October 30, 2013

Day 31 (no matter where)

Woke up today with the soft colors of dawn in front of me, and the sounds of waves lapping against the shore.  

Room with a view

Still in Kande, we started the day with a frenetic village tour.  Leaving our camp, you could see dozens of feet under the gate, shuffling and stamping in anticipation, some hoots and exclamations of excitement bursting through.  When the gate opened to let us tourists out, nearly 20 some-odd men began hollering and clapping as though cheering rock-stars onto the stage.  In a mere moment, we were engulfed by self-proclaimed tour guides and wood carvers, painters.  Each one adopted one of our overlanding team and tenaciously held on, both figuratively and literally.  

Canadian-donated water pumps (Canadians are popular in Kande Beach)

Lost it!

Fuzzy Kande

Village tours or slum tours, in general, get mixed reviews.  How much of the concept stems from Westerners using the context of someone else's poverty to promote their own altruism?  Fetishizing the real flesh and blood lives of other people.  But, really, how else can we know things if we don't expose ourselves?  From my end, my favorite thing to see around the countries I've been is always the commerce.  A peripteros selling lottery tickets in a plaza at the base of the Acropolis in Athens.  A hair salon in Kibera.  And these in Kande Beach, Malawi:

Kande Butchery



Bike repairs


After the village tour, I spent some afternoon time on the beach and even went for a full-body dip in the lake, where the schistomites weren't feeling as prickly as the day before.  The waves were much larger, and the current much stronger than the Indian Ocean, confusing what I thought I knew of lakes and oceans.  To get out, I had to use the high-knee-stepping technique, like a freshman practicing for marching band auditions.  And I thought, "at least it's just a lake."  As if no one ever drowned in a lake, and I'd never read Kate Chopin.  

Lake Malawi

I went online at the cyber "cafe" in the campground's reception area to take a peak at the rest of the world and found that both DOMA and Prop 8 were overturned by the Supreme Court.  History happens every day, no matter where we are.    

And then I sat here, at this table by the lake with my American water bottle and my Malawian beer:

And wrote this.

October 15, 2013

Day 30 (Lake of Stars)

My biggest fear prior to embarking on this overlanding trip was not cheetah rabies (as it could have been) or large group socializing (as it should have been); it was a specific and significant fear of swimming in Lake Malawi.  

But we're clearly not there yet, because last entry left us driving and driving, relentlessly, through Zambia.  

The first line of today's journal entry reads: And more driving.  

We finally crossed the boarder from Zambia to Malawi, exchanging currency behind a truck with some "honest" guys who were hiding from the immigration police.  

Like Zambia, Malawi had some really interesting Public Health and awareness billboards.  The first one I noticed said, "End child labor in tobacco plants."  Another was a cartoon couple with one peering into the trousers of the second, and a caption that says, "You can't tell by looking."  Also saw a small roadside pub called, "Precious Boozing Place."  

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, although I wouldn't know that from driving by the houses, which are nicely-constructed brick-- leagues above the thatch of Zambia and the tin of upcountry Kenya.  The reason for that is simply raw material; the soil in Malawi is good for brick.  Driving through was a smorgasbord of red, brown, and dark charcoal bricks being dug, dried in the sun, or cemented into place.  

Dirt turns to mud turns to brick

Building buildings

In parallel, the women were tending tarps of cassava drying out in the sun.

Blankets of cassava glow in the light

An entire country, drying its goods.  

As a poor country, Malawi towns have brought me back to my time in Marsabit (without the feeling of most remote isolation).  Women in brightly-colored kangas pumping water from Canadian-donated pumps and carrying large tubs and jerry cans atop their heads.  Saw some kids who had concocted a slide upon a mound of dry dirt.  Playing happens anywhere and everywhere.  

And here, I must admit, I am remiss.  I took some notes on history and politics, intending to fact-check them later for depth and detail, but here we are, and this is what the journal says:
Joyce Banda, 2nd female president in Africa; promoted to power after the president's death.  Views on gays?  Men tried to take away from her.  Tiff with Madonna.  
So if any of those leads spark an interest, feel free to research!

Which brings us now to Lake Malawi.

Lake Malawi, first views

I used to conduct mental health assessments with homeless women in San Francisco's Tenderloin District.  An experience I was recently reminded of when I attended the San Francisco General Hospital AIDS Grand Rounds this week and saw my old PI present our mental health data from that study.  As expected, mental health diagnoses in that population were through the roof.  But the diagnoses themselves seem a bit blurry.  Generalized anxiety... agoraphobia... who doesn't have a touch of those?  Another diagnosis- specific phobia.  Which means that anyone with a specific phobia is classified as having a mental heath diagnosis.  

But I'm veering a little off-point.  The point being, that while Lake Malawi was supposed to be one of the grand highlights of this overlanding trip, my background in Infectious Disease Public Health had instilled in me a very Lake Malawi-specific phobia: Schistosomiasis!  

It sounds like it's spelled (Shis tow so my a sis), and is pretty fun to say aloud (SCHISTOSOMIASIS!), but less fun to get.  In short, parasites who hang out with water snails burrow their way into your body through your skin.  They they poke a hole in your lungs.  Then you cough them up out of your respiratory tract at night, and swallow them back down into your intestines, where they wreak havoc. 

It also doesn't help that I hang around with other Infectious Disease folks.  A few weeks before I left Nairobi, I was having an Ethiopian feast with some doctor friends, one of whom heard about my upcoming Malawi trip and nearly shouted, "DO YOU WANT TO HAVE KIDS OR DO YOU WANT YOUR OVARIES AND OTHER ESSENTIAL INTERNAL BITS AND PIECES TO BE SCARRED FOR LIFE??"  At least, that's how it echos in my memory.  Doctors are scary when they're being authoritative.  

So... schistosomiasis.  Lake Malawi.

Laundry and dish washing in Lake Malawi

Washing dishes

Sandcastles, everywhere

That first afternoon, I overcame my biggest apprehension of the trip by submerging my feet in Lake Malawi.  Despite guide assurances that no trip participant has ever been infected, and that the schistos live in other stagnant areas o the lake, I couldn't help but feel little schistomites prickling their way into my feet, up the ankles, and began the fatalistic assumption that they were then making their way towards my lungs for puncture.  


But, as with most minor psychological traumas, I made it through.  And roomed with the most beautiful views of dusk and dawn.  

Room with a view

Sleep and wakefulness both came ushered by the sound of waves.  

Lake Malawi.  Alternatively called the Palindrome Lake (for its dimensions) or the Lake of Stars (for what Livingstone felt was the best celestial vantage point), there was no brilliance to the stars our first night, but the clouds broke to reveal a ladle-shaped blood-red moon on the horizon, about to dip into the lake and scoop up the fishing boat lights that I mistook for a town.  That moonperch town does not exist. 

October 4, 2013

Days 28-29 (along the road)

Two days of driving, driving, and driving through Zambia.  

This is how we do.

Apparently the overlanding company didn't think that there were any worthwhile stops between Victoria Falls and Lake Malawi, which is a shame because Zambia is turning out to be beautiful.  Beautiful out of our bus windows.  Beautiful from the road.  

Zambia obtained independent statehood in 1964, before which it was Northern Rhodesia.  Which gives them the distinction of being the only country to compete in the Olympic games under one name and to leave it under a different one.  One day, I will impress with this fact at trivia night, and the victory will be oh so sweet.  Obscure facts and geography of east and southern Africa- that's what I bring to the table.  

We've been passing tree-covered hillsides and small roadside villages with brightly-clad women selling brightly-colored produce and circles of men tinkering with bikes.  

As the trip goes on, the countries start to look more and more like Kenya.  Though Zambia is greener and has a bit less trash on the side of the roads we've driven.  

I've also started noticing some really neat Public Health signs along the road, including:
- "Spouse abuse is a crime"
- "Support and love your children"
- "Circumcision: A man who cares.  Services this way ------>"

All of which suggests that Zambia might be a place I'd like to return to.  One day, future permitting.