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 :-)