End of Service

“End of Service” is the phrase VSO uses when a volunteer completes their placement.

This is what I’m currently preparing for because I am completing my placement and going home next Sunday! A few months ago, after a long think and chat with family and close friends, I decided to amend my placement duration from 2 years to 18 months. I need to go home for family and professional reasons. The UK private sector recruitment cycle is traditionally buoyant between January to June and very quiet between July to December, due to budget freezes. So it makes sense that I go back now as opposed to October. Unfortunately I cannot extend beyond October because I also have family promises to keep.

So, I’ve been trying to let go of all the things which have been an integral part of my life here in Malawi. From the trivial elements to the critical ones and the very reasons I came here in the first place:-

  • The iHRIS project
  • Breakfast Club kids
  • All the bonds and friendships I’ve made, some of which I will keep on of course.
  • All the phones, clothes and other stuff my friends have kindly donated still need to be given away!

On the other hand, I am very looking forward to seeing my family and friends, plus riding my motorbike again! I’ve often said that I do not miss any material thing from my first world life. No flat screen TV, fancy car, gadgets, mod-cons etc. The only exception is my first and only motorbike.

Honda CBR600 F-Sport. Valentino Rossi 2001 livery.

Honda CBR600 F-Sport. Valentino Rossi 2001 livery.

As part of the End of Service pack, VSO have a document called Preparing for Reverse Culture Shock. It describes the 5 pre-departure stages, which I initially laughed at (and actually still do). Some of it does resonate though:-

  1. Recognition of feelings
  2. Accept feelings of loss
  3. Prepare for separation
  4. Review the experience
  5. Prepare for reverse culture shock

18 months have really flown by quickly. From not knowing anything about Malawi and Lilongwe to actually being invited to events and not being the newbies. From very slow progress on iHRIS at the beginning (no office!) to having a full project team working full time on it now. From just occasionally handing out the odd sweet and not knowing any of the kids’ names, to feeding and teaching up to 30 kids every week.

Thank you kids! Part of the report for the FOMA grant we received.

Thank you kids! Part of the report for the FOMA grant we received.


Life is like a toilet roll. First bit goes slow, then after half way it just speeds up till the end!

Thanks for the quote Nat! 😉

I know for a fact that I will miss Malawi. I also know that I will be back!

Categories: Malawi, Motorbikes, Volunteering, VSO, Work | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

WOTD: Njinga ya moto

Chichewa word of the day: Njinga ya moto

Meaning: Motorbike / motorcycle

Semantics: “Njinga” means bike, as in a bicycle or push bike. “Moto” means fire.

Since coming out to Malawi, I’ve been surprised by how little I miss material things from home (UK or Hong Kong). For example, my television. There is one exception… my motorbike.

I (used to) ride a Honda CBR 600 F-Sport, also known as the F4i. It was my pride and joy. It still is since I couldn’t bring myself to sell it. I even contemplated shipping it over but thought better of it over concerns on cost, safety on Malawi roads and it’s rather against the spirit of volunteering here!

Despite the storm which is currently uprooting trees all over Lilongwe. The rather shaky Internet in Malawi is actually quite fast today.

So, enjoy… the sights and sounds of my next bikes… someday! For now, I have to just cling on to my #46 Valentino Rossi t-shirt and Dainese jacket as if I’m still a rider!

You can see more speed things on my Pinterest board.

MV Agusta F4 Senna Edition

MV Agusta F4 Senna Edition

Categories: Malawi, Motorbikes, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Long Way to Salima

There was a big event in Lilongwe on Saturday, which I’m really please to have been part of.

“Ride on! Speak out!”

That is the slogan behind a UN campaign to end violence against women and girls. The campaign involves a big convoy of Harley Davidsons being ridden through southern Africa to raise awareness of domestic abuse, which unfortunately is rife in many countries and rarely spoke about.

I won’t repeat their official material here. Please check out their website

Earlier that week, I saw a post on Lilongwe Chat, the local Google group, which hosts postings from garage sale to wanted ads for lost pets! One post mentioned that a team of Harleys are coming from the Zambian border on a charity tour and will be stopping at the Sunbird Capital hotel on Friday night before heading into city centre as part of a procession on Saturday morning. Any local riders were welcome to come along and join in. So I thought: “Why not?!” and replied to register.

Little did I know that it was a seriously extravagant affair that involved a police escort (normally the President’s detail) which forced all other vehicles off the road, including the oncoming traffic on a single carriage way. Plus dancers, singers, public speech and rally, and a massive logistics operation!

So I turned up at Sunbird on my little loaned Yamaha YBR125. Gobsmacked by the sight of 20 massive Harleys filling the front parking lot of the hotel. I met Eddie (one of the riders from South Africa), Owen (a local guy who brought his very nice Rizla livery Suzuki “crotch rocket” GSXR 1000) and Ronak (a local businessman on his sparkling new BMW GS650). We did our bike talk, like proper men, as more Harley riders came out from reception and got ready to ride.

9 am-ish came and we departed for the Game shopping centre, in city centre. The noise the Harleys made was phenomenal. They are some serious machines. Trying not to be overawed, or indeed left behind, by the procession and surrounding police escort, I did my best to keep up and not look too out of place!

I must say that the Malawian police escort team were superb. Well rehearsed synchronised riding, always in control of the traffic from all directions. They didn’t hang about and looked really organised.

We got to Game in double quick time. Thanks to the escort. There was a dedicated parking area cordoned off ready for us to park up. Dilemma! Where do I park??? I went for the low key option and stuck to the side, a respectable distance away from the Harleys.

10 minutes later, we’re all asked to ride around the parking lot, make some noise and park in a line formation. 2 minutes and lots of noise (from everyone except me) later, we were all in a line with my little 125 at the end! Not even my Valentino Rossi 46 t-shirt (a beloved leaving present from my workmates) and (equally beloved) Dainese jacket could hide the fact I was very, very out of place.

Anyway, queue lots of dancing, singing, educational drama and most importantly, a strong speech about ending violence against women and girls. “Real men do not hit women and children”. Well said Wes!

Not forgetting about some training I had just before coming to Malawi, courtesy of the Metropolitan Police. I took my BikeSafe London high-visibility jacket along. I didn’t wear it in broad daylight obviously(!) but did take some pictures with it in frame. Never miss a promotion opportunity!

Since everyone was in such good spirit, I thought I’d try my luck and get on a police bike. All authorities here are normally very strict. Understandably so, to maintain law and order. But on Saturday, they were cool. We small-talked and I persuaded one rider to let me sit on his police bike. Then I got passer-by to take a couple of photos. Never miss a good photo opportunity!

45 minutes later, the impressive show put on by Theatre for a Change wrapped up. We all got back on our bikes and were escorted back to the Capital Hotel. That should have been the end but Ronak floated the idea that we ride with them to their next stop, Salima. Why not eh?!

So Ronak and I arranged to meet back at the hotel in an hour. Except for one problem… there is a national petrol shortage so we were both very low on fuel. Fear not, this is a UN sponsored operation! In fact, the Harleys were also low on fuel. So a pickup truck with a considerable fuel tank on the back shows up and we all queue to be filled by two guys hand cranking petrol, trying not to spray it everywhere (with mixed results).

We all hang around the hotel while the support vehicle was being repaired at a local mechanic’s workshop, where it’s been since the morning. We were waiting in the front parking lot when it suddenly appeared down the drive. It pulled up, stopped, right at the front door of the hotel. 1 minute later, quite a lot of swearing happens and the surprise of the day is discovered… the trailer lost one of its wheels! Another minute later, a Sunbird ground staff runs down the same drive pushing the wheel along the way. Mighty relief by the support crew. However, now they had to find some wheel-nuts! A lot of searching and frantic calling later, they had no choice but to take a nut from each of the other three wheels.

At 14:30, everyone was finally ready to depart for Salima. We all hopped on and rode. Under police escort again until the first roadblock on the M14 where they would end their escort.Pretty much 1km after the escort ended, a very sad truth was realised. There was no way I could keep up the Harleys! Despite redlining my little 125 at every opportunity, it could only manage 80 kph on a flat road. 80 kph may be the speed limit here but it’s certainly not the Harleys’ cruising speed. So I had to turn back and head home.

I managed to speak to the videographer a little before we left the hotel and they’re making full documentary of their entire trip. So I look forward to seeing it next year. Maybe the epic wheelie I pulled along President’s Way will make a little cameo.

I hope you found some wheel-nuts at Salima guys. Ride on! Speak Out!

Eddie at Sunbird Capital

Eddie at Sunbird Capital

Harleys formation #1

Harleys formation #1

Different angle

Different angle

BikeSafe London - Represented!

BikeSafe London – Represented!

Africa unite to end violence against women & girls

Africa unite to end violence against women & girls

The whole show (panoramic photo)

The whole show (panoramic photo)

Harleys formation #2 plus a Yamaha YBR125 at the end

Harleys formation #2 plus a Yamaha YBR125 at the end

Guest rider on the President's police detail

Guest rider on the President’s police detail

The support crew with a mightily impressive trailer... minus one wheel

The support crew with a mightily impressive trailer… minus one wheel

No parking... unless it's a Harley

No parking… unless it’s a Harley

Categories: Malawi, Motorbikes, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

SKWID Training

It’s been a week since my SKWID Training course (pronounced “squid” but not to be confused with the slang term for a newbie motorbike rider). It stands for Skills for Working In Development. It follows the P2V Training course which I went to in August.

I found SKWID very useful and wish I went on it earlier than I did. It would have given me more time to prepare for my placement (departing on 20th October). Specifically, finishing my course of vaccination against rabies! A massive shout-out to InterHealth. Especially to nurse Linda, a fellow Northern Irelander, who was really helpful on the phone and even agreed to come in early on Monday morning to give me the first jab. The VSO Medical Team was also very helpful. I’d like to say a really big thank you to both. Having exhausted plans A, B, C… I’m now on to plan Z. Jabs 1 and 2 in Hong Kong, followed by jab 3 in Malawi. Not ideal but it’ll have to do.

Also, I would have had more time to complete and submit my Learning Log in order to obtain a Foundation Certificate in International Development from Harper Adams University College, which coincidentally, is very close to my home in Telford. The Learning Log took me a lot longer than expected. Since I’ve not been doing office work since March, I’m very out of practise at formal writing!

That was pretty much my week gone. But I did manage to sneak in a trip to Alton Towers on Friday 🙂 It was planned a few weeks ago for my Irish brother and cousin to come over from Northern Ireland to collect my car. So we wanted to go do something fun too. It was a wee holiday for us all. Together with my twin brother who came up from London, it was great to see them and we had a fantastic day out. Queuing is for losers! We luckily managed to get on Nemesis twice without queuing 😀

Thanks to my bro Mark for this bit of inspiration. A quote from Sir Michael Caine (lege!). It’s from a Whatever It Takes canvas print that’s on my guest bedroom wall, where Mark was sleeping.

“Life is not a rehearsal.”

Here are some pics from SKWID.


Team SKWID. A great bunch of people!

SKWID Agenda

SKWID Review

Categories: Malawi, Motorbikes, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Charley, Ewan and Me

First of many (I hope) posts about my favourite topic… MOTORBIKES!

Besides working with the Ministry of Health to (I hope!) make a difference, one of the things I was particularly looking forward to was exploring the country on a motorbike during my spare time. Yes, the Long Way Round / Down style! Short UNICEF clip of the Malawi episode here.

Alas! Whilst doing some homework (i.e. googling), I found the blog of a returned VSO volunteer called Gareth in Malawi. One particular post caught my eye: Buying a motorbike in Malawi… His whole blog is a very good read but to quickly summarise this post for you, here’s an excerpt:-

“A new Yamaha DT 125cc, the bike we learnt on with VSO, costs a cool K850,000 at the only dealership in Malawi. That’s about £4000 – and more than twice the price of the same bike in South Africa… 

… Second-hand bikes are really hard to come by.”

Not the finding I was hoping for to say the least! However, inspired by the timeless quote by Commander Taggart (aka Tim Allen) in Galaxy Quest: “Never give up. Never surrender!” I shall keep googling and see what other options exist. Gareth did manage to buy this beautiful Honda XL125 in the end. So there is hope!

For now, Charley and Ewan will have to wait a bit before riding with me.

Gareths XL125

Categories: Malawi, Motorbikes, Travel, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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