Jo's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Malawi

Proud Man

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

This is the one and only picture I’m going to post from this trip to Malawi. The trip was short and the work was intense and there was very little opportunity to explore Lilongwe in the few days I was there.

‘Exploring’ is logistically difficult in Lilongwe anyway. I have always enjoyed taking myself off when in a new place, with a camera if possible, to just walk and to watch and explore.

But Lilongwe is not an easy place to do this. Everyone and no-one walks. And that all depends on where you sit upon the spectrum of wealth. On the one hand, Lilongwe is full of people walking, Malawi is full of people walking. All walking along a road somewhere, or pushing a bicycle, wheels buckling under the weight of the load being carried – stacked crates of vegetables for the market, sack upon sack of Nsema, pregnant or elderly relatives.

Then at the other end of the spectrum, no-one walks. The roads are full of giant 4×4 vehicles, powering round potholes and on towards the other stratosphere of existence.

There was a chronic fuel shortage whilst I was there which meant that lines of vehicles were left abandoned for days at petrol stations throughout the city in the hope that when the fuel lorry finally did arrive to replenish the pumps, they would be fairly near the front of an impossibly growing queue. There were ‘Petrol Watch’ Facebook groups set up, alerts went out that petrol was due imminently at a certain location, or newly arrived at another, and suddenly half our workshop participants vanished in the chase for fuel. Two or maybe three hours of waiting and finally you’d have a full tank. All that effort, all that anxiety and expended energy, all for a single tank of fuel!

There were queues for sugar too. Rationed to four bags per person, the sugar queues were set up outside the main shopping centres and kept orderly by security guards. The highest denomination of bank note in Malawi is now worth less than £2 and yet, to eat in a restaurant, to buy basic food stuffs at a supermarket, take a taxi into town or stay in a hotel – these all cost almost the equivalent as in the UK. Very few places take credit or debit cards so, imagine heading out for an evening to eat as a party of six and making sure you have the equivalent of £120 in £2 coins in order to pay for the evening. In Malawi it’s not £2 coins but 500 Kwatcha notes, in bundles the thickness of a household brick. Western purses are not designed for carrying the Malawian Kwatcha.

On the morning I was leaving, I did finally go for a walk. I stepped out of the Lodge I was staying in and walked along the road to the main shopping mall about half a mile away. There are no pavements, so everyone walks ON the road, body swerving the 4x4s as they body swerve the pot holes. A western woman walking alone along a main road is quite an unusual sight in Lilongwe and it wasn’t an entirely comfortable experience. I felt a little exposed and vulnerable, more so than I was expecting.

Walking back to the Lodge, the man in this picture stopped me and asked me for money. On the spectrum of wealth, he was clearly not at the end with the giant 4x4s or indeed with the complaints about how much Kwatcha is stuffed in one’s purse.

He was immaculately clean and well-dressed and was sitting in an improvised wheel chair, unable to walk. He had an air of defiant pride about him, and the way he asked me for money was as if it was both my duty and responsibility to agree, which I tacitly did.

I nodded, smiled and asked him if he would mind if I took his photo, turning this into a crude currency of exchange and he accepted. But he didn’t smile back. Not once. He remained defiant and proud. I respect him for that.


Written by Spiller

May 8, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Rubbernecking a Dead President (and other misadventures)

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Mon Histoire

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

In the past 10 days, I’ve taken off 9 times and landed in 6 different countries. I’ve had a brilliant week of work in Malawi and a conference presentation in Antwerp.

I’ve spent more time than I ever want to again at Nairobi airport and know more about the Machiavellian world of competitive flower arranging than I ever thought possible.

I filed past the coffin of the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, drank Belgian beer with the coolest girls in Antwerp and almost went the way of Mama Cass in Paris, choking to death on a ham baguette.

I’ve returned with a suitcase full of honey and Gin from Malawi, Speculoos spread and some very salty licorice from Amsterdam and of course, chocolate from Belgium.

Hmm, what to cook with that little lot!

Written by Spiller

April 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Malawi bound

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Procrastinating. Packing, Procrastinating. Packing.

Back in a couple of weeks.

Written by Spiller

April 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

At the still point

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“At the still point of the turning world, neither flesh nor fleshless;

neither from nor toward, at the still point, there the dance is.”

T.S. Eliot

Written by Spiller

November 5, 2011 at 8:39 pm

African Sunset

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A kuche kuche by a croc infested river.  Can sundowners get any better than this?

Written by Spiller

October 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Arteries in Trees

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Relating to my previous post on Things like other things, this picture either proves or disproves my theory. I will leave it up to you to decide.






Written by Spiller

October 25, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Posted in General, Photography, Travel

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Things like other things

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Funny thing I discovered the other week. If you lie in a dark room and press the palms of your hands into your eye sockets (not too hard, mind, if you’re trying this at home) the interior world of your eye starts to transmogrify into elements of the exterior world around.

So for example, the landscape of the iris, with its myriad of networked capillaries starts to resemble the cracked earth of Bolivian salt flats or the arid clay of a drought ridden river bed. The soft tissue around the pupil becomes a breathing anemone or spongy, multicoloured moss. The star spangled tingling cause by minor blood loss to the brain begins to look like constellations in the night sky.

(honestly, the more I write this, the more bonkers I think I sound – there were no drugs involved I can assure you)

Anyway, it got me thinking about how nature reflects back elements of ourselves in unexpected places as well as reflecting other seemingly unrelated things. I found myself exploring this notion a little bit whilst in Malawi. How elephant skin magnifies the patterns in our own skin but also resembles the texture of ancient tree bark. How the branches of a leafless tree can look like a map of our own spaghetti arteries and veins.

How a monolithic baobab face planted itself in the ground somehow somewhere down the ages and continues to grow upside down for ever more – roots becoming branches, branches becoming roots.

Well you get the picture…

And if you don’t, I’ll post a couple more pictures that may or may not make me make sense…

Written by Spiller

October 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm