I got back into Blantyre last night and am glad to be back. We held our strategic planning workshop Monday and Tuesday in Lilongwe which I would say went reasonably well given the time we had to prepare for it. Now its a matter of writing up the thoughts and insights and revising.
On the roadshow that was the past week I had a chance to see and learn a bit more about Malawi...
Things that are different and confuse me
I'm sure there are good reasons for the following (I don't feel like getting very deep into this here), but here are some relatively superficial things about Malawi that confuse me:
Most food is fried with lots of oil - whether you're eating chicken, chambo (fish), fries, egg, or vegetables you can expect it to be fried with lots of oil. I don't really understand why, maybe its just easier and faster to cook things this way? It can't be healthy though since life expectancy is 40 and continuing to drop I suppose people do not live to see the health effects of this.
Fruit juice costs more than beer, coke, sprite, and other soft drinks - I had a strong craving to eat more healthy (spoiled North American girl), so I bought some fruit juice made from actual fruit (not water, citric acid, and colouring) that contained some Vitamin C. At a local supermarket 1L of apple juice in Blantyre costs 1020 MWK / 2.75 CAD whereas a beer or soft drink costs less than 1/2 or 1/3 of that. Maybe people just don't like drinking fruit juice, maybe importing the juice is expensive, maybe producing the juice is expensive, maybe I just happen to buy the most expensive juice possible...who knows but drinking beer and soft drinks again can't be that great for you. People really like their sweet soft drinks over here.
Attending workshops subsidizes an employee's income - When an employee attends a workshop they receive a per diem which should cover their accommodation, travel and meals. However it is usually an amount that is far greater than what is required, and people use workshops to subsidize their income. People attend a lot of workshops here. For the 7 days I spent on the road I received 94,500 MWK / 255 CAD (the amount might be lower, I wasn't counting or checking very carefully). However the places I stayed in ranged from 5,000 MWK / 13.51 CAD - 12,000 MWK / 32 CAD per night with breakfast provided and lunch sometimes covered. Meals cost on average 1,5000 MWK / 4.05 CAD. Needless to say I have quite a bit of money left over.
People travel a lot for meetings - In North America we wouldn't drive 2+ hours one way to meet with someone for 30 min. Here they do. I don't know why. It would be cheaper to pay for the air time instead of paying for the gas and the loss of productive time on the road. Maybe its a cultural thing.
Organizations spend money on multiple cars and drivers - Due to the large amount of travel people seem to do a number of the non profits here seem to have at least one car and one driver. The organization I am working for has at least 2 drivers and 3 cars and there are only 7 employees in total. In the non profit sector I am guessing this has to do with the way they're funded - perhaps donors see cars and drivers as a necessary to operating
There are people in organizations whose entire job seems to be bringing refreshments to meetings - I don't think this exists in all organizations, but in a few of the organizations I have visited there are people employed there whose entire job appears to be ensuring people have tea and hot water in the morning and water, snacks, pop, and utensils for meetings. And these aren't large organizations hosting say, Hilary Clinton either. I'm pretty capable of finding my way into people's fridges myself and wouldn't mind doing it. Though I know these positions provide employment for those who may not have many other options, it doesn't make sense from a cost perspective.
Mosquito nets have holes larger than the mosquito - Not all mosquito nets are like this. But when you make a mosquito net and the holes are larger than the mosquito, it won't be a very effective mosquito net.
Just so I make sure I include a picture as people seem to like them. This was where I stayed in Lilongwe for 7,500 MWK / 20 CAD a night, about a 10 minute drive into the main city. The price includes a breakfast of eggs, sausage and tea.
The view from my room. Most places in urban areas have gates and a guard / person manning the gate. Apparently break-ins are a problem though I have heard when break-in do occur, the criminals have bribed the guards to let them in.