15 October 2009

2009-10-15: Closed for Mother's Day


I slept very late due to jet lag and exhaustion, and only after lunchtime got out of the house to do errands. Unfortunately, since it was Mother's Day (a public holiday), most shops were closed. I still couldn't reactivate my phone sim card, but at least I managed to check my PO Box and email and do some grocery shopping. I noticed some nice improvements in Zomba town, such as new shops, paved roads, and a new minibus stage. The power went out at 6 PM, as it is wont to do. Tomorrow I'll go back to Makoka and see what has happened there.

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Even though I'd gone to bed at midnight, some combination of sleep deficit and jet lag made me sleep very late today. I briefly awoke at 5 AM to the sound of the puppy dragging a pail in the concrete gutter right outside my window. It reminded me of when the garden boy used to start raking right outside my window at 5 AM. But a garden boy should know better, whereas a puppy doesn't.

I went back to sleep and dreamt fitful dreams that I was late to catch my flight to Malawi. Oh - I was too late - it had already left. There wouldn't be another flight to Malawi for a whole week.

Then I awoke again and said to myself, silly, you're already in Malawi.

But I still didn't want to get up, and dozed off again. Part of the reason I slept so long, I think, is that I was not quite ready to face the world yet. I knew what awaited me and it wasn't going to be easy. It was safer to pretend I was still in transit, even though I wasn't.

* * * * *

Finally, somewhat after 2 PM, I sat bolt upright. "This is ridiculous," I said. "There were lots of errands I wanted to do today. Why am I still in bed?"

I washed, dressed, put on my hat and sunscreen, and headed out. My, it was bright outside. No wonder my light-meter gets overwhelmed by Malawian sunshine.

My first stop was National Bank, to see if my Foreign Currency Denominated Account was still open. Alas, this effort was stymied by the fact that National Bank was closed. I'd thought it closed at 3:30, but the sign on the door said 3:00. And besides, it was probably closed all day anyhow, because today is Mother's Day, a national holiday.

I peeked in the window. The renovations (which had started in Feburary and gutted the building) were now finished and the new lobby looked very nice. Well, I'd get to see it close-up tomorrow.

The post office was closed too for Mother's day, but - AHA - I had a key to my post office box! I had spent six-and-a-half of my previous seven months in Malawi waiting for a PO box key, and being forced to visit the post office during business hours to get my mail over the counter. So it was with utmost glee that I unlocked my box.

It was absolutely packed with mail, but very little of it was for me. The majority was for ICRAF (their Zomba mail is now redirected to my box), and most of the remainder was for previous box-holders who'd left no forwarding address. I had some statements from National Bank, and... was that all? Oh, postcards! Two postcards from Mark and Elizabeth!

...and a notice saying that payment for my PO Box rental was overdue? That wasn't right. I'd paid the fee for a whole year's rental in November last year. And yet this pre-printed notice said that all PO renewals were due on 30 June. Sigh... I'd have to come back tomorrow and sort this out.

Even if the post office was just as inefficient as before, I noticed quite a few other improvements. The new shops next to Metro Supermarket were finished. Many of the roads were freshly paved. And the minibus stage was now a tidy lane of concrete, instead of a heavily eroded unpaved shoulder.

I also noticed that Tasty Bites Cafe had put up big green shade umbrellas on their patio, added new tables, new railings, and a new sign. Business was booming in Zomba!

* * * * *

Now, for my main task of the day - to get my phone sim card reactivated. I went to an independent shop, where the proprietor told me I had to go to the Zain customer service centre. "It's just past Shoprite and the bus depot," he said, "but it's probably closed today for the holiday."

Indeed it was closed. So I was still without a phone. This was getting really frustrating.

Shoprite was closed too, so I went to nearby People's Supermarket to buy some groceries. Jam, honey, margerine, peanut butter, Milo, milk powder, washing powder (important not to confuse the latter two). I would buy some fruit and vegetables at the market later.

My next stop was All Seasons Internet Cafe, where I was warmly welcomed back the owner Chrissy. Because of the decent service, extended hours, and friendly staff, it is my internet cafe of choice in Zomba. I can't even count how many dozens (hundreds?) of hours I've spent there. Today I added another hour and a half to that tally, catching up on all the email that I'd received since leaving California.

Now, to market, to market! The main market is one of my favourite places in Zomba town. It's a vast labyrinth of open-air and roofed stalls in the city centre. Once you know where to find everything, and how much it should cost, you scarcely need shop anywhere else.

Today, I bought: six eggs for K180 (US$1.25), a small bag of peaches, a bunch of bananas, and K200 worth of potatoes (five big handfuls). I wanted to buy a watermelon, too, but didn't think I could carry it along with with all my other groceries.

The sunset was fading as I walked home. The streets were unusually quiet due to the holiday, and the air temperature was finally cooling off.

I had only one more stop to make - the BP filling station shop, for herbal shampoo. Unlikely though it sounds, that's the best place in town to buy shampoo. (I'm glad I know these things now!) As soon as I entered the shop, it was plunged into darkness. Must be the six o'clock power cut. It took them a few minutes to fire up their generator, so I used my phone as a light to find the kind of shampoo I wanted. And thus ended my shopping day in Zomba.

I arrived home to a candlelit flat, and shared some of my roommates' dinner. The drinking water that I'd boiled before leaving was, unfortunately, still warm. I tried mixing it with cold orange squash (cordial) from the fridge, but the net effect was still warmer than room temperature. There are few beverages more disgusting than warm squash. NOTE TO SELF: If you drink warm squash, you will regret it.

* * * * *

I'm afraid it is hard to write much of interest about a day that begins at 2 PM and consists mainly of errands. But tomorrow, I will return to Makoka for the first time. Will my rain shelters still be there? Will my agroforestry trees have been chopped down for firewood? Stay tuned!

Chichewa word of the day: dzira = egg; mazira = eggs


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