Meet up in Malawi? May 17, 2010 1:44 AM   Subscribe

Any MeFites in or around Blantyre, Malawi?

Hello all, I'm here in lovely Blantyre (well, lovely Chichiri anyway), and will be here until mid-August. I would be delighted to get a cold one, go for a walk around town, or on a trip to the market, or basically anything while I'm here.

Any pro-tips from past visitors/residents would be most appreciated as well, Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by palindromic to MetaFilter Gatherings at 1:44 AM (14 comments total)

I have alerted the only person I know in Malawi to this thread. Good luck! I've only heard amazing things.
posted by piratebowling at 5:34 AM on May 17, 2010

My old public health mentor is director of Peace Corps operations there, Vic Barbiero. Great guy if you cross paths with him-- he's an old USAID guy who specializes in neglected tropical disease (wrote his dissertation on Onchocerciasis), but is also conversant in maternal & child health. MeMail me and I'll send along his contact info-- he's always willing to talk with aspiring public health folks.
posted by The White Hat at 6:58 AM on May 17, 2010

A friend of mine is heading there on...sunday? Until about the same time as you. I'll pass along the message.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:46 AM on May 17, 2010

Malawi: rhymes with mathowie!

Sort of.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:24 AM on May 17, 2010

I'm not in Blantyre, Malawi. I've never been to Blantyre, Malawi. But I'm damned if I'm going to pass up what is probably the only chance I'll ever have to tell this story on MeFi.

My uncle Gerald was a smart guy, very smart. He skipped two years at high school, went to Glasgow University at 16 and graduated before he was 20, with a first in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. Three months after graudation, he's still living at home – he and my dad, five years younger, shared a bedroom – and teaching physics and engineering at Holy Cross high in Hamilton (my dad was in his class).

Anyway, my dad's family is from Blantyre – the one in Scotland; birthplace of explorer David Livingstone and the reason why Blantyre, Malawi was so named. And Gerald had a theory about Blantyre. He said people from Blantyre suffered from Exterminating Angel Syndrome. In Buñuel's film, a group of people turn up for a dinner party and, come the end of the evening, find themselves unable to leave the drawing room, despite there beiong no physical barrier to doing so. People from Blantyre – a depressed former mining town with all the bucolic charm of a tarpit, where sectarian, football-related violence, heavy duty alcoholism and generational joblessness are endemic – suffered similarly. You are born there, educated there – with maybe a brief escape to Glasgow if you're lucky – you will marry someone from there, have kids there, and die there, whilst your kids carry on the tradition. Now, there's nothing stopping you from leaving; it's just that the escape velocity required is perhaps beyond most of Blantyre's residents. Gerald was determined that he was going to get out, though – and he did his damndest to encourage my dad to do the same, even though he did, conforming to Exterminating Angel Syndrome, marry my mum, who grew up three streets away and was therefore herself a product of EAS.

So Gerald moved to Glasgow. He got married. Lived in a nice flat in the west end. Taught at the University. Had a couple of kids. Moved to a nice house in the country, safe in the knowledge that he had broken the vicious cycle that was Exterminating Angel Syndrome.

Then, in the early 1970s, he and Helen get itchy feet. The countryside north of Glasgow is lovely – they're five miles away from Loch Lomond, and that's pretty special – but they want to go elsewhere, preferably before the kids are old enough to start school. Get them out of grey, dreary '70s Britain for a while, let them see the world, experience other cultures, climates and lifestyles. So they sign up for one of these teach-in-Africa programmes; they figure, good socialist humanitarians they are, that they could really help out: Gerald's engineering skills and Helen's medical knowledge (she was a nurse at the time) are exactly the sort of things needed. They get invited for an interview, and they're accepted. The guy asks where they want to go; Gerald says anywhere except South Africa.

So they sell or give away most of their stuff: furniture, clothes, books, records, all that junk that lives in hallway cupboards and gathers dust in the attic. Two weeks later, they're on their way to Malawi, where Gerald will teach and Helen will help run a nursing programme. They'll be living in Blantyre. That they do, for the next six years, and they're wonderfully happy: fulfilling, meaningful jobs, friendly people, a really different way of life for the kids, who otherwise would probably be mouldering in some ropey primary school on the outskirts of Glasgow. Then, in 1980, Gerald has a heart attack. It's the middle of the night; he's in bed; he doesn't make it to the hospital in time. He was only 39. He was buried in the local cemetery. So he made it to Africa, but Exterminating Angel Syndrome got him nonetheless, thus confirming his own theory: you never make it out of Blantyre, no matter how hard you try.
posted by Len at 9:15 AM on May 17, 2010 [170 favorites]

Great storytelling, Len - reminds me of Dahl.
posted by Devika at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2010

I know a young accounting student local to Blantyre who helped me out with some research. Here's his blog and he's also on facebook. We gave him an old laptop in early 2008 when we met him as a stable hand in Pretoria saving up for college and its been a pleasure to watch him figure the "world" out... I'd love it if you were to contact him and talk to him and say hello. Or if you need a local guide or some part time help I'd recommend him highly. Email me and I'll introduce you to him.

(his blog isn't updated because he's off earning money for his next term of study)
posted by infini at 12:46 PM on May 17, 2010

Is it uncouth to suggest a sidebar for Len's comment?
posted by disillusioned at 2:37 PM on May 17, 2010

Is it uncouth to suggest a sidebar for Len's comment?

I flagged it as a "fantastic comment" for just that reason (I think that's what gets the mods' attention for side-bar-worthy comments).
posted by amyms at 2:47 PM on May 17, 2010

I flagged it too. Thanks for the wonderful mid-afternoon diversion, Len, and the great family story.
posted by jokeefe at 3:56 PM on May 17, 2010

Yeah, cool story.

I'm on my way to Malawi, leaving Arusha today and transiting in Nairobi tomorrow, should be in Lilongwe by lunch tomorrow. I may be down to Blantyre next week for some training sessions with our staff there. I'll shoot you a me-mail and maybe we can turn this thread into an official meet-up by some time next week.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:07 AM on May 18, 2010

All right! I was worried I would get no responses after doing a brief check of nearby MeFi folk. I keep hearing the locals tell me about how it's winter here and so on, but to a hardy Midwestern girl such as myself, this is about perfect.

The internet access I have here is a bit dodgy, so give me a day or two to respond to any emails.

And, Len, great story. :)
posted by palindromic at 1:18 AM on May 18, 2010

Cheers everyone; glad you enjoyed the story. And palindromic: apologies for hijacking your meetup thread for family anecdotage. If there is a Malawi meetup, I'll be there in spirit – please do raise a glass for Gerald, because if he was conscious enough in his last few moments, he'd have fucking loved the irony. Not to mention being proved right about his theory.

And just in case anyone was wondering, by the way: my mum and dad did make it out of Blantyre, thus defying Exterminating Angel Syndrome. Despite being born in Stirling, I have not fared so well: I never lived in Blantyre, but EAS is a poweful force. For the past 16 years I've lived in Glasgow. I moved into my current flat three years ago. On ... Blantyre Street.
posted by Len at 1:11 PM on May 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Fucks sakes Len that's a brilliant tale. I never thought I'd see a story featuring Lanarkshire's Blantyre, Holy Cross High and socialist humanitarianism rolled up into a wonderful anecdote sidebarred on MeFi but wonders will never cease.

Cheers for that, we should definitely raise a glass to Gerald at the next Glasgow meet-up (I nearly said 'in Blantyre' but, frankly, fuck that. It would be a terrifying irony too far).
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:12 PM on May 18, 2010

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