Picture It

Chirombo Village Pt. 1

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 08 June 2010

A man fishing in Chirombo Bay, Malawi.

Two women washing clothes and pots in Chirombo Bay, Malawi.

A man in a makoro, on his way to go fishing in Chirombo Bay, Malawi.

Since I’ve been living on Chirombo Bay for over a month now, I figured it was time for me to actually visit the village nearby.  I’ve walked along the shore a few times, but I hadn’t actually entered the village.

Today, I walked along the water, stopping to photograph some women washing clothes and pots in the lake.  They laughed and talked to me in Chichewa and I responded in English.  Although neither of us understood the other, we had a good time.

Further along the shore, I photographed some men fishing.  They were just leaving to go out on the lake, so I couldn’t talk with them for very long.  As I photographed them, some boys about 100m away saw me and called to me.  I was surprised they saw me–I was standing in some reeds behind a tree–but there are so few azungu (white people) in the area that they get very excited when they see one.

Boys of Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Boys next to a baobab tree in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

I went over to the boys and asked if I could photograph them.  Their English wasn’t very good, but they responded in Chichewa with one of the few words I have learned: “Jambule,” or “Take my picture!”  I motioned for them to stand in the shade (shade is beautiful light for photos, but it’s also much nicer on my burnt shoulders).  As I did earlier in the day, I chatted with them in English while they talked back in Chichewa, even though we only understood a few words of what the other was saying.  After some photos (in the various locations the boys led me to!),  I told the boys that I wanted to see the village.  It took some sign language and pointing on my part, but they soon happily led me up the dirt road to the village.

Within a few seconds of my arrival, a crowd started to form.  The adults peeked out of buildings and the children crept to within a few meters of me.  One man approached me and began asking me about myself.  I asked if he could show me around the village, but he was the only one working at a nearby shop, so he declined.

A homemade alcohol distiller in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

I wandered over to a baobab tree I had passed when I entered the village.  I was intrigued by the writing that covered the lower portion of its trunk, which I was later told listed some of the important members of the village.  I approached a group of men under a tree a few feet away who were discussing the future of the village and those who lived there.  One of the men who spoke very good English, Stanley, gave me a tour of the village.

Homemade Alcohol in Chirombo Village, Malawi

We started at his house, where I met his mother and two children.  He then showed me where he brews his “beer.”  From what I have heard from others, it’s not so much “beer” as it is “nearly pure alcohol.”  Supposedly two shots can make hefty German men pass out.  I was also told that there are some pretty gnarly things in some brews, such as batteries.

A pigeon house in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

But according to Stanley, the ingredients are only water, sugar, and corn.  He lets the mixture sit for three days before he puts it in his distilling contraption where it is boiled.   Somehow (he had difficulty explaining this part) the alcohol leaves the pot, flows down the tube in the log, and drips into a waiting bottle by way of a strip of reed.

Pigeons in the pigeon house. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Near the alcohol distillery, there was a strange, small hut on stilts.  When I looked inside, I found pigeons.  I asked Stanley what he used them for, but he said they are like flowers and are only there for beauty.

Next, he took me to the local school.  I talked to the headmaster, and she gave me permission to spend Thursday morning photographing the school.  I’ll be photographing the oldest students because I am hoping they will be less distracted by me and my camera than the younger children.  We’ll see!

Trip to Lilongwe

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 02 June 2010

I visited Lilongwe this last weekend to advertise my photography business at a fair held at the Bishop Mackenzie International School.  The weekend went well, especially on the business side of things–I will be shooting and helping advertise a new branch of a popular bar in the city and I might (still working on it!) be photographing 65 students at a daycare.

The rest of the weekend included drinks at the bar mentioned above and a braii/barbecue.  Leave it to me to find any Italians or Italian speakers within 100m, as I did at both places!

The most interesting part of my trip (as in the most interesting for you all to read about) would be the bus rides from Monkey Bay to Lilongwe and back.  By car, one can get between the two in about 3 hours.  By bus, it takes over 5 hours.  There is a sign at the front of the bus that says the occupancy maximums are 65 people sitting and 25 people standing.  If you count all the children that sat of various laps, there were probably 75-80 people sitting at any given time and 35-40 people crammed into the aisles–and that doesn’t include the luggage and person-sized bags of corn, beans, and flour that were stacked anywhere they would fit.

On my way to Lilongwe, I had someone sit on my lap, someone sit on my shoulder, someone use my head as an arm rest, and a baby tried to pull my shirt down to nurse.  When I recounted this to Dida, the lady who graciously let me stay with her family that weekend, she laughed and said,”Well, that’s part of the African Experience, I guess…even if most Africans never go through that!”

The ride back was much more manageable.  I decided to sit on top of a stack of bags full of various foodstuffs, which put me too high for people to sit or lean on.  It was also cloudy.  Sometimes a lack of sun beating on you can make all the difference!

I had intended to take a picture of the Lilongwe skyline, but I’d forgotten that the city doesn’t really have one.  There are a few hills and a few multistory buildings, but nothing close together enough or prominent enough to be called a definitive “skyline” or “cityscape” in the way that most other large cities do.  Instead, I’ll leave you with a landscape that I took on my way home.  It’s nothing spectacular since I actually shot it through the window while the bus was in motion, but it will give you an idea of the beauty I got to look at for a few hours this weekend.

View from the bus on my way from Lilongwe back to Monkey Bay, Malawi.