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Being A Foreigner

For the past two days I've walked around Blantyre city - to the markets, some restaurants, and a grocery store. I've also been getting a bit lost as there are few street signs. People here are very curious about me which is understandable since I have seen almost no other non-African people, except Indians who have a number of businesses here. I get talked to or yelled at a lot, though in a friendly and curious way.

Things People Say to Me
This goes for people who are regular people and not street vendors / bus drivers. Those people just shout at me to buy things or take a ride. This generally goes from most common to least common.

- "Hi / Hello"
- "Hi sister"
- "Hi baby" Hmmm...
- "Hi madam"
- "How are you" Its not a always a question, sometimes its a courtesy
- "Konichiwa" Yea everyone thinks I'm Japanese. I don't know why.
- "Ni hao ma" This is how are you in Mandarin. I've only heard it twice so far - once from a school girl (I was impressed), and an older Malawian woman who had recently taken a trip to China.

School children will often say things in Chichewa (language spoken here by everyone) or men might shout things. I have heard at least one school child call me a "mzungu" which means white person.

Things People like to Do
Again from most common to least common

- Sideways glance and keep walking
- Shake hands
- Fist bump
- Some sort of secret handshake. Once guy wanted to do this, I messed up badly. Then he called me "his brother".

Things People Like to Ask During a Conversation
A pastor and a school girl have have started conversations with me when they realized we are walking in the same direction. I really liked talking to both of them, especially the school girl who wants to go to college or get a good job. The questions a Malawian will ask may go like this in this order, give or take a few questions.

- How are you? Pretty much everyone starts a conversation that like.
- Where are you from? Most people assume I'm Japanese. They don't know much about Canada.
- Where are you going?
- What are you doing here?
- What do you do in Canada? People don't really understand what a consulting job is, so I just say I help other companies with their problems and do a lot of work. I think people are still confused after that answer.
- How old are you? Most people think I'm 19 or 20, though a 18 year old girl here thought I was 16. I tell them its my Asian genes.
- What is your family like? Families are a lot bigger over here and family is very important to people.
- Are you married? When they find out my age, most people are really shocked that I'm not married or engaged. If you're female and in your 20s, you're considered something like a spinster if you're not married. People get married as early at 13 here in the rural areas (technically illegal but who is going to stop them), and in urban areas start getting married at 19/ 20.
- What religion are you? I am quite worried about answering this question as because almost everyone believes in some sort of God here. I think being unmarried and religion-less might be a little too much for people here. So far I've told people I'm Buddhist. Other people have recommended I tell them I'm Evangelist or Pentecostal. No one really recommends I tell them I'm atheist.

Family and religion are important here and you can tell based on what people want to know. Also, some people think my Iron Engineering ring is a wedding or engagement ring.

In Canada if someone a stranger came up and started asking you these questions it might sound creepy (just think about it for a moment). Alternatively would you go up to someone you perceive is a foreigner (its a bit hard to tell in Canada) and ask them these questions? Here is seems perfectly fine that someone start a conversation - not creepy or scary at all.

Here are some places I've been to in Blantyre

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The market here is huge, this is only a small part of it. It's intimidating to take a picture in the market due to all the people.

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The sketchy bridge near the market. I always fear falling through the holes into the muddy stream below.

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Death traps Mini buses waiting for passengers

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Part of downtown Blantyre. Do you see any street signs or lights?

Other things I've seen
- 3 Malawian men were fighting in the street. I'm not sure why. A few other men stepped in and broke up the fight.
- Twice I've seen a lot of people sitting on a large flatbed truck with signs and shouting about some sort of cause.
- There is a KFC here, no other American fast food chains. I think its because people really like fried things here.

Posted by Analyst 04:48 Archived in Malawi Tagged people conversation blantyre foreigner

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