1. the light-flies are swimming across my screen; the lake sounds like an ocean ; it feels more like an island here than part of a large continent called africa.
for now we are in Mozambique, volunteering at Nkwichi lodge and with the Manda Wilderness project, living in a hut near lake niassa/malawi and doing many things with the lodge and with the community projects, writing more stories, walking in the bush slightly scared of potential leopards, watching baboons jumping across trees above us ; trying to have enough time and space to properly write about time looking through overcrowded bus windows at lives of great inspiration and strength bumping by. but for now a few photos and a few notes from a couple of weeks ago.
update from 13 august.
1. It’s been just over a month now since I left England; the short 1 week visit that was England; mainly Haywards Heath; that was meeting my family again for the first time in 12 years, that was my cousin Esther’s wedding, that was directionless walks around the hobgoblin woods and empty fields in the rain, photographing puddles and street signs, cottages and mud. What was there was the attempt to live in that part of the world while I found a job and started to have an income after just under a year of ‘being unemployed’. I was only going to be there for 6 months perhaps – perhaps less; but I wasn’t really there, and I wasn’t hoping to stay.
I have always dreamed of travelling to Africa; maybe since hearing Ladysmith Black Mombazo on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ when dad played it on the car cassette player when i was a kid. Or since knowing that both my parents came to this continent, and spent 6 months here on separate journey’s. What they both loved and learned here is what I learned so far away in Australia. Yet I am still trying to uncover their adventures, stories and histories, and being here is helping that process to unfold.
I flew to Nairobi on the 13th of July with Ethiopian Airlines, the plane was mostly empty which, despite making me feel guilty about tonnes and tonnes of unseeable gases being shat into the atmosphere later to rise their ugly shapes in the form of… islanders being displaced perhaps… well, it meant I had an extra space between me and Daniel, the 17 year old Zambian guy who was returning home after 1 year of school in the UK. He was so happy to be returning to ‘space’ – to his family, to the life so far removed from the raining concrete land of northern England.
So I drank a few plastic cups of wine and read Broomberg and Channarin essays about war and trauma, and photographic processes that attempt to depict them. I read about human anxiety, about horror and violence, about sometimes empty images that show this sometimes more powerfully than a scene from war. The sky started to grow light and clouds blue-white growing pinkish-grey. I slept a minute or two before arriving in Addis Abbaba for a short layover. There I ate the seaweed snacks my aunty Hae-Soon had packed for me, she also gave me two new t-shirts and 5 pairs of underwear from Korea.
The airport at Nairobi was hectic and scattered, with very little instruction as to where to go and which forms to fill out. H1N1 forms, visa forms, what money do you have, I’m only here for 2 days and I have to pay how much?
We drove to where em was staying in her godmother’s house in the expat gated, fenced, maided, guarded area of Nairobi, where I was shocked when I saw a yuppie driving a 4×4. My fist impressions of driving through Nairobi were still trying to figure out if I was there or not – the landscape already began to feel slightly and strangely familiar – perhaps because I was back in the southern hemisphere after 8 months…? Pretty standard images of workers working on roads, markets, shops, buildings, men women children getting about their business – as people do. It wasn’t until later driving around with emma through the streets past the greenbelts, maize, vegetables, fruit growing in every and any empty space possible, past women carrying everything on their heads, water, buckets, clothes, sacks, and children strapped onto their backs with sarongs, past the lines of markets and people selling everything from socks and flowers to dogs and nuts in between the traffic, just asking for something, anything.
2. The smoke; the smell; the constant smell of smoke, of burning wood, burning grass, leaves, corn, chicken, oil.. plastic. This smell- it’s so familiar to dry season top end Northern Territory – to south coast camping – to desert swags and cups of tea.. It’s everywhere, it coats every other smell around- it’s comforting, it’s a smell of things that keep going- whatever that means.
I stayed just 2 days before we caught the bus over the border to Tanzania, on a public bus that broke down before we left the outskirts of Nairobi. We changed buses and trip was mostly bumpy, dodging potholes, and onto road-work diversions of dirt roads and landscapes that took me to outback south Australia, that took me to places of such familiarity in some ways, and also places of such newness-oldness. Whatever that means. Villagers/villages – mud brick huts with grass-thatched roofs. Tribes-peoples standing on the side of the road in traditional dress, with long sticks.. rubber tire sandals…
3. Everyone is working. From age 2 till 102. Carrying wood on bicycles, so high it shouldn’t be possible, carrying water, carrying sacks, clothes… children pumping water out of the ground into buckets, dancing and singing all the while… how to describe the feeling that people here know how to survive. Perhaps that’s conceited, this-life-looks-fucking-hard. But this is also life. And life that has been this way for….ever. And it looks like life that is like no other I have seen being lived before a life that is about life and living and ever action taken in order to keep living. And that’s also conceited because how much more inside those huts, out of view, or in the valley’s and fields not seen from the road, how much more to this life there is – of culture, tradition, history, country, landscape, stories, animals, spirits.. god…
So a stop in Arusha, northern Tanzania for two nights before a 19-hour bus ride to southern Tanzania not far from the border of Malawi. We’re cramped in an over-crowded over-weighted bus with luggage lining the isle and falling from the compartments overhead. Whenever there’s a village stop crowds form to shove sweets, chicken, corn, coke and bananas through the bus windows. We drive past fields where there are elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, dear and baboons – I giggle and shriek with the excitement of a child – ah –as if.. of course, they really exist after all, and I didn’t have to pay for a safari. All the locals on the bus are pointing them out for us Mzungu (white people) – they seem to be excited too which is comforting. Drove through a ‘valley of boabs’ – twisting and winding around mountains – the silver elephant-like trees climbing the hills, almost flickering as sun-sets, people quieten and the wind starts to cool.
4. Next day we cross to Malawi – no border fee and no one to tell us where to go or how to get there. Just a few scribbles of how much each leg to the capital city Lilongwe should take. 1000 Malawian Kwacha (AU$9) from here to Karonga, 1000MK from Karonga to Mzuzu in a share taxi/mini-van that are all only serviced just enough to keep functioning on the road. Then 1500MK from Mzuzu to Lilongwe – should get there by 10pm. It arrives at 1am. We are two of maybe 5 that get off the bus here, we’re uncertain whether we’re in the right place. We ask, is this Lilongwe? Yes… where is every one else going? To Blantyre… which is another 6hours drive south, the bigger city. Lilongwe is more like Canberra, business and politics. Blantyre, like Sydney perhaps. I haven’t made it there yet. Maybe next time.
5. So the next or the past 4 weeks were spent working on a project for the Mineral Policy Institute with Reinford Mwagonde from the Citizen’s For Justice on gathering information, community testimonies and a general understanding on how Paladin Energy have been operating in their Kayelekera uranium mine, the first uranium mine in Malawi and the ‘standard’ on which further mines will be based. Paladin are an Australian company which couldn’t get their feet off the ground there because of government regulations which are ‘too stringent’ – which have forced them to mine in Africa – taking advantage of lower standards of living, an unemployment rate at 85%, lax legislation (nothing that deals with radioactive materials) and minimal understanding about the dangers of uranium.
So we visited the village of Kayelekera, not far from Karonga in the north, we spoke to villagers and workers about what they have been told, about how much they get paid, about their working conditions and about uranium in general. We weren’t trying to scare people or instill fear. Just gain an understanding of the ways in which Paladin have been operating in Malawi. And oh how familiar it is to Australia! A company comes in and promises poor communities basic human services, like roads, schools, health clinics, clean water, and jobs, etc. in return for a 10+ year uranium mine that leaves the people, country and lake with a radioactive legacy lasting tens of thousands of years. So they come in and tear the community apart, divide them, those that want answers, those that are willing to be paid off, those who will suffer for their ignorance.. suffer because they are already suffering and the idea of an income is better than none.
We speak to some elders, some wise men and village leaders around Karonga, who are against the mine, and know Paladin are only there to make money off the peoples’ ignorance, poverty and labour.
One man, Kapote, reminded me so much of Yami Lester, a Yankunkajara man from Walatinna station, South Australia – his warmth, his humour, his mannerisms, his style, his strength, his.. elderness… it was so warming to have this man so familiar to my life in australia over here in africa.
and so. We will continue to work on this campaign, we will come back in September to hold some community meetings/education information sessions about uranium mining and the health and environmental impacts. Hold some sessions with Reinford in ways appropriate to disseminate information about these things. The questions begs is how we can come here and tell people about all the dangers when we aren’t offering any alternative… this is always the question…
you can read the article i wrote for IPS here;
6. We are in Monkey Bay now, on the southern tip of Lake Malawi – a 9 hour bus ride in another ‘chicken bus’ (buses that cram people in like chickens) for a 300km or less journey. It is beautiful, calm, not all that quiet, but we’re staying in a backpackers on the lakes edge – there aren’t many people staying here so it’s nice.
We walk through a village to get here. Children often screaming mzungu mzungu, give me money, give me the bottle, how are you? mzungu mzungu… laughing waving, laughing some more. Like everywhere else we have been.
so we are getting on the Ilala tomorrow, the boat that will take us over-night under the stars to Mozambique. 28 hours on the lake. We’re going to an eco-lodge/community development trust that emma’s godmothers children run on the lake in the Nyassa region. Where I hope to be working on the farm, being taught how to love and tend to fruit, vegetables and grain with all I can muster, by a Mozambiqan farmer. Perhaps we’ll be painting a school, doing some other work around the lodge and with the villagers that they work with. Also doing more research and work around uranium mining in the Lake Malawi catchment area, if there is any funding perhaps. Also trying to write the occasional story and do the occasional photo-essay for IPS to attempt to bring in some subsistence money. But I dream of also a lot of swimming and snorkelling in the lake, walking, reading, sleeping and writing . We’ll be there for 3 months, if all goes to plan. And then afterwards.. well. That’s afterwards.
it seems like too much to write about and too many words not writing about what I wanted – but before I leave the world of connections, even though they are so temperamental, inconsistent, slow and frustrating – I wanted to get this up here, just to show I am no longer sitting in my uncles home looking at the rain through the conservatory window wondering where I will be next.