Basel to Blantyre and back

My daily routine has engulfed me already. But I want to add some notes on my recent visit to Blantyre. And point you to some photos. And travel tips.

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Let’s start with the travel tips:
A very favourable recent development for Blantyre-bound travellers is the fact that Ethiopian Airlines now flies to Malawi’s commercial centre from Addis. In fact, there are daily flights to and from Addis.

And Kenya Airways flies to Blantyre from Nairobi 3 times a week.

This is a great development. Some competition is good and I hope fare prices will fall.

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My second tip is:
Visit Liwonde National Park if you’re into game viewing. We saw lots of animals. August is a good time to visit. It’s not too hot yet and very dry. The animals walk down to the river and graze in the plains of the Shire River. Liwonde and Machinga district are densely populated and it’s good to support national parks and conservation areas such as Liwonde.

One lasting memory I will try to cherish is the beautiful sunlight I saw on the day when I arrived in Blantyre at around 4 pm. It is so beautiful to arrive in Chileka and see the familiar outline of Michiru mountain.

While travelling from the airport on that first day, we encountered a funeral procession crossing the main road. As is the custom, all vehicles on the main road stopped. People got out and stood next to their vehicles. The first part of the procession was singing one song while the latter part sang another. There was loud crying. Quite a cultural difference to Europe.

Later on the same day, at the shopping mall in Chichiri, a man was lying on the ground bleeding from his mouth. A crowd of people had gathered. Maybe he had been caught stealing? In which case, he can only hope that the police is nearby or the mob may beat him to death. Street justice is widespread.

My stay in Blantyre was happily uneventful. No zigubu queues. Hardly any power cuts or water supply interruptions.

I am fascinated by the mobile phone culture. People walk around with 2 or 3 cell phones in their hand. You can buy airtime, units for prepaid SIM cards, every 50 meters. TNM and Airtel have achieved distribution networks comparable to that of Coca-cola. Both mobile phone companies are advertising their mobile payment options on a wide scale.

Tagaroo and other links

Pêle-mêle off the top my head:

In my daily reads, I stumbled across a WordPress plugin called Tagaroo. It reminded me of Zemanta. I haven’t tried it out. But I guess the interesting part is that it is being sponsored/developed by media giant Thomson Reuters as part of the Calais project.

As usual I’ve been taking lots of snapshots. Faves of the week include:

peek

the wiring

Oh and yeah, I know what this year’s Christmas card will look like:

christmas card 2008

I tried out some night photography which was a lot of fun. Found out that I’ll need a good, lightweight tripod to pursue this more seriously.

The Swiss consumer magazine K-Tipp published the results of a chocolate degustazione.

Resultate der Degustation

I downloaded hours of video podcasts on CSS.

African bloggers in Amsterdam:

Picnic 08 (an annual tech. conference held in northern Europe) had a special Africa track called “Surprising Africa”. There’s a short video featuring the speakers here (via tweet).

Zemanta

I am learning a lot from the African blogs I am reading…

App+frica recently wrote about useful web applications for bloggers in developing countries.

In his list he mentions Zemanta:

Zemanta, which just scored a new round of funding from Union Square Ventures, is a huge time saving tool. It’s a browser-side plug-in that scans the context of your blog posts (even as you’re writing it) and offers up a ton of time saving shortcuts like related links, photos, wikipedia articles, blogposts and suggested tags. With the click of a few buttons it can help you format your post in a way that normally takes hours! For instance, if you’re writing an article about Google, Zemanta will find recent articles about Google from other blogs, photos, logos and more.

It works with all the major blog platforms including WordPress, Livetype, Blogger, Drupal and more. When I had an abundance of time (and internet) I would usually just do all those things myself but Zemanta speeds up that process significantly.

Zemanta analyzes your text and then searches the web to suggest related articles, photos, tags. For some texts, the results still need tweaking. But this is a cool tool and a sign of what’s coming.

Thanks App+frica for sharing. I hadn’t heard of it before. And I live in a so-called developed country.

Windmill builder

Lunch over IP on young Malawi windmill inventor:

William Kamkwamba, a 15-year-old Malawian (…) built a windmill in his rural village based on a picture he saw in a book. He used old bicycle parts, wooden poles, plastic pipes, and an old car battery for energy storage. The windmill now powers four lights and two radios in his home, and he’s working on a larger model to help with irrigation. After he told his story on stage, a number of TED attendees banded together to support him financially to complete high school and go onto university.

See also Soyapi’s blog, another Malawian TED attendee.

(update)
And William’s own blog at: http://williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/

in the summertime

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I tried to capture today’s awesomely red fireball of a sunset in Basel. My cameraphone snapshot doesn’t quite do it justice. But heh, that’s one moment in time captured and stored and uploaded and tagged and online.

Stumbled across this blog entry:
We googled you!

And it definitely raises an important discussion point… what will recruiting employers do with all the data they find on a job applicant.

Easier.com has published some interesting travel tips on Malawi. For example, spending vacation on a tea estate in Thyolo:

More visitors to southern Malawi are discovering the delights of staying in one of the colonial ‘managers’ bungalows on the Satemwa Tea Estate with its views of Mount Mulanje in one direction and the Lower Shire Valley in the other. Now, the UK national newspaper, The Independent has ranked Satemwa among the world’s top five ‘tea hotels’. And there’s more good news. Satemwa is now a certified Fair Trade producer – the only one in Southern Africa.

It’s possible for guests to sample a selection of black, green and white (yes, white) teas as they look across the neat tea gardens and try to identify the birds from the hundreds of species that are resident or passing through the area. You prefer coffee? No problem, coffee is also grown here.

The Satemwa Tea Estate is a wonderful place to stay if exploring in the Thyolo and Mount Mulanje area. They have a new and very informative website: Satemwa.com

A family favorite is Lujeri Tea Estate at the foot of Mount Mulanje.

Which reminds me that I wanted to write a blog entry on Club Makokola. I’ve uploaded a short film I took on the beach, but for some reason the Flash movie only shows 4 secs. The corresponding Quicktime movie is fine. I tried re-exporting with a shareware tool I found, but it’s too lossy.

Any tips on open source video editing tools are greatly appreciated…
Regarding audio, I found that Audacity is useful.

Malawi bloggers

When I started blogging back in Jan 2003, one of my high flying and lofty ideas was to help cross the digital divide and point to content about Malawi. A goal I haven’t really managed to keep. But from time to time I’ve pointed to various Malawi sites. It’s great to see that the number of fellow Malawi bloggers is increasing.

There’s:

  • Victor Kaonga, currently based in Sweden, raising an interesting question “Is Malawi really poor?”. Victor is also writing about Malawi at Global Voices Online.
  • Cryton blogging from the UK about his studies and work and how life in GB compares to Malawi. I like the way he interweaves his texts with Chichewa comments. He’s got an interesting theory regarding soap operas. In my opinion the number of drinking holes is equally high in Malawi.
  • And Soyapi visited Yahoo! HQ
  • There’s another interesting blog collecting information about Africa’s connectivity.

Free Software for Malawi

Alex Antener presents a talk on his Malawi projects:

Freie Software – Eine Chance für Afrika, (in German)

Very interesting, and lots of screens with GNU Linux.

[update] The official recording of the talk is available online.

Malawi bloggers on Madonna

My Google alert for news on Malawi has never had so many US and European articles as in the past months. All because of Madonna. Topics such as the last General Elections or bad harvests – which have a much bigger impact – were only covered by the usual outlets (BBC World, CNN). I remember searching Malawi forums for news on the election results.

A friend asked how Malawians see Madonna’s recent adoption of a Malawian baby boy. I haven’t heard much. Cos I’m here in Basel. But here’s a summary of Malawi bloggers that referred to the celebrity news:

  • Mike of Hacktivate built the Kumbali Lodge website, where Madonna stayed 😉
  • Alex of Lix.cc posted this excellent caricature of NGOs and their reaction (rough translation: the child needs to return, is that understood?). He helped to keep us informed during the last General Elections by setting up a web server at the Polytechnic and posting news and comments at frequent intervals.
  • and Soyapi uses the Madonna news item to point to Malawian software that you can also “adopt”.

I guess, there’s more out there. And more to come when Madonna goes back. I hope, she’s not in it for the PR only. In my humble opinion being adopted by a rich celebrity doesn’t really mean you’ll have a better life.

But even for Malawi, you can say that blogging technology has made it simpler to read personal thoughts and reports on news items.

Feel free to leave a comment.

BTW, this blog post was again inspired by fresh air.

well-intentioned, but…

stumbled across this well-intentioned attempt to increase the salary of Malawi’s health personnel in Joanne’s blog:

Sometime last year DFID (the British development agency) decided to give money specifically to increase the salaries of nurses and clinicians, the thought being that this would help with retention of health workers. Unfortunately, the government decided that the new salaries bumped everyone into a higher tax bracket and in the end, nurses took home less money.