Letters

Letters 10-27-2014

Paging Doctor Dan: The doctor’s promise to repeal Obamacare reminds me of the frantic restaurant owner hurrying to install an exhaust fan after the kitchen burns down. He voted 51 times to replace the ACA law; a colossal waste of money and time. It’s here to stay and he has nothing to replace it.

Evolution Is Real Science: Breathtaking inanity. That was the term used by Judge John Jones III in his elegant evisceration of creationist arguments attempting to equate it to evolutionary theory in his landmark Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education decision in 2005.

U.S. No Global Police: Steven Tuttle in the October 13 issue is correct: our military, under the leadership of the President (not the Congress) is charged with protecting the country, its citizens, and its borders. It is not charged with  performing military missions in other places in the world just because they have something we want (oil), or we don’t like their form of government, or we want to force them to live by the UN or our rules.

Graffiti: Art Or Vandalism?: I walk the [Grand Traverse] Commons frequently and sometimes I include the loop up to the cistern just to go and see how the art on the cistern has evolved. Granted there is the occasional gross image or word but generally there is a flurry of color.

NMEAC Snubbed: Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) is the Grand Traverse region’s oldest grassroots environmental advocacy organization. Preserving the environment through citizen action and education is our mission.

Vote, Everyone: Election Day on November 4 is fast approaching, and now is the time to make a commitment to vote. You may be getting sick of the political ads on TV, but instead, be grateful that you live in a free country with open elections. Take the time to learn about the candidates by contacting your county parties and doing research.

Do Fluoride Research: Hydrofluorosilicic acid, H2SiF6, is a byproduct from the production of fertilizer. This liquid, not environmentally safe, is scrubbed from the chimney of the fertilizer plant, put into containers, and shipped. Now it is a ‘product’ added to the public drinking water.

Meet The Homeless: As someone who volunteers for a Traverse City organization that works with homeless people, I am appalled at what is happening at the meetings regarding the homeless shelter. The people fighting this shelter need to get to know some homeless families. They have the wrong idea about who the homeless are.

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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