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April 1995

This is Steve Calling

Dear Mum
Hello, this is Steve calling from Darkest Africa. (I vow never to use that expression again.) More...More

April 1995

I spent my two-week induction living here, in Dowa

This is the beginning of my first full month in Malawi. And already my first impressions of the country are being formed, and my first difficult decisions are being made...

Dear Mum

HELLO, this is Steve calling from Darkest Africa (I vow never to use that expression again !). Just letting you know what I am up to, here in Malawi.

Malawi is already proving fascinating to me: the dusty (and bumpy) roads; the friendliness and formality of people; the daily throng of workers, walking, cycling or crammed inside any vehicle that actually works; the cheap and delicious fruit; the expensive comforts of home (Cornflakes at £4); the rising inflation and the measly amount that we are paid (£70 a month); the amazing fact that we are still well paid, and most manage on the equivalent of less than £10 a month !?).

There are lots of things I could spend an age talking about. Instead, though, I want to talk about two things:

  • the hiring of workers, and
(2 cheery topics that you may/may not have thought were relevant in Malawi).

Firstly there is the complex issue of hiring workers. This could be a night-guard, a cleaner, a gardener, a cook, or general dogs-body. They are paid from part of our allowance - so whatever little we get paid, they get a fraction of it AS THEIR MAIN INCOME.

Now, there are 2 arguments - both persuasive - about the merits of hiring / not hiring a worker (or, perhaps, in Politically Un-Correct terms a 'servant') which have been troubling me since I arrived in Malawi. It could be argued that, however little the pay that a worker receives from you, it is still providing work and income - enough to survive on. Negative aspects have to be ignored for the greater good that work (and probably shelter) provides. The opposing view is that you pay the worker a pittance, to do menial jobs that you don't want to do yourself; you treat them poorly - much as in the bad old days of Colonialism. In fact it could even be a modern form of colonialism. When you think of the voluntary nature of our being here, to perpetuate a kind of slave labour is very difficult to handle.

As yet Rachel and I are still undecided but will probably employ someone to clean clothes / iron on a part-time basis, as well as a part-time gardener and full-time night-guard (VSO recommends a guard and pays the bill).

Secondly, and on a lighter note (!), AIDS is very prevalent in Malawi (the worst incidence in Africa) and it is something everyone is concerned about (conservative estimates say 20% are infected with HIV). Now, surprise surprise, a traditional healer in Liwonde claims he has found a cure for AIDS. Everyone wants to visit him and take the herb.

People (that includes fellow professionals) can talk of nothing else: 'Can it be true?', 'Are people being healed? (Did they have the disease in the first place?)', 'Can we get our company to transport us there?' It really is THE big thing in this part of Africa, and the subject of much Malawian humour, some of which I understand (when they talk in English), and some I don't. (I know when a joke has been told, though, as much hand-slapping and raucous laughter always follows. I tell you - Malawians know how to have fun at work!)


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