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Diary of a Volunteer





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Nov 1995
Oct 1995
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April 1995

An Odd Weekend

Splash Bang Wallop!
"...There was Pat, lying face-down in the water" More...More

Three and In
"An hour... of one-two's against trees" More...More

My First Teaching Week
"70 slides, 80 pages of notes, and 14 exercises later" More...More

More Little Differences - Weddings
"Watch the bride feed the groom a morsel of food" More...More


Oct 1995

Students working hard on the UNIX course

October began with an odd weekend. It went something like this...

Splash Bang Wallop!

PAT is an Irish volunteer friend of ours - no jokes please! Yes! he likes a drink; he likes to laugh, to fool around - but diving night-time into shallow pools!? Ouch!

We met him on Saturday - in the Seventh Day Adventist hospital! - and that's just what he'd done. Splash! And there was Pat, lying face-down, motionless in the water; with the faintest sound of blowing bubbles. Just ever so slightly startling!

We visited a few times - Rachel tried to give professional help, and I did whatever I could (like helping him to the toilet!). Throughout, I tried hard not to think that it was a stupid thing to have self-inflicted. I also tried hard to explain the growing evidence of incompetence, displayed at the hospital.

For me, it was the first time to see someone seriously injured. It was a time I wanted to joke - to remove the spell of shock - instead, I had to be Mr. Sensible. [He flew to Johannes- burg some days later, still unsure whether or not he had fractured his neck! He had!]

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Three and In

AFTER the adult world of accidents, hospital beds, and responsible caring - the afternoon of Sunday - I just needed to rest. Levitico was waiting at our house, so rest had to be play. He'd brought my leather ball with him - repaired by a local cobbler - so we had a kick-around.

With the arrival of Roderick, I decided on an energetic footballing variation we'd not tried before: 3 And In! Now this classic football game of my youth, is nostalgia's finest moment. Much of my childhood was spent in the competitive pursuit of trying to score 3 goals before your friend; the reward being the (relative) ease of then keeping goal: hence, 3 and In. (I even relived this glory in my final year at university - with close friends, in the rain - perfect!)

So, even though our garden was not that suitable - hard ground, small, and surrounded by delicate hedgerows - that's what we did: an hour of 3 And In. An hour of dribbling, of one-two's against trees, of glorious Brazilian ball-balancing - all that. In goal - I just sat on the ground, waiting for the shots. And when they came, I fell backwards, to scramble a save; I laughed at their failure to score, and they laughed too.

Dusty, dirty, sweaty, tiring - and bloody good fun - my childhood's not dead yet!

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My First Teaching Week

AFTER months of moil; after weeks of waiting (can someone please cable those PCs); and after days of dusty final preparation - I taught my first course. "UNIX To The Uninitiated", I thought - but EVERY student had attended an earlier VSO-inspired version. Not the best of starts.

At the end of a dull Monday for them, I promised it would get more challenging: "I hope so!", said Mr. Too-Smart. On Friday - 70 slides, 80 pages of student notes, and 14 hands-on exercises later - all had been challenged a great deal. Even Mr. Smart-Alec had struggled with the tougher questions I'd set... Tee hee!

And as for Mr. Nash the teacher - not too stumbling, a little humour, and very well prepared. I felt satisfied with my performance, and relieved I had actually taught. Even the usually-to-be-dreaded course appraisals were positive:

'Briefly state your feelings about the course'
"It was a nice one". (Delightful answer, eh?)
'Any suggestions for improvements...'
"No suggestions, but I would like to be taught the advanced part of it by the same Steve Nash", "Advanced course is needed and to be taken by the same conductor", ...

...Aw shucks, what can I say? Except I am really enjoying my working-life, a lot!

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More Little Differences - Weddings

MALAWI weddings are special - everyone says as such . And when the wedding party finally made its slooow entrance through the school hall, I could see why - all seemed to float: butterfly steps forward, a quiet step back; in twos, in time with the band. Honoured guests - proud parents, brides-maids and their consorts, and of course the bride and groom - all waltzed in smooth as you like: smiles on every face. We all just whooped and whistled, saving the loudest noise for the bride and groom. What an entrance! An archway of arms then formed, standing between them and their wedding settee - utterly kitsch; utterly charming!

Augustin was to marry Constance, and Mrs. Ndilowe - my boss, and sister-in-law to Augustin - had graciously invited us to the reception. (A death, a bizarre accident and football fun, so why not a wedding too!?)

The school hall was grubby - with plastic-patio-chairs crammed together to seat all the guests. The lights were a little bright too; but I had to stop thinking of the event in terms of a British wedding. Sit back, and watch. Watch everyone get up in turn to 'pay' their respects, and to step in time with the band (including us; we'd brought lots of small change for this inevitably prolonged "perikani"). Watch the bride feed the groom a morsel of food, and the groom feed the bride. Pandemonium, I can tell you! - and they looked so embarrassed (well they were standing in the middle of hundreds, and it did look intimate!)

These were the lasting impressions - the 'little differences'. Even though it had been a day of strange, disturbing news, we really enjoyed this sample of Malawian culture.


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