Monday, April 16, 2007

The Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turnin'

i'm going to apologize ahead of time for this post, i'm a bit wired at the moment from two consecutive long days of public transport and lots of sugar consumed during transit.

easter vacation was an absolute blast. at lake malawi we spent about a week at a place called mayoka village, beautiful and very relaxed. i've decided that one of my favorite things about traveling in africa is the variety and quality of people you bump into. it takes a certain type of traveler to cruise around africa for long periods of time so often there's a feeling of almost instant kinship and camraderie when you run into other travelers. just on this trip alone i met people from germany, sweden, switzerland, u.s.a., iceland, zimbabwe, malawi, britain, canada, lebanon (an older gentleman named kamal who lived in sierra leone for a long time but left when the fighting broke out; he said he made the decision to leave when the hotel he was holed up in got rocketed by the rebels trying to flush out the nigerian peacekeepers hiding in the basement...good call), ecuador, and probably a few i'm forgetting.

i've decided anyone speaking with a british accent can sound sophisticated no matter what, even if they're discussing foot fungus or the like--this led me to wonder if i should start buttressing my arguments that are based on shaky logic with a hint of a british accent.

joel and i spent the first few days of our stay mostly hanging out with kamal and his group until they left and we met a couple of girls, cat and susie, from seattle who, despite thinking that boas are an acceptable fashion accessory, were very cool. we later met two american guys who joined our contingent, one of whom was born and raised in new york but has managed to escape the fate of being a yankees fan (this could be key to breaking the vicious cycle that is being a yankees fan), and in fact has the good sense to be a red sox fan. that's how i found myself one evening discussing red sox minutiae, like who was the second baseman when the sox won the world series (mark bellhorn, better known as "blowhorn" in my circle of maine friends; it defies the imagination how a guy can strike out that much). this type of fascinating discussion inexplicably drove cat away although susie, also fortunate enough to be a sox fan, hung on.

the guy from sweden (andreas) had just recently been expelled from zimbabwe; apparently he spent an evening antagonizing a government official (launching the conversation with "so, i hear you guys are torturing dissidents down here"...subtlety, apparently, is not a skill he has acquired in his extensive travels). it was fascinating to listen to his story as there were two zimbabweans there who work for advocacy groups in that country, one of whom knew the government official in question and let andreas know he'd been extremely lucky to only get expelled from the country. i had mixed feelings about the whole thing. on the one hand it had clearly been unwise, pointless, and self-indulgent; he could simply leave the country, yet the people still there trying to change the system probably had their work made just a bit harder by his conversation. on the other hand, it's hard not to secretly cheer when someone stands up to those arrogant, bombastic jerks currently running zimbabwe. it's saddening to talk to zimbabweans about their country, they speak about how beautiful and modern and free it used to be, an african success story, only to see it now crumble beneath the hand of a tyrant. it is now a virtual police state where torture and beatings and arrests are commonplace, where people simply do not talk about politics in public for fear of being overheard by the secret police. it's tragic, but if mugabe can somehow be removed the country still has the capacity to rebound.

on to happier things. lake malawi is beautiful and massive and has a surprisingly tropical feel to it. you can see mozambique if you look directly across the lake, but it's long enough that looking down it only reveals more water. mayoka village is perched right on the shore of the lake and consists of a scattering of chalets and a big dorm room; the whole complex is built up the side of a hill steep enough that when you're looking out towards the lake from the main dining room/bar/hangout porch area all you can see is water and the far shore, as if the building rests in the water. the place is run by two south africans named gary and catherine, who say the word "cool" in a manner i hope to someday mimic. it's soft and drawn out, accompanied by a beatific smile and nodding head, as if their use of "cool" was an acknowledgment of some greater cosmic truth you had just helped them glimpse.

i am now scuba certified as i took a dive course during my time there. i'm completely hooked, everything is more interesting 12 meters under water. the lake houses about 850 varieties of cichlids--brightly colored fish, usually electric blue although i also saw some that were pure white. what i enjoyed even more than the sensation of swimming through a massive aquarium was the terrain of the lake, huge jumbles of boulders everywhere and cliffs we would swim to and peak over and see only blue turning to darker blue to black, an expanse of nothingness that inevitably fires the imagination and makes you wonder about what exotic creatures could possibly be lurking down there. occasionally we would swim beneath overhangs and watch the air bubbles get caught beneath the rocks; the bubbles have the hard, metallic silver color of mercury and would tumble and undulate across the bottom of the rock and finally escape and drift towards the surface. everything appears graceful underwater, even my multiple faceplants into the sandy bottom when i couldn't "maintain positive bouyancy" (a phrase that i mostly understand). in a word, diving is cooool.

this post is far too long, the people i met on this trip who had a severe enough lapse of judgment to ask me for the blog address are probably already regretting it. i'll try to write later about south luangwa national park which we visited; if we meet someday and you're interested to hear more about lake malawi, mayoka village, et al, i'll be happy to bore you to tears with interminable stories. stay well.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Super Maheu and Other Rotten Things

i am currently in lusaka as i begin my easter vacation. we are going first to south luangwa national park in eastern province, then on to lake malawi which is located in, yes, malawi. should be good times.

it is with sadness that i announce the end of moustache march, an annual luapula tradition. it's a fun time but can also have serious implications for our work (parker claims people stopped attending his meetings when he had a moustache last year), social life, and general self-esteem. i am pleased to say that i was the proud owner of one of the "best" moustaches, meaning the most gross looking; others who will not remain nameless (shawn) did not fare as well: it looked like a caterpillar with mange died on his upper lip.

the great (or not so great, depending on with whom you speak) hair experiment has also ended, i am now clean-shaven with a buzz cut for the first time since i've been in country. it was for the best, and may have preempted a threatened haircutting intervention by one of the girls. plus this means i can now attend kim's birthday party, she made a general announcement that anyone with moustaches or other similary unacceptable hair manifestations would not be allowed in the door.

my friend joel has been visiting me for the last month, he was a pcv in guinea but was evacuated after the country began to experience a lot of internal unrest. it's been great having a good friend from home around, we've spent some time at my site but have also been traveling around kawambwa district seeing what there is to see. since joel spent about a year in guinea he's well acquainted with the strangeness that can occur over here sometimes, so he's had no problems adapting to pc zambia life. although, in my opinion, he has actually assimilated a bit too well, as he now professes a love for a maize-based drink called super maheu, a fate that doesn't normally befall someone until they've been in country for a long time and the resulting food desperation and loss of taste buds has set in. joel's poor culinary sensibilities has actually plunged him in the midst of a long-standing feud between shawn and i: shawn claims that super maheu is delicious and can serve as both food and drink (probably because of the floating maize chunks), whereas i claim that liking it is the surest sign one can receive of approaching senility. richard has even joined the fray on shawn's side, something that saddened me and made me realize that things like "logic" "truth," and "sound reasoning" were going to have no currency at all in the discussion. things degenerated to the point that my manliness was questioned: my formerly long, flowing hair and love of musicals aside, i'm as manly as the next guy. an uneasy detente now exists over the subject.

well, i'm going to keep this short as i have pressing business to attend to (i'm watching the red sox season opener!! parker has a friend who'll be watching the game, he wisely decided to tell me about it knowing that if he didn't it would be a serious blow to our friendship). hopefully i'll have time in the next month or so to let you all know how my vacation went and how work is progressing. hope you all are well.