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Diary of a Volunteer





Feb 1997
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April 1995

Just Another April

How Can I Spoon-feed...
All about organisational adjustment More...More

Nsanje Bound
"My trip to Nsanje was about relaxing" More...More

A Wonderful Wedding
My first (and only) VSO wedding More...More


April 1996

Image of the happy day for Rob and Rachel (not that Rachel!)

On April Fool's day Rachel left. Despite this, April was still an enjoyable month: I visited the hot-bed that was Nsanje, and I attended my first VSO wedding...

How Can I Spoon-feed Without a Spoon?

SO ONE minute I'm busy, busy, busy! I'm making final adjustments to version 2 of my Introduction to UNIX course - get rid of this; add a bit of that; oh, and that's a good idea! The next minute: no computers! No computers for the students, no computers for me, and even worse, no computers for UNIX.

In laymen's terms, one moment of 'organisational adjustment' and I can no longer teach my UNIX course in Blantyre. (And course development now means I have to play 'Hunt the Computer'.) Of course, no one in training knew anything about this 'adjustment'. I wore my wry-smile face that day.

So what does 'organisational adjustment' mean? Well, I think it means that Data Processing Department is no longer responsible for the payroll system. Instead, Payroll now belongs to the department of Accountant General. (It was the Boys from Accountant General who swept into Data Processing and not-so-stealthily 'recovered' the PCs and the UNIX machine.)

So how does this affect Data Processing Department? Good question (well done for asking it!) If Payroll and other such computer-related administration are now to be undertaken by Accountant General, then I think (again!) that this leaves Data Processing Department with little else left to do but to train (though not to train in UNIX).

So, what does this mean to me? Well, if I want to spoon-feed students 'the truth and nothing but' about UNIX I will have to do so in Lilongwe (where all the 'recovered' machines are destined), and to students belonging to Accountant General.

Now Lilongwe - a sprawling and un-pleasant place - is some four hundred kilometers from Blantyre. The spectre of relocation to Lilongwe there-fore looms. What also looms is the notion that, after my having put in a good year's work developing the UNIX course, we may cease to offer it at the training centre. After all, with no machine there can be no course! (So does anybody know of a good home for a set of slightly-used teaching spoons?)

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Nsanje Bound

MY TRIP to Nsanje was about relaxing. It was about uncluttering my thoughts, albeit temporarily, and enjoying the stimulus of a new environment. It was also about visiting Kevin & Rosie de Mello, who live in Nsanje. As the southern-most town in Malawi, Nsanje rarely benefits from the wandering VSO. So I took a few days off work and headed 'way on down'.

At one point on the route to Nsanje there was a descent of 1000m to the Lower Shire, in just a few miles. The view is of a vast rolling country-side that stretches as far as the distant horizon. (And at the time, I preferred to be amazed by the panorama, than to remember my exhausted efforts of cycling UP this road, with its sweeping hairpins and shuddering incline.) The bus tiptoed downwards, its whole frame squeaking nervously. Other distractions included little boys that struck fierce Kung-fu poses in our direction, or tinier faces that stared in bewilderment of the mechanical beast that passed them by. (In Malawi, travelling is an unending source of images.)

I arrived in Nsanje at about 4pm, after taking a local bus from Bangula (A real wild-west town, Bangula; replace the bicycles with horses, and the black faces for white and voilà! "Ride 'em cowboy!".) Local buses are fun too. It's always an intimate squeeze; and the bus stops, seemingly, at everyone's doorstep.

I digress. On arrival in Nsanje I innocently cajoled a stranger - Edgar - to help me find the de Mello's home. We took a circuitous route but we found the place nevertheless. Rosie greeted me with a hug and hello, whilst Kevin waited for us at Ghobwes - a favourite bottle store. We consumed some Greens (aka Carlsberg!), and talked. (Unfortunately, a multitude of mosquitoes consumed too, positively feasting on my very bare and very non-repellent flesh.) Back home, we ate our Nsima & beef, talked, and went to bed. 9pm.

Thus the pattern for the weekend was established. Each languorous day consisted of meal-taking, of talking or reading, of drinking a couple of Greens, and of early to bed (for me anyway, as they were at work some of the time). Perhaps life wasn't quite so simple. I am forgetting the permanent backdrop that was feeding or tending the animals (chickens, pigs, dogs and stray birds). The thrice-daily feeding, was a regular 'Good Life' experience to me. I was also able to visit a fish-smoking project Kevin was involved in - he works in appropriate technology. And Rosie is an English teacher, and she was marking essays with titles like 'Describe your ideal partner'. We larfed and larfed!

So, the weekend verdict: Nsanje is a go-slow place, in perpetual siesta; it massaged a little calm back into my life (and packed up them troubles).

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A Wonderful Wedding

I WENT to a wonderful wedding. It was the wedding of Robert Donnelly to Rachel Whyatt. It took place at St. Montford's church, Blantyre, on Saturday April 13th. It was a VSO-wedding: Rachel the volunteer, and Rob the NGO type. Apparently, so the Best Man's speech goes, Rob met Rachel in the north; they met again in Blantyre, he got her a job, and after 9 months of pursuit he got the girl. (Simple eh?)

So why was the wedding wonderful? Well it helped that it was a warm and sunny day. And all the guests - VSOs, friends, colleagues, and family - all were smartly attired (an unfamiliar sight on some).

It was a wonderful wedding because inside the large catholic church - with its tall stone pillars that reached the roof - inside sat a Malawian choir. They would sing the hymns and psalms, and they would sing them with such beautiful and harmonious voices. And at the end of the wedding this same choir led the procession of well-wishers, all of whom gave their brief congratulations to the bride and groom.)

It was a wonderful wedding because we had a wonderful priest - a kind of Dave Allen of the cloth. He began the service in a jovial and friendly way, asking us: "Why are we all here?", and joking when none of us replied: "Rob, they don't know why they've come today!". He asked us all to pray to our god for a long and happy marriage (not necessarily a Christian god, but a god that represented each of our individual beliefs (hence the Dave Allen comparison)). As Catholic priests go, he was a revelation to me.

And not least of all, it was a wonderful wedding because it was very short and very sweet; over in no more than an hour (including the signing of the registrar). The service flowed so, that we didn't even realise that they were married (until the priest announced it to us all!).

With its blend of traditional Malawian and British ceremonies, this wonderful wedding was the best wedding I have been to.


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