Saturday, 22 November 2014


After a care free border crossing we walked the bridge into Malawi, the warm heart of Africa. The bus station we were looking for turned out to be a minibus parked at the side of the road. So we got in the 14 seater alongside 25 other passengers, a lot of luggage and some potent smelling fish. We had read along the way that Malawians are a friendly bunch who settle disagreements with good humour. There seemed to be no good humour from the station attendant at our first stop whilst he was punching our driver in the side of the head through his window.

After this crammed 11 hour journey we made it to Nkhata Bay, a picturesque tourist spot on the shore of lake Malawi. We spent the first week acclimatising (sunbathing), alongside a boat trip and a few walks to discover our new home. We also bought bikes for our expected weekly commute to our out of town school, naively deciding to bike them the 47km back from Mzuzu. The unending hills made the journey hard. The pedals falling off made it impossible. After a few hours of cycling and and hour of walking in the pitch black we gave up and hitched a ride back into town.

Our intentions to stay and teach at a school just outside Nhkata Bay for a year lasted just over a week, when we had to make the unfortunate decision to leave. We won't go into details. It was a sad goodbye to the class we had taught for that time, when we were just growing used to each other and making some progress.

The next few days were spent reevaluating our plans, which resulted in us moving to Butterfly Space, a volunteer lodge on the lakeshore. This turned out to be a fantastic move, with the next two months spent working in the local nursery, youth club but mainly in the on site primary school with a class of 6 (ish) year olds.

The school started well, with the kids a little wild but a lot of fun. After the first few weeks though the local support teacher was replaced, with the replacement a lot more helpful and enthusiastic, which was fairly vital with the kids speaking very little English. This combined with a new volunteer starting, who's home job was a teacher trainer, made the school a lot more structured and organised, helping us and the kids a lot.

So the next two months were spent with the kids learning maths, English and science through a lot of fun activities. Face painting, mask making, papier-mâché, planting a garden and weekly swimming lessons were part of a curriculum which the kids loved. It's easy to see why when some at the kids at surrounding primary schools had up to 120 students in a single class, sat outside on the floor. A good education is still an appreciated privilege here, unlike at home.

Our stay at butterfly wasn't completely pain free, with a couple of bouts of illness cropping up along the way. Me and Sammie, along with a few of the other guests were diagnosed with Gardia, which made us pretty useless and quite unpleasant for a few days. I followed this with a worm living in my bum cheek which had to be removed by a doctor. He diagnosed it as myaisis and eagerly asked Sammie if she had a camera to take pictures of it hanging out of me. We should have expected it after 2 months washing in the lake. The showers were up a steep flight of stairs.

In between our school weeks we tried to fit in exploring some of Malawi's sites and experiences. A trip to Mushroom farm near Livingstonia saw our open faced chalet overlooking a series of mountains leading down to the lake, allowing us to watch the sun come up from over the horizon from our bed. It was a pretty amazing place. Another weekend set us on a canoeing trip northwards up the lake with another English couple. The 10km ride took us to our guides local village, where we camped out on a deserted beach. The weekend was spent touring the village and being followed by up to 40 kids. During the day we fell asleep alone on the beach, but woke up to 30 pairs of eyes looking over us in silence. I felt violated. The rest of the time was spent barbecuing on the beach and the second night we ditched the tent to sleep on the beach under the stars, a really special experience.

Our penultimate weekend in the country saw us volunteering in Kasungu National Park, doing a game count. The park has seen a steep rise in poaching recently, so an annual count was created to log the damage being done. This involved groups being given a walking trail and counting animals along the way. Our group was pretty unsuccessful, although the other people we went with from Butterfly saw herds of elephants amongst other animals. Either way it was a free walking safari and we got to stay in a beautiful hut next to a watering hole full of hippos and bathing elephants. You can't complain.

Daily life in Nkhata Bay was an experience in itself. Swarms of lake flies occasionally came to shore
to lay eggs, with literally billions of them swarming the land to the point that you have to stay inside.
Locals capitalise on this by catching swarms and condensing them into a fly burger to eat. It's utterly rancid and completely unnecessary when mango season saw us buying 54 mangoes for 66p.

Our last weekend showed how much the place meant to us, with a leaving party with the kids at school reducing Sammie to tears and a leaving meal with the adults forcing us to say goodbye to all the friends we'd made during our stay. We were very lucky to have the chance to spend that much time in a really great place and it's an experience we will never forget.

But all good things must come to an end, so after a final fun weekend of beach volleyball, we left the country as we'd entered it; crammed into a sweaty minibus with too many people, too many fish and this time even a couple of chickens. Goodbye Malawi.