Thursday, January 19, 2012

Working with Mzuzu University and other News from the Beach

-So Alex and I had a meeting with the lecturers at Mzuzu University’s Fisheries Department. Mr. Elias Chirwa welcomed our ideas about forming a closer relationship between the Maru Research Center and their department particularly in regards to sending some of their students down to the Research Center “on attachment” to do field research with us.

- Joy and I leave for Cape Town on Sunday. While there we will be meeting with my former master’s degree supervisor, Merle Sowman. She is a hugely active and capable researcher and program implementer at the University of Cape Town who is currently involved in a UNFAO project that will promote awareness about the importance of community-based management in coastal and aquatic zones in Malawi. I can’t wait to learn more about it.

- I’d like to thank all the Peace Corps volunteers working with the Maru on our underwater survey program. We’ve trained three volunteers so far and two more are in the works. With their help we will be able to expand survey sites and the data analysis that we do on them.

- Belated congratulations to all Malawian’s on the anniversary of the death of Rev. John Chilembwe, who died 97 years ago while fighting for the independence of Malawi from colonial rule.

- And one more fish picture. This little fella is proving a bugger to identify definitively. For now we call him Pseudotropheus sp. “silver” though Maylandia sp. “silver” may be closer to the mark.


Monday, January 9, 2012

The Maru gets a face lift and other News from the Beach

-So I gave Aquanuts Divers' website,, a face lift a month ago and I've finally been able to do the same from the Maru Research Center's website, Check us out and see what we are up to.

- We've got some new Peace Corps volunteers working with us this weekend and some older ones who ready to do their first underwater survey training. Its exciting to have more people researching with us. With them on board we can really start expanding the number of our survey sites.

- Joy and I are off on a road trip on the 22nd of this month down to Cape Town and back. We've got to buy supplies for Aquanuts and the Maru and are going to have a little fun along the way. Things at Kande will be handled by Monica's capable hands.

- Tomorrow Alex and I are going to Mzuzu University to try and finalize some sort of partnership with the fisheries department there. Wish us luck.

And here is a fish for the day from our lovely lake.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Immaculate Conception?



Maskakahunju is small fishing village located directly on the shores of Lake Malawi located just a 10 minute walk down the beach from the Maru Research Center (lets shorten that down to the MRC). Yesterday I and Alex, our local government fisheries officer, went down there to have a talk with the village elders and so Alex could show me how he surveys fishery landing sites and better explain to me the practicalities and economics of the Masakahunju fishery. Masakahunju is a species of fish and means roughly “big-eyed fish” if my memory serves. According to the founder of Masakahunju, one Mike Nsalu, Masakahunju the village began some 6 or 7 years ago when after having a great few days of catching Masakahunju, he decided to stay. Word spread that the fishing was good and more people joined him. Today roughly 400 people live at Masakahunju. Nearly all of them are not from the surrounding area. The vast majority are from an inland district further north called Karonga. Some are from further south at Nkhotakota. But all now live in very makeshift huts made from reeds, mud, and sometimes a few timbers. Scattered along the lakeshore in a fairly haphazard manner they look rather desperate. But according to Alex, looks are deceiving. Most of the residents of Masakahunju have nicer homes back in their native villages and have come here in order to make, and save, money. They are willing to put up with mud huts for a few years (and often more) if it means they can save up enough money to build a better life for themselves and their families once they’ve finally had enough and decided to return to their “real” homes.

In Malawi there is a long history of, and much prestige associated with, Malawians leaving their native villages to search their fortune somewhere else, whether in South Africa, Zimbabwe, or maybe just in the next district over. There are both idealistic and practical reasons for why these sojourns have historically been, and continue to be, so popular. Idealistically the desire to travel to other exotic lands to seek one’s fortune really needs no translation. Most of us wherever we are from have daydreamed about doing this. The practical benefits of such sojourns for Malawians however are understandable only once one realizes the constraints to individual activity that Malawi’s communal culture imposes on its members. In Malawi, and in much of Africa, sharing the benefits (money, produce, whatever) of one’s labor with the greater community (family, friends, neighbors) is obligatory. So much so that if you live and work within the community that you grew up in, and hence have all sorts of close relationships, it is nearly impossible for you to save personally any of the fruits of your labor towards any greater individual goal. Instead all your money, or whatever, gets piddled away to one’s seemingly never ending list of relatives and friends. The sojourns are a coping mechanism for this problem. Leaving your native community to work amongst strangers in a new place allows you to escape, for awhile, your communal obligations so that you can work towards more individual goals.

Alex, however, was quick to say that Malawians do not see their sojourns as permanent opportunities to escape their communal duties but rather as necessary interim periods during which they can accumulate wealth and knowledge so that later they can go back home and better attend to them. Masakahunju is full of such people and many have very interesting stories to tell. I will be visiting and talking with them often and will try to share their stories here on this blog regularly.