To my loyal followers (/hi Mum)
Again, apologies for the length of time between posts but thanks to my naggers (uhem, again, mum) for making me write what I have done down because I know I would regret it if I began to forget the things I have done.
Anyway, what has this month entailed? I’m slightly struggling to think of things to write before Mum arrived (she was here for the last 10 days but more about that later), not because I have not done anything, but because it all just seems so normal now. It has been great seeing it through Mum’s eyes again though to re-open my eyes and remind me that nothing is actually normal: 3 hours to get to the supermarket with 23 people on a mini-bus is not a normal experience. And yet, for me, it just is!
Anyway, anyway, back to the point again: January. The first couple of weeks back from Tanzania, I was Katie-less in Ngara so threw myself into a couple of projects. The biggest of these was trying to get electricity into the school. This is still not a reality, but the posts and the wiring are all in, so now we are simply waiting for the meter, which, when I last spoke to the officer in charge (I am going for the approach of if I ring enough, they will get bored of me and therefore put in electricity to stop me from calling), he told me he was picking up this week. Fingers crossed for that though please! I also discovered a new lodge (with both a swimming pool and pretty good food!) while Katie was away, where I got talking to a girl who was working there in her university holidays. She is going into her second year at Mzuzu University studying tourism and hospitality and I found that she had a government grant to do so, which I hadn’t realised was a possibility. This gave me the idea of getting her in to speak to the girls at school in order to give them some ideas about an alternative future to being in an early marriage and no job because, as I have said previously, this is the route that so many girls go into because a lack of awareness of their other options. The talk happened once Katie was back and the girls responded very well to it, with a few coming to ask her questions at the end, clearly very serious about trying to get into university. With many of the girls wanting to do nursing, our next step is to try and get a nurse in to try and get a nurse in to talk to them about how they can achieve that.
The rest of January, I have to admit, went by in a bit of a blur of school, a few weekends away, and the joy of being able to watch films again that having a laptop has brought. Last week, though, I started to prepare excitedly for Mum’s visit. On Tuesday, I headed down to Mzuzu, managing to hitch with a man who had the comfiest seats I have sat in for a long time and an inbuilt DVD player in his car. Winner of a journey. I went to the joys of shopright (the new supermarket in Mzuzu, a place where it feels like I have died and gone to heaven every time I go in – is that sad? I don’t care) and stocked up on a ridiculous amount of snacks for the five hour journey to Lilongwe the next day, forgetting that I go every day with a gap of way over five hours between meals and am perfectly happy. I then met up with Anna and Sarah and Mzuzu Zoo (a lodge) as Sarah had the week off and Anna was also heading down to Lilongwe to meet her Mum. Anna and I got to the bus at 6am the next morning and arrived in Lilongwe ready, despite my many snacks, for a delicious lunch of smoothies, milkshakes and mammoth wraps.
Thursday marked the day of Mum’s arrival and, giving her a very false impression of life in Malawi, her plane landed half an hour early. A miracle. I was genuinely expecting a call saying her plane was going to be delayed, perhaps by a few days so for her to arrive in early was both a big surprise and a big big treat. It was so lovely seeing her after six months apart and I think we both shed a little tear when we ran towards each other and hugged in the airport. It was a scene almost reminiscent of the ‘Daddy my Daddy’ scene in the Railway Children, where I’m sure we moved people to tears around us. Well, maybe not, but it was certainly felt like that for me!
Taking advantage of the fact that I was in the capital with restaurants with a variety of food, I took Mum to an Italian restaurant that evening with Anna, Matt (our country co-coordinator who also happened to be there) and Owen (who had come along with Matt). Of course, having come straight from England, where food variety is something we expect, Mum was amused by the look of glee on my face at the sight of steak and apple crumble on the menu but, disappointing myself greatly, I was full after half of my steak and chips and couldn’t even think of pudding. Heartbreaking. Guys, it’s true, I’m a changed woman. We then made our way back to the Lodge, where Mum and I snuggled up and both slept very soundly.
On Friday, it was time to head up North, so, thinking I’d ease Mum into Malawian life, we got on the ‘deluxe, executive’ AXA bus. Well, turns out this ‘deluxe’ and ‘executive’ meant standing for the first two hours as they had overbooked the seats. Welcome to Malawi Mum. Eventually, though, we all managed to get seats, and had a comfy last three hours. We arrived back at Mzuzu Zoo and Mum experienced the slightly bed-bug infested dorm there (don’t say I don’t treat her well). We got up the next morning, visited the heaven that is shopright and jumped into a mini-bus with a total of 23 people on it. Mum couldn’t quite understand how Katie and I had got our high of 28 people on there because 23 felt pretty packed, but I reminded her of the minibus mantra that one more will always fit even if it means contorting your body in ways you didn’t think possible. Arriving at Chitimba, we left our bags at Hakuna Matata Lodge, where Mum had her first cherry plum (my favourite Malawian drink) and we managed to get a lift up to Mushroom Farm (another lodge) with the owner. I’m so glad we made the trip up there – it’s not a particularly easy or comfortable one – because Mum loved it. We stayed in a room called the ‘Cobb Room’, where Mum was particularly amused by the en-suite with a throne-like compost toilet and a view from the shower that might even rival the view from the showers at Little Thatch (sorry Katy!). I think I might start a picture montage of showers with good views. If you want to get more of an idea of the place we stayed here is their website: http://www.themushroomfarmmalawi.com/. Here, Mum also met some of the other Latitude volunteers, and we played a bit of Trivial Pursuit (Mum and I were a team to which I made very little contribution but she did well – I maintain that this is due to the fact that it was an old version of the game and therefore Mum, being old (just kidding) was going to be better. Not that I’m competitive. We then enjoyed a delicious curry and snuggled into bed to watch one of my new favourite films (this was the second time I watched it in the space of a month) About Time.
On Sunday, it was raining, so we were in two minds about whether to walk down the mountain, but decided Mum would regret it if we didn’t so we donned our trainers and marched down with, after a lot of debate, the rest of group joined us. We went to a place called Chitimba Camp for lunch so that I could give a few films to a friend from my hard-drive, where Mum experienced her first Malawian ‘salad’, which is, essentially, coleslaw. We then went to collect our bags from where we had left them at Hakuna Matata, only to find that mine had been used as a snack for the monkeys and had a nice big monkey-tooth-shaped hole in it. Not ideal. I then took Mum on what was to be her bravest journey yet: on the back of a truck with a chicken in it. Now, if any of you know what Mum is like with birds (particularly chickens), you will know that this was a big feat, but she boldly got into the truck, sitting herself on the opposite side to the chicken. No-one can claim that she’s not game (pun definitely intended).
We arrived at Flo-Ja, where we were to spend the next few days, late afternoon. Having not seen the rooms since hot season, I was amazed to see how much greener it was. Mum was more distracted by the view of the naked man washing himself in the lake. Don’t tell her I said so. Again we cuddled up in bed for a film (can you see a pattern emerging here?) that Mum informed me would be a rubbish (so, therefore great) chick flick. It was not. I sobbed my way through it. Thanks Mum.
The next day, we got up and had breakfast at Flo Ja and then departed for our respective days of work – for Mum at the nursery and for me at school and then met back at Flo Ja for a little rest before heading back down to the school so that Mum could see my house. I also took her to meet the deputy head, Mr Mogha, for whom she had brought an old phone of grandpa’s. Thank you grandpa for that: he has sent me a number of texts on it saying he has never known such kindness and that he thanks you from the bottom of his heart. Again, we had a slight bird issue, Mum having to switch places with me on the sofa in order to be protected from the fierce (uhem) birds flapping around on Mr Mogha’s porch. We managed to get safely back to the house, though, and I cooked Mum a quick supper on the coal burner of tuna pasta. Luxury, I’m telling you.
Tuesday followed a similar pattern, with Mum going to the nursery and me to the school in the morning. Again, I headed back for a little rest around lunchtime and we then walked back along the beach together in the afternoon. Mum was absorbed by all the local people going about their daily lives on the beach, washing, fishing, mending their nets and washing their clothes. We were invited for a late lunch/early supper at Madam Chenje’s house (one of the teachers) with the headmaster’s wife and were given a treat of a meal including pumpkin leaves (served like spinach), beans, local chicken, nsima and rice. We tried to eat as much as possible, but with two lots of carbs in one meal – it’s a little like eating potatos and pasta together – this was not easy, so we simply had to hope that we were not causing too much offence. Again, Mum had a few issues with the chickens wondering around the house, and, explaining this to our hosts, she elicited the response: “but don’t you keep chickens?” It is a shocking thing to a Malawian, you see, that not everyone keeps chickens. We began our walk back to Flo Ja, happily snapping pictures as the sun began to set, until I realised that I had left our room key back at my house and we had to walk all the way back again. It was at this point that we named Mum’s trip ‘Olivia’s Bootcamp’.
Following our slight treck the previous day, on Wednesday we spent a lazy morning at Flo Ja and then headed down to my local nursery. Here, we gave some of the things that they had asked for – chalkboards, balls and toys – and watched the children recount their numbers and sing some songs. I managed to take a few videos of this and will try to put these up when I have enough internet. We then got a mini-bus to Uliwa, where I took Mum to our favourite local restaurant, Mazachis, where we meet up with some of the other volunteers every Wednesday religiously. It was rice, veg and sausage on the menu – delish! From here, our aim was to take a mini-bus to Maji Zuwa, but Mum saw a chicken getting on the bus before us, so decided that we should take ‘Olivia’s Bootcamp’ more seriously and walk until we could get onto another mini-bus. After about an hour of walking, another mini-bus finally arrived and took us the final 10 minutes. On arriving at Maji Zuwa, we discovered that the power was out as the transformer had been hit by lighting, meaning that the only things on the menu were spaghetti, chips and Malawian salad and that nothing could be charged. James, who is one of the volunteers living at Maji Zuwa, and who works at the primary school up the road, was umpiring the netball and football matches at the school in the afternoon, so we decided that we would go and watch those with no power to tempt us into watching a film. This is a difficult experience to explain, and one that we felt Malawians do so much better than the English: every time a goal is scored, that team’s supporters rush onto the pitch together and shout the number of goals that they have in total. Again, I have a video of this that I hope to put up when I have better internet. Throughout the match, Mum and I both had children sitting on our laps who decided that, when we went to leave, they wanted to come with us. We kept trying to tell them to sit back down but still they kept following us, with none of the teachers trying to stop them. Finally, when we reached the road, we felt this was getting a little dangerous, with mini-buses speeding past and luckily a local intervened but otherwise we felt we could quite easily have accidentally abducted some children!
After such a lovely few days, Thursday brought with it the beginning of our journey back down south. We had another relaxing morning at Maji Zuwa, with Mum managing to have a little swim in Lake Malawi, we jumped on a mini-bus in the afternoon and, after a journey that involved what could have been described as human trafficking, with a man hiding under a piece of material to stop being fined by the police for having too many people in the mini-bus, we arrived in Mzuzu in the pouring rain. The locals looked at us like we were mad as we walked up to Joy’s Place (a lodge), dripping wet, and kept trying to offer us lifts on their bike taxis, but stubborn people that we are, we managed it all on foot. This lodge is, I would say, the nicest in Mzuzu, but Mum did seem slightly concerned when I informed her Katie had been there when there had been an armed robbery two weeks previously. Only the best for Mum. Luckily, though, we managed to make it through the night sans armed robberies and were ready for our journey to Lilongwe the next morning, also, thankfully, uneventful. We had smoothies and lunch in the afternoon and then settled in for the night at the lodge. Sadly, so did the rat visitor we had that night, which was not the most pleasant surprise, especially when I heard him rustling in the bag that held my left over carrot cake. Not OK. But again, we made it through unscathed, and went down into town for a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes, which I had with ice cream. I got a slightly funny look for that one.
After a massive hug and a few small tears, Mum left for her flight after breakfast. She managed to get home without her flight being taken over and landed in Switzerland as some of you may have heard happened to one Ethiopian Airways flight last week and has informed me that she has managed to get most of the dirt off. I hold high hopes that this will be a possibility for me when I arrive home in seven short weeks (no I can’t believe it either!) In the meantime though, I told you that Mum and I spent one cozy evening watching About Time, which is about a man who discovers he can travel back in time into his life. I wanted to leave you with this quote from the film: “we’re all travelling together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.” And relish this remarkable ride I will.