First night surprise

It turns out I could not go to Blantyre as told at one point.  It makes sense from a point of view of spending time wisely, though I’m disappointed to miss seeing Blantyre as I hear is very different from Lilongwe.  Expecting ambiguity and changes in plans will be key in Malawi.

It’s been slightly more difficult to schedule Internet time than I originally anticipated, sorry for such sporadic posts, but I just wanted to jump in with my first day in Malawi.

After a week of fairly intense learning with 12-16 hour days of development thinking and practical activities in Toronto, I hit the road last Sunday with 8 fellow Malawi team members.  I spend the next 2 days on or between flights finally landing in Lilongwe airport Tuesday afternoon with surprising ease.  Fortunately for me, so did my backpack – not the case for 5 of my friends.  Anyhow, minus some sorely missed baggage, the 9 of us are escorted into town by Erin (has lived in Malawi for a while now) and David (EWB Director of Southern Africa Projects).  We minibus it to Mabuya camp, a campsite typically used by backpackers and where the adventure tour jeeps are on steroids.  With a short rest and some avocado-tomato sandwiches, we start a few Malawi-specific training sessions.

While this was all super cool, I’m going to skip over a bunch of funny short stories to describe the surprise I had late Tuesday.  So sore bum, stiff legs and all, I join the group in a relatively luxurious minibus.  We head down a foreign yet strangely fitting ochre dirt road lined with gutters (which I suspect is for rainy season flood control…and the occassional opportunistic bladder), women with small babies strapped to their backs balancing impressive loads on their heads, minibuses spewing black smoke while transporting double the number of people as there are seats, and men bicycling on 1950’s cruisers probably returning from work.  We leave the minibus and walk the last leg of the trip.  I turn the corner and suddenly am overwhelmed with the singing and dancing of a local women’s choir around Erin’s housing compound.  Sensory overload!  I look around hesitant to join in the singing of our welcome since the lyrics are in Chichewa but ndidiziwa Chichewa pangono pangono (I know Chichewa little by little).  Erin yells out to the group, “Dance!!”, and so I follow the choir’s lead.  Left elbow jab, right elbow jab, pat thighs twice, stretch to the sky, grab the sky with my right hand, grab the sky with my left hand.  The choir sounded amazing after practicing three days a week, but the 9 of us brought up the rear with our terrible out-of-sync dance moves.  The women in the choir couldn’t resist laughing at us muzungu’s (white or Western person).  But it was all in great fun and the welcome was a much needed energy boost.

As pitch darkness arrived, we head inside for our first Malawian meal with a Malawian family.  We ate nsima (“nSEEmah” in Malawi, “nSHEmah” in Zambia) and beans, the quite tasty staple meal in Malawi, as well as a vegetable relish of boiled okra.  The okra relish being slimy — though relatively better than the Ghanaian okra I ate in Toronto — still tested my gag reflex, but I survived to try it again another day.

After dinner I adopt a more questioning hat and start a conversation with agogo (grandfather) the male head of the family.  I say and mean “started” because I honestly have little idea what was said with the many voices in conversation around me and a dance party in the next room.  We somehow start discussing Malawian politics touching on Mutharika (current President), Muluzi (past President), and others.  Agogo and his son, Blessings, are both musicians and I look forward to getting to know them a bit better.

We returned to Mabuya camp after a warm welcome and I was glad to hit the sack for a good night’s rest.

I hope everyone in having a spectacular summer back in Canada!


Explore posts in the same categories: Malawi

7 Comments on “First night surprise”

  1. Deryk Says:

    Amazing stories, Wayne. I’m looking forward to reading them all summer.

  2. mum, Says:

    Hi Son:

    Interesting stories. Laughed at you eating Okhra, I guess, You’re going to relish my
    Okhra, when you come back. Oh, and with all that dancing, you’ll probably be able to
    do some Latin Dancing here.

    Like to hear more about your host family, and the time difference, between Malawi and Canada.

    Love and kisses,


  3. erin Says:

    hey wayne!

    great to hear you’re off to a safe, happy and healthy start – i hope it continues that way! we had a great waterloo retreat this weekend and i thought of you often. hope you’re having fun and learning lots! stay in touch!

    love erin

  4. Megan Says:

    Hey Wayne!

    You do a really good job making your stories leap off the page – keep them coming! As for dancing, at the retreat Josh taught us some gumboot, and there was lots of falling on the floor laughing (not a traditional gumboot move 😉 So you’re not the only one doing terrible dancing lately. We tried to call your cell phone when we got your email at the retreat, but you were probably asleep or having intense conversations….


  5. matt Says:

    holler! nice to see you got there safe, and ur havin fun. find angelina jolie for me!

  6. steve Says:


    am a Malawian living in the uk. have been reading your blogg and enjoying the lovely narration of your stay in the warm heart of africa. What a delight it was reading them. I dont know if you are still in malawi but looks you enjoyed your stay.

    your story are full of warmth and for a paints a true reflection of malawi and its people. hope many follow your steps to visit the country and appreciate what the country can offer despite the poverty that sorrounds most of the the people.

    you ask why the people know details of even the people footballers on the bench, well the answer is within your blogg. In a country where there is very little on the local tv internationl footbal and most the british premiership the most likely source of entertainment.

    How I miss the beautiful lake malawi and looking at the lovely photos you posted, I could only but envy your postion since its been 4years since I last visited that mother malawi.

    on the language problem I dont think your doing bad only that your spellings are getting in your way and but they are spell differently

    Chombe as in tea, Chamba as in marijuana and chambo the famous fish. and yes m'”mawa as in the morning and mawa as in tommorow . dont worry you have done very well. very few master the language to be able to pick up all these difference

    Grew up in Lilongwe so could relate with what ever you relate. By the way I share the same last name as your host family. Enough of me and keep the stories and photos coming

  7. Very good article! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: