Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Two Weeks in Malawi - Almost !!


Sam and I have been in Malawi for almost two weeks now and I have a huge amount of news to share with you. It is difficult to know how to do justice to everything we have seen, heard and experienced in this time though: it has been truly extraordinary.

We touched down at Lilongwe Airport at 2.15pm on Thursday 16th July. I was met by the President of ‘Joy to the World Ministries’ (JTW) - Fletcher Matandika. Our first task was to collect Sam from the Cargo Office; after a very long and gruelling journey, all I wanted to do was to get him and go. However, recovering Sam was actually much harder than I had anticipated; before we could take him, there was a mountain of paperwork to ‘sign off’. It took us over two hours and saw us going from office to office and from person to person (all within the same building) in order that we might obtain the necessary signatures and stamps. The process was painfully slow; it was also irritating and frustrating – not an experience I would ever care to repeat. Finally Customs agreed to release our ‘cargo’, but not before a sizable amount of money changed hands – something I had not been expecting. It was not the best of starts and left a bitter taste in the mouth with regard to Malawi officialdom! Being reunited with Sam was fantastic though; I had not seen him for three days and having my best pal back at my side was just wonderful – everyone should have a dog like Sam!

From Lilongwe we travelled north to Dzuwa village – an extremely poor area of Malawi. Dzuwa is the reason why Fletcher set up JTW in 2006; he desperately wanted to offer practical help to the people there. Sam and I spent a few days in Dzuwa; it was a remarkable, life changing experience.

Although things have improved in Dzuwa over the last three years, it continues to have very serious problems, particularly with regard to illness and health care. JTW has built a new medical clinic in the village and this should have opened in January. Unfortunately, government permission was withheld at that time and a number of conditions were subsequently laid down. JTW has struggled to meet these but hopes that the clinic will be open by the end of the year. An important part of the clinic’s work will be health education and this programme of disease prevention, should make a big difference within the community.

Spending time in Dzuwa is a humbling experience. More often than not, the children are clothed in rags and are filthy dirty.

Yet they are remarkably happy and seem totally content in their lives. I saw children playing with sticks and elastic bands as if they were the greatest toys on earth. These children never moaned or whined - they were a joy to be with and their energy, laughter and smiling faces would put the vast majority of western children to shame. The children adored Sam and we were followed around by dozens of them wherever we went. They just wanted to be with us and I found being the Pied Piper of Dzuwa absolutely enchanting. PHOTO

Yet there is no escaping the fact that this is a very hard life. The women of the village do an extraordinary amount of physical work and carry the most remarkable loads around – usually on their heads! By comparison, the men of the village don’t appear to do nearly as much and quite often they can be seen just sitting around chatting. To an outsider and onlooker, it seems a very unfair existence. Girls are expected to get married at the earliest opportunity and currently there is no alternative to this. The secondary school that JTW is planning to build for the young people of Dzuwa will hopefully provide this much needed alternative; through education comes opportunities and choice!

Living in a place where there is no safe water (by our western standards) and very primitive facilities proved to be the biggest challenge for me. I have always hated being dirty and yet in Dzuwa, it is virtually impossible to keep clean. It is a dust bowl! By my third day, I had succumbed to the germs and the bugs and was dreadfully ill. I will leave the precise details to your imaginations, but I can honestly say that I would not wish that experience on my worst enemy – it was truly, truly awful.

I was most fortunate that there was a team of twenty folk from the US visiting Dzuwa at the same time as myself. Amongst the team were two doctors and they were able to give me some very effective prescription medicine to treat my violent and explosive symptoms. It was great to work alongside this mission team, which had journey from the First Presbertarian Church, . I was thankful to them for their friendship and fellowship and for the support that they were able to give to the other project JTW is embarking upon – the setting up of a Christian business/ministry in the nearby town of Kasungu. I will be spearheading this project and it is tremendously exciting; the business will comprise of an Internet Café (offering high quality IT services), a coffee shop and a Christian book shop. It is my job to turn this idea into reality and to create a financially successful business; the money we make will be used to further support the work of JTW in Dzuwa and in particular, the building of the secondary school. On arriving in Kasungu, I received a tremendous surprise. My understanding was that the business would be located within the house that we are renting. The house is located in an area called Beloeloe; it is a beautiful house and absolutely huge. PHOTO

I have my own, self contained section of the house, but there are a further three bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and a main lounge area. This is where I thought the business was going to be established. Not so. It turns out that a shop unit in town has become available; it is in a prime location and perfect for our needs. As a result, our new business will be established here. It will be called ‘The Joy to the World Lighthouse Christian Centre’. Currently, the unit needs some work doing to it – the ceiling is dodgy and there is a lot of cleaning, painting and general modernising to be done. Our plan is to be open by September; over the next few weeks, we intend to transform this empty space into a Christian focal point – somewhere where people can come to linger, learn and to latch onto the Christian message and to Christian principles. At The Lighthouse, we hope to create a space that people are slow to leave and in a hurry to return to! It will hopefully be a beacon in Kasungu and will draw people in!

If the stir that Sam and I have caused on arrival in town is anything to go by, then we will have no problem attracting customers to The Lighthouse! If you can imagine a pick elephant in a tutu dancing Swan Lake in the middle of your local High Street, then you might just get an idea of the kind of response we receive every time we step out of the house. It is quite something. People are absolutely fascinated by this strange white woman and her even stranger dog on his lead! Everywhere we go, people shout out at us. They want us to stop so that they can talk and ask us questions. It sounds like a very extreme reaction and it truly is. I had thought that we would stand out – of course I had – but I had not anticipated this level of interest. Yet for all the curiosity and for all the laughter that we generate as we go about town, there is never any malice in the people. They are just wonderfully warm and good natured. I hope that they will get used to us in time though; it will be nice to be able to walk down the street without being stared at!

In fact, Sam and I have been out and about a lot. I have been trying to talk to as many people as possible – not difficult under the circumstances – and to tell them all about why we are in Kasungu; I want to make sure that people know that I am not a tourist! Spreading the word about our new business venture and explaining how it is going to be used to help other Malawians is very important. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and I am confident that The Lighthouse will be a big success when it eventually opens. More often than not, local businesses in town are shabby in their appearance and chaotic in their approach to service. In one respect, this is actually quite quaint. However, our intention is to raise the standard considerably; we intend to offer something quite unique in Kasungu, namely a service that is fast and efficient!

I guess my last piece of major news concerns our first church service in Kasungu. I had hoped to have a lie in, but the English service here begins at 8am, so there was no chance of this. Once again, I found myself coming face to face with ‘the warm heart of Africa’; the people were so welcoming and I immediately felt at home. The service actually lasted for two hours and was a real eye opener. Worship in Malawi is loud, joyful, energetic and completely infectious. People sing with great passion and dancing in the pews is apparently the norm. Yesterday the church was packed – with old and young parishioners alike. The two choirs belted out some wonderful gospel songs and then it was the turn of the Pastor to entertain us. I use the word ’entertain’ quite deliberately – I have never experienced a sermon quite like that one. It was absolutely hilarious; I kid you not, it was like being ministered to by a stand up comic! The congregation was in fits – I was in fits – the church rang with the sound of laughter. Yet the theme of the sermon was a very serious one and for all the fun, the message was never lost upon us. Far from it, the words resonated with power, passion, sincerity and relevance. It was very impressive to watch this man at work – a lesson in the art of communication.

At the end of the service I had the opportunity to introduce myself to the congregation. This was fantastic; I was able to tell them all about myself (and Sam), our reasons for being in Malawi and our new business venture in Kasungu. Working in partnership with the church is going to be very important; it is my hope that we can support each other.

As you will see from the above, we have experienced a great many ‘highs’ so far – here are just a few more:

* Sam – he has been magnificent in adapting to life in Malawi – a real hero!

* Visiting the vet – a twenty minute consultation and enough liquid to protect Sam from fleas and ticks for a whole year cost £9.00

* My new colleagues from JTW – Elliot, Ron, Gloria and Ulemu – they have been wonderfully welcoming and helpful.

* The tea – it is absolutely fantastic!

* Lake Malawi – we went to visit it and it is truly spectacular.

* Meeting my neighbour Martin who is a senior Inspector for Primary Schools in the area – he is responsible for seventeen schools in total. Plus, making friends with Esther and George – two Police Officers who live with their own two children and four orphans. Esther has promised to teach me Chichewa!

* Finding a shop that sells really great socks – they are thin and cool and are perfect for wearing with my crocs! They protect my feet from the dust and cost 25p per pair - an absolute bargain!

For all the ‘highs’ though, we have experienced our fair share of lows – such as:

* Sam – he was very sick one evening and could not stop shaking. I just wrapped him in a blanket and cradled him in my arms until he fell asleep. He was fine the next day and the vet thought it was the sudden change in temperature that had cause the shaking. It was a horrible, horrible thing though.

* The dust – as I mentioned before, Malawi is a dust bowl and even in town, it is impossible to keep clean. Clothes become filthy and Sam is finding it very hard going – he keeps sneezing. I have loads of dirty clothes and at the moment, have no means of washing them.

* Driving – I spent some time driving in Lilongwe last week and it is basically every man (and woman) for themselves - what an experience!

* Electricity – power cuts are frequent.

* Shopping – there is very little choice in the shops.

* Mice on Sticks – A great many people eat mice in Malawi because they are unable to afford meat. Mice are sold on sticks (like kebabs) and this is a revolting site when you first see it.

* The Black Mamba snake that we came across and the three large, snarling wild dogs that appeared out of nowhere when we were out walking one day. Both were seriously scary!

There have been some other lows as well; the biggest frustration has been the process of trying to get the Malawi Customs to release the container that was shipped from the UK in May. Once again, it was the paperwork side of things that caused the most difficulty. The container has now been released, but dealing with this very inefficient and bureaucratic office was an absolute pain in the neck.

Inefficient is a word that frequently springs to mind in Malawi. Strangely, there seems to be very little joined up thinking here; actions occur in isolation and without much thought to what happens next. Things are disjointed and fragmented – something that I have been finding very difficult to accept. The pace of life here is also unbelievable slow – nothing, absolutely nothing happens quickly here. If you order a meal in a restaurant, it could take an hour and a half for the food to arrive! My level of patience has been struggling to cope and I know that I have a long way to go before I can fully accept this way of living.

I guess the other ‘low’ is a bit of a paradox; it is the business of being surrounded by lots of people and yet feeling lonely. Being the only British AND the only white person here is a strange situation to be in. I have been amazed at how much I am missing that most familiar and basic of things – small talk. I have come to understand just how important this actually is and what a big part it plays in our everyday lives; I am missing it terribly. I am spending a large amount of time talking to people, but it is a completely different kind of ‘talk’. I am hoping that as the weeks and months go by though, that this will change and this feeling of loneliness will disappear.

In signing off, I send you all my love and good wishes and promise to update the site with our news as often as I can.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Welcome to Malawi

Hello and welcome to Malawi - we are finally here! Be assurred that we are safe and well. Today is our 6th day in the country and this is the first time I have been able to get access to a PC and to an Internet connection. It has been an amazing time - simply extraordinary. My intention is to give you a full account, but at the moment, this is not possible - my time on this particular machine is limited to a few minutes and so I will have to sign off shortly. I hope I have managed to wet your appetites for the news to come though; believe me, it is worth reading. I don't know when you will next hear from us. However, I would like you to know that you are all in our thoughts and that we are missing you greatly. Equally though, I know that our time in Malawi is going to be well spent and that the decision to come here to work with 'Joy to the World Ministries' was the right one. There is so much need here; it is utterly gut wrenching to see the level of poverty here. If I have learnt anything in the last 6 days though, it is that pity and tears are absolutely no good; what's needed is practical help and love. Our intention is to give both. We will see you soon - please keep us all in your thoughts and your prayers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Here We Go!

After months of hard work and preparation, the time has finally arrived. Today, Sam and I are beginning our long journey to Malawi. I have just dropped off Sam at Glasgow Airport; he flies out in two hours time on a KLM flight and will arrive in Amsterdam this evening. My own flight leaves tomorrow morning; we will meet up in Amsterdam and will then travel to Johannesburg, South Africa, together. The following day, we embark on the final leg of our journey; we are due to arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi on Thursday afternoon. On arrival, we will be met by our new colleagues from ‘Joy to the World Ministries’ and drive to the villiage of Dzuwa.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela

In Dzuwa, there is a desperate need for a secondary school and JTW plans to build one! When’s it’s built, the young people of Dzuwa will be able to continue their education beyond an elementary level; the school will give them far greater opportunities and choices than they currently have. We have a large container full of quality books (donated by the people of Oban and Inverness) and are now in a position where we can realistically resource a secondary school. Now all we need is the building and the staff – no small task. However, we are working hard to put these in place and hope that the new school will be open for business next year.

But of course, the school isn't our only enterprise - we intend to open the best book shop, coffee shop and Internet Cafe that the nearby town of Kasungu has ever seen! I will tell you a bit more about this in our next blog - hopefully by then, I will have learnt to make a decent cup of coffee!

All in all, Sam and I have an amazing journey ahead of us and I very much hope that you will share it with us. Hopefully you have read our previous blogs; as you know, this site was created specifically so that we can keep people updated with all our news – the highs and the lows - the good and the bad – the successes and the disappointments. We know that we face many challenges but we also know that we are taking the love and the good wishes of our friends (yes, Sam has friends!) and family with us. So jump onboard and take a deep breath – it promises to be quite a ride!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Week to Go!

Can it really only be one week until we leave for Malawi - it seems absolutely incredible. Sam’s flights have finally been confirmed and most of his documents are now in place; the last piece of paper should be in my hands on Thursday. What a relief that will be!

I’m trying to learn a little bit of Chichewa – the national language of Malawi – before we leave. The official language of the country is actually English, but from everything I have read and from everyone I have spoken to, even the clumsiest attempt to speak the local language, goes a long way in Africa. Every conversation begins in the traditional way – “Moni, muli bwanji?” “Hello, how are you?” Reciprocation is essential; politeness, good manners, lots of smiles and plenty of laughter are the order of the day in Malawi. The country is universally known as the ‘heart of Africa’ because of the warm nature and the friendliness of its people. It is also renowned for it’s gentle pace; as my guide book puts it, “Malawi, may well be the most laid-back nation on earth ..... it has a low key charm that becomes thoroughly addictive”. All in all, it is a tantalising prospect.

Over the next seven days, we will tie up the last of our loose ends, sort out the last of our packing and say the last of our goodbyes. There are still a sobering number of things that need to be done, but we will get there – and then it’s off for the adventure of a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Clock is Ticking!

Oh boy – the clock is really ticking now – there are only two weeks to go before Sam and I begin our journey to Malawi. Yet there’s still so much that we need to do – aaahhhh. Am I stressed? Just a little!

Poor Sam has been feeling a bit stressed himself lately; he has just had a large quantity of blood taken from his front leg so that various tests can be carried out. I’ve explained to him that this has to be done so that the vet can ‘sign off’ his travel permits, but he’s not impressed! Quite frankly, I can’t say I blame him – I have had ten pre-travel jags, so I know exactly how unpleasant needles can be. We’re all jagged out!

Anyway, on a positive note, this is an amazingly exciting time and in all fairness, it is only the paperwork side of things that is causing any real headaches for us. Never has the word ‘bureaucratic’ held such meaning for me. But I know we will get there.

Hopefully when you read our next blog, you will hear that all tests have been completed, that the results are back, that all our documents have arrived and are in place, that all our things are packed and that we are (finally) ready for the off. Here’s hoping!