Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Spoke Too Soon!

Has it really been over two weeks since our last entry – the time has gone so fast. It must be all the fun we are having! In fact, it has actually been a tedious and unbelievably frustrating time here in Malawi. When I last wrote, I reported that we had finally been granted access to the container that was shipped from the UK in May. We had already had a very difficult time with the Customs Department and with the agent who was supposed to be acting as a middle man in the process; the paperwork seemed to be taking the most ridiculous amount of time to deal with. You can imagine our relief and joy when we were finally told that it had been completed. Unfortunately I spoke too soon! The next day, Custom officials announced that they were unable to release the container, citing the need for additional paperwork as the reason. We subsequently battled with them (and with our agent) for a further ten days; during this time, duplicate documents had to be submitted and I lost count of the number of telephone calls we made to try and get things resolved. Finally, we were told that we could unload our goods – an event that took place last Thursday. The whole situation has not only been infuriating, it has also been very costly. In addition to storage charges, we have had to pay agency fees and a fee to Customs for the processing of this infamous ‘paperwork’; this in turn has had serious implications for us. JTW had previously set aside a certain amount of money to start the business in Kasungu. Having paid these bills, we are left with a lot less money than we thought we would have; it means that certain things will not get done prior to our opening ‘The Lighthouse’ on 1st September. For example, we may be able to serve our customers refreshments, but it is highly unlikely that they will have anywhere to sit down! It is deeply upsetting - being at the mercy of the Malawi Customs Department is a disconcerting situation to be. So what exactly was the problem – inefficiency, incompetence or deliberate delaying tactics? Obviously I don’t know for sure, although I strongly suspect that it was a combination of all three! People have told me that where corruption is concerned, things in Malawi have improved greatly under the leadership of President Mutharika - President since 2004; his government has been characterised by a vigorous drive to route out corruption. Yet there is little doubt that it remains endemic in the country. Fortunately we are now free of Malawi Customs and the shadow that has been hanging over us for several weeks, has now gone. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

So what have we actually accomplished in the last two weeks? Well, work has begun at ‘The Lighthouse’. The unit we are renting was left in a very poor state of repair by its previous tenants and as a result, a lot of work needs to be done. We are blessed by the fact that the unit is in a terrific location in town – one that should ensure we get a good flow of customers. Fortunately, we are away from the main chaos of Kasungu, yet remain easily accessible. We are situated directly opposite a secondary school and the main backdrop is Kasungu mountain – it is so beautiful and it will be a wonderful place to work. Another thing in our favour is the fact that there is currently only one other place in Kasungu where Internet access is available. However, this place is very expensive and it only has a couple of machines available; there are long waiting times to get on these PCs and the connection is apparently very slow. I have found the lack of access to email particularly frustrating; being out of touch with people has proved very difficult for me. I very much hope that this will change once we open for business; it should be so much easier to stay in touch.

In addition to all the work we are doing at ‘The Lighthouse’, Sam and I continue to make ourselves known about town; telling as many people as possible about what we are doing is very important. We continue to cause great hilarity, although I’m glad to report that things have calmed down quite a bit – the people of Kasungu appear to be getting used to this pink elephant and her strange ways! Sam is still the focus of attention wherever we go though; Malawians simply don’t understand the relationship that I have with him. Having a dog as a pet is not something that is part of the culture here; putting a dog on a lead and taking it for a walk is perceived as being a very, very strange thing to do. The fact that Sam lives in the house with me and actually has his own bed is another thing that causes astonishment. Although people do own dogs here, their main function is to guard property and as a result, they tend to be quite aggressive. These dogs roam freely and generally have to scavenge for their food; they certainly don’t get treated the way Sam is treated. This is something else that causes great amusement when we are out and about – this strange little dog who comes everywhere with his owner and who is loved and cherished like a child - bizarre! Having said this though, Sam is actually greatly admired in town and has become a bit of a celebrity here; more often than not, people say “hello” to him before they say “hello” to me! It’s very comical, but I can certainly understand the interest in him - he simply isn’t like the dogs that people are used to – not only does he look very different (he is much smaller, plus there are no other white dogs in Kasungu – how ironic is that!!) but his nature is totally different as well. Sam is so loving and friendly and I think people are slowly beginning to understand what I mean when I tell them that he is much more than a dog. He is a companion and a friend!

I guess the other thing to report is that I am finding that eating is becoming a real problem for me; there are a variety of reasons for this. Firstly, it is very hot; the temperature each day reaches 27 / 28 degrees and it does affect your appetite quite dramatically. Secondly, food here is incredibly boring. The choice of food available in the shops is virtually non existent and what there is, is completely uninspiring. Thirdly, there are problems with refrigeration in Kasungu – the electricity is constantly going off for long periods of time and none of the shops seem to have any kind of back up system for their fridges and freezers. I was warned about this when I first arrived in Kasungu and this, together with the fact that I was very ill when I was in Dzuwa village, has made me very, very cautious about what I eat. The final thing to say about eating is that there is a certain amount of guilt attached to the process. We are surrounded by so many people - and in particular, so many children - who are hungry. It is impossible not to feel bad about the fact that we have food and so many others don’t. Children rummaging through dustbins, is a common site here; I am in no doubt that Sam actually eats more food each day than many of the children who live in both Dzuwa and in Kasungu. I am finding this very difficult to get my head around; I just keep reminding myself that if we don’t eat we will become ill. Equally, I know that if I don’t eat, I will not be able to do the work that I have come all this way to do! It is fair to say though, that whereas eating was once an immensely enjoyable thing, it is now simply something that has to be done – a bit of a chore no less. As a result, I have already lost quite a lot of weight – with no effort whatsoever!

In my last blog I spoke about feelings of loneliness and isolation. Never before have I been so aware of the colour of my skin – it’s just not something I’ve ever really thought about before. Likewise, I have never experienced such a sense of being different before. It’s such a strange situation to be in. Well, it is always the case that life is full of surprises and today I had a terrific surprise. As I was walking into town, I spotted a woman walking towards me – a white woman! It was actually very, very funny, because the two of us couldn’t take our eyes off of one another! We immediately stopped to talk and to introduce ourselves. Melissa is American (well, beggars can’t be choosers!) and a member of staff with a charitable organisation; she has been in Malawi for three months and is due to be here for another year and a bit. Although she doesn’t live in Kasungu, she is based in a nearby village and comes into town about once a month. We hit it off straight away and it was great to have someone with the same points of reference, to talk to. Having a meaningful conversation with someone i.e. exchanging points of view and discussing common areas of interest, is vastly different to simply telling people about yourself, or answering a long list of questions. We have agreed to get together whenever we can and I am in no doubt that her friendship will make a substantial difference to me.

In ending this blog, it is fair to say that it has been a difficult couple of weeks – weeks which have been dominated by the vast cultural differences that exist between Britain and Malawi. As a result, I am aware that a lot of the content of this blog is quite negative; I apologise for this. Believe it or not, we are both actually incredibly happy! There is no doubt that working with JTW and just the simple fact of living in Malawi is very hard at times. At times it feels like every day is a test of one’s inner resources – and one’s patience! Yet this ensures that every day is hugely stimulating. I know that this is going to sound very, very cheesy but it is absolutely the case that you only find out what you are capable of when the chips are down. It is during times such as these that you find out what you are really made off – in other words, when faced with adversity, do you sink or do you swim? I’m certainly not going to claim that I’m gaily swimming my way through the days here. I’m not. In fact there have been many, many times when I have struggled with the situation I have found myself in. However, I am proud of the fact that I have only come close to sinking on one occasion - when Sam was very ill one evening and there was absolutely nobody I could call to help - that was undoubtedly the lowest point to date. Believe me when I say though, that there is never a dull moment here and it is something that makes for an exciting life; if nothing else, Africa is a place where you know you are alive! For all of the many difficulties, life here is rewarding in most wonderful (and often unexpected) ways. In particular, I find the people truly amazing and truly inspirational; in the face of the most extraordinary hardship, they have the most indomitable spirit. They also have their priorities in perfect order – I just wish they could do things a bit quicker and with a greater sense of urgency! I’m glad to report that Sam is also loving it here and that he has settled remarkably well. Much to my surprise, he loves the sun and the heat and spends a lot of time just enjoying these in our garden. Our house is actually built upon a couple of acres of land and this is just fantastic for Sam; it is something that he has never had before. His tail never stops wagging and he has never seemed happier! For all the many ups and downs then, I can honestly say that things are going really well.

As always, we send you our love and best wishes and ask you all to keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

NEXT TIME …… The X Factor Comes to Kasungu CCAP Church !!