Saturday, 23 May 2015

Day 6 - Sick Note!! (13-May-2015)

Today was not a good day for some of the J&J folk. Both Peter and Tessa had developed bad stomachs overnight and Michael's cold had got worse. Peter and Michael stayed at the cottage, but Tessa was determined to make her contribution, so went to the orphanage to help (where there is at least sanitation!). Fran├žoise and Pavel had taken a day off to see a bit of Malawi whilst they were here. So, it was just Pierre and myself at the site... so expect lots of photos of Pierre!

This is how the building looked when we arrived. The blocks were at shoulder height and this is John insetting the windows.

This was as high as we could go without scaffolding.

Most of you reading this will have quite a clear picture in your mind about what we mean when we say scaffolding. It is made of strong steel tubes, is joined together using metal joints, which are secured with nuts & bolts. It is erected by specialists, and it normally takes a day to put up. In most countries in the world, it would be fully inspected before anyone was permitted to stand on it....

Let go of your preconceptions!

Here is Luis preparing the hole in the ground that will be the main support for the scaffolding. Incidentally, this is the same machete that was used yesterday to prepare the tomatoes for the soup. The original multi-purpose tool!

Notice, by the way, that Luis isn't wearing shoes. Most of the crew worked barefoot (or in flip flops). Also notice that Luis has been mixing cement – and it is all over his feet. That stuff really does burn – but I guess, because they don't wear shoes, their feet are hardened to it?


This is a wide angle shot of Pierre helping to erect the scaffolding (extreme right) unfortunately Fred got in the way.

There are three uprights that are lashed to cross pieces which are cemented into the building. Then planks are laid across them.

Once the scaffolding was up, Pierre insisted on “having a go”. This is him and John standing about two metres above ground level.


The observant amongst you will have noticed that now all building materials needed to be lifted onto the scaffolding. This is Fred shovelling cement up there.

At its zenith, this scaffolding was supporting three men, twenty blocks (each at about 5kg) and two big piles of cement.

The black ties holding the wood together is lineate (or something like that) it is made from old tyres.

Here's Hadj with his blocks. I lifted all of those! I had to make myself a little staircase out of broken blocks to make myself tall enough to place the blocks on the planks!


This is the last row of blocks going onto the front of the house. This was quite exciting for Pierre and me!


The builders ran out of scaffold supports – check out the solution. These are old uprights from the old house – completely brittle – holding the same weight that the other uprights were holding.


Today “No Mistake” took his turn to prepare lunch. Here he is chopping up the tomatoes with a trowel...

Mike and Peter joined us at the orphanage for lunch. We remembered to photograph it today too!

This is quite an elaborate, but typical Malawian meal. Starting in the bottom left, this is a bowl of “tanipa”. This is a fabulous dish of greens (mustard leaves, I think) cooked with ground peanut and tomato.

Above this is a bowl of tomato “soup” (like the builders eat), some tomato salad, rice, coleslaw, potatoes and eggs. The green bowl to the far right is the nsima. This is made from maize flour (called ufa). A few handfuls of ufa is heated in water whilst being stirred, turning it into a thick gelatinous goo. For lunch, this is very thick, so you can make a ball of it to dip into the sauces – but I understand that for breakfast, they would use less ufa, and turn it into more of a porridge. It has no taste of its own and is basically a stomach filler.

This is one of the ladies at the orphanage cooking nsima. I had a go at this on Friday at the building site, and was unable to stir the pot once it got close to the correct consistency.

After lunch, Mike headed back to the cottage to continue recuperating, whilst Chicu (Matron) and Ward took the rest of us into Mangochi for a look around the market. There are no photos of this; Mangochi is a very muslim part of the country, and people are very sensitive to having their photos taken.

On the way to the market, Matron needed to get a medical card from one of the staff stamped at the district hospital (I'm not sure I understand the bureaucracy – but I think it is important). We went into the hospital with her, and she asked for permission to show us the children's wards.

I've not been looking forward to write about this, as it was quite distressing. We first visited the maternity area. In the UK (and probably the rest of europe) maternity wards are happy places. This felt much bleaker. The women (some very young – as young as 14? I'm guessing a bit here, based on what I know about teenage pregnancy) were all quiet, and sad looking. The only visitors seemed to be older women, and there was very little privacy.

On seeing matron in her nurses uniform, one woman asked her for advice on breastfeeding. There were no staff out on the ward (although the nurse in charge of the ward seemed friendly enough)

We walked through the hospital (past lots of queues outside closed offices) to the children's ward. The first child we saw looked like he had been run over. Nope. His father had tied him up and beaten him severely because of some misdemeanour. The ward had maybe 30–40 beds in it, with perhaps 50–60 children plus their families. Smaller children were two to a bed, and this meant that two families were living on the floor under these beds. Whilst I'm sure the staff here are well meaning, and do care, the conditions were really not good. I would not bring a child here unless I was desperate. This maybe explains why “alternative medicines” from witch doctors are so popular.

The malnutrition ward is separate from the main children's ward. Thankfully this was much less busy – with some empty beds. Matron spoke to one of the mothers whose child had been admitted for malnutrition. The child was around 4kg at 26 months old. The lower end of “normal” for a child of this age is 9kg. The child looked as though he was six months old. This level of malnutrition has got to have a serious impact on the potential of the child as he grows up. This made me cry.

The floods that washed away the house that we are rebuilding also impacted the maize harvest. It is estimated that the harvest was about 30% of a normal harvest. As an example of the issue, Luis, one of the builders, would need around twenty 50kg sacks of maize to feed his family until the next harvest. His harvest was six sacks (“what harvest? That's not a harvest”...) Now, Luis is one of the lucky ones – he is earning hard cash with Open Arms until August, but a sack of maize currently costs K7000 which is probably at least two weeks wages for Luis. People are also hoarding maize, expecting the price to rise as famine hits – so as times get harder, food will become even less affordable for people in the villages.

For perspective, at current exchange rates, K7000 is about $14 USD.

Anyway, the market. The main market area is a purpose built concrete structure, a lot like Leicester fruit & veg market. I had a mission to buy lemons, and Peter wanted to buy some sweet potatoes and cabbages for the crew, so we had some fun bartering a bit with the stall holders.

The meat stall was... interesting! This is a country where only 6% of the population have electricity, so refrigeration is non-existent. Also, there are a lot of flies. They like raw meat!

On the edge of the market, we found a fabric stall. Tessa bought a piece of fabric so that she could learn to carry Benjamin (her own child who is 18 months old) on her back when she gets home; I bought a piece because I wanted to!

We found Ward, and drove back to the cottage. On the way, we stopped in a supermarket. Peter and Pierre had been invited into the homes of two of the builders that they had closely worked with. Neville recommended taking a gift of household necessities for the wives. Under matron's guidance they bought sugar, salt, cooking oil, soap and Vaseline.

Whilst they were doing that, I idled my time away looking at the displays. Look! Second shelf from top! J&J products!

For dinner we headed out to Palm Beach, which is run by the same person that Neville buys the big blocks from. It was full of ex-pats.

Two local artists had their work on show. The man to the left is Jon, and this is his work behind him. The man to the right is “his brother” - or I think apprentice. He also had his work on show at the other end of the bar. We bought a picture from each of them.

We had dinner here (cottage pie again!)

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