Malawi: poverty and resilience

Kenyan Airways was a delight yesterday.  It was just a short hop from Lilongwe to Nairobi.  Barely enough time to watch a great recent release, chosen from a better list than you’d find on most international flights by US airlines.  Only an hour and a half flight, but still got a delicious breakfast.  The terminal was well-organized and I speeded through getting the visa.

Spent a short wait talking to an Australian engineer before my driver found me and brought me to a luxurious hotel room provided by officials of one of the world’s top NGOs A little different from the last few days in rural Malawi.

In both Malawi and here, I’ve woken up to African birds chirping and making other strange noises. Living and traveling in rural areas let me learn more about the Go Away bird which I haven’t heard since I left Malawi. The Go Away bird tells everyone to Go Away from wildlife areas in Africa.  Hear it on the video below.

So many pleasures in Africa’s poorest country.  Wish we didn’t measure poverty by such things by GDP, unemployment and income.  On any measure of quality of life, Malawi would be close to the top.  Every family has at least one cell phone.  Airtime is a tenth the cost of the US.

The ability to see over 50 elephants and 100 baboons on a random morning should add a little to the ranking of a country, but it doesn’t mean anything to traditional economists.  That said, the social economy could be better organized in Malawi so that villagers have options to cutting down more and more of the trees to fire charcoal and brick kilns.

The wondrous landscape of Malawi near Kasungu reminds me of the Knobs region of Kentucky which every suburbanite in his right mind is trying to move to. The isolated small mountains are monadnocks resulting from the erosion of the margins of a plateau, the geologists say.  The locals don’t have an explanation for their origin or appearance, they just enjoy them.

Percent of time spent laughing should also come into the rankings.  On that score, the Malawians are at the very top, in my experience.  I’ve only worked in 34 countries and traveled to a handful more, but the country fully deserves the title “Warm Heart of Africa.”

I was visiting Malawi thanks to CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture).  Innocent was the staff member assigned to facilitating my visit.  Bright was my translator.  Innocent was not innocent and Bright was bright, so I got along fine.

I didn’t have a chance to present our resilience research or expand it to Malawi much.  The Kabeza Cooperative I was working with was more interested in how to increase the price they got for their maize and soya and beans.  They also liked to devote significant time to dancing and prayer at the end and beginning of our meetings.  All that was fine, but I wasn’t there long enough to address the enormous problem of lack of ecological resilience.

First you have to establish a good relationship with people and they have to be satisfied with your efforts to help them.  Then, maybe, they will be open to a little constructive proselytization.  A hungry man doesn’t want to listen to philosophy and the long term.  All he wants is to survive the day and maybe the week.

So, I’ll have to come back.  I hope it’s soon.




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