- The Nation – One of the few newspapers in circulation. Probably the most serious, broadsheet-like one.
- National Bank of Malawi (NBM) – The bank of choice of VSO volunteers, unless there isn’t one near your placement location. It’s no Coutts, but to be fair to them, they had a good number of ATMs (and they mostly worked). If you get in early in the morning as they opened, the wait is usually short. But if you go during peak times – especially on Fridays, Saturdays and month-ends – when you might be literally queuing out the door.
- Nokia – Bulletproof old mobile phones! Worthless to most of us nowadays, but absolutely priceless to a working class Malawian. Please never throw away your old handsets, lots of charities will recycle and redistribute them to someone in need. A simple mobile phone can be a really powerful tool in a developing country, and it’s simply a nice present to give.
- Nsanje – Southern most district of Malawi. A very hot part of a hot country! Where my good friend and fellow volunteer Fiona was based. We visited her in September 2013 and had a fantastic time seeing the Elephant Marsh. Really great memories – see here.
- Nsima – Maize flour and water stodge. Really difficult to cook well – see photo! Staple food of 99% of Malawians, but not a favourite with azungus/foreigners in general. There’s a common saying: “If you haven’t had nsima [in your meal], then you haven’t eaten.” There’s a much improved Wikipedia page on this now, following my fellow volunteer David’s last update.
- Mandasi – Malawian doughnut! But no filling or sugar (too expensive). Favourite street food, especially in the morning when they’re fresh; Not so good when they’re cold and stale. Cost a modest 50-80 kwacha (10-20p). Good choice if you’re desperate for sustenance and don’t want to play “samosa roulette” (the other favourite street food, which may or may not give you diarrhea).
- Mountains – Malawi is blessed with a beautiful landscape with nice mountains to hike or just look at from afar. Among them is the Zomba Plateau, which is simply stunning to look at and beautiful to look from at the top. Although I’m normally not a fan of walking, the hike up the “Potato Path” is probably one of my favourite outdoor activities. Coming down the steep path while it’s wet and slippy, and being passed by locals without footwear and carrying a whole tree on their head, is a humbling / embarrassing / amusing experience – I’m not kidding, see photo below!
- Mulanje – The tallest mountain in Malawi, which unfortunately I haven’t hiked, yet. Plenty of (“juju” / witchcraft) stories of lost souls if you dare to try hike it without a guide. Probably best to join or at least consult the Mountain Club of Malawi if you want to try it – seriously.
- Mvula – Chichewa for rain. Also a popular surname.
- Mzuzu – Biggest city in the Northern Region. I didn’t spend much time there but passed through a few times. Less industrial than Blantyre and less of a concrete jungle than Lilongwe, bigger than the old colonial capital, Zomba. More rain than any of the other 3 cities due to its altitude, so very green almost all year round.
- Kamba Puffs – The ubiquitous maize snack. Full of salt but not a lot of nutrients. They’re somewhat hit and miss in my personal opinion. Sometimes, if you get a relatively fresh pack, they’re edible – still kinda fresh and crunchy. They do not taste good when they’re stale and soggy! In any case, all kids seem to love them. Just like rice is a once-a-year treat at Christmas for many, a packet of “Kamba” are traditionally part of a kid’s Christmas gift, along with one set of (second hand) clothes.
PS. I’m really going to miss the kids and Malawi this Christmas.
- Kawalazi Tea Estate – We visited Kawalazi when my family came to visit in October last year. It’s a big estate in the Northern Region, between Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay. A high altitude, hilly area with its own tropical micro climate. Hence the tea growing because of the rain. It was wet and muddy on the day we visited. So much so that I almost got our rented Toyota Land Cruise 4×4 stuck while taking a detour to get round a lorry which was really stuck and blocked the main road through the fields and fields of tea! We saw some fantastic scenery, got a tour of the factory and learned about the tea making process. Thanks again to my fellow volunteer Rona for arranging this.
- Kandewe Cultural Heritage Site – Where the famous Basket Bridge is located. It has allegedly stood for almost 100 years – can’t remember the year it was built off the top of my head. On our way to Kawalazi, we stopped by Kandewe. It is on one of the few roads going through the north! Kandewe is one of Coffee‘s (another VSO volunteer from Hong Kong) sites for her eco-tourism project, in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism.
In September last year, some of my class of October 2012 volunteers met up for a mini reunion.
We met at Fiona‘s placement location: Fatima, Nsanje District, in the south and famously hot part of Malawi. Where she and her housemate Judy, were teaching at the Trinity College of Nursing.
It took 11 months and the thought of Fiona finishing her placement without us visiting before we all finally went! Over these 11 months, and more if you include the correspondence we had before departing, we built up a real friendship with each other. Supporting each other through our journeys. The inevitable ups and downs. Homesickness, work challenges and victories.
Through Fiona, we also became friends with her housemate Judy and another volunteer Nyack, who were both also working at Trinity. You might have read from previous posts that Nyack has since moved up to Lilongwe and has taken on the Breakfast Club.
On our first full day in Fatima, we walked up to a guest house ran by one of Fiona’s friends. It wasn’t a particularly long walk but the sun and heat made it seem very long. It was interesting to walk through the villages lining the only (dirt) road through. There were a lot of “video shops”! These are makeshift cinemas, showing films and football matches. By the time we got to the guest house, we were all drenched in sweat. There was a sprinkler, which we used as a shower before sitting down to recover with several soft drinks, which were unfortunately rather warm themselves so popped like champagne and fizzed everywhere and opened! The way back was a lot easier since we took bicycle taxis, which are the main mode of transport between villages.
Fiona and Judy has built up a big following of local kids who regularly come to do activities. Watch cartoons, ball games, writing, drawing and colouring in. They were excited to see so many azungus arrive in the village. Among the screams of “Jackie Chan” or “Jet Li” to me and “Anna Banda“ to Regie, you can tell they were a lovely bunch of innocent, good kids. When I recuperated a little from our walk, I took the kids for some simple football training drills and played a match with them on the last day of our visit.
David was going through a fitness phase at the time. So in the evenings, he pressured me, Auden and Nyack (Mr Fitness himself!) to do the “Press-up Challenge”. I can’t remember who won exactly but we were all knackered and sweating (again) by the end.
The highlight of the whole trip was our visit to the Elephant Marsh. See a recent BBC video about it >>> here <<<. We saw lots of exotic birds, got sun burnt and retraced some of the steps of David Livingstone, the famous explorer and missionary… oh, and Robin got propositioned by his boatman to bring him to the UK as his servant.
It was a long way to get to Fatima but we had such a good time catching up. It is one of my best memories of Malawi.