Sunday, September 16, 2012

Photo: The dreaded petrol and diesel queues are back.

The good, the bad and the sadly predictable!

I wonder why the mantra 'all good things must come to an end,' resonates so readily in Africa! Probably because it is true.

After a brief respite it seems 'the honeymoon is over' and petrol queues are back; power supplies are the worst they have ever been in the more than two years we have been here; the value of the Kwacha is on steady slide and things are getting worse, not better.

While it seems pathetic to complain, and of course it is when one thinks about what life is like for the locals, things are made worse for us because not only are our batteries well and truly dead and we await the arrival of new ones, but the inverter has also burned out and now even if the batteries arrive, we are waiting for new parts for the inverter.

In the less than a week that we have been back we have had the geyser default yet again with no water from the hot tap and hot water from the cold tap, a discovery made only after I had a cold shower; the electricity supplies are truly shocking with cuts lasting up to eight hours and then long periods with only one phase; this meaning that because of how our system is wired up we have an air conditioner and a couple of lamps in the bedroom and that is it. It has been early nights, lots of candles and even more patience; welcome back to Africa.

We were in bed early the other night after losing power and asleep just after 7.30p.m. only to wake up at 12.45a.m. as the power came back on and all the lights and the television set in an instant. It was one of those nights because no sooner were we asleep than we began to be dive-bombed by mosquitoes. Were they inside the net or not? Lights, torch, hunting and we got one. Back to sleep. More buzzing, another hunt and another one and yes, inside the net! How did they get in? Back to sleep and another round of buzzing! ?We got the last one and passed out for another four hours which was needed.

The problem is that when we are away Limited doesn't bother about closing doors and probably opens windows as well so our house becomes mosquito haven! We don't use flyspray much because we avoid chemicals but this was a crisis and a serious application of Doom - yes that is its name - last night, behind curtains, under beds, seems to have seen the last of them gone. So small and yet so noisy. It seems counter-intuitive that nature makes them that way. If they were quiet they would live longer and eat heartily!

We went out yesterday and stocked up on briquettes for the Weber and gas canisters for the camping hotplate, as well as candles and matches and any foods we thought might be hard to get. I am sure such planning and innovation is good for brain function and we should be in fine synaptic shape because of Malawi!

Photo: The wet season approaches - maybe early.

And to add insult to injury the internet disappeared although we did get technicians to come and have a look pretty quickly and they were as surprised to discover that for some reason our system had disconnected itself and our 'server' no longer existed. Gremlins, witchcraft? Who knows. But our Zain dongles were working and they restored things to keep us going over the weekend and will be back tomorrow to finish the job.

Although in the way of things, the first technician who came seemed nonplussed when he informed us there was nothing wrong with our phone! That would be, we said, because we did not report a problem with our phone line but a problem with our internet. Three hours later and the right lot of technicians arrived.

When I ask myself where the time goes in Malawi I only have to run through the list of 'jobs' which appear, as if out of nowhere which keep me busy. The other crisis this week was when Water Board workers appeared to cut off our supply, because, they said, we had not paid our bill. We had of course and it was eventually sorted out but given that water supply has also become erratic it may not have made much of a difference. Just kidding. We added four big containers of water to our shopping list just in case.

However, another even more challenging crisis seems to be that there was no Malawi gin to be had on any supermarket shelves. Quelle Horreur! Luckily they had good supplies at the restaurant where we ate last night but we shall have to embark on a serious search for supplies and stock up accordingly. A shortage of water is one thing but a shortage of gin quite another.

But however challenging the week was for us it is nothing compared to what it was for Charles, one of our guards. He and the others have had very late payment from their employer which, in Africa, is disasterous given that they live from pay to pay. He went to the office to ask for his pay and found himself sacked, along with a dozen other unhappy workers.

Under Malawi law he has rights but I am not sure how far it will get him. I tried to reason with his boss but did not get far and we will try once more but have little hope of success. All we can do is give him a bit of money to help him until he finds another job. Hopefully he will, sooner, not later.

Photo: The abundance of nature - the avocado tree in blossom.

On the plus side  the avocado tree is in abundant blossom and we welcomed very old friends back to Lilongwe for another stint and found a new restaurant which is brilliant for Malawi and actually good for anywhere. Latitude 31 is around the corner and decorated in very funky, arty, slightly retro style which is strong on form and poor on function. The furniture looks good but the chairs are not comfortable and the tables are a bit small.

But the food is good with a young Irish chef in charge of the kitchen who fondly remembers nine months in Australia which included a couple of months in the Adelaide Hills. It is more than wonderful to have a halfway decent place to eat in town. Uncomfortable chairs aside.

I have about eight weeks here before heading back to Oz for a long stint over Christmas and New Year and I am sure it will fly. On the joblist is replacing the geyser, having the genset serviced and get it functioning properly - a colleague who came to stay said it is definitely not right if it collapses when we turn on a kettle and toaster at the same time; change over our internet service provider; get the plumber to replace one of the toilets; install new batteries and get the inverter fixed.

It might not seem like much but in the African way of things as one problem is resolved it results in the creation of two, three or more new ones! I remind myself that I can leave it all behind and many cannot! I think it is called counting blessings.


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