Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Name is Jennifer!

I’m thinking of changing my name to ‘Jennifer’ – not because I particularly like the name – or dislike the name ‘Jayne’ for that matter, but simply because it has brought me a great deal of laughter over the last couple of weeks. After the sadness that we have experienced here recently, that laughter has been a real tonic.

I’d like to tell you about particular man in Kasungu; he absolutely cracks me up whenever I see him – his name is Mr Phiri and he works for the Water Company. Mr Phiri is responsible for our water bills. Now you might think that getting a water bill would be a very straightforward – and boring - matter. However, you would be wrong – this is Malawi after all and rarely is anything here straightforward and/or uneventful. Even getting a simple water bill can become a remarkably complicated affair; getting an accurate water bill is a task designed to test even the most patient and tenacious person. Enter Mr Phiri. Now for some reason, when we first met – way back in July 2009 – he thought my name was Jennifer. Of course, the simple thing to have done at the time would have been to correct him and to tell him that my name is actually Jayne. Now for reasons which seemed perfectly sound at the time, this is precisely what I didn’t do. Not only did I not do it at our first meeting, I didn’t do it at any of our subsequent meetings either – and believe me, there have been quite a few of them. Why? Because the guy absolutely loves saying the word ‘Jennifer’. And he doesn’t just say it once – in the course of one sentence he might say it three or four times - in the course of an entire conversation, he will say it LOADS of times. And he says it with such exuberance and energy. When he sees me, he beams the most jubilant smile at me, jumps to his feet and shouts “Jennifer” at me in the most animated fashion – sounding out all the syllables. I simply haven’t got the heart to tell him that my name is Jayne – it just doesn’t offer the same possibilities! Over the last couple of weeks we have been disputing our water bill at TLH and as a result, I have been seeing quite a lot of Mr Phiri. Of course he has absolutely no idea how funny I find his behaviour and I have to work hard to make sure that he doesn’t know how hilarious I find the whole situation. But just thinking about him brings a smile to my face; he is such a nice man who tries so hard to help. What’s particularly interesting about this situation is the fact that I’m quite sure that he finds me and my ways just as comical – something that is actually very healthy. So often, ‘difference’ is viewed in a very negative way, but of course when things and/or people differ – even when they differ as widely and as wildly as they do here in Malawi – this needn’t be the case; more often than not, it is a cause for celebration and an opportunity to learn. Certainly when you start to look at yourself from the point of view of how others might be seeing you, it is impossible to take yourself too seriously; in fact, to do that here would be absolutely disastrous. In Malawi, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re finished. Nine months in, the Malawians continue to view me with great hilarity. For example, I was attempting to explain to someone recently precisely why I put Sam on a lead and take him out for a walk – in Malawi, this is regarded as a very bizarre thing to do. As the words were coming out of my mouth, I was watching the expression on the man’s face – he became increasingly bemused as I attempted to enlighten him. In the end, I had to admit that standing in the middle of Africa, my explanation did seem pretty daft – meanwhile, I interpreted the look on his face as something along the lines of “this woman is completely bonkers”. In the end we were both laughing uproariously. It was good.

On a separate note, I am currently house hunting; so far my ‘hunt’ has yielded nothing. I have to be out of the house where I’m living at the end of June and so still have a few weeks before the situation becomes really urgent. However, the town of Kasungu has recently been given ‘municipality’ status; this is a formal acknowledgment that the town is growing and that it has been earmarked for development over the next few years. Kasungu is now a very attractive location for investment and an increasing number of people are moving here – something that makes house hunting that much harder. Although houses are available here, finding one that is safe and secure is proving difficult. To put it bluntly, I am an attractive target for robbers - single, white and female! It’s like putting your money into one of those one armed bandits and hitting the jackpot – singlewhitefemale. The best – or worst – combination, depending upon your point of view! I must admit, I try very hard not to think too deeply about the security issues associated with living here, but am aware that I have to be very careful. In all fairness though, the exact same could be said for many parts of the UK; it certainly isn’t just Malawi where personal safety/security is an issue for women. Having Sam certainly helps with this situation though; he barks when anyone approaches the house and does sound very fierce – a wonderful deterrent. This is a huge red herring of course – he is the soppiest, most loving dog I have ever come across - unless you happen to be another dog - but that's another story and I'm digressing! The point I am trying to make is that if someone did break into the house, I suspect that Sam would be pretty useless: he views every new person as a potential play mate – any burglar would probably be licked to death! Now that our House girl has left, Sam is spending much of his day on his own. I have someone who goes in twice a day to walk him, but it is not the same as having regular companionship; I do worry about him. I am trying to find someone who can help out a bit more at the house, but once again, this is proving quite difficult; finding the right person will take time. We will get there though.

Work at TLH continues, although there has been a significant drop in our income over the last few weeks. This is hugely disappointing, given how things were immediately before I left for the UK. The precise reasons for this change in our affairs are difficult to pinpoint, although it’s fair to say that the town is very quiet at the moment. Many people have actually left Kasungu to work on the Tobacco farms; this is the time of year when harvesting takes place. From talking to other businesses, our situation seems to be mirrored across town and it is reassuring to know that other businesses have also experienced a drop in their incomes. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the coming weeks.

As always, I will keep you updated with all our news - good and bad. We have a busy and challenging few months ahead as we continue in our work to bring TLH to a position where it is financially viable. At times it feels as if we are moving one step forward – only to move two steps back again. But like the situation with Sam and my search for a new house, we press ahead with confidence, knowing that will succeed – it might just take some time!

Once again, thank you for your emails and your good wishes - they make a difference. Thank you for your prayers – they work!

With love and best wishes - Jayne and Sam

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back in Malawi

I have been back in Malawi for two weeks now and returning has been a bitter sweet experience. Am I glad to be back? Well, the answer to that question is a definite “yes” – it is certainly good to get back to The Lighthouse – it is good to pick up the reins again and to get ‘stuck in’ to our work here. There is so much to be done here; so many challenges that we still have to overcome. At times it is a little daunting, but it is also terribly exciting. It has also been lovely to catch up with my JTW colleagues and with our customers. BUT – and it is a very big ‘but’ – the last two weeks have also been extraordinarily difficult and tragedy has touched us all in a very personal way.

Obviously in a country like Malawi, there are vast cultural differences; I have often spoken about these and about how challenging it is to be in a place where everything is different and where there is virtually no common point of reference. You constantly have to change / readjust your ideas and thinking about things to accommodate the reality of day to day life; the following is a good example of this. In Malawi, most households have either a ‘house girl’ or ‘house boy’ – someone who helps to take care of the house. In our case, we have a young woman – she has been looking after Sam during the day and has been helping us with washing, cleaning etc. In the UK of course, this kind of live in ‘help’ is quite rare – the reserve of the very wealthy. However, here it is the norm and I must admit that it has taken me a long time to reach the point where I feel comfortable with this arrangement. But the lady in question is lovely and when she came to the house, she brought her baby daughter with her. Unfortunately this little girl has just died of Malaria – she was two years old. It is so desperately sad. I visited the hospital the morning after she died and arrived just in time to see the body being taken to the mortuary; it was an absolutely harrowing sight and one that I don’t think I will ever forget. It was the first time that I have visited Kasungu hospital and I must admit that I had no idea that things were so bad. There were so few beds to be seen and many patients were simply lying on the floor – with no mattresses and hardly any bedding. I was staggered by how many young children were there – most suffering from Malaria and/or diarrhoea. The stench in the hospital was dreadful; I thought I had seen everything that Malawi has in the way of poverty, but this just completely floored me. What has astonished me is the fact that several people have told me that the hospital has improved greatly over the last few years! Goodness only knows what it was like before; I certainly find it hard to imagine.

This lady has now returned to her village and is with her family. We have done everything we can to offer her support but it is hard to know what to say to someone who has just lost their entire world. She will not be coming back to Kasungu.

Amongst other things, the sudden death of this little girl is a reminder of just how fragile life is in Malawi - disease and death are never far away; in fact they are a regular part of life for most people here.

When I was in the UK, I had the opportunity to return to the secondary school that I used to work at to speak to pupils about JTW and about our work in Kasungu and Dzuwa village. More than anything, I wanted these young people to understand what life is like in a developing country like this one and to realise just how extraordinarily lucky they are. Ultimately though, there is only so much you can accomplish with words and with pictures/photos; I sincerely wish that every person in the developed world could come to Africa to experience the reality of life here. It certainly puts everything into perspective; you realise how trivial and also how repugnant so much of life in countries like the UK actually is. Why is it that so many nations have so much, when others have virtually nothing? It’s obscene and is something that everyone has a responsibility to not only think about, but to do something about. Even in difficult economic times and recessions, we in the west never face the kind of hardships and difficulties that so many people here face each and every day. I know that it is easy to ‘sound off’ - the frustration and sense of injustice are so overwhelming at times. Of course I also know that there are no easy answers; Africa’s problems are clearly enormous. The challenges facing the country of Malawi are certainly far ranging and complex, but there are a great many good people/organizations working here to try and turn this situation around. JTW is just one such organization. I do realise how fortunate I am to be here and to have the opportunity to make even a small contribution to the work it is doing.

If you would like more detailed information about the work that JTW is doing in Malawi - and how you might be able to help us - our website address is:


Any help you can give would be gratefully received; it really is the case that even small amounts of money can really make a difference here.

Before I close, can I just stress how wonderful it is to receive emails from home; over the last two weeks in particular, they have been a great help to me. Thank you to everyone who keeps in touch. Your news and/or messages of "hello" really do make such a difference; I am so thankful for all the good thoughts and prayers that come this way.

God Bless


PS - Sam is his usual wonderful self and sends you all his love. He gave me the most fantastic welcome home - lots of licks and cuddles! He made the long and difficult journey back to Malawi completely worthwhile. I will give you some more 'Sam news' next time.