After a 6 hour red eye from San Francisco to DC, a 13.5 hour flight from DC to Addis Ababa, and another 6 hour flight from Addis to Lilongwe (with a stopover in the DR Congo), I finally made it to Malawi. My first impression: hot, humid, and raining. It was good to be back in Africa.
As soon as I got out of the airport I was struck by the fact that taxi drivers did not immediately accost me. I soon discovered that was due to a severe fuel shortage in the country; there is literally no fuel at any of the Malawian filling stations. On the drive we passed a station that was rumored to be getting a delivery (the only one in the whole country), the station was packed and there was a line of cars winding down the block, all waiting in line for fuel. When we passed the station the next day they were all still waiting.
Apparently this shortage is due to the fact that Malawi has very little foreign currency. On the black market you can get 250 kwacha for every $1, while banks and exchange bureaus will only pay 170 kwacha. The supply of forex to the Malawian government has virtually disappeared, making it difficult for them to purchase petrol. While people are obviously upset about the situation, as far as I can tell there does not seem to be much tension or concern about the stability of the country.
For those of you that want a more personal update, I have spent the 5 days since I arrived catching up on sleep and getting to know Nature’s Gift Permaculture Centre. The Centre is a 20-hectare plot with a commercial garden, a staple field, a jungle garden, and woodlot. At any given time there are between 5 and 8 expats living here, most from Europe or the US. It seems like people come for a month but end up staying for 12. This has created a fun, easy-going, and welcoming community of people with similar passions and interests.
In addition to the expats, there are a number of Malawian employees. Eston is one of the primary managers of the Centre and he, his wife, and son live on the property. He is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about permaculture and development. He works closely with Alex, a girl from Wisconsin, who will be training me on how to manage the commercial garden. Together they run the permaculture trainings that provide the primary funding for the Centre.
I start work tomorrow, managing the 100 vegetable beds and 4 gardeners that make up the commercial garden. I will definitely be learning a lot and am excited to get started.
Next time I’ll try to post some pictures of the place!