Friday, February 12, 2010

A strange thing happened to me this morning. I had decided to try and take the bus out to the college, which is normally a 30 minute drive. Sieg had no reason to come today, so I thought this would be good. I walked to the post-office (the supposed pick-up spot for the bus) with my back pack about 30 minutes before the rumored departure time, because it seems that everything here is only rumored… The post office has a large parking lot, around the edges of which are a variety of craft stands, people selling paintings, wood carvings and cloth. This is where I had met the young man named “James Bond” this weekend. When I arrived this morning, there was very few people around, so I found a place in the shade and I waited. Soon a young woman approached me; she was thin, fairly well dressed in modern clothes – a black knee-length skirt and a white and black patterned top and flat dress shoes – and young. She greeted me, I returned the greeting, then she asked my name. I told it to her and asked hers. She told it to me but it was complicated. She then asked if I would be her friend. I said “yes” of course – even though it struck me as a rather odd exchange. She asked for my phone number and when I confessed not to know it, she took my phone, programmed her number into it and called her own phone. The name she gave herself was “Whitnes Phiri” – Whitnes being an alternate name for whites to understand (although a little less obvious than “James Bond”) We talked for a while, she said she was a student at Lilongwe Technical Institute majoring in refrigeration and air-conditioning, and that she would like to show me her campus. I told her I was working at Bunda on soybean, she asked about my email address, and I gave her my business card. She then told me I was waiting for the bus in the wrong place, and pointed to where I should be. That was the last I saw of her.
So I wonder – is it normal, in Malawi or elsewhere, for someone to see a stranger, introduce themselves and ask for a friendship? It isn’t in the United States, and from what I remember of France, it wasn’t there. It was one thing for the young guys to ask me to come back and play games and drink beer, to flirt, to want to be manly, tell me who to avoid … but for a young woman in a timid way, to do this struck me as well… odd. Of course my being white – and foreign makes me a different kind of stranger, with the assumption often being that I am wealthy. But she didn’t ask for money. If she was genuine, I think it’s wonderful. If she wasn’t, I’m not quite sure what she got out the encounter. But for the life of me, I really can’t figure it out either way!

This week I have gone both to Chitedze research station and Bunda College. I am currently writing at the Bunda College Library, but will have to wait until I get back to town in order to post. Bunda College of Agriculture is a series of low buildings interlayed in a mosaic of tropical gardens. A series of raised walkways sort-of connects most of the buildings, but by no means all of them. Rather than consolidating departments, there are many tiny departments, each with a head and a secretary. I have been given a few tours of labs, and met many of the faculty here. They all seem bright and most received their advanced degrees outside of Malawi – many in the US or Europe. I especially like Patson Nalivata, the soil biologist here. Not simply because he is a soil biologist, but he is also very kind and clear thinking. Besides this, the education level of the staff is very low. Most technicians and lab staff have nothing more than a high school degree – if that, which is difficult because it means their English is very limited (all education in Malawi – especially higher education – is in English). I made media this morning, and “assigned”? an assistant named Jones Chakaonda – difficult to work with as he speaks very little english and barely has a high school education, but educational. I become very grateful for my lab in NC. With disposable pipette tips, and paper towels and spray bottles!

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2 Responses to “Friday, February 12, 2010”

  1. Mary,

    So, your encounter with the mysterious woman does not surprise me. It is not strange for a woman (especially one who is studying at university) or any one really to want to be your friend. You are white so obviously a tourist and I’m assuming she could tell you were new to the area. She might have wanted to simply befriend you for the excitement of it all. Don’t be surprised when see calls and/or emails you. However, I also wouldn’t get your hopes up on this being a genuine relationship. I’ve had many friends tell me of similar scenarios when later, after hanging out often, there is a catch for money. The idea being that now you are friends, you know her and have a connection to her personal issues/problems but when looked into further it usually is a scam.

    Hope this isn’t the case with your mystery lady!

  2. So, your encounter with the mysterious woman does not surprise me. It is not strange for a woman (especially one who is studying at university) or any one really to want to be your friend. You are white so obviously a tourist and I’m assuming she could tell you were new to the area. She might have wanted to simply befriend you for the excitement of it all. Don’t be surprised when see calls and/or emails you. However, I also wouldn’t get your hopes up on this being a genuine relationship. I’ve had many friends tell me of similar scenarios when later, after hanging out often, there is a catch for money. The idea being that now you are friends, you know her and have a connection to her personal issues/problems but when looked into further it usually is a scam.

    Hope this isn’t the case with your mystery lady!

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