My host family

Nyumba ali bwanji!?  (How is home?)

A LOT has happened since I last posted!  I now live with my new host family as an uncle and brother, and have made many acquaintances and a close friend who lives two doors down my street.  I’m also working with two of CADECO’s clients, which are my new partner organizations, Centre for Youth and Children Affairs (CEYCA) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC).  It’s been a busy few weeks since starting work – settling into Malawian office life, field visits, meetings, donor proposal writing, and lots of reading about CEYCA and PAC.  In fact, I wrote this while on a field visit working with PAC in Kasungu district, about 2 hours north of where I live, but I’m back in Lilongwe now.

Wayne in Kawale

I had some requests for an example of proverbs used in CADECO’s organizational consultancy work…One recites like this, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”  I’m curious to know what you understand from this, so send in your comments!

Another one that you may already be familiar with is, “Failure is an orphan, while success has many parents.”

To continue describing life in Malawi, my placement is actually urban based, so first a glimpse of my home life…

I live in what I think is an upper middle-class household in a Lilongwe suburb of sorts.  Analogous to Canada where Ottawa is the capital, but Toronto is the commercial center; in Malawi, Lilongwe is the capital, but Blantyre is the commercial center.

You can see pictures of the house by clicking here

In Lilongwe, I live with the family of Leonard and Trinity Mkandawire.  Leonard is the manager and accountant in a Malawian book store chain, and aspiring entrepreneur of a general goods & stationary store.  Most stores in Lilongwe are owned by east-Asians, Nigerians, or Congolese.  I’ve only scratched the surface of why this is and I’ve heard mixed arguments on the difficulty for a single Malawian to have enough capital, or acquire the necessary loans to open their own shop in Lilongwe.  Trinity is a Standard 8 teacher of mathematics – “Standard 8” is the equivalent to grade 8 in Canada as being the final grade of primary school.  While I knew intellectually some of the challenges in achieving universal free primary education, it was still shocking to hear first-hand from a teacher the same issues of students dropping out due to hidden fees for national examinations or uniforms, and the lack of teachers, and the lack of adequate school facilities in terms of water, shelter, hygienic sanitation for students while learning.  (Aside: I was asked about my potential involvement with CIDA through CADECO…so far I am not involved with CIDA nor have I seen them anywhere I have travelled in Malawi, but most of the primary school textbooks have big bold statements of the back cover mentioning they were proudly funded by CIDA 😛 – CIDA is the Canadian International Development Agency)

Leonard & Trinity

Anyhow, Leonard and Trinity are parents to Talina (Standard 4) and Grittel aka Gritty (Kindergarten).  While at first the children were fearful of the new muzungu visitor (I think primarily for respect of hierarchy), Gritty has resumed to be the troublemaker, and with Talina, our favourite pastime together is for her to teach me Chichewa and to learn English from me.  We have many laughs when I butcher the pronunciation of words.  (For a taste of my difficulty – chombe “chombeh” is tea, chomba “chombah” is marijuana, chombo “chomboh” is Malawi’s most famous and tasty fish…mmowa is morning, mowa is tomorrow…etc.)


I also live with Leonard’s brother, Roderick (23) who is studying accounting, niece Catherine (Standard 7), and Christopher (16), who is the houseboy.  Rod being around my age can tell me lots about Malawian culture and since we are both outside the immediate family yet still a family member, I tend to follow his lead when venturing new ground.  Cathy and Christoph both speak very little English and so I try to spend as much time with them as possible.  They do the vast majority of the housework, which is typical for their status in the household, and so live a very tiresome lifestyle, yet seem to be content.


With Cathy I have started playing a game called “Riddle, Riddle” (though with a Malawian accent it sounds like “leedo, leedo”).  It’s another fun way to learn Chichewa, but I must say that I seriously lack the wit to answer the riddles or construct any half decent ones.  One example, “It is a house with a door that when you open, it is open, but when you close, it is never closed.”  Stay tuned for the answer in my next post, send in comments or e-mail me your guesses!


Christoph loves to listen to music (religion is very important, and so gospel music tends to be everyone’s favourite), or the football match (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and of course team Malawi are among the favourites – I’m keenly interested in how so many Malawians know the smallest details of even the bench players).  I’m also learning Chichewa with Christoph and teaching him English simultaneously.  And since he speaks and understands very little English, we both know the phrases, “I don’t know” and “Sindidziwa” very well.  He is also teaching me how to cook nsima!


I also met and continue to spend a lot of time with one of Rod’s friends, Chipie.  Chipie is studying the same accounting as Rod, but is older and in a higher class.  Chipie is actually short for Chipilero “perseverance” which is fitting to his character.  He has been given the opportunity to studying accounting, a fairly respected career in Malawi, largely due to support from his uncle who he grew up with to attend school in Blantyre.  We are able to communicate well because he speaks fluent English, so we can walk for hours around the surrounding neighbourhoods to share a common curiosity in each other’s culture.  I take many of my questions about Malawi to him since he can break it down and explain in detail.  Chipie has joined a friend, Tabu, in a small-scale initiative called YAC: Youth Arts & Culture.  Tabu explained to me that while many youth have been exposed to HIV/AIDS education, many are no longer in school, cannot find work, and thus pass the time at home or with a boyfriend/girlfriend.  YAC intends to provide a means for youth to do something with fellow youth, and secondly, to expose the many talents that would otherwise be suffocated by disapproving parents, or broadly, lack of opportunity.  So Chipie and Tabu are currently recording local Kalawe gospel artists, some of which get aired on radio stations in Lilongwe!  They also have a football team, and are looking to have a drama club.  This was all launched with their own funds and revenue generation, driven by their amazing passion to take control of their own futures.  Talking with them is a huge source of motivation, and so every Sunday starting from last week, I have agreed to meet and help where I can.


The family’s favourite pastime in the evenings is to listen to the radio or watch television which is whatever happens to be showing on the only channel TVMalawi. You may have heard that the first lady of Malawi, Ethel Mutharika, passed away about 2 weeks ago, and so the government of Malawi has called for one month of mourning from the day of her death. Since that day, traditional songs by choirs across Malawi have been continuously aired on TVMalawi, only to be interrupted by official messages of condolence from various organizations, as well as the news. At first I thought it was just me who felt one month was over the top, but from the few Malawians that I’ve talked to, I feel I have a case. My family themselves are quite tired of the same songs, and choose to watch some Nigerian movies – which I could talk at length about, but I’ll leave it for another day.

So overall, this seems to be a comfortable lifestyle for my host family, and I can say I am very comfortable myself.  But I’ve only seen the surface at best with small glimpses of the challenges they face.  I have seen glimpses of the roles everyone plays and how they came about, whether its caretaker of children or the house, provider, future provider, and how some basic factors like age, immediate or extended family, gender play in defining that role.  Since I am urban based, I lose the opportunity to see life from the perspective of the vast majority of Malawians, that being rural village life.  But I have gained the opportunity to see a life which many villagers are flocking towards.  So I look forward to exploring urban livelihoods, and the factors that make them so complex.  I would love if any of you help me come up with factors to probe into – it would make for much better learning to share in September.

Me & the kids

I look forward to hearing from you, and sorry I have posted this after soo long.  Now that I have settled and have slightly more control over my schedule, I will be posting more often.  The next post will be on what my work has been so far and some of my field visits.  Feel free to make requests about what you would like to hear about!

Until next time,

Explore posts in the same categories: Malawi

6 Comments on “My host family”

  1. mum, Says:

    Hi Son:

    Hear from you at last and thanks for the photographs. I’ll have to read your blog again
    to understand everything. About the elephants, I understood it as, the innocent suffer.
    Waiting to hear the answer.

    Nice to hear, you have made lots of friends.



  2. Deryk Says:

    Awesome update, Wayne. I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences when we both get back to Waterloo.

    My first reaction to the elephant proverb was the same as your mom’s. When those in power quarrel, it is the ones below them who suffer. After thinking about it for a minute it seemed even more fitting when I realised that just two elephants would disturb countless blades of grass.

  3. Megan Says:

    Hey Wayne,

    I really enjoyed this update, love the pictures 🙂 It’s interesting that you’re in a more urban setting – I was too in the Philippines, and I found it a bit difficult at first because it almost didn’t feel like I was having the ‘right’ (or expected) type of placement, if that makes sense. Glad you seem to be getting a lot out of it. One of the family’s I lived with (also upper-middle class) also had two cousins living with them in a role similar to what you’ve described for Cathy and Chris.

    I don’t think I understand a lot of the aspects of urban livelihoods, but I remember some of the people I found were most willing to talk to me about livelihoods (or perhaps those I felt most comfortable approaching them) were food vendors on the street. And it’s a great excuse to snack 🙂

  4. Mike Says:

    Hey Wayne,

    Awesome post! Your words paint a really clear picture of the interesting people you’re spending so much time with.

    I’d have to agree with your mom that the 2 elephants quote has to do with those not involved in a conflict suffering because of it. I also think of the grass as being the support and the nurturing environment for those animals to exist, yet in a moment of anger, it is forgotten and taken for granted. The other proverb is also quite interesting, although I’m not sure if it’s meant to mean that everyone likes to take credit for success (instead of failure) or that success often requires a team effort, while failure can be caused by one bad apple.

    The riddle’s got me… I keep thinking of something which can only be opened once, like the grand opening of a 24-7 convenience store, but I think I’m missing something.

    Thanks for answering so many commenter questions. I’m definitely curious to hear more about your conversations with Chipie, but also about the common ground you find with members of your family who are of different ages. In Canada, with the exception of family, most people tend to associate with people their own age. Overseas, that isn’t always the case, and it can provide an interesting window into a culture that we often miss.

    Keep ’em coming when you can!


  5. matt Says:

    nice to know you’re still alive! have fun with the family.

  6. erin Says:

    hey wayne!!

    wow, this is a beautiful post about some people that sound pretty inspirational. i’m so glad you have all these positive influences around you! i hope you’ve been learning a lot and are ready to sit down and mull it over with a coffee when you get back 🙂

    love and miss you lots,

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