I'm in Nkhotakota, Malawi. This still hasn't really sunk in even after a week here. I can't believe I'm actually here after all the saving up and planning!
I love Malawi. Everyone I've met has been so kind and helpful - it amazes me how happy the people here are. They are living proof that money can't buy happiness. They have very little yet are always so cheerful and enthusiastic.
I spent my first 5 days in Malawi at Mubuya Camp, Lilongwe, getting to know the other volunteers and doing training sessions on Chichewa language (which I'm very bad at), health and safety, how to be a teacher, ways to wear chichengwa's ect. We also went into Lilongwe town a couple of times, which was very interesting. Seeing all of the culture is amazing, its just like the photos: people carrying buckets/chickens/fruit/everything on their heads, women carrying children on their backs using chichengwas's (no idea how to spell it, basically a large piece of cloth), lots of markets stalls with very friendly but persistent sellers.
I also had my first encounter with a snake on the first night there, which was quite scary! It managed to get into one of our bags. Luckily (after a bit of jumping on our beds going arrgghhhh) we managed to get it onto the bin and chuck it outside. We didn't realise at the time, but all snakes in Malawi are poisonous. We were told the next day we should have attacked it.
One major difference between England and Malawi is that Malawians are incredibly laid back and life is no where near as hectic and busy as it is in England. Everything is done on Malawian time, basically meaning everything and everyone is late, which is pretty good for me as I'm always late for everything anyway! For example me and the other volunteer got the public bus from Lilongwe to Nkhotakota on Wednesday. We got on the bus at 7am and we were told the bus would leave at 9am. However buses here don't move until they are full (and by full I mean FULL, as in you can't move, every seat is taken and there's another 30 odd people standing in the aisles, along with about a hundred bags/baskets/mattresses) and so the bus didn't actually set off until 12ish. Then we had a 4 hour drive to Nkhotakota.
I'd say this journey was actually more comfortable than my first experience of a bus though; from Mubaya camp to Lilongwe we went in Matt's (the Lattitude Country Manager) 16 seater mini bus. We got 1 driver, 28 volunteers, 28 enormous rucksacks and 28 smaller back packs into the bus, plus 3 Africans who hung out of the door as we drove... And I thought buses in England were bad! Its fair to say we were a little bit squished. However it was also very entertaining!
We arrived at Nkhotakota Primary School on 9th January in the evening. When we first got off the bus I couldn't carry my rucksack at all. I was sort of dragging it across the street and it took me ages, to the amusement of about 300 African kids who were all staring and laughing.. So yeah I made a really good first impression! We met a nice man on the bus who was a teacher at the school so showed us the way. It turned out nobody actually knew we were coming, they thought we were coming at the end of the month, so it was a bit awkward at first. All the staff are SO friendly and kind though. We've met so many people that I can't remember their names. Because they didn't know we were coming, they didn't have a house for us to stay in, so they moved all our things, our mattresses and mosquito nets into the teacher's development centre and we're staying there for now. They're really going out of their way to make us feel welcome - they've been cooking us meals everyday (which so far has been rice and tomatoes every lunch and tea, so I'm having to start liking tomatoes!) and the headteacher is even moving out of his office so that we can live in the building its in because its the nicest building!
We don't start teaching until monday and so we've just been settling in since we arrived here 2 days ago (wow, it feels like we've been here a lot longer than that). We were shown around the school grounds by a teacher named Catherine who was lovely. The school is basic - it has one large field area (when we arrived the boys were taking part in a very competitive game of football) and around this it has about 6 individual buildings for teaching in (at least 100 pupils in each class), 1 building for resources, a borehole to get clean water, houses for the teachers, the development centre and then a house for the children with special needs, many of whom have sight problems, and live at the school.
We've met so many brilliant children who have very interesting names ie. Gift, Faith, Hope, Salima, and they all look at you as if you have 3 heads and are from another planet. I feel like a member of the royal family here, walking around waving at everyone and shaking their hands! Everyone wants to talk to you.
The children are at school in the morning, from what I've seen so far they start lessons about 6:30am and finish about 1pm. After that many have been coming to see us, and we've been reading them story books, teaching them english words, parts of the body and various songs ie. Heads shoulders knees and toes, the hokey pokey and if you're happy and you know it... They have been having fun but it is also very chaotic because there is so many of them! I don't think you will ever find more enthusiastic children than those in Malawi! Today I taught a group of them a basic dance and we sang numbers along to the rhythm - they LOVE dancing and songs that they can sing along to, and they helped make up more actions to the dance. Another thing they love is having their photograph taken - when I took a photo and showed it to them on the screen they were completely in awe! I think maybe some of them have never seen themselves before!
This afternoon we also went and read stories to the children who have special needs and then helped some of the older children who were struggling with their english and maths work.
I'm just really enjoying being here and meeting so many different people! The way of life here is so so interesting.
It's difficult to get internet over here but I will try to continue blogging! I'm having problems uploading photos onto here but I will do so if I figure out how!