Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

Remember Bush-Cheney Does anyone remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? They were president and vice president a mere eight years ago. Does anyone out there remember the way things were at the end of their duo? It was terrible...

Mass Shootings And Gun Control The largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred December 29,1890, when 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.” The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms...

Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

Home · Articles · News · Extra · Postcard From Malawi
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Postcard From Malawi

- March 31st, 2014  

This is the fourth in a series of Postcards From Malawi by Jodee Taylor who, with her husband, Joe Mielke, is helping a Malawian friend open a lodge and restaurant at the foot of Mount Mulanje. Read more at her blog at http://mymulanje.wordpress.com.

The business model of Malawi is like none I’ve ever worked with before. I don’t think I’ve successfully completed a transaction in the three months I’ve been here.

Sure, I’ve bought food and toothpaste and books, but I haven’t truly succeeded at any “business.” Which is awkward, because I’m here to help open a small B&B.

One of my first attempts was to try to get a refrigerator to hold beer and pop. I got names and phone numbers of a salesperson and a manager at the regional distributor. I called the salesperson to set up a time to meet with her. She said she was in a meeting and would call me back (that’s another weird thing; Malawians answer their phones no matter what’s going on, whether they’re at work or getting stopped by the police. Probably has something to do with no voice-mail). I waited three days, and called her again. She was on her way to a work retreat and couldn’t talk. I called back a week later and we arranged to meet at 11 a.m. the following Wednesday.

She never showed up. I called and texted and she never responded.

I found this odd, especially because I was trying to spend money with her company. Someone who has lived here for years told me that businesspeople in Malawi have the attitude they’re doing you a favor. It doesn’t matter that you’re the one spending money; they are the ones holding the strings and you have to play by their rules.

I kept that in mind when I tried to order signs for the B&B. We’d already been to the offset printing business, which was fancy and high-tech and in a big, glass building. The guy we dealt with there gave us a tour, showed us some of their other work, gave us an estimate and promised a quick turnaround. I got his business card and told him I’d be in touch when the artwork was ready.

Granted, it was a couple weeks until the artwork was ready but when I emailed it to him, I got no response. I sent a followup email. No response. I called the phone number on his business card and it rang and rang. I called the other phone number on his business card and a recording said, “This phone number does not exist.” I went to the website and emailed the “info@...” address and got no response.

The owner of the B&B found another printer and wrapped up the transaction.

Several more oddities have happened in the ensuing weeks. We’re staying at another lodge while ours is under construction. We had a week-long power outage and never heard from the manager nor were offered any help. In fact, I never even met the manager until I went to his office to report smoke coming out of the cottage next to us (he didn’t do anything about it. We had to track down an electrician).

Most of the businesses in Malawi are small, family owned and especially lovely when the business owner takes pride in his or her work. But the small businesses have their own tactic - the azungu price.

Because I am white, I am considered rich. It doesn’t matter that I am not rich or that my boss is Malawian; just my mere presence jacks up the price, sometimes by a few kwacha and sometimes by 10 times the regular price. If I’m shopping somewhere that doesn’t have marked prices, I am assured of paying more than the Malawian next to me. Most of our food comes from local markets, where a pineapple (locally grown and delicious) sells for about 250 kwacha (62 cents). It’s a pittance, I know, so I feel silly dickering. But the guy in front of me only paid 150 kwacha, so I insist on the same price. “Azungu!,” the vendor mutters. I put the pineapple back and go to the next vendor or a vendor 10 stalls down, but it doesn’t matter. The azungu price has been set.

Yet it backfires, Malawians, so wise up. We’ve found vendors who charge us a fair price and we keep returning to them. So the 250 kwacha you could have made from me in one day actually becomes 1,500 kwacha over the course of a week.

Who’s getting azungu’d now?

 
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