I spend a lot of time eating and working at Tasty Bites, a restaurant in the center of Zomba Town that has good food, a reliable WiFi hotspot, and a generator so I can still eat there and see things when the power quasi-randomly goes out. One of the upsides is that it gets a lot of traffic from expats and so forth, so being there is a good way to absorb information in a place where posting stuff to the web isn’t yet a given (newspapers are also much more key here than in the US).
The owners are Malawian Indians (South Asians? I can never tell), and while I’m not 100% sure they’re Muslims the food is Halal so they get a fair amount of business from local South Asian Muslims. So one of the interesting folks I met today was a gentleman named Moulana Ismail, who runs a local Madrassah for the Association of Sunni Madrassahs of Malawi and the Institute for Islamic Education and Culture (IIEC). He says they offer free secondary education to about 40,000 Malawians, which strikes me as a big deal in a country with a lot of problems with education. According to their website they also give the students free food, which is awesome.
What’s crazy about this is how normal it all is. “Madrassah” is a word with a nasty reputation in the US, but there are no Muslim extremists in Malawi and while these are religious schools they seem like they’re doing a pretty solid job. I’m not sure I’ll donate to these guys – they’re doing good work, but I’m iffy on their focus on the Koran – but as I contemplate it, I can’t help but think about our insane political culture in the US and the fact that someone might use such a donation against me in the future. I wish these guys good luck, not least because they can help clear up the good name of a word that just means “school”.