Friday, 21 December 2012

Meanwhile, in Baluti . . .

Sorry I haven’t posted for so long! A while back the power went off for about a week, then was back for a few days before it was off again for about two weeks, so I haven’t been able to write any blog posts from home for a while. Although it caused a few problems with communicating with people via the internet, we actually got quite accustomed to life without power once we got our gas stove. We spent many an evening singing along to Catriona’s ukulele by candlelight, it was very romantic.

Lake Trip!
Last week we left Blantyre for the first time since we arrived here, for a holiday to Lake Malawi. It was absolutely amazing, we had so much fun. The beach and its surroundings were beautiful and the water was warm, even in the evening. There were kingfishers and fish eagles, a tiny praying mantis and a not so tiny scorpion spider, and we went snorkelling and saw tropical fish. The food was delicious, especially the chambo, a type of fish caught in the lake, and it was so lovely having air conditioning and hot showers for a week!

The Cockermouse is a Bat!
A while back when we were both in bed we heard a noise in the bedroom and Catriona said she felt something land on her net. She saw the shadow of something too big to be a normal cockroach fly past her but it was too dark to see what the thing actually was. I concluded that it was a cockermouse, and then we didn’t hear it for a while, so we kind of forgot about it. But a couple of weeks ago, when we were still without power, I was standing in the main room and a little bat landed on my foot! I think maybe I stunned it a bit when I shone the torch on it because it didn’t seem to be able to fly; it just crawled along the floor into the bathroom. We later realised that the thing in the bedroom was probably a bat, not a cockermouse.

At the end of November we went to the home of Nanzikambe Drama Company to watch a Malawian adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. It was really entertaining, there was traditional Malawian dancing and tribal masks, a ‘Gule Wamkulu’ spirit dancer at Juliet’s funeral and a ‘Sing’anga’ (witch doctor) selling poison. The audience also taught me something about Malawian people; they like to laugh. It seems that laughing is quite a normal reaction to almost any situation, and it’s not a sign of disrespect or mockery, which makes me feel a lot easier about the way people laugh at me when I walk past them in the street.
We went back to Nanzikambe a couple of weeks later to see a play about prostitution, which reminded me of how important it is to keep girls in particular off the streets and in places like the Samaritan Trust. It was also great to see a contemporary dance piece performed before the play, I haven’t watched any contemporary dance since I left college and I’d forgotten how much I love it.

‘Chlistmas Celeblations’
The schools have all broken up for Christmas now so lessons at The Samaritan Trust have stopped too. We’ve still been going to spend time with the kids though, playing football, volleyball and card games, reading books with them, praising their drawings and letting them test our Chichewa. The Samaritan Trust Choir has recorded a Christmas song and I got to watch them filming some nativity scenes to use as the music video. The kids are such enthusiastic actors, they all really enjoyed watching each other.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

One does not simply borrow a pen from the azungu

Wow, it feels like ages since I last posted a blog! Especially since Ialways see Catriona being good and updating hers every week. As I've said before, we spend pretty much all of our time together so for a regular news feed of what we've been up to you should check out her blog

I think the rainy season really started this week. I haven't seen any today but it rained Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and November is when it's supposed to properly start. Before it started chucking it down on Wednesday we hadn't seen a drop since the GVT coffee meeting, in fact we've had some really uncomfortably hot days over the past few weeks. The heat made the kids a lot more easily agitated, everybody was too hot really be bothered doing anything and to top it all off I was really missing my parents as we reached the six week mark. So it was nice to see the beginning of the rainy season and what will hopefully be the last of the horribly hot weather, despite not being prepared to walk home in the rain on Wednesday. At the end of our walk through the heavy downpour and thunder storm we received an applause from a couple of men who were passing by our front gate, we're guessing that they were impressed by our perseverence.

On our way to Samaritan's one morning this week we came across Chipiliro, one of the younger boys, along the path down from our village. A man who we don't know very well but often see around The Samaritan Trust centre was passing in the opposite direction, and translated to us that Chipi wasn't at school because he didn't have an exercise book, so we walked him back to the centre where we were told that he actually goes to a school which is nowhere near the path we found him on. We still don't actually know why he was there but I'd guess that maybe he got confused and went to the school that's not far from our house, which I know a lot of the Samaritan's kids attend. Chipi is only about 7, always gives us a great big grin and a hug when he sees us and always seems to be wearing the same massive pair of shorts really high up around his waist which make him look hilarious.

Yesterday was one of the best days I've had so far. In the morning we helped out in a maths class with an introductory lesson to algebra. The class included two new girls who we met in a maths lesson on Tuesday morning, one of whom seemed to have never been taught about multiplication. I tried explaining using bottle caps, getting her to count out four groups of three botle caps etc. but she still didn't get the hang of it. When we saw that she didn't understand the algebra at all I had another go at teaching her to multiply, this time getting her to draw circles and dots (e.g. for 3x5 drawing three circles, and five dots inside each one, then counting all of the dots). I was so happy and immensly proud of her when she managed to do all of the sums I'd set her without me telling her how many circles to draw and how many dots inside each one. I've heard people talk about how fulfilling being a teacher can be and now I really know what they mean. At the start of the lesson she couldn't even recognise the difference between the addition and multiplication signs, I had to spend a good ten minutes showing her how to draw a 'x' instead of a '+'.

This week we finally discovered the real words/ meaning of the song that we saw the kids being filmed singing the first ever time we visited The Samaritan Trust. We've been told that the first word is "mdima" (darkness) and "mtima"(heart) but it's now confirmed the lyrics are actually "ndimadalila" which means, "I depend on you". It's really catchy and the kids are great, check it out.

We also taught Madalitso, a 15-year-old boy who speaks English very well and is a real character,
to say "Can I borrow a pen please?" instead than the usual "borrow me pen!" which is how most of the kids ask for one. I told him that every time he says "borrow me" I'm going to quote Boromir from Lord of the Rings. Of course he didn't have a clue what I meant but I make myself laugh :)

And I will close with the news that the stranger who was at a bus stop on the way to Blantyre on Thursday is fine. It seems that he got a bit confused about how to greet people in English, because although I didn't actually notice him until he spoke and so didn't get a chance to ask "How are you?" he poked his head through the window and said "Hi, I'm fine" when our minibus stopped to let some people off. Or maybe his name is Fine...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I almost died.

Not really. But I had a mini panic attack and thought I might. On Saturday we got the bus into Blantyre to do our weekly shopping, except it didn't make it all the way into Blantyre. About half way there it stopped at the side of the road because the exhaust was spewing out massive white clouds. I made the mistake of inhaling after we'd stopped and I got a lung full of something I never want to get a lung full of again, and simultaneously noticed that all of the people in front of us were hurrying to get out of the bus. I'd never seen a Malawian person do anything in a hurry before and seeing nine of them showing signs of urgency all at once was what made me panic. I was comforted though, when Catriona and I were both safely out of the minibus and it didn't explode. When we saw that people were getting refunds for their bus fares we took off (we hadn't gotten round to handing over our money) and walked the rest of the way to town. So we actually went all the way into Blantyre for free! And don't worry, mum, I was just overreacting when I thought the bus might explode, that never happens. The transport here is completely safe.

I also had my second viewing of the beautiful Malawian sunset this week. It's so amazing - in addition to the lovely pink and orange sky we get at home you can see the sun itself turn orange, then pink, then red before it sinks out of view. We can't see it from our house, but The Samaritan Trust's football pitch is on pretty high ground, and on Wednesday we stayed late to watch the match between the older boys and a team of med students from one of the local hospitals. It was lovely staying later and just sitting and chatting with the girls whilst they prepared a fruit salad to serve at the match.

In our home life, we've started to really appreciate the wonder of washing machines. Catriona actually has sores on her hands from washing her clothes. We also realised that we spend a lot more time together than the other Project Trust volunteers do with their partners. I went round the corner to get eggs yesterday and realised that it was the first time I'd gone out of the front gate without Catriona. It was also the first time we went out on a Sunday as well. We went to church in the morning, after having discovered that they do an English service at the Catholic church that we pass on the way to Blantyre. It was almost exactly the same as in England, I was really surprised that there was actually less of the congregation joining in with the hymns than at home! I guess if we want the real African church experience with the singing and dancing and shouting "Amen!" or "Hallelujah!" whenever you feel like it, we'll have to go somewhere else.

We got our fix of singing about Jesus and clapping and dancing yesterday afternoon anyway. We also got coffee (made with real milk!!!), really tasty banana cake and our first rain! The volunteers in Nancholi invited us to a coffee afternoon fundraiser for their Girls' Voice Trust group. Once most people had arrived we had a nice sing and a dance, then it started chucking it down outside and we (the volunteers) were so excited by it that we went outside and danced in the rain like lunatics, it was brilliant! Definitely the best weekend I've had so far!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Getting into the swing of things

I wrote this whilst sitting on the swings in the playground outside our house yesterday afternoon. There was a church service going on inside the nursery building and it sounded amazing with all the drumming, clapping and singing. Maybe next week I'll pluck up the courage to go inside, even if I don't understand most of what's being said. I learned last week that 'Ambuye' means 'God', which is a good place to start.

In the latest email from home, my dad asked me if I feel like me project had really begun; do i feel like I'm helping people? Or am I still just getting into the swing of things?
Well, over the past week I've felt like it's just beginning. On Wednesday Catriona and I taught an English lesson about the plural of certain types of nouns, and then we taught the same lesson (although slightly more organised) to a different class in the afternoon. Even though it was a bit slap dash it reminded me of how much I really enjoyed teaching on my training and selection courses, and we both had a little giggle at how the kids all said "hair" like a Scouser and "book" like a Scot when we were getting them to repeat after us.

As for helping people, I don't feel like I've dona anything major yet but I feel confident now that we can make a difference over time.One of the older boys has said that he wants to go back to school, but didn't do too well on the assessment we gave him, so I'm going to try really hard to help him get to the level he needs to be at to go back to school. He came over to ask me for help the other day and he called me 'madame', which is what all students call female teachers. Being used to being addressed by my first name, or my nickname (wisdom (louise - wiz - wisdom)), or just 'azungu' when I'm at the nursery, it took my by surprise and made me feel really grown up.

And the third question? I am still getting into the swing of things (she writes, whilst rocking back and forth on the swing). There's still loads to learn about the kids (and from them - I had to reminded of the method for doing long subtraction when 'helping' with homework on Thursday) but I'm starting to feel like one of the family. Sitting outside with some of the girls on Friday, belting out Christmas songs in the middle of October and falling about laughing, reminded me that life over here doesn't always have to be so different to life at home. Not when you're a bit crazy, which a lot of people have told me you would have to be to do what I'm doing.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Two Azungu, an Amputee and an Albino walk into a Pharmacy . . .

Hi All!

This week had been pretty good:

Last Saturday, Mary, who's kind of our landlady and head of Nama Simba Nursery School, brought us a plate of Samosas! It made me so unbelievebly happy! They were super tasty and it meant we didn't have to cook dinner that night or lunch the next day.

Monday was our first day volunteering at Nama Simba Nursery School. Trying to control around 60 pre-school aged children is hard enough, but throw in a language barrier and a lack of toilets (and an apparent lack of knowledge of the latrine), and it's nice to know that they go home at one o'clock in the afternoon and you can relax for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday we went to Steph, Matilda and Georgie's house in Nancholi for lunch. We got a bit lost on the way there but it was so worth the wait, the chocolate banana cake (cooked on a hotplate!) was amazing! We've just bought the ingredients and plan to try out the recipe very soon! Afterwards we sat in on one of their projects, which is a women's group for the local community, and helped to make necklaces from lovely Malawian chitenje cloth.

On Thursday we taught an IT class in the Samaritan Trust's new computer suite. The students' task was to type up the following:

Dear Sir (or) Hospital,
My name is . . . . . . . . . . .  and I am looking for a job as a nurse. Are you hiring?
Thank You
Kind Regards

It made me realise just how much I take being able to use a computer for granted! Some of the students in the class were the same age as me and yet it took them half the lesson to find Microsoft Word! It was really nice to be teaching them something that will be really useful to them in the future though, hopefully by the time I leave they'll be typing like pros!

Yesterday one of the older boys at Samaritan's got a deep cut in his finger and one of the younger boys had a pre-existing infected cut on his knee, so Catriona and I went along to the hopsital to help speed things up and find out where to go and what to do if we ever needed to take someone to the hospital by ourselves. Now Catriona and I already get stared at a lot because white people aren't very common around where we live, and the boy with the boy with the sceptic cut on his knee was hit by a car a while back and lost his other leg. So when the three of us walked into the busy hospital pharmacy and then an albino man (who was actually very nice and helped us when we got lost) came and stood behind us in the queue, I don't think there was one person in that room that didn't try to get a good look at us all.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Quotes and Diary Extracts

Muli Bwanji!

I'm in an internet cafe in Blantyre so I can't spend too much time writing this blog post (living on a budget and all) but according to Catriona I'm pretty good with one-liners that sum up our life at the moment, so I've been recording some of the good'uns and promised to but them on the blog:

"Now I get why clowns wear white make-up! Apparently, white faces are hilarious."
(When we first arrived in our village, a group of children saw us inside the minibus and started pointing and laughing. There's also a playground right outside our house and whenever we return home the kids there wave, laugh and chant "Azungu", which means "white person")

Catriona: I hate you!
Louise: I'm not too keen on you either.
Catriona: What?
Louise: I was talking to the roof too, but I'm not as forceful as you are, and I don't like to say I hate people, even when people are roofs.

(When the wind blows (which it does a lot) our tin roof makes an awful screechy metal noise, which it turns out is the sound of part of the roof being lifted up and then dropping down again, I wrote about our solution to this in my diary:)

"As I stood there, gaffer-taping the roof down, I thought to myself, 'It's student night in Ormskirk. My friends will probably be in a club right now, and I'm here, trying to tape the roof onto my house'"

I'm sure there's more, but I don't have my diary with me at the moment! As for the volunteer work, we're still getting into the swing of things at the moment, but the orphanage and the children there are all amazing! They have such good manners and I was so impressed when we went to watch them doing a street performance about HIV. I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into work at the Samaritan Trust.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Last Days

So, I've checked in for my flight online, had my goodbye celebrations featuring lots of cuddles, a few tears and a lot of laughs and I've finally managed to pack my bags. Looks like I'm all set to leave tomorrow morning (my flight isn't until 8pm but it'll take most of the day to drive down to Heathrow). I'm still a little bit confused with regards to where I'll actually be living, but I have the address for my project, so if anybody wants to send me a letter, a Christmas card (it doesn't have to be December to get festive, as I discovered last night when we celebrated Christmas and New Year, complete with amazing presents, tinsel, gingerbread and, of course, plenty of singing) or a melted chocolate bar, here's where to send it to:

Miss Louise Roche
The Samaritan Trust
PO Box 2835

Or if you prefer the more economical method of contacting me, drop me an email at

Unless I get massively delayed at Heathrow, have something interesting to say and can find and afford internet access, this will be my last post from the UK. Hopefully I'll be able to keep posting fairly regularly whilst I'm in Malawi but I'll just have to wait and see what internet access is like over there, so if I don't post for ages, don't panic and presume I've been eaten by a crocodile, okay?

Jonny (the Malawi Desk Officer at Project Trust) sent us some photos of our accommodation, and the guys who helped to renovate it!

Maybe we're living in a school now? I always thought it would be fun to go into the school at night time when there was nobody else there, but Malawian schools are pretty different.

Friday, 31 August 2012

It's official!

This time next week I'll be at Heathrow Airport, waiting to board my flight to Kenya (where I will then get another flight to Malawi). I've printed my ticket, I've done my second final shopping run (I'll do my final final one on Monday, and then maybe another on Thursday) and I've been told that my accommodation is confirmed. I still don't know many specific details about it, just that it's in a feeding centre run by a larger orphan and community care organisation, it's about 5 minutes away from Samaritan Trust and it has electricity and running water. I'm super excited now, but really scared. Part of me wants to carry on packing, but the other part knows that everything isn't going to fit in my rucksack, and really wants to avoid the stress and mess. I only have a week left of being able to sit mindlessly in front of a computer screen instead of doing what I should be doing, so I think I really ought to make the most of it.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


A year ago today I stepped on to the isle of Coll for the first time, where I had my selection course for Project Trust, the only Gap Year Charity in the UK that sends young people to volunteer abroad for a duration of 12 months. So I thought today would be a good day to start my blog for the next year, as I (nearly) have my plans for the coming year confirmed.

I've had a bit of bad luck sorting out my gap year, and had my patience tested more than the average pre-departure volunteer: About a week after selection, I got a letter telling me I'd probably be going to Malawi (about a 90% chance), and failing that I'd go to India or Senegal. In April this year, I got a phone call asking if I'd like to go to Rwanda instead. At the beginning of July I went on my training course for Rwanda and was told that there was a 50/50 chance the Rwanda program would go ahead, and a week or so later Rwanda was called off and it looked like another 50/50 between Ghana and South Africa. Finally, the circle was completed and it's back to Malawi, although I'm still a little concerned by the lack of the word 'definite' or 'confirmed' in any of PT's emails . . .

I'm keeping the faith though and trusting PT when they say that I'll probably by flying off to Malawi on the 8th or 9th of September. When I get there I'll be volunteering in The Samaritan Trust, an orphanage for street children near the city of Blantyre in the south of Malawi. From what I've heard and read, the work that the Samaritan Trust does is absolutely amazing, and I can't wait to be a part of it.

I'll be updating this blog whilst I'm in Malawi to let everyone know how I'm getting on and hopefully share some photos of Malawi.
Until then, Ndapita!
(I think that's the correct form of goodbye to use in this situation, in Chichewa, the native language of Malawi)