Wild Women of Mangochi
UK bank account is over £700 overdrawn. Aaargh!"
Break From Blantyre
Mangochi - home of the Ice Cream Den! More...
Shelley the Benevolent
my new next door neighbour More...
A Gaggle of Girls
I enjoyed a surfeit of female company,
this month, but received bad news in the post!
...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,
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
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.)
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!
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
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