VSO

WOTD: Wokonza sinki

Chichewa word of the day: Wokonza sinki

Meaning: Plumber

As I search for a good, reliable plumber to do some odd jobs around my house in the UK, I remembered a funny story from my Malawi days; which seems like a distant memory now, regrettably.

As you do, when you need some plumbing work that you can’t do yourself done, I asked around for a good pumber in Lilongwe. Starting with the national staff at the VSO Malawi office. I was surprised to be greeted with blank, somewhat confused faces. I thought to myself: Are there no plumbers at all in Lilongwe?

But after a few tries, a colleague responded: Oh, a plum-ber!

Little did I know that it is pronounced like this 😀

All part of my experiential learning curve with Malawian culture and the phonetic Malawian English.

PS. My grandpa always encouraged me to write more about my Malawi experience. After a long hiatus, I will try to continue, and wrap this blog up for good properly one day. Until then, this is for you Ah Yia!

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Aid mission to Dhading – into the field

This has nothing to do with Malawi, but does have a VSO connection. It is so good; Too good not to share. As are Jessica’s other posts. With vivid photos and first hand accounts of the earth quake’s destruction, and the subsequent relief efforts. National and international volunteers working together, side by side. Communities working together, side by side. Ordinary people putting other people first – Faith in humanity restored a little.

Jessica in Nepal

As already explained in two previous posts (A and B) through the Yellow House, ‘Himalayan Disaster Volunteer Relief Group‘ initiative my fellow VSO volunteer Will and myself found ourselves organising an aid mission to a remote, hard-to-reach area of rural Dhading. We were extremely proud of our impromptu team of Nepali and International volunteers who joined us to answer this cry for help. They were amazingly dedicated, brave and professional all despite the inherent craziness of a grass roots response within days of a natural disaster.

Here is a brief summary of their mission into the field. The photo credits go entirely to Raffael Lenk (in the middle at the back in photo #1). I was not personally there with the team in Dhading so my commentary is based on a few frantic mobile phone conversations we had during the mission whenever the team had signal and…

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A to Z: N is for…

  • 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.
Front page of The Nation during the Civil Service strikes

Front page of The Nation during the Civil Service strikes

Advert banner inside the NBM - spot the UPSIDE DOWN and out of date diary!

Advert banner inside the NBM – spot the UPSIDE DOWN and out of date diary!

Old Nokia handset - Scrubbed clean by my night-guard after receiving it

Old Nokia handset – Scrubbed clean by my night-guard after receiving it

Cooking nsima requires a lot of arm power!

Cooking nsima requires a lot of arm power!

A delicious traditional meal of chicken stew, beans and nsima - cooked by my friend Auden

A delicious traditional meal of chicken stew, beans and nsima – cooked by my friend Auden

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

A to Z: M is for…

  • 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.
Fresh mandasis

Fresh mandasis

Mandasi sellers

Mandasi sellers

Road to Zomba

Road to Zomba

Birthday hike up the Potato Path for the first time in 2012

Birthday hike up the Potato Path for the first time in 2012

One of the many beautiful views from the plateau

One of the many beautiful views from the plateau

Model of the plateau at the guide hut

Model of the plateau at the guide hut

A very steep, wet and slippy Potato Path

A very steep, wet and slippy Potato Path

On the way out of Zomba

On the way out of Zomba

Blooming jacarandas in Mzuzu

Blooming jacarandas in Mzuzu

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

#MalawiFloods and A to Z: L is for…

Preface: Malawi has suffered terrible, devastating floods over the past few of weeks – see #MalawiFloods. It’s now a humanitarian crisis with a huge impact for the future as well. So it requires our attention and help. Ryan Reynolds has tweeted a direct link to the fundraising campaign of an orphanage he visited in 2007. My friend Kathryn has written a vivid post about it here – please go read it to understand what it’s really like out there. You’ll also learn about the resilience and strength of the Malawian people to endure and carry on living, surviving. So, in an odd way, this quasi-humourous post is a dedication to them and their ability to carry on.

#MalawiFloods

#MalawiFloods

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Sorry for the long break from the last post. Even though I’ve chosen not to have a TV since returning from Malawi, I still find myself to be extremely time poor… maybe it’s just my overwhelming inefficiency at everything caused by a need to procrastinate! Anyway, I said that I would finish this A to Z before ending the blog, so here’s another step.

  • “L” is for, well, “R”?!

Malawians have a tendency to use L’s and R’s interchangeably, which can be confusing and sometimes have rather funny consequences. It’s a trait shared with many Chinese people, so it has extra resonance for me.

Long and “rong”
Late and rate
Lice and rice, fry and fly (which is also a simple playground game which every kid plays; it’s kind of like dodgeball)
Laugh and “raff”
A shop sign bearing: “Airwolrd” in Airtel‘s bright red colour scheme is a sight to behold. Lastry, elections can be a funny time for multiple reasons…

Come all and erect our leaders!

Come all and erect our leaders!

  • Lilongwe – The capital city and my home for 18 months.
Categories: Malawi, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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