Teaching, travelling, playing bao, falling off bikes, a stolen canoe & a 12 hour boat journey throug
So I figured I should probably do another blog, seeing as I haven't written one for a good month or so. I'm not really too sure where to begin, a LOT has happened in the past month or two!
I suppose I should start with the important thing; Teaching. Teaching is still pretty difficult - I get the impression that before we came pretty much all lessons were taught in Chichewa, not English, even though they are supposed to be taught in English, and so it's a very big jump for the children. However they do seem to be understanding a little bit more every day, and we're getting used to how things work here now.
When we first started teaching I used to get annoyed that nothing ran on time but I've now become a lot more patient and have accepted that no one ever follows the timetable, so you just have teach the lesson whenever the teachers say to.
English has become a lot easier to teach recently as a couple of weeks ago we decided (with the head teacher's approval) to ditch the Malawian English Curriculum and teach Basic English Grammar to the children from a book I brought with me instead. The English that the children were learning from the Malawian Curriculum was way too difficult for them - It was expecting them to write compositions when they cannot even write full sentences. The basic grammar we've started teaching is much easier and more their level.
However we haven't had that much time to teach them recently, as school keeps getting cancelled for various different reasons. A few weeks ago the teachers of our school and many other government run schools went on strike because they wanted a pay rise, so school was cancelled for 3 days until the President agreed to a wage increase for civil servants. Last week it was very rainy and so students didn't turn up to school until about 9am instead of 7am. Its so funny how people react to rain here - its like getting wet is the end of the world. As soon as there is a drop of rain everyone hides away or goes home. I suppose for some kids who have a long way to walk to school and don't have warm clothes, getting wet and cold could make them ill, but it still seems ridiculous to me that it rains, so all education stops. This week we haven't been teaching, yet again, because the children have end of term exams. Instead of teaching we have written papers for our classes, have supervised a couple of classes and have been marking LOTS of exam papers. Another thing I find strange; The children here LOVE doing assessments or exams and having them marked (all papers have to be marked in red pen, or the children complain and make you re mark them all!) whereas at home everyone dreads them!
During some of the time we've had off we have spent time with the children who have disabilities. One of the highlights of my time here was playing the parachute game with them. They loved it! We did colouring with them and then bluetacked their drawings to the wall of their house to brighten it up a bit. It was really great to see them enjoying themselves so much. Even the children who have sight problems or are blind managed to join in - There is one 18 year old boy here named Yonah who is completely blind, and I find him incredible. Despite his disability he still manages to live a normal life. Every morning I see him fetching water from the bore hole and carrying buckets back to his house on his head, he has brilliant English, and he is always so happy.
Having time off has been good, but now I really want to go back to teaching. I feel like I haven't taught for ages, and the children have missed so much that I have no idea how we're going to cover all the topics we're supposed to cover. I've come to accept that there isn't much I can do about it though, I'll just have to cover as much as possible and offer extra after school help to the children who want it.
In the rest of our spare time when we haven't been teaching we've been spending time with the children and neighbours, playing bao (an African wooden board game with marbles, a bit like mancala), cleaning, cooking, and going cycling on the new bikes we bought a couple of weeks ago… The bike I bought here is nothing like the one I have at home - its too high for me, has no gears and is pretty difficult to ride. I am well known by the teachers as being awful at cycling and have fallen off a number of times when trying to get on and off the bike, usually in public places, meaning I've received a lot of laughs off many Malawians!
Myself and Jess have also been travelling at weekends. Its really easy to travel here (as long as you're prepared to spend 8 hours on a very busy, packed bus/truck) and accommodation is cheap. We've been to some brilliant places such as Salima, Senga Bay, Kande Beach and Dwangwa. Last weekend we had a relaxing few days away at Nkhotakota Pottery Lodge and Fish Eagle Bay. While we were there we had a canoe trip which was very entertaining, especially when about 20 naked African children decided to tip us in and attempt to steal our canoe! They were not keen on giving it back. Eventually we got it back off them by tipping them off, and then Jess had to paddle off quickly while I swam after her trying to warn off the children!
We also went traveling with the other volunteers about a month ago, which was really fun. We went to Nkhata Bay, then to Chizumulu (we actually went there by mistake; we got off the boat at the wrong Island) and then to Likoma, where we ended up stuck for a few days as there were no boats going back to the mainland! However Likoma Island was not a bad place to get stuck! It was really beautiful and there was plenty to do. Throughout the week away we went scuba diving (which was amazing), played volleyball (which I'm awful at), went on a boat trip, went cliff jumping (SO fun), saw a few fish eagles, went canoeing (I am not joking when I say that at some point in my life I am going to travel around Malawi in a wooden canoe. Or maybe just travel the whole world in a wooden canoe) and visited the Island's witch doctor (which was very interesting/amusing). And it was all cheap which was good!
While we were there we also attended the Friday morning service at the big Cathedral on the Island. Everyone at the Cathedral was very friendly and welcoming, and it was interesting to see the service. I was surprised at how similar it was to a service at church in England; They had communion and speeches of passages from the Bible - Only difference was that it was in a different language, a combination of Chichewa and Chitumbuka. It did get quite boring after the first hour or so as I didn't understand, but I'm really glad I went purely because of the gospel singing. The choir singing was truly incredible!
After waiting 3 days we eventually got a boat back from Likoma to the mainland - A boat containing hundreds of bags of fish and hundreds of people. The whole floor of the boat was crammed full with bags of fish, which smelt disgusting, and there was no room to move at all. We were sat on the boat, unable to move, for about 12 hours. While we were waiting for the boat to be loaded so we could set off, my bag containing my phone and camera was dropped into a big puddle at the bottom of the boat. Luckily my phone was okay but despite desperate attempts to soak out the water by putting it in a bag of rice, my camera broke.
About 6 hours into the journey we hit a big storm. The waterproof roof from the top of the boat was brought down and we all had to hide under it while the boat rocked a lot! It was definitely an experience! I found it quite amusing to be honest, but I don't think I'll be going back to Likoma Island again!
Next week is the end of term and we will be off school for a whole month. In this time I am going to go travelling with Jess and her family, which I am really really looking forward to! It sounds like its going to be amazing.
So yeah, I really can't complain!
Life is good.