July 18, 2005
I am usually an avid media consumer. At home in Pennsylvania, I love to curl up in my favorite chair and either turn on the TV, read a magazine or watch a movie on our DVD player. One of the courses I teach is “Understanding Media.” Because of this, I have to be aware of what the latest trends are. So I watch the newest “reality” show, sit com or police drama to see how they are constructed. I really enjoy analyzing them. My kids sometimes say that I take all the fun out of TV when I dissect commercials, but it’s just who I am.
I was really afraid this year that I would go through “media withdrawal.” We have no television, all of our news comes from the BBC radio’s World Report and the two local newspapers, which contain almost no international news.
I have to tell you that it was not as bad as I thought. I would be lying if I told you that there were not a few evenings when I would have loved to just turn on the tube and watch either a mindless or informative program. But for the most part, our family did not miss the media.
We would invite our friends and neighbors over to eat and engage in animated conversation and story telling. We would read. We would sit around the dining room table and play games. We popped popcorn on the stove or baked cookies. We were almost never bored. It was remarkable. I think we were all surprised at how little we missed TV.
Every once in a while we would get a shipment of magazines from some thoughtful person. We devoured them. The girls flipped through teen magazines, Dan caught up on the news and sports scene, and I leafed through my favorite cooking and women’s magazines. However, I discovered that they just were not as relevant or interesting to me here in Africa. For one thing, as I browsed the recipes, I noticed that most of them included ingredients that are hard to find or very expensive here, like cream cheese, cream of mushroom soup, celery, poultry seasoning, maple flavoring, chocolate chips, etc. It was discouraging. There would be articles on how to lose weight, which were hard to read when children just up the road are struggling with malnutrition. Articles on how to simplify your life were not helpful either, because here, our lifestyle is very basic.
Recently the BBC was off the air. We were not sure why. They may have been experiencing technical difficulties, or equipment problems, or it could be that the Malawian government has blocked their signal because it has not liked recent news broadcasts. There is some political turmoil here. We are not in America where the airwaves belong to the people and freedom of speech is an unalienable right. If you ask people here what things were like here during the Banda regime, they will tell you that they dared not even whisper anything bad about the government or President for Life.
When we get home soon, I will avidly watch a whole season of my favorite TV drama, (with no commercials!) that my sister-in-law has been recording for me. I can’t wait. Dan and I also look forward to going to the Bargain Matinee that we usually try and see at our local movie theater about once a month. We love going to the movies, (and there are no movie theaters in Malawi). But I may think twice before I turn on the latest singing contest or bug eating adventure show on TV. I might just pick up a good book instead, or ask my family if they would like to play a board game.