Sunday, June 24, 2007

Malawi 2 - Katimba Village

You know when you go to a new place and make a home for yourself? Maybe to the next town, to the big city for university, to a new neighbourhood, to a different country… I always get a kick out of showing friends and family my new ‘hood - my house, my neighbours, where I go for the best Italian sandwiches in town.

Well I don’t get many visitors here, so I figured I’d try this out through the wonder of the interweb. Over the course of the next few months, I want to take you on a tour of Katimba Village, and eventually tell you a bit about Dani Hawadi (as I am known here) in Katimba Village.

Here we go…

To get to Katimba Village you catch a "minibus". The etymology of the word mini-bus is as such:

Trust me; they’re really fun and a great way to meet people. Now that you’re squished in one of these machines that defy the laws of matter or something, you should travel 6 hours, from the capital city to here. Don’t mind the six goats in the back, they need to get to the market somehow.

Luckily you got a window seat, and it’s pretty beautiful:

*Note: I’m being tricky, this isn’t actually directly on the road to Katimba, but it is beautiful, hey?

Next you jump on a bicycle taxi, which will take you at great speed along the trail to Katimba Village:

We’ve reached the border: a little river with a nifty palm tree bridge:

You might notice that the women washing their pots in the river are a mix of curious and cautious when they see you. It doesn’t matter whether you have brown, black or white skin, you’re easy to recognize as a westerner (a “mzungu”) and that means that you’re not a “munthu” (a person). I’m not sure how much stock you put in the power of words, but don’t worry, you’ll fit in fine if you're friendly.

This boy's not shy though. Like any fisherman, he's down with showing off his catch:

*Note: I know, the catch isn't actually shown. It looked like fish...

The first person you meet is this lovely lady heading down to the river to fetch water:

As you can see, she’s quick to smile and is pretty humble-looking. But if you exchange names, you’ll find out she’s MRS. Katimba - she’s the chief of these parts, and a big-time lady. During your entire stay here, you might not see a woman without a pail on her head or a baby on her back, or both. In other words, don’t mess with these women, they have muscles. Later on you’ll see their prowess on the netball field.

You might be wondering where all the houses are. This is one of the things that made me realize how different Ghana and Malawi are. This village, unlike those in Ghana, is pretty spread out – a house here, another house a few hundred meters away, kind of like a farming community in Canada. Here’s one house:

It’s anybody’s guess, but I’d put the number of households here at 100 and the number of people at 1000.

You’re surrounded by a funky tropical-looking plant:

It’s everywhere and its cassava. It looks pretty weird, but if you know tapioca you know cassava. My work here results in me living and breathing cassava every day, so you’ll probably hear more about it. Suffice to say, it’s the lifeblood of Katimba. Cassava tubers will be your mashed potatoes and cassava leaves will be your gravy, and that’s pretty much what you’ll eat while you’re here. Cassava stems might be your firewood, and the ashes from those stems might be your salt. If you’re going to knock cassava, do it when you go back.

But actually, just taking a stab at eating what people eat here will make you pretty popular. I guess it’s just about respect and adventure, but it seems that not many westerners do it. Hey, it’s not spaghetti, but really, it’s pretty tasty…

So people here do a lot of growing cassava and eating it. But if we walk past ten cassava fields we’ll happen upon another kind of field and see what many people do for fun here:

Okay, so people in Africa play soccer, even in rural Africa… Nothing you haven’t seen before. Well check this out…

Netball - a combination of Ultimate Frisbee and basketball – played by women of all ages in Katimba Village. Yep, looks a bit like junior high girls basketball hey? – so many hands reaching for the sky. Well, depending on how much time you’ve spent in junior high gyms, you’ll know what I mean when I say that netball, like junior high girls basketball, is not a game for pansies. It’s vicious. Plus, these women have skills.

The fastbreak

The interception

You want some of this?

We were on the topic of schools, let’s check out the school. It’s a bit of a jaunt away, but here we are:

Pretty nice and big for a rural schoolhouse hey? Yep. That’s what I thought until I found out that there were 220 kids in just Grade 1. It was with nervous anticipation that I followed up with the most obvious question: “How many teachers for Grade 1?” Yep, you guessed it – a big… one. Want to be a teacher in Katimba Village?

Okay… Yep, no pictures of me. That will come. But I am in fact here and just to prove it, here’s me on the Katimba soccer team.

It was a brief stint. Everyone was very polite about my addition to the team as a mad passer. Let's just say that I cut myself from the team ;-)

Right on. Work and life here are interesting. Until next month, enjoy the Canadian summer. And please send me your long johns. June is crazy cold here :-)


Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Thanks for all the great comments folks!

Just a note that anyone can comment now, not just users. I had the settings wrong before. Sorry about that.

So comment away!


Sunday, April 1, 2007

Malawi 1 - How did I get here!?

It’s 8am. On one side of me I hear traffic pass by, beyond the distant brick wall. To the other side, much nearer, is the trickle of water down a drain pipe. I’m sitting in front of my laptop in Lilongwe, it’s raining gently and I’m shivering as the cold moist breeze wafts through my shirt. It actually feels a bit like March 31st when spring comes early to Alberta.

This massive continent called Africa always seems to give me surprises. On my first day back here I ate T-bone steak in a very modest market stall, I bought my first cell phone, and I had to wear a sweater to keep warm.


Hi friends! I’ve recently departed on a year long placement with Engineers Without Borders where I’m partnered with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in my new home of Malawi, Southern Africa. I’d like to share my experiences with you. If you want to read this email online so you can see pictures, check out my blog:


How did I get here!?

If I think back to Grade 12 – 2001 - I’d say I was mostly about adventure, friends, and cars. Adventure and friends don’t lend themselves well to traditional views of a career so I went into engineering to design cars. My dream was to walk into a BMW dealership on my graduation day to take out a lease on a Z3.

But adventure wasn’t going to go down without a fight. In 3rd year university I happened upon an organization called Engineers Without Borders where someone like me could go and apply their engineering in the mountains of Guatemala or maize fields of rural Africa. Now that sounded cool.


After having my first application turned down, I discovered that Engineers Without Borders was about more than just adventure. But that application, perhaps for the first time in my life, really made me think far outside of myself by making me ask,

“What is the role of ‘first world’ individuals in international development?”

I guess I’d always known that there were people in the world without the same privilege as me – going to university in a province where the word prosperity is in the newspapers every week. But I really hadn’t given much thought to that. It’s also a tough question to which there is no one answer, and it’s one that has driven me ever since.

A little ways down the road I managed to make it to Ghana with Engineers Without Borders, and I met two people in particular that have stuck with me since. I like to talk about them so you may have been introduced to them before.


In June 2005 I wrote to many of you about Abla, the mother in the household that took me in. This incredible woman amazed me and opened my eyes to the fact that what we call poverty is about much more than not having enough food. She worked a 72 work week outside of the home as a hairdresser, in addition to cooking and cleaning for a family of 5. She got 5 hours of sleep a night. I’ll never know if she was content, but what got me was this: if she’d had a dream of getting more than 5 hours of sleep a night, I couldn’t see how she’d be able to fulfill it. What could she change?

In other ways we weren’t so different. She was two years older than me.


Dauda isn’t the richest person in his village, but he managed to be the first person to graduate from Grade 12. While going to school he was honoured with an award as the second best farmer in his region for the way he managed his 4 acres. When I visited his village I saw his campaign posters everywhere for the local elections. He didn’t get elected, but that didn’t stop him – he was driven by an incredible enthusiasm. I think I can say that he was the most good-natured person I’ve ever met and each morning he greeted his neighbours with what I perceived as a zest for life. For just eight days I joined Dauda working in his fields.


I’m realizing now that surely I’m only painting a partial picture – focusing on what I see as the undesirable parts of Abla’s life and the desirable parts of Dauda’s life. But those are what have stuck with me, and they represent the dichotomy that international development and Ghana are to me.


I recently graduated from engineering and while I can’t deny that I still love BMWs and stick-shifts, my path is driven much more by people like Abla and Dauda. And I’m still exploring that original question that I happened upon over three years ago.

I want to assist African development workers as they help create an environment where Abla can pursue a life of well-being and fulfillment. But I also want to learn a lot more about people like her. And I’m fascinated by people like Dauda.

Just like I do for Canada, I have many hypotheses about the positive and negative aspects of life in Ghana or Malawi. I’m excited about exploring these over the next year as I work with my Malawian co-workers to tackle the negative aspects that they’ve identified.


More to come, but I’ll sum up my first few weeks with this:

The GDP/capita of Malawi is the 2nd lowest in the world. The life expectancy is 39 years - less than half that of Canada.

It’s not uncommon to see “I love Malawi” shirts or hats, and a number of Malawians have told me that they love their country.

Last week I asked a friend what he saw as the good parts of Malawi. His one-word answer was this:



I think I’m going to learn a lot.

I’d like to share my experiences with you. I’ll send emails from time to time, and perhaps post on my blog more frequently. If you’d prefer I didn’t send you these emails, no prob, just send me a note.

If you’re in a communicating mood, get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. Unlike in Ghana, I actually have both a cell phone and an address!

To call me from Canada just dial 011 265 877 2512
My mailing address is:
Danny Howard c/o
IITA - Malawi
Chitedze Research Station
P.O. Box 30258
Lilongwe 3, Malawi