Malawi Expactations vs. reality

I’m starting to anticipate the question “So, how was Malawi?”, so I decided to plot things out for clarity.

Malawi Expectations.jpg

Note that no quantitative rigor was applied to the production of this chart.

  • On the whole, things were better than I expected. There aren’t a lot of things in the “surprisingly bad” area, and most the things that I expected to be bad weren’t as bad as I thought.
  • Goat liver was the worst expected item, but turned out not to be too bad. Mosquitoes, specifically the ones that make their way inside my bednet and buzz around my ears at 3 a.m., are just awful.
  • I still haven’t decided about work, which made it onto all four quadrants.
  • I would stay in Malawi forever for the tomatoes.
  • There’s a lot that didn’t make it onto the list. Grass huts, machine guns, and disease didn’t make the list because they haven’t been part of my experience. Poverty, power, and loneliness aren’t on the chart because they demand a much more nuanced analysis, and I’m still figuring out what I’ve learned. I doubt I’ll ever get to a resolution that can be plotted in two dimensions.

Finally, stay tuned for when I make another one of these in six months: “Marriage, Expectations vs. Reality



6 thoughts on “Malawi Expactations vs. reality

  1. Really enjoyed your char Jacob. Tell me more about the bed nets, in terms of how they failed to live up to your expectations. Is the point, as you mentioned, that they aren’t as good at keeping the suckers out as one might have hoped?


    1. Hey Daniel!
      I think I gave bednets a bad rap here (they do a great job of preventing Malaria), but I also learned something from actually using them. I spent 3 years studying development, and before going to Malawi, could wax poetic on their benefits in preventing malaria and the challenges of creating sustainable supply chains without disrupting local markets.
      Then I went to Malawi and actually got one. My first exhausted night in Lilongwe, I spent an hour figuring out how to assemble the frame, finding a nail to hang it, and getting it attached to the ceiling. More than once I’ve woken up to the feeling of being caught in a spider’s web as my nail jerks loose from the plaster ceiling and the net collapses over my face. The net also gets kind of grimy and dirty, but is diffucult to wash (especially when you work all day and use it every night).
      Also, it isn’t everyone’s issue, but my body is 10 cm longer than my matress, and so me feet poke out, which results in the net getting untucked (letting in the aforementioned mosquitos).

      But my troubles have taught me lesson. Without ever having used a bednet, I was happy to prescribe them to others and was confused when I heard about noncompliance them being used as veils or fishing nets ( While the bednet is great for preventing malaria, it is also rather annoying to use.


      1. That’s very enlightening for me, thanks. About the annoyance of using them and noncompliance — I’m imagining not having a bed net and being constantly bitten my mosquitos, and intuitively I think I would find that a lot more annoying, even if malaria wasn’t a risk! From that perspective, it’s still hard to imagine why a person wouldn’t want to use a net. Although, perhaps when you’ve lived in an area where you’re bitten 15 times a night by mosquitos, your body may learn to respond with “meh, oh well”, and so your sleep might not be interrupted as much. Meanwhile, you get a bed net that your body isn’t as used to, and maybe it’s actually much more disruptive for the first while.


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