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Diary of a Volunteer





Feb 1997
Jan 1997
Dec 1996
Nov 1996
Oct 1996
Sept 1996
Aug 1996
July 1996
June 1996
May 1996
April 1996
March 1996
Feb 1996
Jan 1996
Nov 1995
Oct 1995
Sept 1995
Aug 1995
July 1995
June 1995
May 1995
April 1995


Tents, Pies and Sellotape
Christmas day in Blantyre - me and my family! More...More

New Year Evolutions
The inevitable New Year Reflections More...More



It's Christmas day - we're all feeling as fuzzy as this photo!

This 2-for-the-price-of-1 issue is, surprise surprise, all about Christmas and New Year. So sit back, put up your feet, and pause the video...

Tents, Pies and Sellotape

CHRISTMAS day started at 6.27am, precisely (I looked at my watch!). As kids, we would have woken hours before 6.27. As a family of grown adults, it is early: a rude time to wake; a lazy day missed; a hangover-necessity. But, this is Malawi, and here the day starts when daylight starts.

Both Marcus and Mum greeted me with a Merry Christmas. They had surfaced from their tent-cum-mosquito-net a good while earlier, and were first to sample the morning sun. (Yes, I did say tent. For the privilege of being family, they had the luxury of a tented bedroom, inside the flat. Two tented bedrooms, actually - I've got the photos!)

Before I go on, let me introduce you to the gang, or The Family: they that had descended on us from afar. They were Philip, Caro-Annel, Marcus, Julie, and Paul - or Step-dad, mum, brother, sister, and brother (in order of age or beauty, or something!). Then there was Irene, or Rachel's mum. Lil' ol' Steve and Rachel, we made up the numbers - to eight!

Now you can imagine what feeding this lot is like. Awesome. So much so that we each took our turn in the kitchen, to placate the insatiable 8-mouthed hydra. And we each needed the next day for recuperation. (Marcus and Mum managed the ordeal best, and so had actually volunteered for Christmas Day duty!)

Anyway, back to the plot. Breakfast, and present-opening, occurred at about 8am. All received gifts, though Rachel and I had the most - tee hee! Some had curios, recently purchased from Zomba Plateau; some had nick-nacks, bought from Blantyre Market; and some had toiletries, purchased from Boots PLC (where else?).

At about 9.30am, inert beings transformed into industrious bodies. Paul packed his Chief's Chair, using sellotape, some string and cardboard, and a lot of imagination. (It would look ace in his Polyversity flat!) Phil and Marcus fixed our punctured and brake-less mountain bikes. (Shame they weren't able to fix the 17-seater Avis mini-bus, though. It broke down on our wanderings around the lake - nice stress enhancer, that one!). And Irene - she attended to the bread sauce and brandy butter, doing her bit before the kitchen became flooded with hungry Hoggars.

Christmas dinner was chicken pieces, rather than the much anticipated, much fattened turkey. We were served roast potatoes, sausages (for chipolatas), a bread sauce, and a delicious home-made Christmas pudding (though not all at the same time). We would have bought and cooked turkey, if the electricity and water hadn't been so unreliable in December. (After all, pre-prepared chicken pieces is better than an uncooked turkey, however big.) It was Christmas Dinner; and mince pies - who needs 'em?

(Alas, Rachel and Irene were unable to savour any Christmas dinner at all. Both had still not recovered from illness; a wretched stomach bug. Alas, that is, for them, for the rest of us it just meant a bigger helping of pudding.)

After that interlude of gorging it was back to packing - all were returning to the bleakness of Britain, Boxing day. So, Paul's 'extra' third tent was dismantled for the last time; and safe places had to be found for the Dedza crockery (we finally made it to Dedza, the cheese-cake heaven of Malawi). It was a coordinated busy-ness that would have impressed the A-Team.

When the H-Team finally rested, it was time for one last Christmas tradition: a game of Newmarket (cards). Just 2 decks of cards, some loose change (Malawian Tambala are ideal), and a measure of Christmas bonhomie, keeps one collection of Hoggar/Nashes amused for hours.

Also, Paul, Marcus and myself found time to play the final games of our chess competition. We had battled hard over the last fortnight, and Christmas day would see a victor, a grand chess champion, a master of the chequered board. (Is that enough gloating?)

It was the familiar clanking of tent poles that signalled yet another Christmas day over. As with every other Blantyre evening, two tents were speedily assembled, for family members to be promptly swallowed whole for the night. It wasn't even 10pm, but wine, and an alarm clock set for 5am have a surprising affect on one's tiredness.

Merry Christmas!

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New Year Evolutions

I'M ALWAYS one for new year's resolutions. Give up smoking! Start to exercise! Watch less telly! And so on. I do like to think of more profound improvements to my new year, than those typical ones cited above. 1996 is no different. And my resolutions are no less profound. So, in no particular order, here are my Malawi-inspired resolutions, or life-style evolutions:


(For once, Always Say Please and Thank You is squeezed off the list)
Perhaps I should explain...

1. Don't Give Money To Beggars

This seems a simple enough resolution - it saves money, and inconvenience. You just say No! and walk past. But it isn't that simple, and these are not my reasons.

The Malawi problem of beggars is different to the problem in Britain. It is not a life-style of choice in Malawi, as could be argued in Britain. Neither is there a welfare state, to provide food or shelter. In Malawi, beggars are the poorest, in a poorest country. They have nothing.

So just what do you do when confronted with the beggar, bedraggled? Do you look at her clothes to see if she is deserving? Do you check that he is not drinking a Carlsberg? Or do you just reckon on the next time to give? I have had done all of these in Malawi (and all of these in Britain). And on occasion, I have left a guilt-tarred 50 Tambala (or 50 pence, or 50 something).

Still, when I do give money, what difference does it make? Do I empower the individual, or do I just perpetuate their dependence on so-called kind-hearted souls? Do I give (and starve them of the need to earn), or do I refuse to give, and encourage another solution to their problem.

I know this is simplistic; a less-is-more scenario, currently popular amongst right-wing thinkers. But I see no other way to change the situation. Should we look to government. Do they succeed in ignoring what we, with our gifts of guilt, continue to sustain.

Malawi itself, suffers the malaise of donor-dependence. With their aid, with their loans - donors alleviate the now; but the future remains crippled, by an unrelenting dependence. And so it is with beggars; and so it is that I shall not be giving today, tomorrow. Pepani!

2. Speak More Chichewa

This is more of a straight-forward goal - I don't speak enough of the national language of Malawi. I am not going to be an expert, but I can improve; I want to improve. It does make a difference in day to day relations with work-colleagues, with Malawian friends, with street vendors. It shows respect.

3. Be Less Gullible

Eeek! This sounds like another negative resolution. It is, however, a reaction to people always wanting something from you. This need to take from you is often witness to the most incredible tales of need. (And I always listen and I always believe). Well, no more. Once bitten, twice bitten, thrice bitten; but eventually, it is time to be shy. (So No! I won't give you 5 Kwacha so you can visit farthest Karonga. Who are you anyway?)

4. Integrate At Work

I think last year I was so concerned with doing a 'good job', that I took no 'risks' at work and did everything myself. However, some tasks should have been dealt with by other individuals. And to be task-oriented is not my aim. So this year it is time to be a team player, and devolve some of my past duties, as appropriate.

So, a mixed bag of thoughtful goodies. Maybe next year I will be appalled at my growing cynicism, mixed with naivete; or maybe it will be another year more cynical.

Happy new year!


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