Friday, December 30, 2011

"The same song with different words"

So we had an interesting and very productive meeting at the Ripple offices the other day. It was my first time to meet Force and Joyce from Ripple and they were both impressive and capable. I learned a lot about Ripple's conservation work in the nearby Kandoli Hills where they have set up conservation committees and formed local bylaws with efficiency and deft political skill. According to Force, setting up a similar conservation program along the lakeshore would simply be "the same song with different words." He and Alex have a well thought out game plan for its implementation. I have stated my willingness to assist them but at this stage, where getting approvals from various local government officials is paramount, they are certainly more capable than I. Once the committees are established, a process I am very much interested in documenting rather than assisting in, The Maru, our research center, may have a role in developing a sensitization campaign and literature that the committees will disseminate to the local villagers about the importance of using the lake's resources sustainably and the consequences of not doing so. Following that The Maru will be assisting in the development of a community monitoring program so that the efficacy of any bylaws that are developed can be tested.

The meeting was also a fairly long one however. Force is an expressive fellow and could wax rather eloquently about his passion for conservation. Most of the time, however, if you will exuse the pun, it felt like a pretty forced performance. I don't necessarily blame him for that, nor do I wholly doubt his sincerity, but in retrospect I think the presence of three foreigners at the meeting (out of a total of 6 people) was a mistake. It put Force and the other Malawians into the position of feeling like they needed to perform for us their knowledge of, and allegiance to, what they supposed was our Western conservation ethic. Certainly the meeting would have taken a different course had we not been there. So instead of discussions about operational details such as task allocation, budgeting, strategy, and developing an implementation schedule, we spent most of the time wading through Force's conservation rhetoric.

This is a common problem when westerners take part in or instigate development programs in non-western contexts. Locals whom they enroll in these programs feel the need to spend a great deal of time demonstrating to westerners their allegiance to what they suppose to be our goals. Rather than working with westerners to formulate, on an equal-footing, what those goals should be and how they should be implemented, local counterparts adopt western goals with great enthusiasm (Force was taking his shirt off at one point) but with only partial credibility. And I think the we are mostly to blame for this. We are very bad at recognizing our own reflexivity and at creating non-judgmental spaces within which westerners and locals can creatively and cooperatively devise development programs. And unfortunately the local cultures within which we work often don't help us out very much in this regard in that they tend to be more overtly hierarchical than our own. Locals themselves often find it in easier, or at least more natural, to pledge their allegiance than to stand on an equal footing with us. In Malawi I have often felt myself falling into the roll of a "Bwana" (boss) not because I have actively chosen it but because it is frankly hard to create relationships of parity with local Malawians both because their local culture doesn't operate on such terms and because the history of my culture's interaction with theirs has been so appallingly unequal.

No answers here really but I think valid concerns.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Beach Village Committees.

So on Wednesday I, Alex (our local government fisheries officer) and couple guys from Ripple Africa are going to sit down and make a plan for potentially establishing Beach Village Committees in various "beach villages" along the Chintheche strip. It will be an interesting discussion. Beyond the nebulous goal of "better fisheries management" I'm not sure what, specifically, these committees will work towards, but mostly I am interested in seeing how Alex, the Ripple guys (one of whose very cool name is "Force"), and I can work together with the community and how they go about implementing the program. At this point this "how" is more important to me than the "what" we are actually doing or going to do. In any case the "what" should not be determined by a few fellas (half of whom are foreigners") sitting around a table one morning, but rather through talking to people and seeing what they think are the problems and how they might best be solved.

Good Essays

David Brooks has a good series highlighting some of the best essays of the year here and here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Malawi reading list.

Thanks to Haba na haba for putting this together. Its is a great reading list for those interested in Malawi, from its politics, to its culture, to its development.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A view from afar, and maybe a little encouragment.

So I've been living outside of my birthplace, the USA, for nearly a decade. Over the past couple years I have been following, mostly through the internet, but also through conversations with family and friends back home, how the global economic crisis has affected the way Americans think about themselves, their country, their educations, and their jobs. I just read this article from the Atlantic (which is a very fine publication full of very thoughtful writers) that tries to make a distinction between a "job" and "work" and what it means to have a meaningful job or to do meaningful work. Its worth a read. What struck me while reading it however is not what the author was interested in discussing but with an undertone in the article that I have noticed in many other writings and conversations about the American economy and particularly about finding jobs. People talk of "catching a break," "finding a job," getting employed," the importance of getting a "useful degree." They dwell on topics like structural unemployment, global un-competitiveness, having their jobs "out-sourced," evil corporations, and corrupt governments. Megan McArdle, another great writer at the Atlantic, has written a lot about the trauma of being unemployed and about how a lot of young people who "have done all the right things," gone to university etc, still can't get a job. From the outside one gets the picture that Americans, and particularly the youth, are simply stuck in a bad situation, a bad economy, over which they have no control and no one really has an answer for what they should do.

Here is my modest suggestion. Get out of America. Not because America is a bad place, or a sinking ship, but because it is only one place, one possibility, on a planet with so many other places and possibilities. You live in a larger world than the companies to whom you have sent job applications, than the friends you have now, than your car payment, or favorite bar hang-out. These things are not necessarily bad, but there is more.

And money is not an issue. Again, money is not an issue.

There are so many ways to survive or even thrive outside of America. The possibilities are nearly endless and cost next to nothing. Join the Peace Corps. Work on an organic farm in nearly a hundred different countries. Get an internship in the Scuba Diving industry. Volunteer somewhere (even with us). Teach English. Or just hitch-hike and bum around nearly anywhere. And these are just some of the opportunities that are available even without any job experience or uniquely "useful" skills. With experience and skills the world of possibilities outside America is even greater.

Now if none of this sounds like a good time to you and you would prefer to stay in America, fantastic. But at least know that you are not trapped and at the mercy of a bad situation or a bad economy, but rather someone who has a whole world of opportunities lying at his or her feet and has chosen a certain path. Fight for it, but always remember that there are other paths that could be fought for as well.


Thursday, December 15, 2011 has had a face-lift!

Aquanuts Divers website, located at, has had a little make-over. She is leaner, faster, prettier, and more informative than ever. Check her out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

News from the Beach

-So after a couple of nice rainy days it looks as if the rainy season is officially starting. Today however is sunny, calm, and crisp. And since it is the 1st of the month that means survey time. Monica and I are going to go out this afternoon and survey two transects, one at the Outer Reef and one at Kande Island. It is amazing the diversity of fish out their even among these two transect lines which are only about 300 meters away from each other. Nearly a 1/4 of the species found at each transect are never found at the other one. Our data set is still to small to make any robust conclusions but so far our Kande Island transect is characterized by slightly more abundance and slightly less diversity than the Outer Reef transect. Its our hope that by the middle of this month we will be able to lay another transect line at John's Reef which is 25 meters down and bathymetrically very different from either Kande Island or the Outer Reef.

-There is one more member of the small expat community up here. Congratulations to Richard and Lauren at Makuzi Lodge for their newborn girl, Nyassa.

-Christmas is coming and here at Aquanuts and The Maru we are thinking of something special to offer our friends and customers. Stay tuned!

-Road Trip! Joy and I will be taking a road trip through Southern Africa in January next year down to Cape Town. We are thinking about going through Mozambique and Zimbabwe on the way down and through Botswana and Zambia on the way back. After years in Africa I still have never been to Victoria Falls so we are going to try hard and fit that in. South Luangwa National Park, Chobe, Hwange, and Bulawayo are also all on the possible list. I am open to pointers.