Day 23 to Day 27 - June 19th–23rd

We left our seaside cottages where we spent two days relaxing (with only marginal Internet).

The lodge was beautifully maintained, which is amazing, given that the laborers who take care of it only get paid $1/day. A one-day stay here for the four of us pays an employee’s wages for one year and 3 months.

The couple who runs it works very closely with the tribal leaders of the village on the adjacent property. The chiefs in the village are reluctant to try anything new. The village is sustained financially through a variety of non-profits, church groups, and this small eco-lodge.

The lodge actually had hot water heated by building a fire under a 55-gallon drum. The system worked very well but it required a lot of tending:

We headed inland into the mountains away from Lake Malawi. We came across a rubber plantation that was planted in 1980. Of course, we had to go in to investigate.

The diagonal slits that you see in this picture need to be cut approximately every two days:

The plastic that you see above collects rainwater, preventing it from getting into the tub that collects the tree’s latex. Not much latex seems to be gathered despite the labor intensive process they use. Workers receive only $1/day. From what I could understand, the value of the latex is approximately $1 per pound after half the water has been removed.

Further down the road we met a Rastafarian fellow who had a roadside stand selling balls made of latex. He was wearing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. jersey. He was such a smooth talker that Vince ended up buying a ball and giving it to me. “Rasty” (as we called him) asked what BMW on our motorcycles stands for, and Helge told him it is for Bob Marley and The Wailers. “Rasty” was very impressed and went on to show us how to cut a tree and to offer us some of his special pot. I neglected to give him my usual lecture about the evils of pot and hashish. I think he was too far gone.

Malawi recognizes the need for contraception and for preventing the transmission of AIDS. Witness this sign on the border of Malawi and Tanzania:

It strikes me that U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) could start condom-manufacturing businesses here. With access to latex and cheap labor, they have the necessary ingredients. All they need is the help of a little industrial engineering to be on their way. The same could be done producing bicycles. The bicycle is a huge improvement over carrying something on the top of your head. More bicycles would allow more children here to get to school. The only manufacturing we saw was related to wood products, like carved furniture.

We proceeded into the mountains over some beautiful hills. It was actually chilly.

There were accidents along the way. This fuel truck went over the side of the hill:

The driver escaped with only bumps and bruises, but the tanker burned for three days.

Our next stop was at a beautiful beach on Lake Malawi.

There were some interesting people there with us.

There were two buses filled with young tourists – one bus was traveling north to south; the other bus traveling south to north. The tourists would squeeze into their bus in the morning and drive for 8-12 hours. They would arrive at a campsite, set up their tents and cook dinner. They shared in the chores. I cannot imagine that this would be a pleasant way to see Africa. In one of the buses the tourists were European, mostly Germans. In the other bus the tourists were mostly Canadians. We met Archon, one of the tourists, who had recently given up a job with Deloitte Consulting in Cleveland. Upon his return to the States, he will be attending the University of Michigan business school.

We encountered a touring group of Scientologists holding seminars. They would gather a crowd and give classes on how to live better. It was interesting that they did not use the word Scientology on their bus – sort of hiding their brand.

They struck me as being similar to other religious groups: interested in “selling” their dogma, but not necessarily in helping the African people in the specific areas that are most important to them, like education, family planning and economic development. We did not learn much of interest from these guys except for the way they used the Internet. Wireless here is unbelievably slow. At this location it took an hour for me to send a 15-minute dictation and photos were impossible. Instead of trying to elbow their way onto a wireless system, they use a gongle. It is a cell phone card that plugs into your computer and accesses the local cell phone provider to get on their Internet. This is something we need to figure out.

The next day we met two school administrators.

The one on the left is the manager of a group of schools; the one in the middle runs the school nearby. They have 1,000 students and seven teachers. These gentlemen were complaining about the fact that aid that goes to education in Malawi is largely consumed by the bureaucrats – little of it gets down to the teaching level. We visited a school that had a large collection of brand new books in a storeroom. The principal explained that they could not use these books because the children ruined them. It is clear to us that the educational infrastructure is a bureaucracy that is founded deeply in patronage and friendships – just dribbles get to the students.

I think programmed learning could be used effectively in Africa, at least for the lower grades. There would be a large television set at the front of the classroom. Each student would have a small keyboard and monitor. The television would play the part of the teacher – the student could respond using his keyboard. There could be a way to pay the school administrators based upon numbers of students who have taken the class each day and how effectively they have learned. This could be monitored by a video camera attached to the cell phone systems that cover nearly the entire country. In time a stronger teacher base could be built and more conventional teaching techniques could be used.

We saw all sorts of things being transported by bicycle. Here is a live sheep strapped on the back of one:

We got to the border of Tanzania and had an easy passage over.

We bought some fruit from this family:

And met this chap from England:

He is riding his bike 4,000 kilometers from the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania all the way to the Skeleton Coast of Namibia on the Atlantic Ocean. He was being bullied by some money-changers and Helge got fairly aggressive with them. This is not a place to travel alone. They were big men, and he was not able to deal with them adequately.

Lake Malawi to Tanzania
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