So I got to see the other Lilongwe this weekend. The real Lilongwe where the majority of the people live. Sieg has told me that the city was designed by Afrikaners before the end of apartheid in South Africa, which accounts for the abundance of walls and the ability of expats to live within spitting distance of Malawians and not see them. The three guys (Names: Alan, JB and Morris) I met at the market place invited me to go to one of their homes to eat and then go to a concert, drink and dance. How could I say no?? We walked from the market through downtown, and then at a particular place, we stepped onto a footpath between two walls. 100 yards later, we came out on the other side into what seemed to be a village that had been swallowed up by the city. Alan – the guy whose house we were going to, referred to it as a ghetto, and it sort of is. There were some foul smelling piles of open compost – rotting fruit and maize husks, people packing charcoal in to sacks that they then stacked on bicycles… On the other side of this square, the neighborhood became much quieter and at a particular point, we stepped behind a wall made of woven bamboo or reeds to Alan’s fathers home. It was lovely. A concrete porch, beside a small yard area, and to the side an out-door kitchen hut, where food is cooked over a wood fire. There were two women there – and I’m not sure what the relationship was, but I greeted them – very awkwardly, with a lot of prompting from JB – in Chechewa. Alan split some wood, and made a fire on the cookstove, there was a tap near the fence for water, and within a bit of time, Alan and one of the women had made Nsima with meat (small bits of mostly cartilage) and vegetables. I actually really liked it. A little salt on the Nsima makes it pretty good, and the vegetable was very similar to thin sliced and cooked collard or mustard greens (dark and bitter). Nsima is white corn-meal starch, cooked in water and then formed into small foot-ball shaped patties, similar to thick grits, but with less “corn” flavor.
After eating, we rinsed our hands, thanked our hosts and made our way not to much further to where the concert was happening. I was delighted to see an even mix of men and women there. It was Valentine’s day so a lot of the girls were wearing red. Apparently the president got married the same day as well.
Today – Tuesday – it finally rained. It seems like I haven’t seen a good day of rain since I arrived and this is the rainy season. I have heard a lot of talk – and worry – about the erratic rain. Maize is tasseling, and without rain, there would be a much smaller harvest. In the US, this would be difficult for farmers, who would make less money, some might even go out of business – but it doesn’t portend mass starvation. In Malawi, no rain = no food. There are many different reactions to this, and it is still uncertain – especially as the dry spell broke today. On Sunday, JB and Morris were saying they wanted to go buy Maize in Zambia to sell for profit, others think that this is an overreaction – we still have two more months to see how this shakes out.