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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

Wild Women of Mangochi

?@'! Statements!
"My UK bank account is over £700 overdrawn. Aaargh!" More...More

Break From Blantyre
I visited Mangochi - home of the Ice Cream Den! More...More

Shelley the Benevolent
All about my new next door neighbour More...More

A Gaggle of Girls
More gratuitous girls! More...More


Sept. 1996

Image of Caro-Anneetaking it easy by Lake Malawi

I enjoyed a surfeit of female company, this month, but received bad news in the post!

?@'! Statements!

...I OPENED my parcel excitedly. I don't know why I opened it excitedly, because I knew what the parcel contained - a gloomy set of end-of-year accounts for my UK business. Still I opened it excitedly, and found accounting information, some bank statements, and K250 - thanks Phil. (Ah! I remember now why I opened it excitedly.)

The business accounts looked confusing - what a surprise - but it did look like I still owed the tax man: Another £300. The bonus of the K250 maintained my excited mood, however, even though the extra Kwacha only amounted to £10. I had thoughts of a big meal out, a trip to the lake, or even the indulgences of buying porridge or tuna fish or Bran Flakes, or whatever luxury food item I could think of. Then, and only then, did I actually take a second, closer, look at my bank statements. "WHAT! My UK bank account is over £700 overdrawn. It can't be true!" (And this figure didn't include the six months of direct debits I still had to pay!)

I sat down, and felt faint (and pale). My forehead - now sprinkled with spots of sweat - became lined with anxiety. I cursed those statements; I cursed their belated news, and felt defeated by the bleak arithmetic of this collection of printed numbers. Back at work I couldn't concentrate, I just kept pouring over the numbers; over and over, they tormented me. It wasn't just the numbers I could see either, but the numbers that remained hidden from me; numbers contained in statements I still had to receive. Maybe, these statements would explain how this horrible situation had occurred. Maybe.

The problem, put simply, was that this was not supposed to happen. I had put £X thousand in the bank before departing for Malawi; I had calculated my outgoings for two years; I had made adjustments whilst in Malawi, and cancelled one of my regular payments; I had planned it exactly - I SHOULD NOT GO OVERDRAWN. And yet it had happened; my account had gone overdrawn, in May.

So I was in debt - and I was immediately faced with some tough decisions: Should I just ignore the debt? Should I quit VSO and find a high-paying job in Malawi? Should I quit VSO, and return to freelance work in the UK? (For it is not possible to save any money from the VSO allowance. An allowance that is equivalent to about £100 per month, and which is always, always spent by month-end.)

All that I managed to decide that fateful Friday was to have a long weekend break in Mangochi (by the lake), and to discuss the matter with my field director as soon as possible. The K250, that I had just acquired, would pay for my journey to Mangochi. It would also pay for entertainment (beer) that would help me forget about my ?#*! statements, albeit temporarily.

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Break From Blantyre

MANGOCHI IS a lake-shore town, four hours drive north of Blantyre. It's too hot in Mangochi, but is popular because of its nearness to Lake Malawi. It is also the town that boasts the Mangochi Ice Cream Den - delicious curry dishes (including fish), with a wide choice of ice cream desserts. Another interesting fact about Mangochi is that most of its volunteers and ex-pats are female. What better combination could there be for rest and recuperation ?

I arrived at 10.15am, Saturday, and left 9am Thursday. In between, I enjoyed the company of Caro-Anneeand Kay; drinking at various bottle stores, eating at the Ice Cream Den, and chatting at their respective homes. I had a vigorous game of football with little uns in Caro-Anne's garden, and got covered in mud and wood ash (as you do). I played Scrabble with Caro-Anne, and read most of Margaret Forster's The Battle for Christobelle. In short, I didn't worry about my impending doom on this planet because of gloomy statements about my financial health. I left my troubles in Blantyre, and had a very relaxing and stimulating time in Mangochi.

(What I was really hoping for on my return to Blantyre, however, was a Dallas-style scenario where I discovered it had all been a nasty dream, and there were still thousands left in my bank account. No such look, though. Well, I never did like Dallas anyway.)

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Shelley the Benevolent

SHELLY IS my new next door neighbour. She works at St. Andrews International Secondary School as a teacher, and as such she earns much more money than I do. This is her first African adventure outside of South Africa, where she was born. She thinks of herself as a VSO volunteer: Coming to Malawi for professional challenges, and personal adventure. The fact that she is paid ten times what I am paid is arbitrary; it needn't have been that way.

And what do I think? I don't suppose it matters one way or the other, really. I am more interested in people's attitudes to their environment than how much money they earn. The discrepancy in our pay has influenced the nature of our relationship, however. So far, she has taken me out for a meal (and paid); she has cooked for me on several occasions (though this was partly due to her freezer defrosting by accident); and she is forever inviting me around for the odd glass of wine or something (how can I resist?).

Now I'm not complaining - I rarely complain about good fortune (though if I ever won that lottery-thing I'd be furious, I can tell you) - and I do enjoy Shelli's company: Her tales of South Africa; and impressions of Malawi. But I would rather she was less my benefactor and more my equal. "Invite her round for dinner!" I hear you say - I will, and I will make cups of tea too (but there just won't be any biscuits). I will also begin to turn down opportunities she offers me; I'm a volunteer, and if I can't afford to pay for it, then I just can't do it. I guess it's the pride word, or did my Mum just bring me up too proper!

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A Gaggle of Girls

ANNE-MARIE had some visitors, and could they all stay the night. Meet Anne, Roshin, Rowena and Hazel: four twenty-something women from Ireland. All with those famous Irish Eyes, warm smiles (and short skirts). All attractive. Erm...! "Well, as you're a good friend Anne-Marie, okay they can stay - but just one night mind!" I remember thinking those exact thoughts, as I agreed to their visit.

So I went to town with Anne-Marie, the gaggle of girls, and Pam. You can imagine the look of incredulity as we arrived at the Cactus bar - a bar filled mostly with lecherous South African men, too familiar with the bawdy culture of prostitution. You can imagine their wide-eyed faces, and my fifteen seconds of fame.

At the Taj Mahal night club, the reaction was different. The Malawian men were no less lecherous, but there was more respect - at least for me! I had a couple of obtuse conversations about 'sharing' with strangers, and a couple of Malawians asked me whether I would allow them to dance with the women. (Only if they slipped me a nice crisp K100, I of course replied.)


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