Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A New Month and a New Home

Tomorrow is the 1st July – amazing! I am pleased to report that Sam and I have a new home. It has been an extraordinarily difficult time; moving home in the UK is notoriously stressful and over the last few months I’ve discovered that moving home in Malawi can be equally demanding! Actually finding a house that is secure and within my budget has proved a massive challenge: Kasungu has suddenly become a very popular location and a lot of people are moving here – mainly for business purposes. Housing has therefore become a real problem – supply is now outstripping demand and landlords are really cashing in on the situation. A Lighthouse customer finally located a house for us and after lengthy negotiations, was able to secure the tenancy. I actually had no part in the negotiations that took place; I simply had to sit on the sidelines and suffer in silence. It took several meetings to reach an agreement and that’s when the fun really started! At that point, we were able to actually view the inside of the property, only to discover that it was in a very poor state of repair – holes in the ceilings, doors, walls and floors, together with some very dodgy electrics! What a disappointment. So stage two of the negotiations began – negotiations to get the landlord to carry out the numerous – and expensive – repairs. Fortunately he agreed to do the work in question and over the last couple of weeks, a builder, a carpenter, a painter and an electrician have been hard at work transforming it into something that resembles a home. Sam and I actually moved in last week and we are now fully settled; it’s a wonderful feeling. The house is actually ideal for us; it’s in a fantastic location – about ten minutes from TLH – and it’s secure. It’s a lot smaller than the house in which we have been living, but in many ways, I’m actually very pleased about this; I’m hoping it will be a real home to us for however much longer we remain in Malawi. My customer has been truly heroic in his efforts to secure me a house; not only has he negotiated tirelessly with this particular landlord, but has organized and supervised all the renovations that have had to be done. A really mammoth task! He’s actually been visiting TLH since we opened last October and his life has been transformed by his time here. When I first met him, he was struggling with drug and alcohol problems - not any longer though. He is completely free of these addictions and credits TLH with helping him to turn his life around. He is a wonderful inspiration to me personally; a reminder – if I needed one – that TLH is making a huge difference to people here. The work is hard and we work long hours, but it is so worthwhile – we see God doing the most wonderful things here each and every day.

This month TLH gained a new member of staff. Harold has been working with Joy to the World Ministries for three years now and is a graduate of the African Bible College; he has moved to Kasungu from Dzuwa village and will have particular responsibility for the ministry side of TLH. This is a fantastic step forward because it means that my Deputy Manager and I can now concentrate fully on the business side of things here. Harold will work to develop the library, a children’s ministry and a programme of outreach activities within our local community. These are things that we simply haven’t been able to do here because of a lack of time – running the Internet café and all our IT services is a full time job which has been leaving us with less and less quality time to spend with our customers. However, this daily juggling act can now stop; in many ways, Harold’s arrival marks a new chapter in the life of TLH and it’s a very exciting time for us. Our finances are a lot healthier and we will now be able to balance the two sides of our work here much more effectively. TLH will be a genuine ministry as well as a successful business. In August, work on our proposed Secondary School will begin in earnest and it is my sincere hope that TLH will eventually be able to offer this project financial support. We are in a wonderful position and I thank God for everything He has done to bring us to this place.

Sam and I have now been in Malawi a year – give or take a couple of weeks - and if you have been reading this blog regularly, you will know that it has been a year full of extreme ups and downs; just making it through the last twelve months has been a huge, huge challenge. However, here we are and we are looking to the future with great hope and high expectations. As you know, the purpose of this blog site was to give friends and family a commentary on our life here in the town of Kasungu and an understanding of what life is like in a developing country like Malawi – the good and the bad. I hope it has achieved these things; it has certainly been fun writing it. For various reasons however, I have decided not to continue with the blog. It is the right time to stop.

That said, you are most welcome to email me directly at powers.jayne@yahoo.co.uk and I would love to hear from folk.

As I write this, I do not know precisely how long Sam and I will remain in this fascinating country; I hope that I will be able to hand TLH over to my Deputy Manager next year and that I will then be able to devote my time and energies to the school project. However, we shall see what 2011 brings. It’s all in God’s hands.

I thank you all for your good wishes, thoughts and prayers; I look forward to hearing from you.

God Bless you all.


PS – How right was my prediction about the England football team and their performance in the World Cup? Am I feeling smug? Of course not. Jayne Powers – Librarian, Missionary and expert football pundit!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Money Talks!

Last time I was telling you about the extraordinary case of the two men who had been sentenced to fourteen years hard labour for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality. This case has caused the most enormous stir – both here in Malawi and internationally as well. A few days ago, the President of Malawi – Dr Bingu wa Mutharika – personally intervened in this situation and issued a presidential pardon to the men; they were immediately released. The outrage generated by this pardon – as I’m sure you can imagine – has been enormous and it has been absolutely fascinating to watch. The reason this situation is so interesting, is that it strikes at the very heart of this country; it pits core Malawi culture and values against the relationship the country has with its foreign donors. Recently, the two have most certainly been in conflict. The problem of course, is that Malawi’s stance on homosexuality is completely at odds with many of the countries that give aid to it. Countries like the UK and the USA have been particularly vocal in their objections/protests at the way in which these two men have been treated; both have threatened to withdraw aid as a result.

Significantly, the pardon was announced after a meeting between the President and the Secretary of the United Nations; officially, it was granted for humanitarian reasons. However, it is clear that few ordinary Malawians believe this explanation and from an onlooker’s perspective, it would seem to be a classic case of the administration not wishing to bite the hand that feeds! The bottom line of course, is that Malawi is a chronically poor country and is absolutely dependent upon the foreign aid it receives each year. Could the President really risk putting this aid in jeopardy? Unfortunately for him, there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for this argument and for the dilemma he has faced; many have argued in the press that Malawi is first and foremost a Christian, God fearing country and that what this decision has done, is show to the world that it is actually a donor fearing country!

Once again, it is very easy to sit and be judgmental and I actually feel very sorry for the President and for the position that he has found himself in – this was always going to be a lose/lose situation for him. If he stood firm with the Judiciary, he risked the wrath of foreign donors and the loss of vital aid. On the other hand, by granting the pardon and by appeasing the international community, he has infuriated and lost the respect of many people. His own position may well be undermined as a result of this perceived ‘sell out’.

If nothing else, the President’s pardon has brought the issue of money and the lengths to which people are prepared to go to, to secure it, into sharp focus. How many people – when faced with potentially dire financial consequences – would genuinely be prepared to hold firm to their beliefs and principles? It’s a hugely challenging question.

Finally of course, this pardon raises some awkward questions about how the issue of homosexuality in Malawi will be dealt with in the future. What happens when the next gay man/woman /couple comes to the attention of the authorities? Not an easy situation – for anyone.

Love, best wishes and thanks to you all - Jayne and Sam

PS - We are still looking for a house - more on that next time!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


When I wrote last time, I was telling you about Sam and using him as an example of the cultural differences that exist between the UK and Malawi. It’s a subject I find myself coming back to time and time again – probably because it plays such a bit part in my day to day life here. When you’re trying to work with people and to build meaningful relationships with them, culture becomes a hugely significant issue – it feeds into everything that you do. When you live in the UK of course, you just don’t think about culture – mainly because you have no need to; our own culture is transparent to us and we live in it unconsciously. But when you come to live in a country like Malawi, it’s a very different story. For my own part, although I came here with an expectation of cultural differences, I honestly didn’t appreciate just how vast and how deep these differences would be and I completely underestimated how trying I would find them. I have come to understand that when people refer to ‘culture shock’, they are talking quite literally: it really is a shock to the system! It’s fair to say that at times, living in another culture is difficult, unpleasant and uncomfortable – it makes demands of you at every conceivable level. The business of Sam – of taking a dog for a walk – is obviously a light hearted example of how accustomed behaviour can be completely alien to the people around you. But even small, light hearted things like this, can create barriers and make it difficult to relate to others. Once you enter the realm of big differences, you can come face to face with some pretty testing stuff. I have certainly found this out over the last week when a story that I have been following in the press here came to ahead. This is an example of a difference in culture which has been anything but light hearted.

Events began a few months ago, when two gay men held what we in the UK, would call a Civil Partnership Ceremony. It was an extraordinary thing to do, given that homosexuality is illegal in Malawi. The ceremony was held in public and many people attended; it attracted enormous interest – so much so, that the story made the front pages of the national newspapers here. The response from the authorities was swift: within forty-eight hours, the men had been arrested. They were held in custody until last week, when their trail was held. They were both found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years in prison, with hard labour – the maximum sentence allowed under Malawian law. In his ruling, the Magistrate certainly didn’t mince his words; he dismissed the case for the defence and described the men as “attempting to corrupt the mind of the whole nation”.

As someone from the UK – a country with a completely different attitude to the issue of homosexuality – this case has evoked a range of feelings/emotions. Viewed through my western eyes, it seems like a shocking state of affairs – a lack of tolerance and compassion that will do Malawi no favours with respect to its global standing on human and minority rights issues. Over the past week, the ‘warm heart of Africa’ has seemed very hard and cold. Yet I have spoken to a number of Malawians about this case and their response has been quite different from my own; they have had absolutely no problems accepting the verdict and sentence. Some have even expressed the opinion that the men should have been sentanced to death. I have found this equally difficult to comprehend; it seems like such a harsh and disproportionate judgement – one which you’d think would evoke a measure of sympathy. Not so apparently. This incident has taken me back to a book I was reading before I came out here; it was a fascinating read. The book dealt with the subject of ethnic prejudice and documented wider research that had been carried out on the subject of difference; specifically what happens when people encounter difference – difference between themselves and another person. Regardless of the nature of the difference, people invariably attach a value to it - a negative value. What follows is a sense of superiority – a belief that one’s own behaviour is somehow better. Obviously this is not acceptable or helpful by any standards; if you’re trying to live and work in a foreign culture, it is potentially disastrous. What I’ve come to know, is that it’s amazing how you can read about something and be absolutely confident that you would never be guilty of it yourself. It’s equally amazing how easily you can be proved wrong! In my own case, feelings of national pride - something which I honestly thought I would never experience during my time here - have been alive and kicking over the past week!

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that day to day living here is incredibly difficult at times. Even when you come to a country with the best of intentions and with a genuine desire to help, it is still possible to be judgemental and to react to situations with prejudice. On the plus side however, these situations are opportunities to learn – a chance to see/consider things from an alternative point of view – a chance to grow. Being in Malawi is proving to be a fascinating journey of self discovery and I wouldn’t miss it for the world; you certainly can’t do this in your own back yard – something that makes all the difficulties and hardships completely worthwhile. It really is a privilege to be and to serve here.

A huge “thank you” for all your good wishes and prayers – they really make a difference.

Jayne and Sam

PS – Sam and I are still searching for a new place to live here in Kasungu and it is proving very hard to find anywhere suitable. We would really be grateful for your prayers on this issue. Thank you

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Happiness Is....

…..Sam’s new best friend! We have a new house girl at the house; her name is Happiness. As you know, I have been trying to find someone who can be at the house during the day – not just to give some help with the cleaning etc, but to keep an eye on Sam and to add some security to the place in my absence. Finding the right person has proved difficult though – and it’s all Sam’s fault! He seems to scare people; I honestly don’t know why. It doesn't help that he bounces such a lot though! Malawian dogs don’t bounce. They pace and roam – usually in a leisurely, but quite menacing fashion! Of course dogs here are generally kept for the purpose of guarding property. They fill a very functional role and their owners don’t really have what we would call ‘a relationship’ with them. Obviously in the UK, we are hugely sentimental about our pets; we see them as part of our families - say that to a Malawian and he/she will look at you as if you are crazy! When people see me out with Sam, they simply cannot understand how I treat him – patting and stroking him, talking to him etc. This is one of the best examples I can give you of the vast cultural differences that exist here; so many things that are part and parcel of life in the UK, are completely alien here – and vice versa of course.

However, because of the nature of their role – which is ultimately to be aggressive - many people here are actually quite fearful when they see a dog. So it isn’t really Sam’s fault that most people are very nervous of him. However, it has meant that my search for someone to look after him has been a big challenge. Finding Happiness, has been a wonderful blessing; not only is she unafraid of dogs, but she actually likes them. Amazing. She gets on really well with Sam and sees him for what he is – a dog with his own unique character and personality – a scruffy little boy who just wants to be loved and who wants to give love. It makes the most wonderful difference knowing that there is someone at the house during the day who can keep the place secure and who can give Sam some companionship. It is a huge step forward.

Unfortunately, my house hunting has been less successful; as I write, nothing has turned up. It is amazing how quickly the time is slipping away – I can’t believe that we are in the middle of May already; gosh, it will soon be Christmas! Before then of course, it will be the World Cup and the momentum is really building here. Football is huge in Malawi and many people support British teams. For instance, McDonald – my Deputy Manager - supports Chelsea and was over the moon when they won the League title last week. Ironically, some of my most enjoyable conversations here have been on the subject of football – something I care very little about. There will be enormous interest here in the England squad during the World Cup, although I keep telling people – expert football pundit that I am - that they have absolutely zero chance of actually winning it. I was thinking that if I were home at the moment, such a comment would - more likely than not - be met with enthusiastic agreement. In fact, I was trying to explain this subject to MacDonald recently – i.e. the very special relationship that exists between England and Scotland when it comes to issue of football. He couldn’t understand it and quite frankly, neither can I really. Why is it that English and Scottish football fans – who are after all, part of the same country – cannot bring themselves to support one another when their teams are playing in tournaments? For example, a friend of mine – who is Scottish and a passionate supporter of Celtic – has already emailed me to say that he has got his ‘Any Team But England’ T Shirt prepared for wearing throughout the World Cup competition! On the face of it, this sounds very comical, but I know full well that he is deadly serious. Friendly rivalry between the two teams? Not on your life. There are some deep felt and very nasty emotions/feelings floating around. It’s a real shame. If England were to win, I suspect that the fall out would be enormous; it’s probably a very good thing that the squad is full of players who are more interested in their hair and their appearance than in the business of being professional sportsmen.

On the subject of individuals who are pre-occupied with their hair and their appearance, I am doing just fine thank you! Fortunately, my hair has always grown quite quickly and so I’m hoping that things will be back to normal by the end of June – the end of July at the latest. I still look pretty awful, but at least I can look in the mirror without wincing too much now. That’s real progress believe me.

I’m hoping that when I next write, I will be reporting that I have found Sam and I somewhere new to live. In the mean time, we would be very grateful for your prayers on this issue; they can move mountains! Thank you.

God Bless

Jayne and Sam

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!

In my last blog entry, I was telling you about how it sometimes feels as if we're moving one step forward – only to move two steps back! At the time I was talking within a business context, but I have been finding out that it also applies within a personal context as well.

When I first arrived in Malawi, I knew that living and working here would – in some sort of way - change me. Seeing and experiencing the kind of poverty that Malawi suffers from affects your thinking and your attitude towards certain things - your outlook changes and your priorities are re-evaluated. Things that you once regarded as being important, suddenly seem trivial; you begin to see things in a completely new way. It makes you so much more appreciative of things – things that maybe before, you never thought too much about. The danger of course, is that as you work through this process of change, you can begin to sound a tad self righteous. Worse still, is that in dismissing your old ways of thinking and behaving, it is easy to start feeling somewhat superior – a little bit smug no less! Which is why it’s healthy - from time to time - to be brought down a peg or two; we all need to be reminded of our shortcomings! In my case, it happened when I went to have my monthly haircut – one of the few things which to date, has been remarkably straightforward and uneventful. Not so this time though!

Do you remember when I told you how clothes and appearance are of far less importance here? Well it’s true and I honestly thought I'd let go of superficial considerations such as these – after all, what does it really matter what you look like - it’s what’s inside that counts, isn’t it? Of course, that sounds great and oh so simple to subscribe to - in theory - but what happens when you actually find yourself dealing with the reality of such a statement? Well, what I have come to understand over the last couple of weeks, is that it is far harder to shake off old values than I had led myself to believe; old habits die very hard!

My barber James - who has been doing a really great job cutting my hair – must have been having a very bad day (a bad hair day?) when I turned up to have my usual 65p trim. He effectively scalped me. Now my hair has always been on the short side, but at least you could actually see it. At the moment, you have to look very closely to see the remnants of my hair and what you can see, looks absolutely terrible. Did you ever see Demi Moore in the film GI Jane? Well at the moment, I definitely feel and look like GI Jayne! I now have to wait for my hair to grow to a length where it can be cut back into some sort of style. Unfortunately as it begins to grow, it's looking even worse than it did when it was initially cut – my appearance is definitely going to get a lot worse before it gets better!

So here I am, banging on about how insignificant things like appearance actually are and on the other, feeling completely mortified by the fact that I am walking about Kasungu with a very dodgy haircut. Here I am waxing lyrical about the need to be able to laugh at yourself and yet finding little humour in my butchered locks. Here I am experiencing vanity in its most basic form – and it really isn’t good. However, on the plus side, this experience has been a very useful reminder to me of how easy it is to say one thing and yet do something totally different; of how easy it is to fall into the hypocrisy trap. It’s something that we all need to be on our guard against.

So in some strange way, I’m actually glad that James was having a bad day when he cut my hair. A couple of weeks later, I am beginning to see the funny side of the situation and the irony of it. Up to now, having very short hair would have helped me with the heat. Unfortunately, the weather has just changed and the Malawian winter has begun. The temperature has dropped significantly and believe it or not, it’s actually really cold here at times. Obviously I have nothing to keep the heat in at the moment - having just lost all my insulation - so I’m on the look out for a really good hat; with all the money I’m saving on shampoo just now, I’ll probably be able to afford two!

On the subject of cutting hair, I am becoming a bit of dab hand at the dog grooming business. Strangely enough, there isn’t a dog groomer in Kasungu and so I’ve had to resort to buying my own set of clippers and to cutting Sam’s coat myself. The clippers took a bit of getting used to and poor Sam has had his own dodgy haircuts to put up with over the last nine months. However, I am now much better and can cut his entire coat without leaving any bald patches! Quite an achievement. I can’t help feeling though that when Sam looks at me at the moment, he is secretly laughing his paws off – it’s sweet revenge for all the times his own hair has been attacked with the dreaded clippers.

So as you can see, life in Malawi is chugging forward. Our work at TLH continues – we are diversifying our services and have just begun selling refreshments, stationery and CDs in our efforts to make a bit more money here. I will let you know how our sales are going next time.

As always, a big “thank you” for your support, emails, prayers and good wishes.

Jayne and Sam

PS - Did anyone else feel just a little bit sympathy for Gordon Brown when he made his extraordinary microphone gaffe last week? I've been following the election campaigns very closely on the Internet over the last few weeks and I do think the reaction to his comments were classic 'holier than thou'. Now I've never had much time for Mr Brown - personally or politically - but I have certainly been feeling sorry for him in the wake of so much hypocrisy. What ever your thinking, it's certainly been a fascinating battle; I would love to be sitting in front of the telly on Thursday evening watching Peter Snow and his wonderful swingometer. Enjoy - I will be thinking of you!

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.