This morning we were finally allowed a lay in!!! Breakfast wasn't until 7.30am…and added to the fact we didn't have to take our tents down either most people didn't stir until 7.15am! It was pure luxury!
The reason we even had to have breakfast that early is because a tour had been arranged around a local village taking in the school and hospital as well. The guide, Jonathan, is a local man who had also agreed to take us into his house which he owns with his 2 brothers. The tour was amazing but before I explain the details I'll just add that the whole experience was unfortunately dampened by the local men who insisted on harassing us and begging for money for the whole walk, which turned out to be several kilometres!
We were met inside the campsite by our guide who pointed out the feet of all the men standing behind the big metal gate. We could see them all clambering about but didn't really understand exactly what was in store at that point. Once outside the gate each person on the tour was approached by 2 men who immediately set about introducing themselves and asking the usual questions such was our names and country of origin, etc. They walked with us for several minutes to our first stop, the village itself, where they wished us well and kept a respectful distance so we could concentrate on our guide.
He showed us into his house which is a tiny and simple affair made from a local brick. This brick is cut from the mud and clay in their backyards, put into a brick shaped mold and then baked in the sun until it sets like stone. It's very effective and when the finished wall is given a plaster coating can last as long as any Western house. When left as plain brick the house will last 25-30 years before the rain washes it away. Some of the houses have traditional reed roofs, some have corrugated iron, and some have corrugated iron covered in reeds to keep the noise of the rain down. This one was purely iron.
Jonathon explained that he owned the house, which only contained an ancient box TV and some very battered and broken chairs, with his 2 brothers and when they marry they have to leave with their new wife and build a new house. The last brother to marry will keep the house. You'd think that each brother would want to hold out to get the house after their brothers had married but he assured us that it isn't like that and if you meet the right woman you want to get married as soon as possible. However, marriage is very expensive because not only do they have to buy the wife from her family, they have to build a new house too!
Next he took us around the village to show us the various stages of the process of preparing their main food, Casava. This is a plant like a small bush that is grown in mounds of soil that look like moguls. The roots and leaves can be eaten but the leaves are fairly boring as they are just picked and cooked and taste a bit like spinach. It's the roots that form their staple diet.
They are peeled and the white inside, which can also be eaten raw, is soaked for several days in water. Then it is broken into small pieces and dried for another couple of days on big racks made of tree branches. Once dry the young girl's pound and sieve the roots until they form a flour like powder. The flour is boiled until it forms a sticky clump like dough and is then eaten. It's horrible! We did try it though just to appreciate the experience.
We were taken to the oven, which is actually just a huge pile of their bricks and the inner ones are baked until they set like concrete and some of the group took it in turns to take over from the young girls who were grinding and sieving the flour.
On leaving the village we were once again joined by the same men as before who kept up the questions such as what is our favourite sport or film. Those who had people interested in football were happy to talk for ages but my guys were unlucky, I really didn't want to talk about football surprisingly enough!
After a kilometre or so we reached the main village where we were able to stop and buy school books and pens for the school children. We pooled our donations together and then spent some of it in each shop to give the locals a roughly equal amount of the profits. The shops are just little huts with big grills over the windows at the front so you can call through and tell the shopkeeper what you want without going inside. Each shop sells the same stuff, mainly household products, basic food items and a few random things.
In case you were wondering, we have been advised against giving cash donations to the school, which they do ask for, because you cannot be entirely sure what the staff will do with the money! In total we bought about 50 workbooks and 50 pens. Not much considering the small school has about 1500 pupils!
As we approached the school young children ran up to and began to grab our hands and lead us in the right direction. Some were just happy to see us and attempt a few questions in English (which, like many other African countries they learn in school but it is not their first language), but others begged for pens. Like always they were all keen to have their picture taken and insisted on being shown the finished result.
Outside the classroom they left us and we were introduced briefly to the teacher before being herded in. We had been told this is a primary school and all the children outside were between 5 and 8 ish. But when we headed inside we were not only surprised by the sheer number of students inside we were also surprised by their ages!
The classroom itself is no bigger than an ordinary classroom and is filled with wooden benches and a few wooden tables. Those who do not have tables have to write on their laps, which is most of them. The youngest children inside appeared to be around 12 and the oldest were 17. They were all learning the same subjects at the same levels. In total there were 122 children in that room! The heat was stifling like a sauna and there was no ventilation.
We stood at the front whilst all the children said hello in unison and then we were invited to sit with them for a while. I was accosted by 2 14 year old boys and Adam sat behind me with another couple of boys of around the same age. As always they asked our names and where we are from and then insisted on pictures being taken. They also took the camera and started taking pictures of their own. I was glad I'd left my SLR back at camp. Unfortunately they could not understand the concept of standing still whilst taking a picture though and most were blurred.
The two boys I was talking to wrote down their names, which I still can't pronounce, and the PO Box address for the school and asked me to write to them and keep in touch. In truth though what they were really asking for is postal donations. I asked them what they were learning and they proceeded to read from the board about Agriculture and building a pond but they were unable to expand on what was written or why they were learning about it. One plans to become a doctor when he is older and the other a soldier. To carry out those ambitions they will need a lot of money to fund their training!
I was also approached by a young girl who handed me a short letter which basically explained that she is an orphan and would like donations to help pay for her school books. Primary school in Malawi is free but the parents are required to buy the uniform, books and pens, etc. This little girl was one of many orphans in the school itself. A result of HIV and Aids! Our donations should hopefully be given to her and others like her by the teachers.
After visiting the classroom we were taken to meet the Deputy Headmaster as the Headmaster was not there today. This man did not appear too confident at public speaking and although he spoke for probably 20 minutes or so he didn't really have much to say. A few questions were asked concerning funding, salaries and basic curriculum but his answers were vague at best. He met us in the library which is a small room with a few donated bookshelves and books. Apart from a few classic novels and a copy of one of the Harry Potter books, most of the text books appeared ancient and completely out of date.
Upon leaving the school we were led by more young children to the village hospital. This was a walk of around 5 minutes and led them away from the school itself. There were very few adults around. I asked one of them why she was not at school and she told me she had finished and the hospital is on her way home. She was no more than 5 years old.
At the hospital there were rows of wooden benches where many women in various stages of pregnancy were waiting for check-ups. Some also had young babies that were there to be weighed and checked. We were lead past them into the maternity room. A small room with basic iron beds and thin mattresses that were easily 50 years old, just 3 mosquito nets between 8 beds and no nets at the open windows. There were geckos and bugs crawling all over the walls. Hopefully the geckos will be eating a few of those mosquitos!
One bed was occupied by a young woman who was probably no older than 17. She had given birth 3 days ago and was leaving today to go home. The man who spoke to us advised that she would probably return in a few months because her child has malaria. This apparently happens a lot!
The hospital does not have a doctor and instead one visit's from a town about 1 hours' drive away, once a month! Instead they have two Medical Assistants who only have basic medical training.
They requested donations but once again we were warned against giving cash so we opted to visit the shops again and buy some mosquito nets. Unfortunately though the village shops don't stock any! Or indeed anything useful for a hospital. If it wasn't such a long hike to the camp and back, and we weren't going to be harassed the whole way, we'd have donated ours because we've never needed to use it! Unfortunately the hospital ended up with nothing from us although the chances are they would have sold anything we'd donated anyway!
On the walk back we were once again joined by the local men who changed tactics and told us their life stories. The funny thing is both Adam and I were told by two different men that their parents are dead as a result of Aids and they have a Grandmother who is 102(!) and 3 younger sisters to raise! How strange that they should both be in exactly the same situation…!
They had a small painting which they kept slyly passing between them and each would claim it was his own work and ask us to buy it. I mentioned to my guy that I had seen them passing it around but he denied it and said that he painted the picture himself! Some others were selling bracelets, wooden key rings and other local items. When I said I didn't want any of it they resorted to plain begging and using the phrase "sharing is caring". I swear that if I hear that one more time someone is likely to get hurt!
Eventually we made it back to camp…I was exhausted and went to bed for half an hour straight after lunch and slept like a log. I wasn't the only one.
At 2pm most the group met at the beach to go snorkelling around a local island. I was glad I practised in the pool in South Africa and was able to swim and dive to see the fish. Given the fact it's a lake some of the fish were really pretty but not as amazing as we hope to see in Zanzibar. Some of the guys also jumped off large rocks with the local boys. 2 hours later we were exhausted and ready to sleep again!