Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Humans vs nature: here we work with nature

As the clock past the hour of 4 I quickly escaped the Sam’s Village work site.  I cycled to a friend’s house, started on the main road but my intuition and curiosity made me take the smaller footpaths to the left. I was unsure, continued and got slightly lost and this was definitely my idea of fun! I finally stopped as I needed some reassurance; was I on the correct path? After the Malawi standard greeting, a lady farming told me to continue straight ahead. ‘Straighti, straighti’. With her exaggerated hand signaling and the Chichewa word which clearly originated from English but putting an ‘i’ on the end: I was confident, happy and cycled further. I soon came to recognise the borehole and wash basin next to the plantation of banana trees. Luckily the fruit thrives off the washing soap powder as it is a natural pesticide and the circle of life goes round. There were a group of kids playing next to the house, and no adults around. I knocked and the oldest kid of the group explained Martin, my work mate, was over in the fields.  The oldest one led me over to him and the other children all huddled and followed me in a group behind. 


As I descended down through past the football pitch I found all of the adults dotted around the waterlogged fields. Everyone was planting seeds. They all greeted me, excited to see me and signaled explaining I must put my bike down.  Martin rushed over and gave me a tour. I was impressed with the categories of plants and the linear structures that channeled to the man-made shallow well. People had dug down to find the water table so they could lift and spread the water with a rope and bucket to irrigate the dry land. It was only a few weeks until the rainy season began. The wind had picked up and one rain had already fallen in Lilongwe at the end of October. The heat now rose to 33 degrees on some days; people needed rain for their crops and for thermal comfort as it made the atmosphere slightly cooler.
Things I’ve got used to:
small geckos/ lizards: running up the walls in my house
the sun: I chose to sit indoors for shading as it was so hot
the huge ants: they find any grain of sugar so you have to clean anything straight after using it to stop trails. This wind turbine had some sugar drink stuck on the bottle so the big ants claimed it to be their new climbing frame.

Filling buses:  I realized my more relaxed approach to filling buses when I was refused a space in one. As I pointed over where there was clearly enough space squeezed in nearer to the ceiling and suggested we could pack in, I was disheartened as the bus driver explained the police were ahead so they couldn’t put any extra people in. I automatically thought it was a bad day!
The attention: Lilongwe is what anyone living in London would call a village. The community vibe is incredible and when I walk down the road it is strange not to see anyone I know. Even going shopping in town, even at the Lake, Malawi is a very small country! Anyone I would see gave the standard greeting. Anyone I didn’t see would glance, shout or make conversation so by the time I would travel that same journey again I would know double the amount of people I knew last time.


One morning I awoke and sat down in the beautiful sparkling colonial house, in area 3, Lilongwe. I put the kettle on, and then turned the radio on. The BBC world service news had reported the UK had lost 430 million birds due to the modernism of farming and agriculture. This was a sad story.  I am sure many people would be shocked by this fact and I could explain the farming system here worked with nature. There was only natural fertilizer used, no chemicals, no machines; everything was done by human strength. Every single ridge was lifted with an axe hoe. Human vs nature is an everlong decided battle people choose not to comprehend but at least here people work with nature.

Another news bulletin that had spread through word of mouth from the UK was the changing climate in London. It was 23 degrees 1 day then 13 degrees the next. I’m not sure if the temperatures had changed due to Chinese whispers but these figures had shocked me. Perhaps some people acknowledge climate change but I’m sure people in the villages cannot comprehend the affect the climate change will have on the farming here. Do people realise development will cause climate changes if not managed properly?

The development will come from the economic, business people in town and the less fortunate 80% of the rural people relying on the rains will be affected. Although who am I to say, coming from a country that is developed with all of its positive factors. The environment has clearly been compromised for our selfish human needs. I hoped the facts I brought changed people’s thinking. Here I appreciate:
the birds that work with the cows: they sit on them, eat their fleas and help turnover the land for food
the building techniques: constructing houses using only local materials and human skills
If people knew what they did for the environment without realizing it and all energies were focused on developing Malawi in the correct sustainable way. Malawi would flourish as it has all the natural resources needed to grow. Solar, wind, and water: therefore the plants to grow food and materials to construct and above all the human happiness and strength.


The rammed earth and thatch roof workshop building is very nearly complete.Sam's Village will be a fully accredited Training Centre with TEVET, Malawi. Teaching environmental, sustainable methods for a better life.

My blog has not quite been keeping up to a regular pace recently. They say creative writing comes in waves and expecially the time to do it. I have also been galavanting.

Stunning views on the Dedza road to Cape Maclear

I went to Cape Maclear, a tourist hot spot on Lake Malawi where I have been doing some architecture drawings for a project that will be built when the rains end next year. Last weekend as I had spent all week doing drawings for the new office for Landirani I decided it would be great to head to the Sam's village in the weekend. You can't beat the peace and quiet, countryside and friendly people. I had a creative day and went walking.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Best of both worlds - Town and Village


I arrived in Lilongwe City Centre most weekends. I went for lunch around my watch guards house, his name was Overtone Banda. He is my brother from another mother! As a volunteer I had spent plenty of time entertaining myself and the watch guards at the Landirani office where I used to live so we had become good friends. I had met most of the family, the kids were flying everywhere in and out of this new house to greet me. The parents had managed to save up to get another house for themselves and the youngest son. The grandmother was also joining us for lunch as she had been in Kamuzu Central hospital to fix her knee. After food Overtone rushed around, it was the process of getting ready for work which left him with no socks. As I cycled back home with him I made sure I did a detour. Later on in the evening I dropped off some tomatoes and socks to the office. This was a thank you for lunch. It was amazing how a simple thought made me feel so good and I could tell Overtone was happy by his face.

On a Sunday there were always vibrations of music echoing around Lilongwe. The Malawi tuneful beats made it to most areas. Whether it was weddings, gigs or private barbeques people knew how to enjoy themselves. More often than not it was a gig at the Lilongwe Golf Course, this loud music meant any neighbour in area 3 could have similar music events without complaint. This was Malawi, music, song and dance. Music vibrations sent the people to sleep and gospel choirs is what got the people up in the morning especially on a Sunday.
One morning on a jog the valleys echoed harmonies of different notes, the strength of the sounds set me at a faster pace. This was what I loved about Malawi. I was an early riser and this meant the sun was low yet it was already breathing strength from people’s inner souls.  The choir changed my jog route and instead of saluting the sun thanking someone for my fortunate life I did press ups. I changed direction at my memorable spot then ran back up around to the open area where the valley accentuated all notes from the church across from the old city center.  


I remembered a few weeks back, I had felt quite down. I had gone for a long jog. This always recollected my thoughts and processed something, a solution, something that was better than sulking or feeling on edge. My workers had complained about the strenuous work and the little pay they got for it. Sometimes it was not easy being a boss: I remember these wise words from my dad. I thought about my situation, being educated in my privileged life and having much more money because of it. Life was not fair, I now agreed, the real world had finally downgraded my idealist thoughts. While everyone complained about getting up at the crack of dawn to farm and being tired before they got to work I wondered what I could do to help. While running I realized I always had energy in the mornings. I remembered getting up in the dark before school to go and look after my horse. That was it. I would get up early and go and farm with the ladies from my construction team.

I spoke to the Landirani Trust watch guard, Goswin and he quietly repeated my name outside my window to make sure I was up before dawn. I forgot my stretches that morning.
It was quiet, almost silent apart from some hooves trotting from the main road then yelps and repetitive noises. There was a cloud of mist rising then flitterring away over what must have been the river. The valley struck me, it was a dimmer colour then I was used to, more magical.  The land was half layered and lined with the shadows accentuating the small alleys for crops.  These rows of soil would be hoed to the next line and therefore switched over and freshly turned for the next season of rains and seeds.
That morning I arrived at Maggie’s house, she was one of my construction workers whom I joked with about coming to farm. She greeted me, laughing and calling me sister which proved she was happy to see me: I was not sure whether they had expected me. Soon  a group of ladies had gathered and came over with greetings and smiles. After the initial conversations the ladies explained there was a funeral in a nearby village.

I know I say there's peace and tranquility of which there is most of the time but people are people. People drink... and in the villages there is this local moonshine substance which is very strong called kachasu. Apparently it can disseminate and poison people's insides. After many drinks people have this glazing twinkle overlapping their eyes. The strength turns some quiet and others crazy and rowdy. Some turn blind. I can't count the number of shouting arguements I've seen. These 2 guys were very drunk and had got in a fight where 1 died. 
The ladies explained they would go to the village to give their condolences before work. I wished them well and luckily got to spend my time walking amoung the quiet beautiful setting. The sun was just rising, the orange fire was whole and striped the land with more beauty. The sunsetting in the evening and rising in the morning created such dramatic landscapes compared to any other time of day. 


Quiet moments like this made me think about my family.  My home could never be so striking, perhaps in Virginia Water Lake on the rare fine summers day! The mornings and evenings were very calm compared to the work in the daytime. I would often jog my steps so I could get more things done in one day! Once work was over I threw a bucket of water over my head and relaxed. The sunset and then the pitch black night was what made the peaceful village. The light cloud above Lilongwe town was very far, too far for any pollution. Our security lights were the only bright lights that made our earth houses look like mansions. The glow reflected off the bushes while the insects bleeped and wavered with the wind. I often sat out on our veranda and watched the stars.
The week in the village always went very quickly and suddenly it was Friday once again. The Landirani car took me back to town. To the internet for the wider world, to the shower! I always started with a good wash. As I walked back to the office with my laptop the primary school head teacher from Bishopp Mackenzie International School spotted me. She said hello and gave me a package of strawberries. I made it to the office without dropping one then and was greeted by Overtone who gave me a papaya. The neighbours had dropped some papayas off in the morning. It was the start of a great time of year, strawberries, papaya and mango season.