Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Cycling and recycling

Library Entrance Mat, glass bottles
A few weeks back, I had not even thought about Christmas. There were no signs in the shops, no decorations. Thinking about it; perhaps I hadn’t been to the shops.
Last week, me and the girls decided to have a movie night and watched ‘The Holiday’, very cheesy, great Christmassy chick flick. This sparked off the Christmas vibe.  I suddenly clicked that it was going to be December in one week’s time. In the office my boss decided to bring her Christmas carols album out. What was the next step in my culture: presents, of course! I was very fortunate to have such a wide selection of different original Christmas presents in Malawi. People were very creative in an African, colourful, recycling inventive way. If I had money my house would be filled with the arts and crafts market from Area 3, Lilongwe. This was my first stop, then area 2, then of course Chinsapo. I cannot describe the presents as that would spoil Christmas but they are on their way! A few friends of friends came over from London and were heading back to the UK in December. This was my chance to be very organised and buy all Christmas goodies and a belated birthday present for my middle sister. 

Malawi keyring crafts

Besides presents everyone had started talking about their Christmas plans, this was our first official 2 weeks off in the whole year. It was only then I realised how minimalistic my plans were, and that I hadn’t really organised anything. Recently a friend Nick (a teacher from the International Bishopp Mackenzie school) had mentioned his love for cycling and explained he had a spare bike.  I went on a 50km bike ride with him one morning to check we were relatively similar in speed then agreed a bike ride would be brilliant for Christmas. It had been a long time since my last long distance bike ride. This was from London to Devon with my fun loving sisters to see my Gran. I had remembered how our different characters had shone through and how enjoyable the journey was. Another bike ride on the way made me very excited. I would cycle to Salima and follow the Lakeshore road up to Nkhata Bay.  The bikes were speedy and we chose to stay at friends’ houses or backpackers so our weight would be minimal. It would be a fun trip 100km a day, perhaps more, but ending at Nkhata Bay for New Year’s Eve. I had 2 great weeks their last year, teaching music to kids, swimming, walking and meeting some lovely people.

Nkhata bay

It would be great to spend my time there, I had not found any time to go back. I just remembered the 12 hour bus journey last year and decided cycling would be much better.
Cycling and recycling seemed to be the top activities in my week, besides working: supervising and drawing up the new office designs.

Recycling was definitely installed into the Malawian culture but in different ways. I have a challenge to change people’s perspective of what they think is rubbish. Yes I know you cannot change a culture in 2 days (this was a phrase my dad repeated regularly)! So how do I bring wheelie bins of paper to the village and get people to realise tearing the paper and soaking it for a day can make briquettes that are slow burners, free and don’t take chopping down a tree to make a fire for cooking food. It seems very simple and logical but unless people see the result and understand the briquettes work as a substitute for wood people won’t use them. Since a young age everyone would always collect firewood and use this to cook. Tearing, soaking and pressing the paper is time constraining. Without intuition and wanting to do the task it is very hard to get people to start. The daily routine has many other chores which do not include making briquettes. I started making briquettes with the school opposite and told the teacher to continue taking a class twice a week, making briquettes.

Making briquettes

Having designed and spent much of my time in town in the last few weeks I noted the teacher had stopped coming.
Perhaps the long process was off putting? Without people wanting to do it themselves there will be difficulties. I must start from the beginning: I believe it is probably most important to raise awareness first, a recycling workshop. We now have a system set up with many materials being brought to Sam’s Village (the landirani trust sustainable training village) from town. I made a chain with the Bishopp Mackenzie International School opposite the office. They now bring paper, milk bags (for seedling holders) and glass bottles. These things are delivered to the office, which then go to the village. Many materials are naturally being reused and recycled with other ideas that I had not thought about. This was a great learning process for everyone including myself. Hopefully my recycling enthusiasm will work in a positive way, but I think it will take time.
There has been some process in the office. As the paper was sitting outside in a wheelie bin the guards started asking how to make briquettes. We started making some in the weekends, when I had a bit more time to play with. Overtone has now been taking paper home to build more briquettes at home with his family, kids and the wife and they have enjoyed the free paper charcoal.
A lovely weekend back in the village
After working in the office on a computer all week I knew I needed to go back to the village to see how everyone was: to enjoy the peace & quiet and start making things with this collection of recycled materials. So I remade and set plastic bottles on this wind turbine,

Plastic bottle wind turbine

... hand scrubbed my bed sheets, read my book and relaxed in a quiet place. It was bliss, so peaceful. When I had had enough down time I would walk and immediately be met and greeted by all of the people in the village. Half were my construction team, others kids and people that knew me but I hadn’t acknowledged their faces and names.

Lady in the village

Many people spoke of getting information so I explained the library was now open. Other ladies complained about the long days farming and getting little money in return and I explained about the Landirani workshop. There would be facilities for carpentry, tailoring and other activities.

Workshop roof structure

This would be open for many people in the village to share, learn and create all types of devices to sell at the local market or Lilongwe. I do wonder about the depriving economy in the village, even the markets. I remember staying in the village as a volunteer and the money I had always went on different items of food. As I headed to the local market every Friday afternoon I would walk 30 minutes just to buy mandazi’s (fresh donuts) and that was all, then we’d walk home. It will be interesting to see if there is a small market for people who are keen to buy sustainable devices like solar ovens and energy efficient kettles. Perhaps if the material was recycled from town, people could sell them cheaply.?

I came up with my own design projects, and mixed these with the skills of the locals so everyone could benefit. I created a website:

I am lucky to have an international bank card (unlike many people here), so the economy is vast. All payment proceeds to the correct people who manufactured the product... so if anyone is not organised now is your chance to buy handmade products from Malawi.
Back in town
I started designing energy efficient kettles having noted the design of a kelly kettle back in the UK. The chimney flows in the middle of the water container so the heat spreads around a large surface area heating up the water quicker and therefore using less firewood.
I went to the making metal market in Chinsapo with some drawings and measurements. These guys collect old metal and bash them into shape and weld them into other items which they then sell. It is one of my favourite places to watch and learn the skills of these practically minded people. They fine tuned an energy efficient container for me!

Malawi kelly kettle

Organising thoughts and designs in town will be very beneficial for some workshop ideas next year.

Thoughts, designs, nearly Christmas: life is all very exciting.

Sundown in the village