My work was mostly in Blantyre which is the business center and second largest city in Malawi but has a smaller population than Evanston where I live. 85% of Malawians live in rural areas and live off the land in a mostly informal economy. There were a few meetings in the capital Lilongwe where my friends David & Dawn lived with their family for four years. Since Air Malwai went bankrupt the only reasonable way to get there was courtesy of the National Bus Company (about $25) which takes between 4 and 5 hours depending on traffic. I took the bus there and back as a way to see a different slice of life in this country.
One night I was invited by Soustain (whom I met at the Blantyre Rotary Club meeting) to go out of the city to his home and have dinner at his house and meet his wife Mercy and their 3 month old daughter. It is not considered safe for foreigners to be out on the streets after dark (which happens around 5:30pm before I even leave the office)so I got to actually see Blantyre for the first time. This was a welcome change after 4 weeks of hotel food. Soustain decide to let me have a Malawian experience so we ate as they normally would. The chambo (a fish found only in Lake Malwai) was accompanied by nisima which is perhaps best described as solid state grits accompanied by green vegtables which look like creamed spinich but are something else. They brought water to wash our hands before eating, which it turns out is rather important as one eats with one's fingers mopping up the gravy and finely chopped carrots with the nisima. Actually it was easier to pick the bones out of the fish with my fingers than with a fork. Then washing hands again after we finished and peeled a tangerine for dessert. Talked late into the night about the ways people start a business in Malawi. Plenty of opportunity but far from easy.
As you probably detected Blantyre is not a typical African name. The settlement was named by Dr David Livingstone (think "Dr Livingstone I presume") after his home city in Blantyre Scotland. With a population that is 80% Christian I interact with people named Glory, Mercy, Elijah, Christian & Innocent all the time. The expat population here is mostly NGOs and Missions folk. Not many Americans it seems. The night in Lilongwe that I had dinner with Osborne, his son-in-law dropped by with his very young boy who looked at me rather nervously before reluctantly shaking hands. Later Osborne explained "he is not used to seeing white people". Causes me to reflect on being open to people different from ourselves, a universal issue. But that is a privilege one derives from a life as an international road warrior.