We first spotted Lucy Ifould in her bright orange jumpsuit in a hostel in Kigali, Rwanda. It didn't take us long to realize that she just doesn't shut up about Malawi. She really is Malawi's number one fan!
"Lake Kivu is nice”, we'd hear “but it's no Lake Malawi."
Lucy came to Africa as the Programme Officer of the Mlambe Project, which is currently building a primary school in Chikolongo village. After hearing about the characters in the village and the work they were doing, we jumped at the opportunity as soon as she invited us.
A month or so later we were each on the back of a bicycle taxi with our wheelbarrow wheel (the only thing we had been asked to bring from Lilongwe), our bags balancing on the back of another bicycle heading down the 16km sandy track from the tar road to our new home for two weeks.
We stayed with Steven and his extremely hospitable family for our two weeks in Chikolongo. We joined Lucy and Saalim (key member of the Mlambe project and fellow brit) in their daily routine and we were able to learn from many of their previous experiences.
Steven and Geoffrey, the most hilarious duo and best friends, are the charity's managers based in Malawi.
These four and the other Experts (Alf, Mr Manyawa, Twaya, Dairo, Joseph, Paul, Endless, Chief Williams, Geoffrey 2, Ganizan, Amina, Catherine) made us feel so welcome and threw us straight into hard work and real life in the village. They helped us to experience as many new things as possible. We never felt awkward or out of place the whole two weeks, it was a great feeling to be so comfortable somewhere that is very different and far away from home.
I was a little anxious how I was going to get on with the outside squat toilets with cockroaches, the outside bucket shower, manual labour (lacking any upper body strength whatsoever) and corn based food 2 to 3 times a day.
But this very quickly became normal – in fact we both loved village life! My favourite time of day was my kasambe (shower) under the stars and it was noted that Dave was eating as much pala (corn porridge) and nsima (white stodge made from corn flour resembling mash potato) as any hungry local. The longer we spent in Chikolongo, the more we came to appreciate the simpleness of village life: working outside in the sun, fresh air, children playing outside, such friendly and genuine people. However we never did get used to our new alarm clock – the time confused cockerel.
We enjoyed many new experiences in the village:
- Helping to harvest rice, Geoffrey's nuts and cotton. When we arrived for rice harvest we were greeted by Annette's (Geoffrey's wife) big grin and we could hear her laugh from a mile away – these jovial sounds did not prepare us for how much hard work it is to separate the rice grains from the plant under the baking hot sun, although we were treated to traditional Yao songs.
- After a training session Dave was asked to be goalie for Chikolongo football team against a rival village. This was a very important affair and it seemed the whole village was there to support their players. Half the village ran onto the pitch for the half time team talk, and Dave just had to randomly nod and say “Yes, exactly” to the Chichewa chat.
- Sitting in on a village meeting with all the chiefs.
- Pumping water from a bore hole and carrying buckets of water on our heads – this was met with laughter and a round of applause!
- Returning to our room to find a chicken had laid an egg in the corner – a better present than Saalim found... chicken poo on his bag!
- Saalim and Dave killing a chicken each for our farewell meal, a very eye opening experience.
- Lucy and Dave cycling a boy from the village to the nearest clinic to see a doctor, as you can imagine not the nicest place to go but definitely a good deed.
- Even though we were working and building, school was still going on around us. The kids were fascinated by us and we loved getting to know lots of them. We sat in on maths and english lessons, it was really interesting for us even though our presence probably disrupted the whole class for the teacher.
When we set up an arm wrestling competition for the Experts, we went outside to find some of the older kids setting up their own version. One afternoon we were doing some outdoor yoga and caught a few of them trying to copy some of the moves from behind a tree. They were soon putting us to shame showing us their headstands!
- Actually helping to build a school building from scratch! In terms of the building project we chose the perfect two weeks to be in Chikolongo. We arrived as the foundation was being laid and left when all the walls were fully erect, the block looked great minus a roof!
- Lucy, Saalim, Dave and I organised a goat party whereby we purchased a large goat, 15 litres of Chibuku, Geoffrey's favourite squash, various veggies and rice.
For those of you that have not been lucky enough to try Chibuku you definitely have a carton shaped hole in your life. Chibuku is a corn based beer with the consistency of thick vomit! The day consisted of many speeches, Dairo expertly skinning and butchering the goat, formal introductions of all party guests, Steven's classic entrance in oversized aviators, the arm wrestling finale between Dave and Billy 'the beast' Manyawa and lots of impressive bum wiggling and dancing!
We loved every minute in Chikolongo village! In this little corner of Malawi the people were amazing, the sunsets are unbelievable everyday and the Chibuku is especially lumpy...why would anyone leave?