Friday, October 24, 2008

Bubbles

Here's another article written for the Iron Warrior. I don't have pictures yet of the Boniface family but I'll put some up soon!

During my five years in engineering at Waterloo I’d often find myself completely within the Waterloo bubble. At times my world consisted only of the lab, the systems hallway, the EWB office and Kismet. Things outside the bubble seemed far away and it was always a bit of a shock when events from the outside world (like the time I forgot my mom’s birthday) broke through the bubble. I was reminded of that feeling this past weekend when I visited my good friend from work, Loti. Loti has a TV and after a few weeks of living without electricity in my little village house I was looking forward to indulging. I switched on the international news station and was actually shocked to realize they were still talking about – were fixated, really – on the financial crisis.

Of course I had already heard all about the crisis, but at that moment I realized talk about it must be so much more omnipresent in Canada then it is in my daily life here. The Malawian newspapers cover it but their headlines are mostly captured by the roll-out of the national subsidized fertilizer program and the political jockeying taking place in the run up to next year’s presidential election. The effects of the crisis seem distant to me personally since my salary is already zero. And lately the bubble of my life hasn’t seemed to include bank bailouts and stock markets.

At the end of every day I walk home from the field office half an hour down a dirt road to the village of Kankudza. Usually I sit on the front step of the small tin-roof house I rent from the Boniface family reading my Chichewa lesson book until the light fades, then head across the road to the Boniface’s house. Mrs. Boniface, her sister, her two daughters and I squeeze into her kitchen hut, cook and eat dinner around her fire, share stories from the day and laugh at my Chichewa. They are my family here and little by little I’m connecting to their lives. Last weekend Mrs. Boniface took me on a tour of the dry-season garden she’s growing as part of an irrigation scheme supported by a local NGO and another day she told me about the 15 HIV positive neighbours she cooks for as a home-care volunteer. One night her daughters kept me up late teaching me the dances for a local wedding, but I’m usually in bed by 8 along with the rest of the village. Economic upheavals seems far away.

But that distance is an illusion – world crises and trends affect my family in this quiet village. The rise in the price of oil is one reason why the price of the fertilizer that Mrs. Boniface needs for her maize fields shot from 4000 kwacha per bag last year to 11,000 kwacha this year, putting it nearly out of her reach. All four of the countries to experience a financial crisis in the past 20 years dropped their foreign aid by at least 10 percent, and if that happens worldwide the funding for NGO projects like the microirrigation scheme that helped Mrs. Boniface create her garden may disappear. I can joke about my $0 salaray but Mrs. Boniface is so much more vulnerable; her ability to continue sending her girls to school, growing enough maize to feed her family and having the time to care for sick neighbours will weaken if she can’t afford fertilizer for her fields or loses the support of local organizations. Global troubles are coming a lot closer to this Malawian village than I realized.

5 comments:

Jill said...

I was thinking about that the other day, curious as to how the news in places like Canada, the US & Australia, is portrayed in Malawi & how it affects the Malawian people. Obviously the financial crisis will affect everyone, but I'm also wondering if you get tons of news on the other major story these days: the US presidential election?

Love you & miss you!
Jill
xoxox

Megan said...

Hey Jill!

The amount of international news depends on the sources people can access - the national newspapers carry a lot of international stories (including US elections and pretty exhaustive Premiership coverage!), and the people here at work check online news. The US election is really big though compared to the financial crisis - I even hear updates on my family's radio in the village.

Love you too!
megs

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