Published: May 21st 2007May 21st 2007
I won’t bore you with the details of my flights to Malawi, other than to mention S. African Airways serves a mean breakfast! I’ll just start with how it went when I got off the plane in Lilongwe. It was a gorgeous day, and the weather was really pleasant—warm and breezy. I was in a really good mood until we got to customs, which was extremely chaotic and very slow. I’d say I was in line for about 30 minutes—and I was one of the first to be off the plane. I finally got my bags and headed out to the greeting area, where my supervisor (who had just arrived in Malawi himself—he’s the NGO’s regional director and based in S. Africa), the country director, and my new housemate (Matt) were all waiting for me. We all got acquainted and then Matt drove me to the house I’ll be living in. The drive was lovely, there are mountains in the distance on either side of the road and otherwise just slightly hilly countryside—not the typical urban sprawl associated with African cities like Nairobi. Lilongwe is incredibly spread out, so when you’re driving around you don’t really even know you’re in
At the office
This is the view from where I sit on the patio! (It's a little dark - sorry).
a city. Most buildings (none of which are over 2 stories high—well, except one) are tucked back away from the road and hidden by trees. Lilongwe only became the capital of Malawi a couple of decades ago (before that it was Blantyre) so the development here is a little odd. The “Old Town” is the part of town that existed before government relocated here, and about a 15 min. drive away is the Capital Hill area where all the new government buildings are. I live in a part of town called City Center which is adjacent to Capital Hill (and quite far from what I would call the downtown area of Lilongwe, which is Old Town).
I was pretty stunned when we pulled into the house—it’s unassuming from the outside but it’s absolutely huge, and what I would call luxurious by many standards. It’s surrounded by a really nice garden (and beyond that by a wall topped with an electric fence), and on one side we have a view over to the next hill. The house is very spacious and sunny, though Matt’s decorating leaves a little to be desired :). We have two dogs, Hastings (after the long-lived
View from my window at home
Just beyond the wall is the street we live on.
dictator, Hastings Kamuzu Banda), and Tiger (who fathered Hastings), and two cats, Livingston and Mwezi (which means ‘moon’ in Chichewa, the Malawian language). As you might expect I am very pleased about the pet situation. I have yet to see a neighbor (everyone lives behind huge walls, and drives everywhere, so you don’t really see people besides employees around the neighborhood), but I am told we live in an upper-middle class Malawian neighborhood. Most of the expats live nearer to Old Town since that’s where all the NGOs are (including mine). But Matt works for the government so they housed him near Capital Hill.
I got settled in and then Matt drove us to a local shopping center to get a pizza (in true mzungu—white person—form). It was basically in a typical American strip mall, with a food court containing S. African chains. We also went into Food Zone, which is your typical supermarket catering to expats and well-to-do Malawians, so I could buy some water and juice.
In the morning I was picked up by two of my colleagues to go to my first day of work. The org. office is based in a small villa (in
which some of the staff live) in another part of town called Old Town, and my desk will essentially be a table and chair on their patio! I have never had a cooler office. I basically spent the entire day meeting with my supervisor, Mike—he is based in S. Africa and will only be here for my first week (and the rest of the staff are not attorneys so they won’t really be that involved in my work). We discussed our respective expectations and goals and came up with some projects which I am really excited about. All of the refugees at the camp outside Lilongwe, Dzaleka camp, are going through what is called their refugee status determination, which means they are going before the government individually to claim refugee status. They usually don’t even have a sense of what the elements of a refugee claim are (let alone have access to an attorney), and that is what I spent an entire semester studying at Michigan, so I will be advising individual refugees on how to prepare their claims. I will also be assisting refugees whose claims were denied and who are making appeals to the government. There is a
Our living room
You might be able to spot tiny Mwezi on the couch (eyes blazing!).
second refugee camp in the southern part of the country, Luwani, which will be closing supposedly next week. (Malawi is primarily a transit country for refugees trying to make it to S. Africa, the government of which has put pressure on Malawi to close that camp to stem the flow of refugees south.) The thousands of refugees from Luwani are going to be moved up here, so I will also be observing that process in the context of human rights. Finally I will be doing outreach to other NGOs and governmental agencies to put together a network of key contacts we would need were we to initiate a plan to reform the Malawian refugee laws. I could not be more excited about the work, about being here, about getting to meet refugees and use what I’ve learned to help them. This is the first time I am getting to take a semester’s worth of learning in law school and apply it directly to a real person, which is pretty thrilling.
Living room with kitty 2
That's Livingstone looking all aloof on the chair.
After work my colleagues invited me to stay at their house for dinner, but just as they were starting to cook the power went out (for the third time
that day), so they ended up taking me to dinner in what was very much like a typical American restaurant (except that we were the only customers!). The menu was in English and the prices were surprisingly high (which I think is pretty typical in Western-style restaurants). I got a salad (which ended up being huge) for around $5, but main courses were around $10. I have been tasked with spending tomorrow at home reading the UNHCR handbook for emergencies and other exciting stuff but Wednesday I will get to go to the camp for the first time. I can’t wait.
This was taken right after I arrived so it's a tad messy still...but pretty nice!