Since I was here last Racheal has built a new outdoor kitchen, storage and washing area. The house was finished one year ago, but like all African houses, the kitchen and washing areas are outside. Glass windows and iron bars have been fitted in the house, making it more secure. Most houses don’t have windows as they can’t afford them, so they build the houses from mud bricks and mud between them – no cement is used in the construction of most houses – and they build the window frames but then brick them up until they can afford the windows, which sometimes is never. Racheal didn’t do that when she built her house, leaving the windows open but putting mosquito netting in front of them. Unfortunately, one result of this was that the house was broken into twice, once when I was there. The thieves came in the night when it was pouring with rain and as we slept the thieves quietly went through her bags and even took two phones right by the bed. Luckily, they missed all my stuff, which was a small miracle. The thieves even came back one week later when I wasn’t there and Racheal’s brother caught one of them, who even turned up the following day trying to make an excuse for why he was loitering around their houses. A report to the police, even with the confirmation of the identity of the thief produced no response. Apparently they are afraid to confront the thieves, who are well-known in the local village.
The floor of the house is made of compacted mud and one of the first chores of the day is sweeping the whole house – not really that big – and getting rid of all the accumulated dust and mud. Soon after the house was built, there was an infestation of some kinds of bugs that would burrow their way up through the floor leaving gaping holes, and they would appear in a multitude of places. Racheal, in a fit of frustration poured the remainder of the stuff used to impregnate mosquito nets, but they seemed to thrive on it. Things seem to have died down right now but as I sweep in the morning, I still see some little mud towers rising above the ground, testament to some creative insect activity in the night. But no sign of mass activity for a while. Racheal’s mother did have an infestation of red ants the other day – really intense little creatures that bite like hell and that you do not want coming into the home. Luckily they were by the storage room next to the kitchen outside and don’t seem to have come into the house, yet!
Of course, even though a new house, the tin roof still leaks when it rains like hell, making holes in the mud flow below. The tin roof also makes the house extraordinarily hot, like an oven that seems to melt the brain from the inside out. On really hot days, every foot in altitude toward the roof is 10 degrees hotter.
People in Malawi and for that matter, most other parts of Africa are being tormented by cheap Chinese goods. An argument can be made that at least these goods are available now, as there is very little manufacturing industry in most Sub Saharan African countries, South Africa the exception, and so many imported products are the same price as in the West. Now cheaper products are coming in from China, from clothes, shoes and all sorts of building supplies, plastics, electronics etc. But most are so badly made they fall apart very quickly. Shoes are infamous that way and rarely last that long. People are just used to them lasting a short time. But still, maybe it is better than nothing. Whether the same thing could be said about larger Chinese infrastructure projects, time will tell. Many roads are being built by Chinese people, where they import the labor and also all the equipment. The fear is though that African governments will sell off land rights and mineral extraction rights to Chinese companies and government and get shoddy work in exchange. There is an ongoing debate about the relative merits of the Chinese relationship to Africa and the old Colonial ways, bringing Commerce, Christianity and Civilization to the poor heathen masses. As I have written on my blogs on Ghana, Christianity (and Islam) are very firmly established here and any irony of the importation of a white man’s religion after the abuses of colonization seem to be missed. The Chinese relationship may be simpler but it would seem likely that many African countries will be tempted to sell off their land way too cheaply and even then, little of that money would ever trickle down to the average person.