Rowan’s first week and first impressions……
I’ve just completed the first week of my month in Malawi where I’m at MOET school, doing some work with returning secondary students and some football coaching later on in my stay. Before leaving London I had been under the impression my journey to Malawi was a long one; a total of about 24 hours; but on the plane to South Africa my neighbour was a Canadian architect travelling to the Gambia. His journey duration dwarfed mine. He had had to fly from Vancouver to London before heading to Africa with me; when he would then fly to Angola and then onto Gambia. All this was to take over 2 days.
Still at the airport in Lilongwe I was changing my Sterling into Kwacha, foolishly asking for “some smaller notes” which resulted in me being given about 350 500MK notes and about another 100 notes in smaller denominations like 100’s, 50’s and 20’s. I hadn’t quite appreciated the exchange rate and quickly realised my wallet was not going to be large enough to store Kwacha. It may have been more manageable in 1000MK notes…
The place were I, like almost all MOET volunteers, am staying is the Mpemba Cottage. It’s about 15 minutes cycle from school and in a beautiful setting on Lake Malawi; which if I remember rightly is maybe the fourth largest lake in the world. From our location on the southern shores you can’t see the other end, it looks like an ocean. I’m sharing the cottage with Johannes, who is a veteran volunteer at MOET having first arrived in August 2015. Johannes tells me when he moved in to the cottage there was very little in the way of cooking apparatus, but on trips down to South Africa he has kitted out the place excellently with a deep frier and toastie machine. Possibly the best upgrade he’s made though is the warm shower, which just uses the electricity to heat the water from the lake. Johannes did all the wiring himself and it’s all taped against the wall in the shower. To alter the temperature you have to turn on/turn off other electrical devices in the house. Would probably fail every safety inspection going in the UK, although as of yet it’s worked fine and not killed anyone, so to hell with bureaucratic inspections.
|Sunset on the lake from the beach|
My first day at MOET was Monday 18 July and my first impression was how big it is. Given it only opened 18 years ago and has been reliant on donations throughout that time, it is very impressive the school now has classrooms for all Standards 1-8 (the year groups), a library, a permaculture HQ and gardens along with a brand new nursery block to start taking students in September I believe. MOET is also full of bicycles, which are given to graduates of the primary school who need the bikes to travel to secondary. I was given a bicycle: a bold flash green number, on Tuesday. One trip to People’s Supermarket in Maldeco later and the back tyre had popped completely. I suppose I am probably heavier than its average rider… It wasn’t until Thursday I got a chance to enquire after my green bike which I’d returned to MOET after the malfunction; no-one was sure where it was so I was issued another one.
A teacher, Spencer, told me the brakes on this new red bike weren’t great, but I figured that’s no issue as it’s mostly flat in Mangochi. Johannes suggested we go to Makawa to get the brakes looked at in one of the roadside workshops there. In my arrogance I declined.
So en-route home I took the right turn off the Makawa-Maldeco road towards my place which is a really slight downhill and I started rolling really pretty quick.
I dab the breaks.
I try again.
My flip-flop clad feet go down, and eventually I scrape to a halt 75m down the road. So I turn back to the big road to head to Makawa. It turns out there were no brake pads at all, which probably explains the lack of break function! The mechanic went and bought 4 pads and installed them for 2000K (£2), which I thought was a very good rate until Charles (MOET headteacher) told me they charged me the muzungu price (2x mark-up).
|My room ft. now brake-equipped bicycle|
The first big event of my time at MOET was the Sports Day on Wednesday 20. Only the older students really take part in the events but it’s a real occasion because, despite this, almost all 300-odd students come to watch. Between events there’s music playing out from a classroom next to the field, to which the students dance with unbounded enthusiasm. A lot of the songs were African or Malawian, but occasionally there was an unusual juxtaposition of Justin Bieber and dancing 5 year-olds in rural Malawi.
My job on Sports Day was primarily to get as many pictures as possible. The long and high jumps made for excellent pictures, although my personal favourites are those taken from the back of a motorbike of the 8km “Marathon” This was a little scary, especially after going off road! The marathon is the most impressive event, particularly in that children who are around 8/9 compete with those not far off twice that, and twice their height as well. Ultimately though it was an older student who won, by the name of Saïdi with a Mo Farah style kick at the end to finish off his opponents. I had thought this would be my most hands on involvement, filming the race from the bike, but I was wrong.
The final event of the day was a Staff vs. Learners football match. I was to play in the Staff team – Fifa would probably rule I was ineligible so it was lucky none of their representatives could make it to MOET that day. Our staff team was kitted out in yellow APYFC kit (donated by Alexandra Park Youth Football Club); I drew the short straw in getting a shirt for a 13-14 y/o boy so was working the more fitted look. The number 7 on my back was quite prestige though. My first taste of Malawian football was exhausting and made me feel quite old as I was repeatedly outpaced by kids little over half the size of me. Their athleticism was very impressive, although I managed to get a few decent touches on the ball and play a few passes. The final score was 3-3 with no spectacular goals but plenty of action and hopefully an enjoyable game for the crowd to watch.
My first week ended finishing the questionnaires I’d started earlier in the week with some recent ex-MOET secondary grads after giving a lesson on how to use Powerpoint on Friday morning. Skills on the agenda were: opening Powerpoint, inserting text, inserting pictures, saving and entering a slide show. We shall see how good a teacher I am when there is another computer skills session on Tuesday.
I’ve enjoyed my first week in Malawi even if initially I felt a bit out of my depth and was naive about bike standards and currency value. People are very friendly and will often wave or say hello as you cycle around, or if nothing else, children always shout “muzungu! muzungu!” whenever I pass by, which is an interesting novelty. Next week I shall be more organised in exporting pictures from my camera so I can use them in my blog post, but this week it’s limited to those on my phone.