Sunday, 24 May 2015

Day 8 - "we say goodbye-ee, but not for evah" (15-May-2015)

Sunrise over Lake Malawi

Today was an emotional day. First thing, we returned to the children's home one last time to witness a "leaving ceremony". Esme, one of the little girls was returning to her village to live with her family.

Esme arrived at Mangochi at the age of 4 months, severely malnourished. At three, she was one of the older children at the home, and was really quite maternal towards the little ones.

Esme is the little girl sitting alone on the little chair. She is facing the carers, who are performing a farewell dance for her. (singing the phrase "we say goodbye-ee, but not for evah")

In the background is a row of volunteers, or paparazzi!

Here they are each having a last cuddle while continuing the singing.

This must have been very emotional for the carers - they had cared for Esme since she was a small baby. They also know the conditions that Esme will be returning to (you've seen photos of Chucu back in his village). However, they managed to keep the whole event happy and cheerful.

They are stronger women than I... I had to walk away to get tissues!

This is Tessa, surrounded by kids, and in her element! I think this is my favourite picture of Tessa!

Pictures on the wall of the home

And just for San, here's Milwall's most unlikely fan! This is Rasheed, the manager from the home in Mangochi.

Onwards to the building site.

Here is how the house was looking - the roof was going on.

And the latrine was being dug:

Or at least, lots of people were watching the latrine be dug!

And posing for photos!

However, today, the J&J folk HAD A JOB on the site! We were cooking lunch. At first, this seemed reasonably straightforward. Here is Françoise and Michael chopping veg.

But this was a feast, and a feast needs chicken!!
I suppose it is obvious that in a world without refrigeration,  the best way to be certain of the freshness of your meat is to kill it yourself.

Whilst Peter looks comfortable carrying this chicken, we were totally reliant on the crew to gut, joint and cook the chicken. For anyone of a sensitive nature who isn't clear where chicken nuggets come from, flick past the next few pictures as Fred plucks the freshly slaughtered birds and I help Fred joint it....

The cooking was also an area where us musungu fell down. The Malawians can get an incredibly hot fire burning using just three bricks (and some firewood). Here are George and me stirring the same pot... one of us is cooking, the other is playing. I'll leave it to you to decide which is which!

And here I am supervising operations! (Do you like my authentic Malawi skirt? I had it made by the sewing workshop earlier in the week. I love it!)

Meanwhile the house was now providing some shade! The ladder is a handy arm rest - bingo! a relaxing spot!

Françoise was having adventures too. She had some soap and coloured pencils which she gave to the women that we had become friendly with. In exchange, in gratitude, they gave her a headband. 

Now, let's think about this. Malawi is, according to the IMF and the world bank the third poorest country on earth (Wikipedia). Only DRC and CAR are considered to be poorer, and they are both war zones.

The people in this village are amongst the poorest in Malawi. They have nothing that we would consider to be essential (no clean water supply - everything has to be carried from a pump and boiled), very real food insecurity and insubstantial housing that is liable to be washed away in floods - yet here they are being so generous.  Quite touching.

Finally lunch was cooked. Whilst I feel I helped, we would still be there if Fred, George & Luis had not stepped in! The least we could do was serve. Well, nope, we couldn't even do that properly.
In this photo, Fred is correcting Françoise' portion control of nsima. Honestly, I can eat a small spoonful of this stuff before I feel as though I'm going to explode. Fred dunked the plate into the pot, and three-quarters filled it for the crew.

We'd also cooked tomato soup, tanipas (the greens cooked in groundnut) aubergines and three chickens. Pleanty to go around.

Here's a couple of photos of us all enjoying lunch... me quite shiny faced!

And so, it's time to say goodbye ("but not for evah"!)

Here's the new owners of the house - Agogo with Chucu and the other four children that she looks after. I asked her if she was happy with the house, and she joked (using hands, her two words of english, and my two words of chichewa) that she'd thought it might have been bigger... some people are never happy!

It took us a while to say goodbye - everyone was milling around until Neville threatened to go without us. That got us moving!

Before we leave the village, here is another picture of the local kids playing, and improvising. Here they are making buildings in the sand.

These are maybe the future builders!

Back at the cottage, Neville proposed a trip on the boat. There was no wind - so it would be with the motor. Everyone except Pavel decided that this sounded like a good idea - so we packed up the Malawi gin and the remaining tonic, and any beers that had made it to this point in the week, and set off. These are just a mish-mash of photos that will mean more to those who were present than to everyone - but it was beautiful out on the lake.

Michael preparing the all important "sundowners" (gin & tonic)

Peter chilling


 Pierre acting the clown

Pierre & Charlie on the dinghy taking a photo of Neville in the water in front of the boat. Complex. Can't remember why this seemed to be a good idea - but Neville says the outcome is a good photo.

A couple of Charlie, who looks after the boat for Neville (sleeping on it most nights to protect it from thieves).

Tomorrow, the J&J folk all go home, and Michael and I set out on our own adventure looking at hippos & stuff. Photos to follow...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Day 7 – Messing around on the building site (14-May-2015)

Today is a national holiday in Malawi. It is Kamuzu day – celebrating the birth or death (not sure which) of Hastings “Kamuzu” Banda, who was president for 30 years.

Everybody was in high spirits, the J&J folk because everyone was healthy again, the crew because they were on double pay for working on a holiday, Fred the foreman because we were on schedule and all the local kids because they were not at school!

It looks in many of these photos that no work was happening. It was – but there was also a lot of messing around!


George was in particular high spirits, bursting out in song from time to time.

You can see in this photo that work had started on the inner walls to the house today, which made the brick handling even more complex. Although it looks as though Françoise and I were just chatting above, we'd actually formed a human chain to move bricks from the outside of the house up onto the scaffolding on the inside.


I was lifting from floor to window sill; Françoise from window sill to scaffold. Here I am moving bricks. The pile had got satisfyingly small by this point!

Meanwhile, “No Mistake” was demonstrating his “special” way of standing. No work was happening at this point in time...

...Or indeed here.

… Or here! Peter wanted “a go” on the scaffolding. I believe John is giving him an affectionate hug, rather than a rugby tackle – but it is difficult to say!

The local kids were also off school today, so there were more of them hanging around watching than usual. They are very well behaved though. As this is a building site with lots of quite dangerous stuff lying around, we drew a line around the site in the dust that they must not cross. For the most part it worked.

In this photo you can see that the young girl is carrying her little brother on her back to look after him.

Chucu and his little mate were playing in the shade. They were pushing this plank of wood around, making “bruuummmm” noises. This is, I think, meant to be the pick up truck. If you look carefully, you'll see an old bottle top on the front. I think this is meant to be the steering wheel.


Here it is later being loaded with maize. We think he was being Neville!

This is a wider picture of the women resting in the shade. The lady standing up is trying on one of the tops I brought for them all. (I didn't realise this when I took the photo!) I guess they are doing swaps until they are happy with the clothes they have. Like the other J&J folk, Michael and I brought about three times as much stuff as we needed with the intention of giving most of it away.

This is Anna, my favourite of the village ladies. Me and her inevitably ended up laughing about the size of either my or her boobs! I took this photo because I liked how she looked with her fancy sun shade

At morning break today, Peter broke out the Toblerone.


Here is Michael wolfing down his piece of chocolate. By contrast, the builders all carefully wrapped their pieces in little fragments of the tin foil, and took it home with them!

Life was good today. Here is George (no hat today!) relaxing in a blue gum tree, smoking a fag at the end of morning break.

Whilst Fred chivvied the rest of the guys back to work, Michael, Françoise and I went with Ward and Charlie on a quest to find maize.

I mentioned yesterday that the floods had seriously depleted the local harvest of maize (which is the staple that provides the Malawian population with the stomach filler, nsima). Over dinner last night, the J&J group came up with what we hope is a cunning plan to help at least the builders. We decided to buy them a bag of maize each as a leaving gift. This works out at about 8000 Kwatcha each (7000 Kwa per 50kg sack) which is about $16 USD.

Now to source it.... Charlie (from Neville's boat) claimed to know a man who could help. Here the guys are filling the sacks at the “man's” home. We only managed to get five sacks here, so we were off on a bit of an adventure. Apparently, normally at this time of year, maize is easy to buy along the main road – everyone selling off their excess harvest. This year we needed to visit three different locations to get all we needed.

Just next to the home of the grain seller were a small group of UN emergency tents – housing people whose houses were destroyed in the floods. I didn't take a photo (not sure I felt comfortable at the time – but now wish I had to be able to share the story of these poor folk). I think one of my colleagues may have done. If so, I will edit.

In happier news the third location was right next to a stall selling ladies skirts – so Françoise also made a couple of purchases.

Here's Michael looking into a maize store from a ladder held together by strips of tyre.

And here's Charlie loading his bike onto an already full pick-up truck! This is how to travel authentically in Malawi!

I told you that the scaffolding was held together using bits of old tyre – well at this stall they were selling the other type of fastener that is made from old tyres – the black stuff hanging is called “tubie” and is quite elastic. It's used like we would use bungee cords. It is used for pretty much everything.

Dinner tonight was an amazing barbecue, courtesy of Frank.