardine can.  Also, let's not forget that people bring anything and everything on these minibuses, so you might be stuck sitting next to a woman with her chickens or a man eating his rat kabobs for a four hour journey.  What fun!  Finally, most of these minibuses would never pass inspection in the States.  Trunks are tied shut with twine, lights don't work, doors come off their hinges mid-ride, and often the only way to get your minibus to start is to give it a good push down a hill.  Yikes, brakes! 
            After my first week of navigating the minibus system, I received a welcome reprieve with a trip to Liwonde National Park.  Liwonde is about 2.5 hours north of Blantyre and is considered Malawi's premier game reserve.  Fortunately, I was able to catch a ride with a few expats I had befriended and enjoyed a relaxing weekend of spotting elephants, hippos, and impalas out in the bush.  The following weekend, I was not so fortunate and it was back to minibus transport for my trip to the Zomba Plateau.  Zomba is about one hour north of Blantyre as the crow flies and after ascending the plateau, visitors are ensconced in a world of lush pine trees and tropical foliage sharing little resemblance to the typical African climate.  As I walked amongst the towering pines, I found myself reminiscing about Yellowstone National Park and would not have been surprised to have encountered a meandering bear.  While I am happy to report that nothing of the sort ever did occur, our walks did provide some of the most spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and the cool night air opened up to a bright starry sky.  This truly was a Malawian treat!

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