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“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Saturday, February 15, 2003
    In Malawi, even an innocent garden show may mask sociopolitical issues... as Chuen-Yen's most recent email demonstrates.


    My last memoir evoked a plethora of safety concerns. So, this week I will share with you something very tame � Blantyre�s Annual Flower Show.

    The flower show is actually a general garden and craft exhibition organized by expatriates who are enamored of their own handiwork. While these proud expats relish flaunting backyard crops, they rarely do their own cultivation. Most have a well-trained Malawian gardenboy, who, like all natives, knows basic agriculture by necessity.

    The Garden Society holds its magnanimous event in the Blantyre Sports Club Tae Bo room. Everyone, including children, is encouraged to participate. However, a small entry fee effectively eliminates local competition.

    I attended the show this afternoon. Dozens of wilting entries, all with attached award certificates, were displayed on card tables. Categories included traditional floral designs, cut specimens, crafts, and every fruit, vegetable and herb imaginable, as well as a few unimaginable ones. The surfeit of produce divisions � sweet corn, white corn, yellow corn, tomatoes, rhubarb, all types of lettuces, mangoes, papayas, squashes, potatoes, etc. � ensured that a maximum of two submissions, often from the same contestant, was submitted to each. With first, second and third place prizes, entrants were guaranteed multiple victories.

    Afterward, I asked one young lady, whose winning arrangement included perfect blooms, along with a teapot and Barbie doll, how to nurture such fabulous flora. She innocently clarified, �I don�t know. My mom gets it from a shop.� Then, just outside the venue, I procured salad ingredients far superior to the flower show entries from a barefoot peddler whose backyard harvest is for sustenance, not presentation.

    See you soon.



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