With Water for People in Malawi
Water for People, an NGO (non-governmental organization, for you non-bureaucrats like me), helps people in developing countries improve their quality of life by supporting the development of locally sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities and health education programs.
I’d done a little googling on Malawi, and the top spot is reserved for Madonna who adopted her latest child here and stayed at the same Malawi Sun Hotel where our group arrives en masse. We are nine staff, volunteers and water company prize winners, the latter having won the trip by either writing the best essay or donating the most money to the cause.
We spend our first weekend getting oriented to the country, the people and the plan. Malawi is a small landlocked country known as the warm heart of Africa, yet it has one of the highest population densities and its friendly people are some of the poorest in all of Africa. And that’s why WFP is here. We will spend the next four days visiting proposed and existing sites both in the Chikwawa rural program and the Blantyre peri-urban program. The sites will include installations of bore holes with simple pumps (wells), water kiosks (covered wells), and eco-sanitation (latrines). The villagers and the local WFP staff have been apprised of our visit and will be welcoming us with celebrations and meetings.
From the airport, after driving through the expected poverty, the modern accommodations and city center of Blantyre are shocking. We drive three blocks to the high-rise banking district with one of the local WFP staff, Ivey, to change money. She cautions us not to walk around alone, though the curfew isn’t until 9:00 pm. We look too prosperous and white.
Since shopping is known to be the number one American sport, our driver for the week, Nelson asks, “You want to visit the curio market?”
To a resounding “Yes!” Ivey offers her services. “I can tell you if something is over-priced, but bargaining is expected. Nelson and I will keep an eye on things.” We pile into our pink minivan with no idea what’s ahead. The outdoor market takes up one side of the street and includes three tiers of tables and floor cloths covered with every African curio possible; each space from one to two meters square, with at least two sellers per location. Not being a true shopper, I’m totally overwhelmed by the crowd, the jockeying for position, the loud voices – “Best deal, best price!” “Come here!” “Look at mine, first!” I escape across the street. So this is what shopping in a group tourist situation is like. Though I feel compassion for the multitude of poor sellers, I’m too put off to buy or even look.
We return to the hotel to relax, have dinner and get to know our fellow travelers. Ordering drinks, we discover we’re in a Muslim hotel and no alcohol is served. We won’t relax that way. Maybe the food will be exceptional instead. These Muslims are Indian so most of us order curry, which they’re out of. We settle for whatever and while I’m eating some strange pizza, I remember a quote from the hotel’s website with its hilarious English translations: “In its designer decadence, the cook continues to play freely with Chinese, Indian and Continental specialties with a dash of deviation.”
We’re exhausted and fall early into our mosquito-net-enshrouded beds. Tomorrow we will meet the poor people of Malawi.