Come on and celebrate!

Malawians never seemed to be short of an excuse to celebrate, and they did it in style.

On my first weekend in Mitawa, I was invited to two weddings, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I was told later that July, just after the harvest, is a popular time for weddings. The Saturday wedding was between the neice of my teaching colleague, Mr Juma, and the medical assistant from the nearby health centre. It was in the nearby village of Malenga, about 3 km away – not to be confused with Malenga school which was much further away! The bride was a Muslim, so this was an Islamic wedding, but the groom was a Christian who seems to have converted to Islam for the day for the purposes of the wedding. I went to the wedding with my host mother (my father had to go to a funeral elsewhere), Mac my interpreter, and Clement and Madalitso my charming escorts. A fellow guest was Jill, another Global Teacher from the next school along the road – it was good to chat and share experiences. The wedding was very colourful and very much a village affair attended by just about everyone from all the surrounding villages. When we arrived, a troup of dancers and singers were giving an energetic performance involving a lot of jumping and stamping. How they keep it up in the heat I have no idea – it went on for several hours apparently, with few breaks. Jill and I, along with the rest of our entourages, were invited to meet the bride at her house and were given lunch there (lunch no.1 as it turned out). After a while, the noise of the crowds outside grew louder, and we came out to see the groom emerging from another house – he processed through the crowd to the bride’s house under an umbrella (to keep the sun off?). She then came out, under another umbrella, and they both processed to the mosque. The marriage took place sitting on a mat under a tent erected outside the mosque – I assume it is not inside because men and women are segregated inside – with just the immediate family members, the rest of us watching from a distance. After the marriage, the couple moved to another tent (blankets and mats over poles) for a lot of speeches and lots more singing and dancing. Interestingly, throughout the whole thing, lasting several hours, I never saw the bride and groom speak to each other and most of the time they sat with downcast eyes. Meanwhile, our party were taken by Mr Juma for another lunch – it really was difficult to keep up with the food consumption and not cause offence. Outside, the celebrations were still in full swing, and were still going strong when we left to walk back to our village.

For the Sunday wedding, the bride was a relative of my host family and, as my father was the chief, the wedding celebration was at our house. Again, it was a Muslim wedding but rather different from the previous day. Celebrations started the previous evening – many relatives had come from Lilongwe and they all packed into the small front room of the house to chat. The singers and dancers were also there with their chanting, jumping and stamping going on outside the door. Indeed they kept this up all night, mostly right outside my bedroom window. I confess that by 3 am I had completely lost interest in new cultural experiences and was very grumpy. I think everyone else simply stayed up all night, including the children – certainly they were all out there enjoying the fun when I gave up the battle for sleep at about 5.30 am and went to join them. During the morning, a shelter of poles, blankets and mats was erected outside our house for the later celebrations. Then I went with my host mother to relatives from where we saw the bride depart for the mosque – only this time she travelled by gallimoto (car). The groom also went to the mosque in a separate car – it was quite a sight to see these vehicles crawling along the footpaths, surrounded by dancers, singers and other supporters – cars were a rare sight in the village on other occasions. After the marriage, they came by car to our house. This time, I was one of the official guests and had to sit in the official tent, along with Clement and Madalitso who translated what was happening for me. Proceedings started with a very long reading from the Qu-ran – it was written in arabic but spoken in the local language which must have been quite a challenge. The reading was interspersed with songs and dances, mainly by the women. Then came the main business of the day – the giving of money to set up the couple in their new home – firstly by anyone who wished to, then by named individuals who had registered to do this – it seemd a rather ostentatious display of wealth to European eyes. Bundles of banknotes were scattered about casually by the donors and scrabbled for by those collecting on behalf of the couple. With lots of encouragement, almost 40,000 Kwacha was given – about £150, a very large sum in Malawi where average annual earnings are about £300. While the money was being counted, the gifts were displayed – very practical gifts such as plates, cups, nsima spoon and stirrer for the new home, but also tea, soap…..and a Scottish tea towel! This marked the end of proceedings, the gallimoto was summoned and the young couple driven off into the dusk.

The following weekend, we climbed the mountain behind the school, and agin it was more of a party than anything else. In the end, I think 9 of us headed off: myself, Mr Chimtali, Mr Juma, Clement, Madalitso, Mac, Sefu and Sunje (from my host family) and another lad whose name I never found out. We bought some sticks of sugar cane as we went through the village, which the boys carried, and then headed up. It took little more than an hour, but there was no path as such and the grass was above my head a lot of the time. Madalitso used a large knife to hack a way through at times. We were very jubilant when we reached the top, especially as none of the party had ever been up before – apparently our celebrations were noticed in the village. Unfortunately it was rather hazy, but even so the views of the surrounding mountains were splendid. The knife was then used to cut up the sugar cane for us to suck.

The next day, Sunday afternoon, I went to a political rally for the governing party, the DDP. I’m not sure if this is the sort of thing Global Teachers are supposed to do, but I rather stood out, so having gone for a look with Mr Chimtali, we were ushered into the official tent with the Minister of Agriculture, the National Women’s Leader, the Provincial Governor, the District Commisioner and all the local chiefs! You might not think that a political rally and celebrations naturally go together, but in Malawi…. The DDP are apparently not very popular in that area of Malawi, most people supporting the opposition UDP, so they had gone to a lot of trouble to make this a special event: vehicles and generators had been brought in to power a sophisticated PA system and even the TV cameras were there. Then before the speeches, once again there was a real celebration of Malawian culture in song and dance. I’m not sure that the speeches themselves were any different to political speeches anywhere – lots of promises….

At various other times, I visited other teachers and relatives of my hosts in their homes. Always, I was made comfortable and special food and drinks were prepared for me, then all the family and neighbours came round to chat and have their photos taken (thank goodness for digital cameras). Before I left, I was often given gifts…some sweet potatoes, or some ground nuts, or some bananas, or some lemons, or some sugar cane…their generosity was boundless.

My visit to Mlozi School was also a good excuse for celebrations. I think the significance of most of what happened at my Welcome Ceremony passed me by, but fortunately I took some video clips on my camera. There were speeches, poems, songs, dances and acrobatics. It is only when I looked back of these that I started to realise that many of them were very personal to me and were especially composed for the occasion. The Head Teacher pointed out to me all the people who had come along – it seemed like most of the village, but included all the chiefs, the School Management Committee and Parent Teacher Association and many of the parents. By the time of my Farewell Ceremony, I knew all the participants much better and none of the significance of their contributions was lost on me. There were more poems, acrobatics and dances and heart-breaking farewell songs. One group of boys, that I dubbed the rock band, had taken their electronic keyboard, homemade electric guitar and speaker to the health centre to charge it up using the solar panel there, then lugged it all the way back to school to play their specially composed songs for me. The choir had learned a song in English composed by one of the teachers. A pupil, Emma, recited a poem composed by the Head Teacher about the significance of my visit to the school. I listened to speech after speech from the Chief, the School Management Committee, the Head Teacher about how the Scottish Government should let me stay… Once again, it seemed that the whole village had turned out. This time, there were presentations too. The school gave me a pair of beautiful carved pictures by a local artist, one for me and one for my school in Scotland. I gave the school a Scottish flag to hang up to remember me by. Afterwards, the staff, School Management Committe, PTA and Chief retired for refreshments with a Scottish flavour – shortbread (washed down with Coke/Fanta – a treat for them on special occasions). They certainly know how to make you feel good about yourself.

Village Life

Apologies – it’s proving difficult to find time to put everything on here that I’d like and keep up with the day job. Somehow a month has slipped by since I came home from Malawi and yet the realities of everyday life there are still very fresh in my memory, perhaps because they are just so incredibly different from life here.

Although in the towns and cities they have many of the amenities that we have – electricity, piped water, fridges, supermarkets, television, internet – once you are away into the rural areas, you are also away from all of these amenities.  Life then follows the natural rhythm of the day and many of the day’s activities are concerned with the basic necessities of life.

Houses are built either of mud and thatch or, for wealthier people, of brick with a corrugated iron roof. Either way, there is a compound out the back with further buildings, usually all of mud and thatch, including a kitchen, housing for animals, storerooms and latrine. There is also a screened washing area. The compound is fenced to prevent hyaenas taking animals at night.

Most people seemed to get up around 5.30 a.m., as it was getting light. I had been rather concerned about my ability to get up at this time, especially as I managed to drop and break my alarm clock on our first day after arriving in Dedza and I didn’t want to use my phone and run the battery down. However, in reality it was not a problem – probably because I was going to bed so early. The cockerels also helped! As it was quite cool in the early mornings, it being winter, it was a lovely time of day. Around 6.15 a.m. I was usually summoned to my first “bath” of the day – a huge can of very hot water in the washing area. The washing area had grass screens around an arrangement of stones on which to stand. A plastic mug was used to “shower” yourself and there was a drainage system leading away from the stones to remove the dirty water. Various hooks and rails were provided for towels, clothes etc and there was even a small mirror – it all worked really well. After my bath was breakfast and then, on schooldays, I headed off to school.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family got on with the business of living. Water had to be fetched daily from the borehole about 200m away and this was mainly the responsibility of my sister and sometimes my mother. The containers they collected it in, carried on the head of course, were huge and several return trips were needed to fill all the water jars in the compound. I tried, with a very small container, one day and it’s not easy. Operating the pump is quite hard work and inevitably it’s uphill on the way home with the full container. Still, I was proud that I didn’t spill any! I can imagine it’s a very hard job in the very hot weather they have for most of the year.

Most of the food consumed is home-grown. Crops aren’t actually grown in the compound, but each family has a “garden” somewhere where they have small fields to grow maize, groundnuts, beans, potatoes, cabbages, rape, sugar cane and other crops. Near our village, Save the Children had an irrigation project – lots of little canals to bring water to the fields which means that crops can be grown all the year round. The time that I was there, in July, is usually just after the main harvest. However, my host father, whose garden had these canals, had maize at various stages of development and will hopefully be harvesting maize at different times throughout the year in future. This is an amazing project and I hope that it is widely extended. (One day while I was walking through the village, a motorbike screeched to a halt beside me and the driver introduced himself as Alfred, the manager of this irrigation project. He wanted to know about me, but I also found out quite a lot about irrigation.) Cultivation of crops is all done manually using a hoe – an implement rather more substantial than the hoes we are used to – to break up the ground. Having seen this in progress, I can only describe it as back-breaking and, although there seem to be some significant efforts towards equality in Malawi, it is almost always the women that do it. Once the crops are planted, by hand, they are also manually tended, and if you are not part of the irrigation scheme, all the water for the crops also has to be carried. Finally the crops are also harvested by hand, and then the cycle starts again.

The staple food, maize, needs to be threshed and milled before it can be cooked. The teenage boys in my family threshed the maize by putting it in a sack and hitting it with a stick to make the kernels come off. Afterwards, any kernels still sticking to the cobs were prised off by hand. Traditionally, the maize is then milled by pounding it in a mortar and pestle – ground nuts are also milled this way. Nowadays, there are some diesel-powered mills and my family owned one of these where members of the village could mill their maize.

Families also keep animals for food – my families had chickens, ducks, pigeons and goats. Chickens and goats were very common and some people also had guinea fowl and a few had cows. In some villages I saw pigs, but there were none in mine as it was predominantly Muslim. Fish came from the local rivers, although some enterprising people travel to the Lake (Lake Malawi) about 30 km away to fish and bring back their catch. Each week, there was a small market by the sports field in the village where people sold excess crops and bought what else they needed. There were also small shops that sold dry goods: tea, sugar, soap and of course, Coke, Fanta and other luminous sugary liquids.

Cooking took place in the kitchen behind the main house in the compound. Most cooking was over an open fire which was arranged between 3 stones on which the pot rested. I never did find out what the wood was that was burned – I think some people earned money by going to forest about 10 km away to collect wood and sell it. Whatever it was, it was very smoky and I could never stay in there for very long. Even cooking was physically demanding – I tried stirring the nsima one day and succeeded in knocking the pot off the fire. Fortunately it was so stiff, none of it fell out! Most families also seemed to have a small charcoal burner on which they could cook smaller dishes.

Doing the laundry required another trip to the borehole, although in many villages the nearest river was used. Next to the pump had been built a washing area consisting off two deep sinks – the plugs for the drain holes were maize cobs – an interesting example of re-using things. Water was pumped and poured into the sink, the clothes were soaked in the water then spread out on the rocks and scrubbed with a bar of soap. My bottle of liquid travel soap caused no end of interest and I think they thought my efforts were pretty poor since I didn’t end up elbow-deep in suds. They were probably right – my clothes certainly didn’t end up as sparklingly clean as theirs did. We had a washing line (and pegs!) at our house to hang the clothes to dry but many people hung their clothes on bushes or spread them on rocks. Once dry, I left my ironing to the experts – the iron was filled with glowing-hot embers from the fire and used immediately. If the embers cooled too much, it could be swung about in an alarming manner to make them burn up again – certainly worth keeping out of the way while that was happening!

Cleaning the house was another important part of the days activities, to remove the dust which got everywhere and to keep the ants at bay. The small brushes used for this made it another back-breaking task for me at least.

Despite the large amount of physical work required just to keep daily life going, everyone was very sociable. Perhaps because the weather is so hot, they take frequent rests and always stop to chat when someone comes by, which is often. My journies to and from the school, in the morning, at lunchtime, and back again in the evening, were a progression of greetings to all the people sitting on the steps in front of their houses. Taking time to stop and greet people and to enquire after their families and health is a big part of Malawian culture. So is going visiting – many people came to the house to meet me and I was also taken to many people’s houses to meet them. Always, a mat was laid out, we sat down to talk and refreshments were offered – their generosity and friendliness was amazing to a European used to people rushing about and hardly having time to exchange two words.

It got dark between 5.30 and 6.00 p.m. and most people stayed at home after this. It was around this time that I got my second “bath” of the day – no difficulty keeping clean here! My family kept quite late hours compared to most people – we didn’t have our evening meal until about 7.30 p.m. and often didn’t go to bed until about 8.30 p.m. In contrast, most other people seemd to eat at about 6.00 p.m. and go to bed between 7.00 and 7.30 p.m. The family had a paraffin lamp and we had some candles too and we spent the evenings listening to the radio and playing games – draughts (home made), bawo (a local game I still don’t understand), various card games, dominoes and pick-up sticks. With my entourage of teenage boys, some part of the family and others their friends, evenings were pretty lively. The early nights, by my standards, were certainly a welcome change from home and I was feeling very well rested and healthy by the time I left to go back to Dedza.

It was about half way through my stay that I discovered that the name of the school, Mlozi Primary School, and the name of the village, Mitawa, were different. I don’t know why this was – some villages and schools had the same name, sometimes there was a village and school with the same name but in different places. Apparently, sometimes whole villages up sticks and move somewhere else but the school stays where it is. Another curiosity in a very different culture.

Is everyone in Scotland vegetarian?

“What was the food like?” is a question I have been asked many times since I got back – the honest answer is: remarkably varied, very healthy and LOTS of it.

The staple food in Malawi is called nsima and it is like a thick porridge made from ground maize. It doesn’t have much taste, although it is not unpleasant, so it is served with some type of relish. I was expecting to be served nsima for every meal, but in fact on most days I only had it once, occasionally twice, and very occasionally not at all. However, if they don’t eat nsima, Malawians would regard it as not having eaten. I expect the variety was at least partly for my benefit.

For breakfast, I was usually given bread, but occasionally potatoes or porridge or eggs, and on one occasion some samosas which were very tasty. Other meals were either nsima with relish or based on rice or potatoes or sweet potatoes. The sweet potato stew was particularly delicious. The relishes varied: I got fish quite often – rather bony and eaten entire (except by me – I just couldn’t manage the heads), beans cooked with tomatoes were lovely (remarkably similar to Heinz), and various types of greens – cabbage, rape, bean leaves and pumpkin leaves, again often cooked with tomato. It was the wrong time of year for most fruit but I did get bananas sometimes and also lemons.

Meals were large and I had difficulty persuading my host family not to feed me so much. In fact, for the first few days I was being given two evening meals: perhaps some potatoes when I came in from school (a whole panful!) and then an hour or so later, nsima and relish with the rest of the family. I ended up refusing whole meals and then it all settled down a bit.

At other times, especially when visiting other homes, there were snacks: groundnuts either freshly picked or freshly roasted were common and one day I got popcorn. Chewing sugar cane was also popular – I was introduced to this on my second day by the Head Teacher and we chewed sugar cane together quite often. The only snag was that my teeth weren’t really up to it – Malawians pull the outer bark off with their teeth and then chew and suck the fibrous inside before spitting out the fibre – it’s actually quite hard to do. I think I was so slow – they would eat about a 2 metre length while I was still chewing on the first 10 cm – they took pity on me and mine was usually peeled for me and cut up into chunks! Another treat was doughnuts made from maize flour and sugar which I bought in the market.

Most of the time, I drank water – supplied in bottles by Link. One thing that amazed me was how little the Malawians seemed to drink. At a meal, as I downed yet another bottle, other members of the family might take a small sip from a communal cup, and I rarely saw them drink at other times, though I think they must have done. OK, water had to be carried from the borehole to the house, but it was hardly in short supply. For breakfast and before going to bed, I was given tea, and I usually also shared tea at the Head Teacher’s house at the end of the school day. As you may have gathered from the sugar cane, Malawians have a very sweet tooth, and they simply could not believe that I drank my tea black with NO SUGAR. On my first or second morning, my host mother made my tea without me looking, and when I took a gulp I nearly hit the ceiling. The “usual” amount of sugar is 3 or 4 heaped teaspoonfuls in one small cup,so this is what I had! After observing me on several occasions, the Head Teacher decided to try tea with no sugar – his face told it all – clearly completely disgusting. On special occasions (staff meetings, end of term, my farewell) we got bottles of the ubiquitous Coke and Fanta which were very popular. A more local speciality drink was called toba (or something like that) and, if I understood correctly, was made from partially germinated maize. It was made for special occasions, including the weddings I went to, and apparently one lady was so pleased that I went to her daughter’s wedding that she sent a whole bucket of it to the school for me the following week! Not really knowing how it was made, or where the water came from, I was a bit concerned about drinking it, but in fact I was fine and my colleagues eagerly consumed most of the bucket anyway.

On special occasions, there were also special dishes prepared. My favourite of these was one cooked for me by the Head Teacher’s wife on my last morning. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name, but it was made from whole maize kernels cooked with ground groundnuts – it was delicious. Another delicacy in Malawi, but one I didn’t try, is mouse! One Sunday, on our way back from Church, the Head Teacher bought a very fresh, but clearly dead, mouse from some boys beside a field. He laughed as I pulled a face and put it away. A few days later, I asked what had become of it: ” I gave it to my daughters. They fought over it.” was the reply. Further questioning revealed that it had been cooked in the traditional way, roasted in the fire, and then eaten whole. Each to their own!

Partly because I was aware of the possibility of being offered mouse, and partly because I was concerned about what other parts of various animals I might be offered, and I didn’t want to cause offence, in common with most of the Global Teachers I had decided to go vegetarian while I was in Malawi. This was no great hardship as it’s the way I eat most of the time anyway and my hosts just thought it was peculiar. However, Tchetsa zone was the gossip capital of Dedza district and the Global Teachers were definitely top of the pile for gossip-worthy material. I got used to being asked questions about my Global Teacher colleagues as information about us got passed round the zone – often my questioners knew more than I did! However, I really didn’t know what to say when, in my last week in the village, I was asked “Is it true that everyone in Scotland is a vegetarian?”

I’m putting some pictures on Flickr related to this post if you are interested.

Schooldays – here and there

It’s only now that I’m finally back at school here in Scotland (term started yesterday) that I am starting to make sense of my experiences in Malawi, and noticing some of the contrasts and similarities.

In Malawi, school was supposed to start at 7.30a.m., although for lots of reasons this didn’t quite happen on most days. Before school, it was the duty of the pupils to sweep out their classrooms. The day always started with assembly, and that usually involved some physical exercises to warm them up – although I found it hot, for them it was quite chilly being the middle of their winter, and in the last week even I found the wind cold in the mornings. There were also prayers (muslim one week, christian the next in this mixed-faith community), notices, words of encouragement, and finally the national anthem. Then the children went to their classes.

Maths, Chichewa and English were usually the first lessons of the day, although the timetable, and any possibility of adherence to it, remained a complete mystery to me throughout my visit. Other subjects included Social Studies, Science, Creative Arts, PE, Agriculture and RE. Lessons for the youngest children, In Standards 1 and 2, ended at about 11 a.m., for Standards 3 and 4 at about 12 noon, and for Standards 5 to 8 at about 1 p.m. However, the Standard 8 pupils, who have their leaving exams in September, returned to class in the afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m. for extra revision lessons. The dedication of these pupils and their teachers was remarkable.

On some days, all lessons seemed to stop about 11 a.m. for whole school activities. The first week I was there, this was mainly for sports practice, as they had football and netball matches against other schools in the zone at the end of that week. On another occasion, it was for “activities” which seemed to include things like choir practice. Sometimes it was for “manual work” – helping to keep the school maintained and repaired: groups of pupils were delegated to tasks such as mopping the classroom floors, helping the school management committee repair the borehole, and re-building the boys latrines (sadly mostly washed away last rainy season).

On Fridays, the patterned changed again: as many of the pupils were muslim, school ended at 10.30 a.m. in order to allow pupils time to prepare for mosque at 12 noon. However, once again Standard 8 pupils were back in their classroom for revision in the afternoon.

Mercifully, here in Gairloch, we don’t start so early, although it probably wouldn’t be a problem if we also went to bed as early (more of that another time). And we have the comfort of a predictable timetable: I found the variable start times in Malawi and the apparent lack of correlation between the timetable and what actually took place in classrooms quite frustrating. Part of this was undoubtedly my developed world obsession with time and timekeeping and part was my consciousness of the short period I had in the school there to try to make a difference. Now I have come home, the relaxed attitude to time seems attractive….

Today we had an assembly in our school, though we don’t have one every day, or even every week. In both schools, notices and encouraging words form part of this. However, I would be truly amazed if we started singing the national anthem on a daily basis. Of course, we have a dedicated team of cleaners who attend to the school each evening, so our pupils don’t have to sweep out their classrooms, and we have our janitor (and others) who deal with repairs, so “manual work” doesn’t feature for our pupils either. But most of the subjects studied in both countries are the same or have parallels and, whilst the range of classroom equipment is obviously more limited in Malawi, many of the ways of teaching are similar or are becoming so. I was really impressed with the teaching skills of some of my Malawian colleagues – I could learn lots from them – and their ingenuity in using what was available to enliven their lessons.

Greetings from Malawi

I got home from Malawi at the end of last week and have been trying to think since then about what to put onto this blog first, but it’s really hard to decide. One thing that is very striking about returning home is just how complicated our lives are here and how dependent we are on the rest of the world to maintain our lifestyles. In September, three headteachers from Malawi will be visiting their Link schools in Scotland – they are very excited about this as they’ve never left Malawi before. However, it is hard to imagine what they will make of Heathrow airport as their first impression of the UK. And then there’s all the other things that we take for granted: it has occurred to me more than once in the past few days to wonder how I could explain a washing machine to my Malawian friends.

The most important thing though is to pass on the greetings of a whole group of villages and Mlozi school to my entire family, all my friends, all the schools in the Gairloch ASG and the whole community (this sounds extravagant but is entirely genuine). They were delighted with the greetings, the pictures of our area, the letters and drawings from the children, and the gifts from our schools and community. Although materially they have very little compared to us, they have also sent back some drawings, pieces of writing and handicrafts done by the pupils as well as a specially-commissioned carving for the school. The fact that a visitor had come and shown an interest in helping them was tremendously important and exciting for them and, as the headteacher said at my farewell ceremony, they hope it will be the beginning of a long-lasting friendship between our schools and communities.

I have lots and lots of pictures which are going to take quite a lot of sorting through – but I’ll put some of my favourites on Flickr asap.

Tie-ing things up!

We finished our last Inservice Training Event on Friday. This involved an experiential lesson where we managed to incapacitate 70 teachers. A Gairloch tie was used restrain one man! Saturday was our final evaluation with the Headteachers planning next steps for all to take advantage of the visit and that went very well. The day finished, not with the usual speeches but a riot of Scottish and Malawian song and dance.

On Sunday I climbed Dedza Mountain at 2198m above sea level and yesterday we visited the Lake.

This is likely to be the last entry before I return home.

Sharing Experience

The Global Teacher team are now working together to train local teachers.  We spent two very long and  intensive days, last Sunday and Monday, preparing our course.  This week we are delivering four days of training to teachers who work in the schools we have visited.  This is very tiring as we have a 70km journey from Dedza  to Tchetsa Zone along a dirt road daily.  Fortunately our driver, Emmanuel, is very good but I do pass through my village every day and I find that difficult.

Farewell to school

Term ended in Malawian schools on Friday with a closing ceremony which also became a farewell to Global Teachers. At Mlozi school. there were songs, dancing, acrobatics and poetry, much especially composed for the occasion – it was all very moving. I have been given gifts, letters, drawings, carvings and many other things by pupils and teachers. Thanks goodness for the 45kg baggage allowance – the maize pounder alone takes up most of my large rucksack!

Malawian schools face many challenges that are simply unimaginable in Scotland and it is hard not to feel that one has barely scratched the surface. Mlozi school was founded in 1957 and the buildings are now in a poor state even by Malawian standards. One class has no classroom at all and another has not teacher. Of course, there is no such thing as supply – indeed even the teachers that are there are often called away from school to meeting, usually at very short notice. And then there is the paperwork….we have seen nothing like it. A letter home to parents was a revelation as each one had to be individually hand written, but most paperwork is form-filling required repetitively and extensively by the authorities.

Although the weather has mostly been hot as far as I have been concerned, the local people have found it cold. This last week, there have been a couple of days which even I found pretty cold and the wind whistled through classrooms which all lack windows and doors. The children shivered in their thin clothing. However, the warmth of the welcome has never been in doubt – this truly is the warm heart of Africa. Although I shared very little language with most of the children, we did well with sign language and shared many laughs. Some of the seniors, who had better English, became very chatty during my stay. I was also adopted by the two 3-year-old daughters of two of the teachers who followed me about the school, often sitting beside me in classes.

Outside school, many people have befriended me and invited me to their homes. Last weekend was very busy. On Friday, in this predominantly Moslem area, I was taken to the mosque by a female member of the PTA – an interesting experience, although I found it difficult to keep up with all the moves and some of the girls from school thought it was pretty funny. Hanging onto all the various bits of clothing I had been attired in to stop them falling off was also a challenge. On Saturday, about 10 of us climbed the local “mountain” behind the school and sat on top chewing sugar cane. The views were superb and I could have stayed forever but my friends found it too cold. This was the only occasion in 3 weeks when I wore trousers and even then with a chitenji – the wrap-around cloth that African women wear (my chitenji has been a constant source of frustration to me and amusement to my colleagues and friends as I have never got the hang of putting it on properly and it was forever falling off at inconvenient moments. I hasten to add that is worn over not instead of a skirt).

On Sunday, I went with some of the teachers and their families to the local CCAP Presbyterian Church about a 40 minute walk away. This was a lovely traditional mud and thatch church perched on top of a hill and with lots of beautiful unaccompanied singing. Interestingly, although women are not segregated as they are at the mosque, the men sit on one side and the women on the other.

Now all the Global Teachers have come back to Dedza and we have 2 days to prepare for the in-service training courses we will be delivering to teachers from Tuesday to Friday. It’s a busy life!!

Time is passing!

I am now into my third and last week at Mlozi School. Term ends this week.

I did some training with the teachers last week and some of them are taking on ideas and trying them out. I’ve also done some work with the oldest pupils in Standard 7 and 8. Worryingly the class sizes are reducing to around 30 or 40. It is strange when a class of 80 pupils starts to feel small!

Daily Life

I am staying with a lovely family but I still have to work out exactly who is a member! The host father is a minor chief. Then there is mother and her daughter along with two sons, aged three and one. There are also several teenage boys.

My interpreter ‘Mac’ is a cousin but not always present but two of the other boys speak a little English so we all manage.

Getting up at 6am every morning is easier than I expected as we go to bed at 8pm. The cockerel is a very good alarm in the morning.

The food is more varied than I expected but there are lots of carbohydrates. The headteacher has taught me to chew sugar cane!