Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Weekend

A quiet hike in Zobue
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a full-time job.  

It's more than that, actually.  It's an entire lifestyle.  

Never before have I been so visible.  Never have I been so loved and laughed at and altogether widely-noted. Never have I been so uncomfortably... popular.

And because Dan and I are so present in the community, our behavior is always in check. We don't hold hands on the street or engage in open displays of affection. We don't drink in public. We don't fight.  We take care to be outgoing, chipper, and friendly with everybody.  In terms of cheerful public interaction, we are not unlike a pair of Wacky Waving Inflatable Aim-Flailing Tube Men.  It's kind of exhausting.

As a method of retaining identity, we try to reserve weekends just for ourselves.  Sometimes we leave to visit other volunteers.  Sometimes we lock the doors and retreat into our own "Little America."  Sometimes, we just walk away.  A long way away.

Free!  Good puppy!

Thankfully, our town was built for walking.  The countryside is laced with trails and paths. Some of the trails are wide footpaths, leading to some of the surrounding villages.  Others are no more than deer-trails, winding along the edges of fields and rows of cultivated land. A few twist into the mountains, and a few dead-end in graveyards.  All are calm and quiet.  

Dan and Bwino

This weekend, Dan and I took the dog, our backpack, and a tin full of tangerines on three long hikes into the fields beyond Zobue.  Along the way, we suffered sunburns, burs, and broken shoes.  We gathered dirt and seeds and tiny scratches.  But we also found our peace and solitude, which was exactly what we needed.

Early morning flowers in Zobue
Women wait to grind corn at the mill (moagem) in Zobue
A little girl holds tight while her father pulls over to make a call from his bicycle
Washing laundry in the stream
Sunset from the hills
A house on the outskirts of town
A lovingly decorated grave.  It is not customary for Mozambicans to visit graveyards "for fun"
 or out of curiosity.  Honestly, my presence was breach of protocol.  In my defense, however,
I would like to cite cultural differences.  In America, it is acceptable to visit the deceased.
Flowers on a gravesite in Zobue
Flowers on a recent grave
In Mozambique, people are buried with what they love.  Objects that were used often or shortly before passing are left for the deceased on the burial mound.  I can only imagine that the placement of this bottle was intentional.
A sausage tree!  How positively African!
Swimming in sugar cane.  Keep an eye out for black mambas.
Crazy bean (feijao maluco):  An awful creeper with a lasting, fiberglass sting
Found this beautiful wreath made with natural materials.  A crown, perhaps?  A decoration of some sort?
It's actually just a cushion, worn to protect the head while carrying heavy loads.
Looking towards one of our hiking objectives:  Ma-Mini-Piri (or "the small mountain")
Looking backwards towards the towering Monte Zobue
Large flowers (a protea in bloom)
Small leaves
A half-finished hut on the side of the mountain.
Probably will be used as a base for timber-cutting or farming.
The hut and a wide backyard
Mid-afternoon flower
Pigeon peas in bloom
On the way back home
Drying laundry without a clothesline
The dona da casa poses with her laundry
My favorite shot of the weekend:  An elderly gentleman asked me to take his picture.
"Please," he said.  "Bring me a copy.  Don't forget."

This morning, I sat down on a rock to share a tangerine with Dan.  We stared out into the distance, taking in the sounds of the scene.  There wasn't much to be heard-- a few ring-neck doves and the distance sound of an ax.  The occasional "twack" of laundry on rock.

"You know," I said.  "I got exactly what I wanted from my Peace Corps experience."

"Me too," said Dan.

We settled into silence, disappearing into the scene.  From the outside, in the wild, we are free to find ourselves.  And we've found our peace in Zobue.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Married in the Peace Corps

(or “Marry young and travel wide”)

When Dan and I got engaged, I was still in college. 

Most of our friends viewed our engagement as somewhat of an oddity.  They humored us—helping us prepare and make favors and select songs for the reception—but I don’t think that they ever really understood us.  Not entirely.

Nowadays, it’s kind of weird to get married young.  It is, though, isn’t it? 

Even now, when Dan and I meet someone new, there is always an awkward pause in the conversation as the other person tactfully tries to understand our situation. 

“So you’re married?”  They’ll ask. 

“Yes,” I’ll say. 

“When did you get married?”    

“Oh… almost three years ago, actually.”  I’ll look at Dan to confirm that this approximation is accurate.  “Yeah, almost three years.  Wow.”

“But… “ (and here’s where their confusion sets in) “How old are you now?”

“I’m 25,” I’ll say. 

“So you got married when you were… 22?”


“Are you… religious?”


“Oh.”  The other person will then nod politely.  They’ll consider probing further, but then will decide against it.  The mild confusion just sits there, hanging in the air like an unanswered question. 

As acquaintances blossom into friendships, people come to accept the fact that we are married.   The question fades into the background.  Dan and I become Lisa-and-Dan, the married couple. 

But why would somebody get married right out of college?  Why would a non-religious (and non-pregnant) couple tie the knot at the age of 22?  What possible reason could there be for not waiting a couple of extra years?  Why would someone make such a rash and final decision at such a tender and impressionable age? 

My question, though, is just the opposite.  Honestly, whyever wouldn’t they?

I love Dan, and I loved him in college.  We were a good fit for one another.  Part of it was a natural fit, and part of it was a product of coming and growing together.  When I joined the caving club at Penn State, he was the only one of my friends who was willing to try it.  From caving, we branched out into biking and hiking and camping and traveling.  We made plans together, and we unearthed common goals.  Both of us were interested in living abroad, and we both wanted to learn another language.  We both wanted to have children and, coming from divorced families ourselves, were staunchly opposed to getting divorced. 

Rather than being exactly the same, Dan and I were complements.  I had big plans and hundreds of changing, half-finished visions.  Dan had the ability to agree to one thing at a time and see it all the way through.  I was good at being cheap, while Dan was good at banking.  I was a hermit and Dan was social.  I was learning how to cook, and Dan was a cheerful and tireless dinner companion.  These things sound small and meaningless, but they added up to something important.  They created a balance. 

Dan finished school in 2009, and asked me to marry him.  He was, at that point, about to start his Master’s Degree at Penn State.  I was 6 months shy of graduating myself, and already starting to search for my first post-college real job.  At that point, we both knew that we weren’t going to stay in State College forever.  If we chose to move away and stay together, we both wanted to be married.  To us, that was what felt correct.  And so, we got married.

That was about three years ago. 

Since then, we joined the Peace Corps.

It’s a bit of a challenge to join the Peace Corps, actually.  The application process is long and winding and the medical procedures are endless.  You have to be poked and prodded and vaccinated repeatedly, and then charted and tick-ed and check-ed.  You go through several rounds of interviews all while maintaining a constant, heightened state of anxiety and uncertainty about the future.  Worst of all, you wait.  While your parents ask you (repeatedly) if you’re sure about this and your friends settle into real jobs, you are left waiting for an answer.  Where will you be going?  What will you be doing? 

If that’s not bad enough, the application process takes much longer for prospective married volunteers.  Dan and I waited for more than a year and a half.  Much of the difficulty was the challenge of finding a country that was searching for both of our skill sets—math and (of all things) forestry.  In the end, I was recruited to teach English.  We arrived in Mozambique in September 2011. 

We’ve been here now for more than twenty months, and I can tell you first-hand that the Peace Corps experience is hard.  It’s lonesome and it’s challenging.  It’s an exercise in patience.   But I am thankful every day that I chose to do it, and that I came here with my husband. 

So what are the benefits of being married in the Peace Corps?

1.  Support.   As a married volunteer, I have a really unfair advantage.  I brought my best friend with me.  That means that I always have someone to listen to my stories, laugh at my more amusing failures, and provide positive feedback and support.  The hard times just aren’t as hard when there’s someone there to help. 

2.  An Opposite Point of View.  I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve sat down and said, “That’s it. I quit.”  It’s easy to get mad and make a rash decision.  But having another rational human on hand helps to minimize damage and provide reasonable alternatives and suggestions.

3.  Health and Safety.   If I get sick or injured, I know that I can count on Dan to run and call for help.   I also, honestly, just feel safer with Dan around.  I never get sexually harassed and everybody in Zobue is well-aware of the fact that I am married and live with a man. 

4.  Memories.  The memory of our Peace Corps experience is something that Dan and I share together.  The people that we’ve met and the places that we’ve been are ours to share, not just mine.  We also share a secret language (with about 220 million other people). 

5.  …Other reasons.  You know.  Nobody wants to be lonely. 

It’s been said that if a marriage can survive for two years in the Peace Corps, than it can survive anything.  And I bet that there’s some truth to that. 

I’m glad that Dan and I chose to marry young.  For us, it was the right decision.  We’re 25 years old, but have already lived abroad and traveled extensively.  We still have time to start a family, but without sacrificing adventure in our early married years. 

So why get married right out of college?  Why make such a rash and final decision at such a young and tender age? 

My question is just the opposite.  Honestly, who wouldn’t?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dog Bite

Last week, I was bitten by a dog.

To say that it was a devastating wound, or that I very nearly died, might lead you to believe something that isn't quite true.  So I won't outright tell you that I nearly lost my leg or that I had to kill the offending animal with my own two hands.  Nor will I suggest that I lost four gallons of blood or that I dug three teeth out of my crushed and broken tibia.  No, I won't say any of that, because that might be misleading.  Instead, I will let you know that I was simply "bitten".  And I will let your imagination do the rest.  

According to the rabies vaccine pamphlet, a bite of this magnitude
 is classified as a "Category II:  Nibble"

Although my situation was indeed quite dire, I am pleased to report that I have pulled through with the usual vigor and aplomb. After all, it is my nature to be stoic.  


But the fact does remain, regardless of the width and breadth of the details, that I was bitten by a dog.  And, according to Peace Corps proper medical procedure, I had to be tended to.  

So just thirty minutes after being bitten (and after showing all of my friends in the marketplace, of course), I sent Dr. Isadora a picture of the scratches.  I included the subject line- "Dog Bite (Superficial)."  Two minutes later, Dr. Isadora was on the phone.

"What's this?"  Asked Izzy.  "Dog bite?  What happened?"

"It's really not a big deal," I said. "I just got bitten in the back of the knee."

"What were you doing when it happened?"

"I was walking to the market with Bwino when another dog attacked him.  I threw a rock at the attacker, so the attacker turned around and bit me in the leg."

"Hmm.  Yes.  So you need rabies vaccine."

And that's how Dan and I ended up en route to Lilongwe.  

It was actually a very fortuitous time to be bitten.  Dan and I had been planning to go to Lilongwe anyway, to get our flu vaccines.  A quick flurry of emails between Izzy and Peace Corps Medical in Malawi confirmed an addendum to my original appointment.  I was now scheduled to receive a flu vaccine with a double-pick-me-up of rabies post-exposure treatment.  

Much, you might say, like a mini-vacation.  

I guess it's time to admit that I've always wanted to be taken away for "medical."  

Don't get me wrong.  I've never wanted a large and dangerous big health issue.  I'm not trying to tempt the Gods of Irony.  But I've always appreciated the thought that something small and manageable-- a bleeding eardrum, for instance, or a rather heartfelt yeast infection-- could land me in the capital city with free food for a week.  

I can't be the only volunteer that feels this way.  

Site is wonderful, and we all love our adopted homes.  But there comes a time when the allure of running water trumps a perfect bill of health.  When the thought of one large cheese pizza seems worthy of one measly headful of lice...

So I didn't particularly mind our medical trip to Lilongwe.  My vaccines were over quickly (though spaced three days apart) and my dog bite was small and tidy.   This was the dream medical vacation-- minimal physical suffering, minimal time away from work, plus a legitimate excuse-- and Dan and I were prepared to enjoy it.  

We were gone from Wednesday until Sunday.  Normally, I would feel guilty, but Wednesday was a holiday.  This meant that most of my students would also miss school on Thursday. Friday, of course, was my normal day off, which meant that I was missing very little, if not nothing, going on at the school.  It was, I'll repeat, a very fortuitous time in which to receive a superficial dog bite to the back of the knee.  

My first shots (rabies and flu) took place on Thursday morning.  Dan got his flu shot as well, and was then technically cleared and ready to go home.  He chose to stay with me, though, and wait out the 72 hours between the first and second post-exposure rabies vaccines.  This gave us a full 72 hours with which to explore and get to know the capital city of Lilongwe.  A city, which we'll soon learn, is known for being supremely un-explorable.  


The Bradt travel guide to Malawi (2006) states that "Lilongwe is the blandest of African capitals."  It also notes that the city itself is "split into two parts" and that "there's not much to either of them."

"For short-stay visitors to Malawi," says the author, "it's tempting to suggest you avoid Lilongwe altogether or, if you're forced to pass through, to hop off the bus and get straight onto one heading to your next destination."

That's a rather poor review for Malawi's largest city and country capital.  Still, though, the author does make one allowance:

"Lilongwe..." he admits, "...takes time to get to know."

Well, Dan and I didn't have time on the order of months or weeks, but we did have several days. We also had a pocket full of Kwacha, a will to explore, and a certain lack of squeamishness.  I can't say that we fell in love with the entire city, but we did make an honest attempt.

I started at the Peace Corps Medical office.  It was 7AM on Thursday morning.  I introduced myself to the medical staff, waited my turn, and then rolled up my sleeve obediently.  The rabies vaccine (the first of two) took less than thirty seconds to administer.

"Is that it?"  I asked the nurse, turning and rubbing arm.  "Am I done?"

"Until Sunday morning," she said.  "You'll come back at 7."

"Huh," I said.

And then, suddenly, Dan and I found ourselves with three full days of free and empty time.  72 hours with which to explore and discover the sprawling town of Lilongwe.  The possibilities were endless.

I'll admit that the first thing we did was to go back to sleep.  We checked into our room at the Golden Peacock (a purely acceptable small room), dropped our bags on the floor, and squeezed onto the same twin bed for a long and uninterrupted nap.  That, in itself, was one of the biggest perks of being in the city.  Anonymity.  An ability to nap.  The feeling of not being needed.

Then, blinking awake to the slanting afternoon sun, I felt that it was time to go and hit the streets.

We had actually neglected to bring our Bradt travel guide with us, which meant that we were on our own in terms of navigating the city.  It wasn't so bad, though, since that meant that every decision and encounter felt like a personal discovery.  It was a nice way to go about learning a city.

Here is some of what we learned:

Lilongwe is the capital city of Malawi, built along the banks of the skinny Lilongwe River.  The city itself is sprawled across two distinct sections, separated from one another by a distance of five kilometers. The first section, Old Town, is the focus of most commerce and tourism.  The second section, City Center, is home to bank headquarters, business offices, diplomatic missions, and the seat of Malawian government-- Capitol Hill.  

Most visitors to Lilongwe will arrive in Old Town, find accommodation in Old Town, eat and shop in Old Town, and then depart from Old Town within 48 hours.  Most will never pass through City Center, and, in the words of our Bradt Travel professional, "there are few urgent reasons why visitors might want to visit."  

If the concept of the divided city is not enough, Lilongwe is further divided into a multitude of Areas. 

Area 3 is the most modern and bustling, home to lodges (Golden Peacock, Budget, Korea Garden, Cakes, Kiboko), stores (Shoprite, Game, Spar, Peoples), and restaurants (Pizza Inn, Papaya, Grill House).  It is also home to the Peace Corps office, curio market, and largest parking lot in Lilongwe.  Area 3 is clearly the place to be.

Budged up against Area 3, on the other side of the Lilongwe River, are Areas 4 and 2.  Though situated just minutes away from one another, these Areas clearly attract a different crowd. While Area 3 men dress in suits and stop to buy newspapers on the street, Area 2 folks rush by with their heads down, simply bent on reaching their destination.  The air is sooty and the sidewalks are grimy and crowded.  This, of course, is the Area from which all public transportation arrives and departs.

You would think that Areas 5,6,7, and 8 would all be located nearby, but the numbering system actually gets a little tricky from there.  The areas of Lilongwe were created chronologically, not spatially, meaning that there are a number of confusing discrepancies   Area 9, it turns out, is nowhere near Area 10.  Area 11 links arms with Area 42.  To any newcomer with a map, Lilongwe appears to be nothing but a nonsensical jumble of "areas" and unnamed streets. Thankfully, the most important areas (for us, at least) were both spatially rational and chronological:  Areas 1, 2, 3, and 4.  

Dan and I were staying in Area 3.  Honestly, we probably would have been very happy to just stay and poke around our little area.  Lilongwe doesn't have much to offer an international traveler, but it's a haven for homesick foreigners like ourselves.  We ordered pizza and ice cream on our first night in town, and then replicated our order the next morning for breakfast.  We went to every single one of the fancy grocery stores, just to look around.  We compared cereal prices in four different stores before finally committing to the box that we wanted to buy. Mostly, we just walked about with mouths agape, marveling at civilization.  

Such wanderings could probably have kept us happy for the duration of our visit, but we also felt an itchy sense of responsibility.  We were far from home in a foreign capital city, after all.  There had to be something noteworthy about Lilongwe.  It was thus that we decided, for the sake of all other visitors and volunteers, that we were going to spend the next 72 hours finding something to love in the capital city of Malawi.

Our first foray was a trip to the super-markets.  We didn't intend to buy anything-- we just wanted to bask in the glow of the electric lights.  We wandered up and down the rows, picking things up, one at a time, and then shook our heads at the prices.  When that lost its appeal (and it didn't, actually, because we returned every morning after that), Dan and I each bought an ice cream cone and headed downhill to the bridge. 

The difference between Area 3 and Area 2 become apparent as we approached the other side of the river.  While Area 3 was tidy, well-swept, and full of electric lights, Area 2 gave the impression of being seedy and downright neglected.  The sidewalk started to give way as we neared the bridge, and the foot traffic picked up immensely.  We brushed past several men who, we realized belatedly, were openly peeing into the bushes.  Once on the other side of the river, we had to walk on the street to avoid the crowds of people that were stopping to look at goods for sale on tarps on the sidewalk.  

Dan and I climbed to the top of a metal pedestrian bridge to look over the scene.  Looking down in the direction of the river, we could see the size and scope of the outdoor market.  It was teeming with people and stretched beyond eyesight, continuing back along the river and even across to the other side.  As I looked out and photographed the scene, I noticed several vendors staring up at me.  One of them pulled a camera phone out of his pocket and raised it in our direction.  Mildly amused, Dan and I just waved.  After all, I was taking pictures, too. 

We descended into the crowd, making our way into the heart of the market.  I itched to take a picture, but, now that I was on the ground, I didn't feel comfortable.  I was acutely aware of my race, my camera, and the message that I might be sending if I started taking photos.  I didn't want to appear to be condescending (or out of my element), so I tucked my camera away.  It was one of those rare moments where I took in the scene first-hand, instead.  

The market was different than the ones I'd been to in Mozambique.  For one thing, it was bigger.  It seemed to go on and back forever, leading away from the main road in a series of twisting and progressively smaller pathways.  The stalls were organized logically, though they were densely packed together.  At the front of the market, we found several free-lance vendors selling whatever they had on hand-- shoes, phones, apples, bread, etc.  Then, as we continued, we found pockets of stalls grouped by goods or common purpose.  First, we passed shoes.  Then, we passed bags, backpacks, belts, and used bras.  From there, the paths became denser and rutted by muddy water.  We passed stall upon stall of used clothes.  We saw sweaters and socks, sweatshirts and prom dresses.   Some vendors felt the need to comment as we walked by, but most people were friendly, or said nothing at all.  Again, I was aware of my race, but not distinctly uncomfortable.  

The best part was found back along the water.  There, stretching from one side of the riverbank to the other, was a long and skinny wooden bridge.  As I stepped closer and looked out across the bank, I saw that it wasn't the only one.  At least twelve bridges were lined up, sometimes standing in pairs, stretching from one bank to the other.  They all looked terribly unstable.

"What is this?"  I asked one of the men sitting at the foot of the bridge.

"Private bridge," he said.  "Twenty Kwacha."  

At first, I thought that he was pulling my leg.  Then I saw the painted sign at the foot of the walkway-  "Private Bridge.  20 Kwacha."  As I watched, I saw more and more people, some loaded up with goods, deposit 20 Kwacha and make their way across.  

"Well, I have to go across," I said to Dan.  

"Go ahead," he said.  

I fished in my pocket for a 20-Kwacha bill (worth one US nickel, approximately) and gingerly stepped out onto the bridge.  It swayed menacingly.  I crossed slowly, testing each board as I made my way across.  Halfway, I stopped to look around.  The Lilongwe River, 20 feet below, looked shallow and ugly and milky. There were at least ten other bridges within 100 feet of my own.  All were built in the same skinny-stick, haphazard manner.  All of them were in use.  

Giggling at my own bravery, I ran back to meet Dan on the bank.  

"Well, that's something to love, right there," I said.  "I wonder why they've built so many bridges."

"I guess it's to connect both halves of the market," said Dan.

"But why so many?"  I asked.

"Maybe one person built one and started charging for it, and then other people decided to do the same.  It seems like a good way to make money."

"Do you think that they're safe?"

"Oh, no.  Absolutely not."

And we made our way back to the lodge, pleased that we had found one thing in Lilongwe to love.  

(Things to Love in Lilongwe, Day 1:  The Outdoor City Market)

The following day, we went back to the market.  Again, I wasn't planning on taking pictures, I just wanted to see it.  I enjoyed the squeeze of the stalls and the rows upon rows of clothes.  I bought a blue cardigan for four dollars (from Express, no less!) while Dan waited patiently to the side.  Then I waited patiently while Dan admired, tested, and paid for a slingshot made out of rubber tubing.  

That afternoon, we met with a friend, Joe, and (somewhat unexpectedly) went to his birthday party. It was being held at "Mamma Mia," an upscale Italian restaurant.  Joe's personal driver picked us up from our hotel and delivered us directly to the scene, where we arrived to find ourselves severely under-dressed. Our friend then introduced us to his new ex-pat community which included, among others, a Costa-Rican accountant, a member of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, a Danish missionary, an English grad student, and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer working in the field of Agricultural research.  It was all very overwhelming and the food was expensive (at ten dollars a plate), but we felt lucky to be included.  We also ran out of Kwacha entirely and were indebted to Joe for the rest of the night.  

After dinner, we went out to a ex-pat hangout called Harry's Bar.  It was strange to see so many cars and so many foreigners all in one location.  I felt shy and out of place, of course, but I liked it because it was different from Zobue.  At the end of the night, we got a ride home from the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, whose name was also Dan.  Along the way, we made plans to meet up the following day and get together for volleyball.  

Apparently, we learned, Lilongwe has a very large and very active expatriate community.  

(Things to Love in Lilongwe, Day 2:  Living the Big, Expensive Ex-Pat Life)

On our third day, we made our way to the Lilongwe Wildlife Center.  

This was something that I'd heard about, but couldn't exactly figure understand.  Some people seemed to think that it existed in two parts, and some people seemed to think that it was a single, compact entity.  One online review gave the name as the "Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary" and while another referred to it as the "Lilongwe Wildlife Park."  Some people thought it had a zoo, while others raved about the natural, fence-less wilderness.  All reviewers agreed, though, that the Center deserved a "moderate thumbs up" and was worth a peek, at the very least.

Dan and I took a minibus to get there, because we'd heard that it wasn't safe to walk.  We found a minibus easily enough, waving down an Area 12-bound chapa as it sped by the road that led past Shoprite.  I heard Dan say, "Nature Sanctuary," and saw the conductor nod his head as he slammed closed the sliding door.  I settled into my seat amongst a set of tittering old ladies in traditional dress.

We drove past Shoprite and Game and the edge of the outdoor market.  We sped past a fenced-off, forested area and a few gated lodges.  We chugged up a hill and then sped past the City Center itself-- large, shiny banks, a few goverment offices, and the fancy Sunbird Executive Hotel.  Then, we dove past the outer edge of the city and down a steep hill.  It was around this time that I realized that something was wrong.  I tapped Dan on the back.

"I think we've gone too far," I whispered to Dan.

Dan glanced over at the conductor.  "Nature Sanctuary?"  He asked loudly, pointing at himself and me.  

The conductor muttered a rapid curse and then yelled something to the driver.  Our minibus screeched to a halt.  The conductor motioned for us to follow him as he left the minibus.  He crossed to the other side of the road and flagged down another bus that was chugging up the hill.

The other bus stopped.  Our conductor stuck his head inside and said something in rapid Chichewa, pointing at us and then back in the direction from which we had come.  The second conductor looked at us and nodded.  I assumed that, because the first conductor had made a clear mistake, an agreement was being made.  We climbed in and leaned back as our new driver stepped on the gas, watching as we sped past City Center for the second time, enjoying the clean-cut lines of the lawns and modern buildings.  

Our enjoyment, however, was exceedingly short-lived.

"Okay," said the new conductor.  "It's time to pay me now."

My reaction was one of fury.  "Absolutely not!"  I said.  "We've already paid our fare."

"Pay me.  Pay me now."

"NO," I said.  "We already paid.  The other conductor made a mistake.  You need to talk to him."

The second conductor said something to the driver and we pulled over immediately.

"You walk," said the conductor, sliding open the door.  "Get out."

So Dan and I piled out of the bus.  

We were lost, of course, but it wasn't hard to figure out where to go.  We just continued along the same road on which we had arrived, following it back to the forested area that we had passed thirty minutes before.  Ironically, we spent just as much time walking as if we had never taken the minibus in the first place. When we finally found the front gate of the Nature Sanctuary, I jumped and clapped my hands.  I had been unsure as to whether or not this was going to work out.

The Nature Sanctuary, we discovered, is the same as the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre.  The name on the gate reads "Lilongwe Wildlife Centre," but the signs within list prices of entry for the "Nature Sanctuary."  Our confusion was entirely reasonable.  

The grounds, it turns out, were actually divided into two parts.  One part of the sanctuary was devoted to a small zoo, while another, larger part was set aside for hiking trails and wilderness. An international visitor (such as ourselves) could pay 1000 Kwacha (US$2.75) for a Leisure Pass or 2000 Kwacha (US$5.50) for a Sanctuary Pass.  A Leisure pass would allow us to visit the trails around the park, but it would not grant us access to the zoo.  The Sanctuary Pass would give us both a tour of the zoo and unlimited time on the hiking trails.  

We chose to buy a Sanctuary Pass.  Together, with about ten other families, we took a guided tour of the only zoo in all of Malawi.  It was interesting, actually.  We weren't allowed to wander about by ourselves.  Instead, we walked with a guide.  As a group, we followed a clearly defined path through natural woodland, peering through the occasional nondescript fence.  In terms of providing animals with natural habitat, this zoo was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.  In several, large, open-air enclosures, Dan and I saw owls, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, yellow baboons, a porcupine, a leopard, and a lion.   It wasn't bad for just three dollars.

At the end of the tour, we were cut loose and allowed to explore the sanctuary on our own.  A single path led away from the zoo area and along the riverbank, eventually branching into a set of thin and winding, well-marked hiking trails.  This was the hiking option that a "Leisure Pass" would have bought, had we been disinclined to pay for the more expensive "Sanctuary Pass."

While touring the zoo had been a mildly entertaining event, the hike was legitimately exciting. It wasn't that the terrain was particularly beautiful-- the trees were skinny, the river was murky, and the light was bad for taking pictures-- but rather the fact that nobody else was in the woods with us.  Knowing that we were alone above a crocodile-infested river, peering around corners for a glimpse of a python or late-afternoon hyaena, made the whole endeavor seem much more daring than it probably actually was.  Several times, we startled bushbuck and water monitors from a patch of sunlight in the middle of the path.  It felt very wild, and that was what I liked about it.

(Things to Love in Lilongwe, Day 3:  Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary)

Finally, it was Sunday morning.  I found myself in the Medical Office for the second time, swiveling in my chair and rolling up my shirtsleeve.

"Did you enjoy your stay in Lilongwe?" asked the Doctor.  He drew a dose of vaccine into a syringe.

"It was great," I said.

"Good," he said.  "Okay, just wait for that alcohol to dry..."

And, thirty seconds later, I was done.

Backpacks on, Dan and I made our way out of town.  We walked past the Shoprite, past the Pizza Inn, over the bridge, and into the grime of Area 2.  We pushed our way through the crowd and shrugged off several very aggressive conductors, searching for a minibus headed towards the Dedza Border.

As we sat, waiting, the minibus slowly filled up around us.  The sun was coming in at an angle and the heat of the day was beginning to build.  I closed my eyes and tried to ignore it.

There is a lot about Malawi that isn't perfect.  Actually, there is a lot about Malawi that I don't like at all.   I have a complicated relationship with the country of Malawi, and I think that the feeling is mutual.  Joe suggests that I am simply too Mozambican, and that the most I will ever feel towards Malawi is a sort of grudging acceptance.  There may be some truth to that.

I will admit, though, that I had a nice time on this particular visit.  And I had found three things to love about the city of Lilongwe.

Not bad, considering it all came about from a dog bite.

A dog bite classified as a "Category II:  Nibble."

Trying to catch a ride out of Mozambique.
Note how the vendors have descended upon the minibus
Trying to catch a ride out of Mozambique
Arrival in Lilongwe-  Dinner pizza, then breakfast pizza
Also, grilled chicken.  In the Peace Corps world, "Medical" is synonymous with "Food
The Golden Peacock Lodge.  Could they be bothered to advertise, their slogan would read:
  "A purely acceptable standard of accommodation"
The Golden Peacock Lodge
For twenty dollars a night!
A Peace Corps Volunteer on medical leave.  Note the beer, chips, and Internet.
The Shoprite Supermarket.  Mostly, we just like to look at it.
Because we can't afford to pay $10-$15 for a block of cheese
Or $17 for a bottle of shampoo
But it makes us feel a little less homesick
Produce at the outdoor market.  Where real people shop.
A quick view of the Lilongwe City Market
A rickety bridge connecting one side of the market to the other.
The bridge in the background marks the divide between Areas 2 and 3
"Private Bridge, 20 Kwacha"
Market Bridge
Market Bridge
Eeh!  Market Bridge!
Herbal Medicine at the local market-  "Power Charge 24 hours"
Herbal Medicine at the local market-  "Large Machine for Men"
A one-ounce pouch of gin.  Found littering the ground everywhere in Lilongwe.
A very Malawian advertisement
View from the pedestrian bridge, looking towards Area 3
View from the pedestrian bridge, looking towards Area 2
Some very polite, religious graffiti
The Lilongwe Wildlife Center (also known as the Nature Sanctuary)
I am taller than a hippo!  
At the Lilongwe Wildlife Center-  Simple cages surround natural areas, marked with wooden signs
With other Malawian families at the zoo
Boy with a Minnie Mouse backpack on his first visit to the zoo
Simple fences, natural settings
Hiking in the "Wilderness Area."  With nobody else around and plenty of wild animals,
this actually felt quite daring
A sign in the wilderness area warns us not to proceed further along the path
Hitching a ride back to site from the Mozambique/Malawi border.  It's good to come back home.