Sunday, June 20, 2010

I’m Breaking the Habit

Where I do my most productive work. Habits are one of the universal human qualities. No matter where you go in the world there are always repetitive things to be done on a day to day basis and being habitual is so hard wired into our humanity that even things that aren’t necessary, or good for you become bad habits (I was so thoroughly convinced that coming to Malawi would be the end of my nail biting, but alas old habits die hard).

I know that back home in Canada, the most habitual part of my day was definitely the mornings going through the same little cleansing rituals before I was ready to start my day: brushing, washing, soaping, scrubbing, rinsing, conditioning, shampooing, shaving, after-shaving, trimming, moisturizing, dressing then nourishing. Eventually even continuing on to classes on campus becomes habitual and some days a little bit mundane. I can definitely say that I have yet to have a mundane day in Malawi. However some things never change, and my mornings are just as habitual as ever, and they last about three times as long.

Don't worry mom/EWB National Office I now tuck this part of the net under the bed, and am thus far malaria-free (though I don't know what I will do come a second chicken attack)I wake up in the morning, usually to the sound of roosters and light rain on the corrugated aluminum roof and tie up my mosquito net to protect it from chicken damage, as there are particular poultry around the house that seem partial to my room, and laying eggs in my bed. Then I make my bed and throw on the clothes I was wearing yesterday.

Still bleary eyed I stumble outside and sit with my aunts in our kitchen Boiled bananas was a treat for breakfast one morning. The kitchen can be seen in the background. as they heat bath water for the kids, and Loveness, my host cousin sweeps debris in the yard with a dry-grass broom. The kids in the family all have to get off to school, so they are first to bathe, scrubbing themselves down (or sometimes being scrubbed down by Mrs. Longwe, my host mother). They then get dressed in their blue and yellow, or blue and white school uniforms, get a piece of bread in a plastic bag, or a bowl of rice thrust in their hands and they’re off down the path. Finally my bath water is heating.

Being almost a head taller than anyone in my family makes bathing slightly challenging. There is no running water in Mpamba so a bucket of warm water is taken into a small brick stall with a chitenje curtain and a piece of corrugated aluminumMy luxirous, though too short bathroom covering half the top.  Unfortunately the stall is only about 4 and a half feet tall, so I find myself squatting low over the bucket rinsing, soaping and rinsing again. In Malawi I’ve lost the luxury of conditioning, shampooing and all these other niceties of my old bathroom. Amazingly one bar of soap does it all, it makes me wonder why I waste money on all these other products. 

After bathing I towel dry and quickly scurry back to my room to get dressed for the day as it’s chilly in the mornings, and usually drizzling (the rainy season doesn’t really end until August). If it’s one of the rare days I’m off to the district water office in Nkhata Bay Boma (the district capital) for a meeting to which CCAP (my partner organization) has been invited I throw on my black “bwana[1]” dress shoes, slacks and a dress shirt, but most days it’s jeans, flip-flops and a golf shirt for field work.

Aaron, my host cousin offering me powdered milk and sugar fo my teaGoing back out to the kitchen, I try and help my aunts prepare the second batch of breakfast and they shoo me away. About 20 to 40 minutes later a hot piece of chigumu[2], a steaming bowl of rice or a plate of hot boiled sweet potatoes and cassava is in my lap, always accompanied by a cup of tea and the question, “you don’t take sugar!?”.  Something I seem to explain almost every morning.

After I’ve finished eating and brushing my teeth with lightly chlorinated water from my water bottle I walk into town with Foster to his shop, where his wife has already opened for the morning and either wait for a minibus to Mzuzu or Mpamba or meet with Ben (another area mechanic) and Chance (a health surveillance agent) with their bikes to do some surveying around Timbiri, the Traditional Authority (TA) that Mpamba lies within.

Once my day is underway it’s been about three hours from me waking up, which is considerably longer than waiting in line for a residence shower that I used to dread back home.


[1] Boss in Chitonga

[2] Malawian corn bread


  1. I liked this.
    And I miss you

  2. Awesome post Dan! Brought back so many memories. It's cool to see how your day has changed since moving to Malawi. A few quick comments:

    1. I discovered around month two that I could bring a cup with me when bathing, which lets you stand up AND helps you reach those difficult places.
    2. I had my heart set on quitting biting my nails too! Worked while in Malawi, but now that I'm back I've started again.
    3. How does it feel knowing how different your life has become? Are you content with the new lifestyle, longing for home, or still adjusting?
    4. How is your head holding up? You tioned how much taller you are than everyone - does this translate into hitting your head every time you walk through a door, or stand up indoors?


  3. It's about time you figured out you didn't need that massive bucket of stuff that you carry with to the shower every morning....and sometimes fill with cold water and dump on un-suspecting people. Sounds like things are going good over there and I hope that they continue to do so...btw I'm working and living in your home town living in Karl Reimer's parent's basement.

  4. oh and btw i asked alkema about the twitter thing and he said it's possible but some scripting would need to be done

  5. Great post Dan! I'm curious if everything else in your day is also slower. If it takes you 3 hours to get ready in the morning, I'm almost afraid to ask you how long it takes you to eat dinner!

  6. hey Dan! Great post :) I had the same problem with chickens and my mosquito net. I hope you have a needle and thread or something to fix it up with!

  7. Ya, I just tuck the crappy part of my net under my bed.

    Rob, thanks for all the questions. I do bump my head tons, but that's not so different from back in Canada, and my host mom always laughs as I groan, rub my head and tell her I'm to big for this world. As for adjusting, I've found living here rather natural. Things are slower, dustier and road travel is an adrenaline rush but otherwise I've found everything fairly normal. Oh... and language, can't forget language.

    Congrats on your job Postma (though of course the terms almost over now) and I somehow new when I was writing this post you would comment about the bathing... figures

    Josh, yes I am still a slow eater, but what's more ridiculous is the volume I've come to eat. I was trying to explain to Foster, my counterpart that a nice lunch in Canada would be soup and a sandwich he was completely shocked. He said, only that? You will go back to Canada and starve. IRONY!