Back in the Developed World

I am now officially back in the developed world. The Chileka Blantyre International Airport is north of Blantyre and you have to drive through several miles of people selling charcoal and corn along the side of the road in addition to dodging the occasional goat. The airport itself would be a violation of TSA rules, having nearly NO security, a non-working metal detector and no fencing between the parking lot and the tarmac. You are required to come outside and “identify” your bag, which could have just about anything inside. Malawi, fortunately, is no hotbed for terrorism and the thought of a Malawian blowing up anything is more bizarre than 10 circumcision festivals. The airport conveniently sports a “bar” (a guy in a suit who sells beer) and a “duty free shop” (a converted closet with some bottles of Malawi Gin and souvenier tshirts). It is truly the most sincere airport I’ve ever been to.

They do, however, have 30 minutes free wireless internet and an open power outlet, which is a bonus in Malawi. After flying over the beauty that is Africa, the huts and hand carved farming tracts, plumes of smoke billowing off the surface from fields burning to prepare for the next planting (and harvesting field mouse snacks!), I spend a weird and stressful 2 hours in Zimbabwe and am planted once again in the developed world, my cell phone suddenly spring to life. Holy shit. After 16 more hours, I’m here in the states thinking about how wonderful life is here and all the things that I could miss about Malawi (even though I was only there for 2+ weeks). Here, shit works, the water is drinkable, raw food is edible and…. shit works.

There, however, life is poor and full of problems, but people are real and human and take the time to ask you simple questions like “how are you?”, “how is your family” draped in a blanket of sincere smiles and a total disregard for clocks. I will highly recommend Malawi to anyone and everyone, it truly is a wonderful country.

Now, I am sitting in the comfort of the Delta Sky Club and await another 19 hour journey to Osaka. For your reading pleasure, I include an entry the internet would not let me post the other day:
This is my last day in Malawi. Although I’ve only been here a little more than two weeks, I can say that there are some things I will miss. A constant supply of bananas and tangerines, the ability to not spend more than $5.00 a day and still get by confortably. Kids that are happier than they should be and don’t reek of the materialism and superficial want of children in developed countries. I will miss being in a place where people do not complain and whine constantly, where people value friendships and family above anything else, where people don’t use clocks and don’t know what day it is, where people small and laugh constantly.

Given that this is the third (or first, or fourth, depending on the study and the index) poorest country in the world, where people aren’t expected to live beyond 41 years of age, where 10% of babies die in the first year of life, I find it truly inspiring that people can still find the time to ask “how are you” and sincerely mean it.

Certainly, there are things that I will truly NOT miss. Being stared at constantly. Being hit up for money at every turn. Having prices shoot up merely because I’m “white” and having to argue them back down. Being glared at with hatred by young unemployed men wanting to fight (this does not happen often but enough). Living in a barbed wire enclosed walled compound that feels like a prison after the sun goes down. Living an artificial, well fed life in a country where most live on less than a dollar a day. Being the victim of the constant scam, all designed to extract a little more money or a little more opportunities out of my mzungu blood.

I will not miss mini-buses, those rehashed Japanese suicide boxes that suffice for “pubic transportation” in Malawi. I miss clocks and doing things on time but it’s also sort of refreshing to take things as they come and accept that things happen when they do.

Thumbs up to Africa.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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