Malawian Oddities

My 11 day trip to Africa (with 6 days at my destination…) was a whirlwind and certainly not representative of all of Malawi.  But, here are my observations anyway:

  • Religious names are popular with businesses, and not in the way you’d expect:
    • Psalms 23 Cosmetics Shop
    • God is Great Car Wash
    • Jesus is Lord Tailor Shop
    • God Favour Salon
    • Wisdom Shopping Center
    • Glory Florist & Landscaping
    • Heaven Food Center
    • God is Wonderful Minishop
    • His Mercy Business Center
    • Alpha and Omega Duty Free Shop

    and, my personal favorite,

    • Thank You Jesus Battery Charge
  • Plugs have switches right above them to enable or disable the power.  I found this out the hard way when the phone I thought I’d charged all night barely made it through the day.
  • Courtesy is different.  Instead of getting straight to the point (“Hi – I’d like to buy cell phone minutes, please.”), you ought to start with a conversation (“Hi.  How are you doing today?”  “I’m doing well, thank you.  And yourself?”  “Well.  I would like to buy some cell phone minutes, please.”)  This seems more courteous than in the US, though it is significantly slower.  However, when you enter an elevator, no one steps back to allow you inside.  You squeeze through the two people who are blocking the doorway to get to the spacious and completely empty interior of the elevator.  Also, no one holds doors open for you or allows you to walk through first.  So, Malawians aren’t more or less courteous than Americans, just differently courteous.
  • Like Peru, if you don’t ask for the check at the restaurant, you’ll never get it.
  • Breastfeeding is very normal and open.  A lot of women would breastfeed while their child was having his finger pricked for a blood test – it kept the child much calmer than those who weren’t so comforted.
  • The government apparently got money for fingerprint scanners, and thus requires everyone entering or exiting the country to have all their fingers and palm scanned.  This is the same city where a child can hardly keep his handwritten medical record with him from admission to discharge.  Also, I’m not sure how I feel about the Malawian government having my fingerprints…
  • They drive on the left (a holdover from British colonialism). This was very disconcerting for a few days!
  • English-speakers have British accents.  Another “duh!” observation, but I hadn’t thought about it before leaving.
  • Origami frogs (chule in Chichewa) are universal.  I make frogs all the time for kids (and adults.  And myself.) in the US.  Older kids really like making them jump across the table.  Younger kids also like making the frogs jump, but can’t quite figure out the mechanism, so they toss the frog in imitation of jumping.  Young kids in Malawi did the exact same thing.
  • It takes a lot of cash to get around.  Most vendors only take cash, and the biggest bill (1000 kwacha) is valued at about US$2.
  • Names are a bit different (British, I suppose).  For example, the ER is A&E – Accidents & Emergencies.
  • The hospital where I worked was amazingly clean.  People were mopping the floors all the time.
  • A Malawian woman’s chitenje is somewhat equivalent to a purse or pocket knife – it has a ton of uses, and you don’t leave home without it.  Example uses: skirt, apron, cushion for carrying things on your head, water filter, baby sling, tablecloth, money carrier, coat, appropriate wear for a wedding or funeral, political statement, advertising.  The patterns are endless and beautiful, and I came home with a small stack.

The two things I hoped to do but didn’t were go on safari (not enough time!) and see the Southern Cross (I didn’t feel safe outside by myself at night, we were in the biggest city in the country, and it was the rainy season).  I might go back to test some improvements to my device, so we’ll see what happens.

Any African/Malawian oddities you’ve noticed?

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