Tales from Malawi: Blog #1

Earlier in 2017, Lucy and Gussie visited Malawi for the first time ever, to meet the Build A School team and visit the projects funded by EGG. Here is Lucy's first blog written upon reaching Malawi:

After a flight delay due to a 'technical problem' (aka bird strike), we finally reached Lilongwe airport. WOOHOO! We had made it to Malawi! Despite our exhaustion, we all shared a grin as the plane touched down on the wet tarmac. We were processed through the border very quickly with no issue at all (and no need for all those documents we worried over before leaving NZ!). We navigated our way through the small airport and got to the other side, where we met Ann (our correspondent from Build A School).

Ann greeted us with a broad smile and a hug for each of us. The lovely woman had been waiting a few hours through our delay, and had her car waiting to take us into the city. We couldn't have had a friendlier welcome, and as we pulled away from the airport and down the road leading to the city, she imparted all sorts of local knowledge on us. She pointed out interesting things along the way, and our eyes were on stalks as we drove by very green (surprisingly so - although the rains started a month ago) fields of maize, red brick walls, and locals stoking roadside fires or leading donkeys. There was so much to take in, but my first impression was that Malawi is again distinctly different from the other African nations we have visited. It was also a bit colder in temperature, given the rain (a welcome relief after leaving Johannesburg at 35 degrees that morning!).

Farmlands of wet red soil blanketed in green maize crops; men squatting around smoking fires by the roadside, turning blackened cobs of maize over hot embers to sell to passersby; people leading donkeys and herds of thin cattle beasts; children with pleading eyes trying to sell stacks of worn rubber car tyres. Rolling green countryside turned gradually and reluctantly into a bustling, sprawled city. The sealed road we had taken from the airport became covered in potholes and intersected with muddy unsealed roads. Everywhere, people peddled around on worn, single-speed bikes. Women carried huge baskets of over-ripe fruit on their heads; at corners, vendors held up 4 or 5 pairs of jeans for the inspection of potential purchasers.

Although we have known each other for 4 years by way of Skype, phone calls and emails, Ann has struck me as a wonderfully warm, generous and onto-it woman. She took us to a funny wee cafe (where the power was out so our food was cooked out the back on a fire!!) and went through an itinerary she had already planned out for us. I won't give away too much about what our activities will involve just yet (I hope to keep some of you interested enough to keep reading these blogs!! ) but I can say it's sure going to be a massive week. I have a feeling that this country and its people will change me. What I can say is that each day will be jam-packed, as we visit schools, orphanages/children's homes, as well as past and future projects for our organisation, EGG. I am so excited and will try to keep you updated on our days activities as they come.

Of everything we have seen so far, Lilongwe has been the greenest, the most rural (85% of the population are subsistence farmers), and the least developed area. The infrastructure is very poor, with power cuts apparently occurring daily and access to clean water a luxury. However, the people here are the most friendly of any Africans we have come across so far. We have been welcomed warmly, greeted by smiles and handshakes that lend themselves to a pull-in shoulder bump.

Once we reached the centre of Lilongwe town, Ann pulled into a car park which quite literally overflowed with people. Around the perimeter of the car park were shops of foreign names to us. As soon as we got out of Ann's car, we were swarmed by men wanting to shake our hands, learn our names, and sell us their goods. Ann shrugged them off and we followed her quick pace into what appeared to be a supermarket. Here, we got bottles of water and queued behind a long line of people to pay. In the car park once again, Ann pointed out to us the clusters of men who were selling black market goods under shady trees. We drove further through the busy town and turned down quieter roads until we reached the lodging where we are staying (Cakes Lodge).

For this week, we have a quiet and safe wee room with beds for the three of us, plus a bathroom with a flushing loo and a shower. Everything is clean and just perfect for our stay here. The resident chef cooked us a lovely meal (chicken with hot chips and a fresh coleslaw salad), and we returned to our room to have a shower each. We then went a bit mad with our attempts to keep malaria-ridden mosquitoes at bay (covering ourselves in insect repellent, repellent wrist bands, long sleeves and pants, a sleeping bag liner and 2 mosquito nets over our beds!!). So now, in anticipation of a big day tomorrow, I will cocoon myself and retire. 

Lucy Tothill