Malawi

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 – Kande Beach, Malawi
By Tarynne

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Tuesday we were up at 5 a.m. and out by 6 a.m. headed for the border. We exited Zambia and quickly reboarded the truck, inviting a moneychanger onboard to exchange our Zambian Kwachas to Malawi Kwachas.

After our passports were stamped into Malawi (and James decided it was then safe to fart-bomb the immigrations office), we waited (outside) patiently while one of our group members and Prosper bribed the officer to allow entry without a visa. After sneaking President Grant into his S. Korean passport, our buddy was granted entry and we were on our way.

Yep. This Is Africa.

We arrived at Kande Beach mid-afternoon, pitched our tent and immediately went to jump in the ocean. Oops. Lake. That had breaking waves. And you can’t see either end (560km long, 75km wide). C’mon, really it’s more like an ocean.

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Lake Malawi sprawls over nearly fourth of the country, and is the third largest lake in Africa covering 11,430 square miles (ninth largest in the world). This freshwater lake is comfortably warm and surprisingly clean. It’s home to over 1,000 species of fish (they are little guys, some neon blue and yellow) and rumor has it even crocodiles that explore beyond the river mouth. After swimming and walking a bit down the beach, we returned to camp to test-out the many hammocks and wait for dinner while it dumped rain. During dinner Prosper shared a bit about Malawi.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa. It covers 45,747 square miles in southeast Africa (20 percent of that is water) and is home to approximately 15 million people. Unfortunately President Hastings Banda (1964) ran the country further into the ground and it wasn’t until 1994 that he was too old for the job (and a female took over). Today this country continues to struggle as their economy relies mainly on agriculture. Their government requires external assistance to support development needs, which are becoming increasingly unmet. Malawi is also plagued with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, thus the low life expectancy rate takes a toll on their labor force (and government expenditures).

Wikipedia and I could whip out statistics and facts all day, but what would be missed is that this poor country is home to quite possibly the warmest, good-hearted people on earth.

That night we hung out with three other overland trucks, two coming from Nairobi doing our reverse route. After swapping stories and activity suggestions, we played DJ at the bar, went for a midnight swim and played immature jokes on one-another, and eventually closed the place down just before 2 a.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 – Kande Beach, Malawi
By Tarynne

On auto-alarm from the past several weeks, I was up at 5:30 a.m. and noticed brilliant orange and pink stretching over the lake sky. I grabbed my camera and watched the sunrise over Lake Malawi before returning to bed.

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We woke up around 8:30 a.m. to the smell of toast and eggs floating into our tent (which was basically parked in the middle of our kitchen). After fueling up we headed out to explore the nearby village. We exited the campground gates and walked just five minutes down a sand road in the direction of the village.

“Hello, myfriends. Howareyou.”

I’d like to introduce you to William.

I met him yesterday on the beach. He was selling paintings, wood carvings and Malawi board games. He wasn’t very welcome yesterday as I was maxed out on the “Hello my sister. Lemme show you my craft shop. Where you from? What’s your name. Here come, lemme show you real quick. Looking is free in Africa.”

Today, however, he was a bit more genuine. As soon as he spotted us, he excitedly left his friends and jogged to catch up to us. He was curious as to what we were doing, and we informed him we wanted to checkout the market and village. Without hesitation he offered to show us around.

On the walk we asked him many questions about his life in Malawi and with a matched enthusiasm he returned similar questions.

He’s 23 years old. I guessed he was 29. He has four sisters, two brothers. He revealed that his mom died when he was young. This village (Mbamba in Kande Beach) is where his mom grew up. He didn’t mention much about his dad. He lives here now with his grandparents. His grandpa is well-educated and taught him English and crafts. His English is impressive. William is currently enrolled in his third year of university at Mzuzu (third largest city in Malawi). He has two more years left before he is qualified to teach. He wants to return to Mbamba and teach elementary students. At one point during the walk, a group of young kids playfully strolled by and stopped to talk (in Tonga) to William.

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After the kids sang us a song in Tonga they waved goodbye and disappeared down the dirt path. William explained that these kids only went to school for the first session, which is from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. They return home for lunch since lunch isn’t provided at school, as school tuition at this age is at no cost to families.

We continued on and he brought us to the market. It wasn’t very busy but people were selling just about everything from flip-flops to granny panties and produce.

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We walked a bit further in the scorching sun and came to the school. This is the place where the most hesitant, questionable charity-donor I’ve ever met (ah hem, myself) was quickly convinced this is one of the best places in the world to give to. If you were in my flip-flops that day, I guarantee you would’ve felt the same.

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We met the principal of the school, Matthews. He shared a bit about the school. It was established in 1957 with money from the government. The teachers today continue to be paid by the government.

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However, the library and teaching materials all must be supported with funds provided by the community. This avenue essentially brings in nothing, as you can imagine. The school does have an academic library, which was donated by two women from New Zealand. I bet your personal bookshelf contains a similar number of books.

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Matthews told us that the student:teacher ratio is supposed to be around 60:1. However they don’t have enough classrooms, educated teachers (or the funds to pay teachers) to support this ratio, so instead it’s around 100+ to one. Matthews informed us that they need school supplies the most. They desperately need pens, pencils, and exercise books.

The most effective way to deliver these materials to the students is to mail them to the following address so the teacher and principal can distribute appropriately based on need.

Please send via DHL to:
The Headteacher
Kande Full Primary School
P.O. Box 7, Kande
Nkhata Bay
Malawi
Central Africa

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They also need money. Most of this money would be spent on uniforms for orphans. Matthews explained the importance of a uniform.

“Uniform here is so important. It’s status. if you don’t have money to buy proper clothes or shoes, these kids do poorly across the board in school. If, however, every student is dressed the same, we remove that insecurity, and they perform similarly in school.”

It’s $10 USD to provide a full uniform (minus shoes) for students. Girls receive a white blouse and blue dress, and boys receive a blue collared shirt and blue shorts.

$10 to provide a uniform for a kid for years. That’s two trips to Starbucks.

If you want to send money, please leave a comment below and I can verify before sending with Matthews the best way to ensure it arrives safely.

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I liked this Matthews guy. He was genuine, welcoming, honest. I trust him. Even after meeting him for just 10 minutes. Coming from me, that says a little something.

William patiently waited while we wrapped up our conversation with Matthews. We exited the library and William escorted us outside. We could hear kids inside the neighboring classroom and we asked if we could take a peek. Without hesitation , Williams asked permission from the teacher and we were generously welcomed into the classroom.

The teacher was a middle-aged woman whom was impressively dressed in a clean skirt and jacket suit. She was incredibly polite and wasn’t disrupted at all by our visit. We cautiously stepped into the dirt floor classroom and immediately the students rose to their feet and in Tonga and English cheered “welcome.”

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We smiled back to the 147 curious faces. 147 students. Sitting in a classroom the size of your living room. It’s hot, stuffy, humid. The floor is dirt. The walls are concrete. They have zero desks and chairs. They have one chalkboard at the front of the classroom. I doubt students near the back can see a thing. We took a few minutes to attempt to digest the scene and then politely exited and followed William down a path to the clinic.

The camera around my neck attracted the attention of many kids and they came crawling out of the bushes.

“Miss, take my picture please.”

After fighting over the camera screen to review their pictures, they repeatedly politely asked for pens and paper. That’s it. That’s all they wanted. Pens and some ruled notebook paper. They had t-shirts two sizes too small, no shoes (the dirt is burning hot remember), and were underfed. But they just wanted pens and paper.

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I promised the boys I would mail school supplies and their picture as soon as I could. They smiled so big it would be impossible to forget them.

I caught back up to James and William and we quickly checked out the clinic. The clinic has one doctor, one nurse assistant, one secretary. It serves 20,000 people. Several babies are born daily. Today there was a newborn girl, healthy and sleeping in her newly big brothers arms on the cot.

We left the clinic and headed back towards camp, sweaty, hot and hungry.

We made lunch and then decided to explore the small island offshore in front of Kande beach. Mr. Lifeguard decided to swim and I rented a paddleboard incase James got pooped (okay, and I would’ve drown).

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The 700 meter swim/paddle took a good 20 minutes. We arrived on the hot rocks of the island and with burning feet checked out the opposing side. We hung on the rocks, watching the bubbles rise from divers several meters from shore. Then we saw black threatening clouds peeking over the mountains. We quickly scurried down the rocks. James has warned me previously he gets shit done under pressure, and with a long swim ahead racing the incoming storm, he decided now was the perfect time to take care of, well, shit. After fertilizing the already struggling vegetation on the rocky island, James laughingly reappeared, now ready to swim the 700 meters back to shore.

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We made the trip back to camp, showered and had dinner before hanging in the hammocks all night staring up at the brilliant stars.

Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 – Kande Beach, Malawi
By Tarynne

We woke Thursday and while James went for a run, I did yoga on the beach. We went for a swim before making a simple breakfast. With the sun blazing and with a full travel-free day ahead of us, we decided it was time to do the laundry we’d been collecting. We creatively decorated the neighboring campsite and then played basketball with our soccer ball until lunchtime.

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The group was going on an organized tour of the village market, school and clinic today. Although James and I basically did the exact same thing the day prior, we decided these kids were too cute to pass up. So in the heat of the day we again cruised up the path towards the village.

The first stop was school. Since today was Thursday, all the kids where dressed in their uniforms. We saw Matthews again and had another opportunity to interact with the students.

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We again visited the clinic before heading to the market. The market was absolutely insane, as apparently all Thursdays are. There were plenty of cute kids around to keep us occupied while we waited for the group to recollect.

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One boy approached us, in torn clothing and without a proper uniform. He wasn’t surrounded by a pack of friends, as we’ve witnessed with most other kids in the village. His eyes were sad, hopeful, but guarded. With his head gently bowed, he cautiously handed us a written letter asking for help. His English was poor so we tried to explain as best we could (via charades) that we would send something.

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If you prefer to donate to an individual rather than the school to decide, you are welcome to donate to this boy. Even if it were a pack of pens just addressed to him within a larger package you send to the school. Just so that he knows somebody out there is looking out for him. It may be a $3 pack of pens to you, but imagine how much more that can mean to this boy. Please still send to the school, as this boy is an orphan, but do address it to him.

Rabson Jambe
Kande Full Primary School
P.O. Box 7, Kande
Nkhata Bay
Malawi
Central Africa

We started the walk down the trail back towards camp, pretty emotionally and physically wiped out. Behind us in the distance came a pack of the most contagious giggles I’ve ever heard. A group of maybe eight kids came running up to James and I, and immediately their sweet positive energy removed our sense of urgency to get back to camp. They were absolutely hilarious and their little appearance was award winning. I laughed so hard I had tears uncontrollably dripping down my face. They walked nearly the whole way back to camp with us before we had to give them hugs goodbye.

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After a refreshing swim in the lake we showered and got dressed for dinner. We were invited to a traditional dinner in a house in the village. We would be going with another overland truck. We walked towards the village around 6:30 p.m. and arrived at the house just 10 minutes later and were invited to have a seat outside on bamboo mats.

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Before dinner we had a chance to try their local beer. From the reactive expressions of people’s faces, this was the first time I was not completely bummed to reveal I was a glutard.

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We were served a traditional dinner of red beans, sautΓ©ed spinach and cassava leaves and white rice. The food was, well, real food. Not littered with E217, Color #487 and the knockoff version of hamburger helper. It was simple. And delicious.

After dinner the kids gathered and sang and danced for us. We walked back to camp in the dark and it wasn’t long before we were in bed.

Friday, March 1, 2013 – Chitimba Beach
By Tarynne

Friday came too soon and before we knew it we were packing up tent 689 and boarding the truck for a 240km drive. Today was our last night in Malawi, and we would be spending it at a beach much further north on Lake Malawi.

En route to the next camp we were allowed a quick coffee break in Mzuzu. Little did we know some random cafe joint here would have hands-down the best Internet we have seen in our six weeks in Africa. We (okay James) had less than 45 minutes to hammer out the last blog before jumping back on the truck for another four hour winding and beautiful drive to Lake Malawi.

We arrived at camp in late afternoon and quickly setup out tent before heading to the water. Lush green mountains sprinkled with acacia trees serve as the backdrop to this quiet bay.

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The rest of the day was mellow. We lounged around on their many couches and tinkered around with electronics until dinner. I took another walk out on the beach with my camera and quickly noticed I was being followed by two curious, smiling faces. The boys were adorable, of course.

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They are brothers, and their English was poor, but they did offer a hand-written note asking for pens and paper. Perhaps if you do decide to send something to the previously mentioned school, Kande Beach, or Rabson Jambe, please mention in the comments below so people can determine who may still have a high need for supplies.

If you wish to send something to these boys, please send to the following address:

Kaxi and Rordwell Chauhla
Chitimba Full Primary School
P.O. Box 30, Chitimba
Rumphi, East Malawi
Central Africa

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Two other young gentlemen approached us while I was interacting with the boys. Their English was impressive. I asked about how to appropriately donate school supplies. They confirmed the best way is to send the pens, pencils, paper via posta mail to the school. If I (or you) prefer, you can address it specifically to these boys, Kaxi and Rordwell Chauhla, but the school will not share these supplies with other students and I was warned you might stir up some conflict among the students.

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Again, I personally believe the best option would be to send one package to the school and if you want to personalize it, go ahead and include a separate envelope within the package that’s addressed specifically to these boys. Whatever you decide, those supplies will end up in the hands of a kid that absolutely needs them.

After dinner we went to the beach to watch the fishing boats sparkle across the horizon. Every evening, hundreds of fishing boats (the tiny dugout tree ones) sit quietly across the lake collecting fish which are later dried on wood mats. A lightening storm danced far in the distance and the stars decorated the black sky above us. It was the perfect end to our magical time in Malawi.

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Never has a place such as this country restored my faith in people, that even when they own absolutely nothing, they can and do hold tightly onto simple dreams and good-hearted intentions. This drowning country is overflowing with hope, with such an abundance of resilience that an outsider looking at the issue with a rational perspective can never be able to understand.

To look into their eyes that reflect such a positive, spirited, honest, trusting energy, when you can’t even get close to imagining the strength it would take to be that person staring back. To be embarrassingly reminded as you hurry through your day, that these people are always generous with one of the few things they have, time. They smile. Always. They wave excitedly. They value interaction. They value family. There is no room for an ego. They treasure every second and from what I’ve witnessed, they don’t sit around calculating what the world owes them.

It might sound cliche, but it truly are the poorest that can teach us life’s richest lessons

I’m blessed to have the opportunity to give something as simple as school supplies in exchange for the humbling lessons they have taught me. I open the invitation to you to do the same. Send pens, pencils, notebook paper. Write these kids a funny note. Send a lollipop, a children’s book. Send a prayer or sweet thoughts to whomever, whatever you believe in. Send a smile. Send some love.

Kande Full Primary School
P.O. Box 7, Kande
Nkhata Bay
Malawi
Central Africa

Rabson Jambe
Kande Full Primary School
P.O. Box 7, Kande
Nkhata Bay
Malawi
Central Africa

Chitimba boys
Kaxi and Rordwell Chauhla
Chitimba Full Primary School
P.O. Box 30, Chitimba
Rumphi, East Malawi
Central Africa

James: Yes, I’ve already filed the paper work and officially changed Tarynne’s name to Madonna. Sorry, Luigi.

About Tarynne Mingione

Registered Dietitian (RD, CD), Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200)
This entry was posted in Malawi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Malawi

  1. Camie Adair says:

    Thanks for the info sweetie! Once Jesse and I get settled in the new house, we will definitely send along some school supplies and books!!! I’ll post a new comment then with what we send and to whom… πŸ™‚

  2. mcwino says:

    Wow. These are really special and amazing experiences you guys are having. It’s incredible how much we have [here in the US] compared to how little they have there. How long are you guys traveling there? -Shireen

  3. Erica says:

    This is so moving guys, Tarynne you have a real way with words! We have just had Comic Relief here in the UK which divides its proceeds between projects in Africa & here at home. Your experiences in Malawi echo so much of the footage we have seen of how little these kids have & they recognise their way out of poverty is education – so I will definitely get myself down to Staples tomorrow & buy pens & paper to send! πŸ™‚

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