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Diary of a Volunteer

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NOW WHAT?

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Books


Little Differences...

Myths of Malawi Life
"Let's correct misconceptions about our life in Malawi" More...More

Hired or Fired?
"Annie is the Domestic, Wallace the night-watchman" More...More

Chi - che - wa
"'Muli Bwanji' 'Ndili Bwino!'" More...More

Beauty of Blantyre
"[A] gorgeous daylight" More...More

Oak Road Becomes...
"Lucky to live where we do" More...More


June 1995

A reflective moment atop Ndirande mountain

"... know what the funniest thing about Malawi is?"

"What?"

"It's the little differences. I mean Malawi's got the same stuff over here as they have in the UK; but ... it's just a little different."

"Example?"

Myths of Malawi Life

FIRST let's get rid of some myths! Or rather, let's correct some misconceptions about our life here in Malawi. We do not have a telephone; we do not have a television; we do not have a home postal address; we do not have tinned produce in our cupboard; we do not have access to motorised transport; and we do not see naked men with spears on the way to work - I know you haven't had this latter thought, but still !!!

Instead, we have satellite television at the (expensive) Blantyre Sports Club. (Not too different from the TV's you would get at gatwick airport hotels, for example, or in luxury apartments.) We have access to telephones, only at work. (They ring, confusingly, for both incoming and outgoing calls. Can you imagine the conversation? 'Hello?', 'Hello?', 'You called?', 'No! You called!'...). We have an abundance of fresh vegetables, rice and beans. We have our trusty mountain bikes, and (developing) leg muscles. We have mail that arrives at work, whenever the messenger can be bothered to collect it from the post office box...

Please don't be persuaded that, just because this newsletter is coming to you from an impressively specified and expensive laptop, we have access to other such items: photocopiers, faxes... - we are technologically destitute. Anyway, I don't want to labour the point - these are easy assumptions to make. What denies us all of these pleasures is simply a lack of money - though tinned food is pretty scarce in the supermarkets too !

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Hired or Fired?

AFTER the earlier angst of whether or not to hire workers, here at Plot NE 105 we now employ Annie and Wallace. Annie is the domestic - she washes, cleans, and irons, for 2 days of the week; and Wallace is our night-watchman cum gardener. Whilst Annie's presence is that of unseen magician - she turns a dirty heap of clothes by morning into a clean-smelling ironed pile by afternoon - Wallace is ever present, in the evening hours. It is he that I 'Mwaswera-Bwanji ?' as I give him his cup of tea and bread, wishing I could speak a few more words of Chichewa than 'How's your day been?'. It is he, who sits a vigil outside our front door, who often humbles us both with his pleasant manner and gratitude of our small offerings.

Any lofty (?) ideals one might have, about the inappropriateness of hiring people like Wallace and Annie, are lost to the realities of 'Employment Means Survival'!

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Chi - che - wa

THE language spoken in this part of Malawi is Chichewa (meaning language of the people of Chewa). It is a phonetic language, and (thankfully) the script is Arabic, the same as ours. Here's a sample conversation, that can be heard everywhere: 'Muli Bwanji?', 'Ndili u?',, kaya inu?', 'Ndili bwino', 'Zikomo' - which translates to 'How are you', 'I'm fine, and you', 'I'm fine', 'Thank you'. Notice how formal this greeting is - Malawians are a polite, reserved people and this expresses itself in the language. If you heard the conversation, you should also notice how the sound of the 'n' in 'ndili' is almost swallowed - so we Azungu's (word for foreigner, or white) often just say 'dili' as in dilly.

That's enough of the mechanics of it for now. The joy of the language, however, is that it is not too difficult to get a mastery of such simple expressions, and the response it illicits from Malawians is often one of deep appreciation. In fact, a friendly greeting to most anybody here generates a warm reply - I know it's not the British way, but perhaps it should be.

So, I am encouraged to learn - to know more about Wallace, and to be able to understand a little more about my work colleagues. The animated and (often) hysterical conversations that take place in the tea-room sadly lose their meaning. Sometimes I am given a translation, and sometimes these funny comments on life are in English - but mostly this vitality, this wit and insight, still remains closed to me.

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Beauty of Blantyre

IT IS easy to ignore the beauty of your surroundings. The swirl of the trees, the undulation of the landscape, the intense hue of the sky - all can be forgotten to the worries of NOW. In each place I have lived - Huddersfield, Bristol, Loughborough - I have struggled against this apathy to my environment; and even here in Blantyre, with so much that is different , I sometimes cycle to work, seeing nothing but the next expanse of road.

But make no mistake - Blantyre is a beautiful town, in a country of beautiful towns. There are pockets of mountains encircling us; they show off their pride in the orange glow of sunshine. There are many varieties of flower and tree, daubed liberally over a green canvas. A gorgeous daylight gives the people an exotic look. Yes! there are townships that could spoil the view, but even these sprawling places hum with the sound of a life being enjoyed - a drum beat, the chatter of children, a never-ending day.

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From Oak Road to Holly Wood

OUR TWO bedroomed flat - our living space, our cosy refuge - this too is an attractive and large residence (albeit in need of decoration). With the bedrooms and bathroom at one end, connected to a large living room - that once was two smaller rooms - there is a real feeling of space (so the Estate Agent told us anyway). And around the corner is a small kitchen, with a dingy larder inside it (dingy to the point of frustrated anger for Rachel!) Then there are our gardens: at the back of the flat is a small plot of land that we rarely use, but herbs and vegetables grow there (thanks to Wallace); and the front garden, hedged off from the road, is where we bask and barbecue - most splendid, and I think its the garden Rachel has deserved for some years.

We are lucky to live where we do, even compared to other volunteers, but especially compared to Malawians. It's probably one more reason why we Azungus are perceived to be so wealthy by the indigenous folk.

End 

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