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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

Five Weekends

Elephants and Monkeys
Leaving party in Liwonde More...More

A Keyman Evening
(Keyman cooks delicious Sri-Lankan food) More...More

Zomba Good-byes
A quieter leaving party. More...More

Mary Whitehouse Bans...
Gratuitous Football More...More

Volunteers Visit...
me, in Blantyre! More...More


August 1996

My one and only decent elephant photo

After the paint-drying excitement of July's news-letter, I've decided to return to tall tales of elephant-wrestling, and other such weekend fun. This is all about how I spent my August weekends (doh!).

Elephants and Monkeys

VOLUNTEERS come and volunteers go. And going often occasions a leaving party: one last gathering of remaining friends; one last visit to the lake; or one last serious imbibing of the Green or Brown stuff (Carlsberg). Georgina - a teacher in Mangochi - had decided to have one last visit to Liwonde National Park (a game reserve). Rachel and I went along too!

We stayed at Mvuu campsite, in the cheapest of cheap-seats - a bring-your-own-tent (and eat-your-own-food) patch of grass, that was enough space for the nine of us. (The alternatives just cost too much in US dollars, and we all wanted to go on the next day's 8am boat trip along the Shire river. Anyway, cooking food over an open fire, and sleeping beneath the stars - it's fun, innit!)

8am. It sounds early, but when camping in Africa it's more like midday. Life on the Shire river - which bisects the game park - had squawked, grumbled and croaked into being, hours ago. As our motorised boat chugged gently out into the open waters, I wondered if we would see any animals - wondered whether they were already taking their siesta.

And for a good while, all we saw were various exotic birds: drifting as a flock; or skimming the river at speed, barely a foot from the surface; or just sitting proudly and colourfully atop a jutting branch.

Then elephants were spotted, close to the left-bank, partially hidden by the deep rushes. Such magnificent creatures, with nothing to fear except man. As we circle back to get another look, a lone elephant was spied feeding on the trees, this time on the right bank. We got closer, and closer, and closer to it. No need for bin-oculars, to see the wizened folds of grey skin. Every camera clicked to capture this close-up opportunity. The elephant just continued to rip out leaves with its trunk, and eat them. Every so often, as we got too near, it turned towards us, nervously but determinedly. And I felt nervous back.

As we returned to the campsite, an even better spectacle awaited us. A baboon had climbed to the top of a tall tree and, ignoring the distressed chorus of onlooking cormorants, had just raided one of their nests. It tore the flesh from a young and still-live cormorant, and ate. Right before our eyes - the savagery of nature. The bird snapped its beak towards the baboon, in a pathetic show of self-defence - but the baboon continued to feast. For about ten minutes we just looked, wide-eyed.

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A Keyman Evening

KEYMAN IS Rachel's worker-cum-cook, who specialises in Sri-Lankan food. He's also the answer to nearly all of my anxieties, when it comes to my throwing a dinner party. (After all, I still have to organise the evening - who to invite, how much food to cook, what food to cook, and have I got enough pots and pans.)

So Keyman did the hard work that Saturday, as he cooked a chili bean dish, a dahl dish, his speciality aubergine dish, Masamba (a green-leaf relish), vegetable samosas, and his spicy tomato sauce - for twenty guests. I just bought the food, and tried hard not to worry.

Keyman cooked from 9.30am until 5pm; and I had been organising the evening all week. My guests arrived at about 7pm and left by 11pm. I got four hours of their time (it never seems worth the effort, does it - even if it's not my effort!) But I owed dinner to quite a few, and now I don't. (The food was pretty good, but it did taste a bit burnt - or does food always taste burnt at your own dinner party?)

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Zomba Good-byes

I WENT to Zomba to say goodbye to Tracy (whom I'd only just got to know a few weeks earlier). I also went to hear Ricardo playing his Spanish Guitar. Friday night was Ricardo, and the nearest I've come to being part of an all-white and all-intellectual audience. (Bit scary!) Saturday night was Tracy's leaving do - "just come to the bottle store, buy your own beers, and I've bought 10kg of meat".

The bottle store was probably the main attraction to me, that weekend. It was filled with friendly Malawians - both sexes, but mostly older types - who were easy about our presence in their bottle store. There was none of the drunken happiness to see us, or the even-more-drunken attempts to dance with us. (It reminded me of the Star and Garter, in St. Pauls, Bristol - a friendly West-Indian-owned pub cum front room. Great place!)

In the end, 10kg of meat was far too much. Not many turned up for Tracy's farewell (mainly because her Malawian friends had simply run out of money, that week). So, Rachel and Tracy and I just talked, and quietly said goodbye.

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Mary Whitehouse Bans Gratuitous Football Weekend

FOR A brief moment on Saturday morning it looked like I would be playing three games of football that weekend: one game for Computer Solutions at 10am, and two games for Stagecoach the next day. But Friday night had been a late one, with a visit to the Taj Mahal night club and lots of dancing. Also, I had a guest staying at the flat (and no she wasn't called Mary!) So I just rolled over, and went back to sleep (to dreams of glorious hat-tricks).

On Sunday morning, I just woke up thinking that I'd much rather play the afternoon game, than the morning one. So that's what I did. (3 games in 2 days is a bit excessive, and probably bad for you. But I don't care what Mary W. says, scoring goals is a natural act and nothing to be ashamed of - I had to do it! (Just once.))

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A Variety of Volunteers, Visit

A BLANTYRE-WEEKEND is always en-livened by the arrival of out-of-town volunteers. The social dynamic changes, albeit briefly, as different voices are heard, each telling their own Malawi stories. This last weekend of August was witness to several volunteers arriving in Blantyre. They were coming because of a VSO Development Education visit, to a couple of Blantyre orphanages. (These trips are organised so that we, the volunteers, can begin to understand and experience some of the complex issues that development raises.)

It's only when volunteers gather together that you realise what a mixture of folk we are. Even though most volunteers (in Malawi) are in their twenties, there are usually a handful aged thirty or forty-something. But the real difference lies in the volunteers' professions. In this grouping, we had two Occupational Therapists, a teacher, a business adviser (for a company that makes recycled paper); we had a couple of computer-types, an executive officer of the Sports Council, an agronomist (specialising in the harvest of kidney beans), and a nurse tutor. Real Heinz 57 types.


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