A video of my cool dance moves.

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The past weekend, I went to Cape MacLear on Lake Malawi. Pictures to come, but this is my favorite video of the whole weekend.

On the beach, there are kids’ bands that approach you with homemade instruments, and they play for you in exchange for sponsoring their football teams.

Naturally, I danced with them.

VIDEO HERE.

(Side note – their dance moves come from copying what they see in hip hop videos and from the traditional Malawian dances, which involve more booty popping than I will ever be capable of.)

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Nineteen uses for a chitenje

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This’ll help explain my post about the political use of chitenjes! We’re still adding to this list as we go, since they’re the most multipurpose garments in the world.

This was written by my friend Sasha, who is also volunteering out here.

sasha gronsdahl

In Malawi, chitenjes are everywhere—and they’re fabulous.

A woman selling chitenjes in the Lilongwe market A woman selling chitenjes in the Lilongwe market

These 2×1-metre rectangles of brightly patterned cloth, also called kitenje in some neighbouring countries, are most commonly seen worn by women, wrapped around their waist like a towel. Especially outside the cities, women wear chitenje like it’s a uniform. But truly, it’s more like a miracle garment. Here’s the list I’ve been keeping for the past month of the different ways you can use a chitenje—it’s hardly exhaustive!

  1. Baby carrier–probably the second most common use of the chitenje. Baby strollers are not a thing in Malawi. Instead, women wrap their babies in the cloth and tie them around their back. The babies are always remarkably quiet in this arrangement (maybe because they’re close to their mum!).
  2. Bedsheet. (I’m tempted to use mine like this starting soon, because I don’t want to wash my…

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Chitenges can be political statements, too!

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In Malawi, topics that are totally taboo in America are free game, namely: money, religion, and politics. (Insert Western cringing here.)

It’s been kind of hard for me, accepting that at any given moment, I’m probably going to be asked how much school costs, if I’m a Christian, and if I support the President. Which is not, NOT, something you would ask in the United States, and certainly not to a stranger. But here, it’s totally standard.

I usually find myself going with bland, default answers (expensive, yeah yeah, and sure), or redirecting the conversation. As it turns out, this isn’t hard to do, since Malawi is in the midst of an enormous money scandal that has been deemed “Cashgate,” probably in reference to Watergate, though there is no correlation except for scandal in the government.

Cliff notes version of what happened: it was uncovered about six months ago that a whole bunch of money was just missing from the Malawi government. Allegedly, it was spent by the previous administration (pre-Joyce Banda; her presidency is relatively new). This is really bad for a lot of reasons –

1. Joyce Banda looks bad, since her party is brand new and her presidency is brand new. The scandal came out during her presidency, AND
2. If she can’t crack down on this, then she comes across as weak. Resultingly, she has fired a whole bunch of the cabinet. Awkward. Related, there are billboards all over Lilongwe of President Banda shaking her finger at the masses, promising no more corruption, AND
3. The police stops have become even more ineffective, as the police stop all vehicles in attempts to look for stolen money. More explanation of police stops later, AND
4. Malawi relies on foreign aid in a big way. If they can’t track down all this missing money, then countries are pulling their aid because they don’t trust the corrupt country with all the piles of money. This is arguably the biggest problem resulting from Cashgate.

The numbers have varied a lot about how much actually is missing, and part of this is due to the delayed release of reports and investigations. On top of that, the Malawi Kwacha fluctuates so much that currency isn’t consistent in value.

Anyway, people love to talk about their political views. They will tell exactly what they think of Joyce Banda and her party, or her rivals’ parties, or Cashgate. Today there are demonstrations in Blantyre about Cashgate and government inefficiencies.

But the most interesting thing about the political parties is that they’re printed on chitenges. The beautiful fabric that women wrap around themselves is often printed with the faces of a party member, with a bright color. (Parties here have designated colors and symbols. President Banda’s is bright orange, with a key unlocking a padlock as the symbol). And to win support, party members will hand out free chitenges with their parties on them not only as symbols of their generosity and goodwill, but also as some of the most effective propaganda in Malawi possible – because this party member’s face will be seen literally everywhere, by virtue of how chitenges are used.

It’s kind of genius, really!

(Unrelated. Sorry for the blog post drought. Life happened!)

I almost got T-Boned by a cow.

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No, we did not almost T-bone a cow. The cow almost T-Boned us.

Driving up the sketchiest road in the middle of nowhere on the way to Dedza to see the ancient cave paintings, which was a wonderful excuse to get out of the city. According to the guidebooks, it was a fairly simple excursion; in real life, it involved driving into the middle of nowhere, driving some more, pulling over and asking a woman with a basket on her head which way to go, and then driving more. All dirt roads.

At one point on this drive, there were some fairly stubborn cows we were sure would stop for the car. They did not stop. They mooed angrily and charged the car, their owner laughing at the silly azungu. We drove to the base of a mountain, where there was a rickety old sign, pointing to a beaten path, allegedly to the cave paintings.

This was a classic example of the silly ex-pats trusting in fate, and hoping for the best. We hiked up the path, not knowing how long it would be until we reached the paintings. When we reached a three-way split in the road, we just picked one, and started climbing the mountain, hoping that there would be cave paintings at the end of the path. For the record, the Chongoni Rock Art of Malawi is a World Heritage Site (one of two in Malawi, the other being the entirety of Lake Malawi), so the American in me expected everything to be clearly marked with a welcoming committee at the bottom of the hill. Though it was not marked, we luckily picked the correct path and hiked up the mountain, finding cave paintings and a breathtaking view at the top of the mountain. Dedza is a beautiful place.

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Here are some photos of the cave paintings. They’re beneath the graffiti, unfortunately, but you can still see them. The cave paintings are the chalkier, thicker lines, that don’t look like they were scratched onto the rock. The arrows, curves, and the hatch marks are all the paintings.

Also, there’s me at the top of the mountain, and some views from the top. Malawi is a beautiful place, especially during the rainy season, when everything can grow. Dedza is near a forestry school, so many of the trees in here distance are well kept in attempts to preserve the forests here.

Some sights from Malawi.

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Some signs here – note the spelling and advertising. More to come of the signs, since Chichewa translations are wonderful! It’s common to see signs like this – clusters of advertisements with NGOs in between. Nonprofits grow like weeds here, since Malawi is both underdeveloped and peaceful.

Also, Carlsberg is the only beer anybody ever drinks. This is the back of a semi truck, but this type if advertising is on at least half of the public buildings here. Walls are painted green with big Carlsberg logos on them. (Some of these were taken on my phone, so I apologize for the less-than-awesome quality!)

A lot of the not-the-highway-roads here look like these. And in some places, the highway does look like this. This is down my street. Once upon a time there was pavement. Now just mud. Note the maize crop in the ditch.