Saturday, 9 January 2016

Christmas in Malawi is a celebration of the rains

Rains at the Njewa site, Lilongwe

Before the rains: I wilted in my Landirani Trust office, feeling like the dried sunburnt leaves in my garden after an extremely hot day. The fans would be on but I thought of my architecture tutor clearly explaining that hot air being circulated around a space does not change the temperature of the space. We were so close to ending the construction of the new Landirani office earth building. It was going to be the last hot season in this brick building, this was a joyful thought. We would be better off living in a house directed so the breeze naturally flows through the spaces to naturally cool everyone down without using electricity. I couldn’t wait for the breathing building of natural materials and an open plan design in a new side of town. 
Landirani Trust rammed earth office, Njewa, Lilongwe

As the rains came closer I saw everyone in the landscapes preparing the lands for the planting and farming for the next few months. Maize is definitely the main crop due to it being the staple diet but I had been influenced by many permaculture experts to plant a variety of seeds. I dug a 1m garden out of my gravel backyard and then raised some gravel bits with fertile soil from our natural forest at the corner of the large compound. These were both areas close enough to manage the crops for rain and weeds etc. but people explained the permaculture is the efficiency of planting wisely so I hoping the crops could look after themselves as I chose a variation of nutrient feeders, natural protectors and climbers to balance each other out. 

Good example of permaculture: Landirani Trust, Sams Village Gardens
The power of the heat was incredible it sloeds everything down and then as soon as the cool breeze defeated its way through the thick heated air there was a sigh of relief. The coolness brought the rhythm back as people had their set activities triggered as the rains arrived. The crops needed planting, the rock solid soils were now more flexible and needed churning for seeds and life from what was the dusty dry grounds. These trampled dry soils had been swept and degraded down for the last 9 months since the last drop of rains. Then, the rooves needed fixing: plastics had all now risen in price due to the high demand to once again stop the water from entering the house. This was a yearly activity and if the budget of the household could not afford good quality plastic or if people did not secure it down properly and fix it with grasses or any available materials there would be leaks.

New roof on guards house: Landirani Trust, Sam's Village
 The birds woke up first and told everyone about the sun that rose from pink to orange, then quietened down for the awakening of the people. The dogs could squabble away especially in the evenings but the frogs were taking over after down pours of magical rain. The dogs were making a song, competing over the frogs that had more beat yet such similar tones. All signs of life came out and played in the fresh waters.
Everything on site was moving faster now the rains were here people understood the need. 

Although in Cape Maclear there were still no rains! This was devastating for the people who depended on a good harvest. Malawi has incredible local rains. You could watch a cloud falling to the ground in the horizon. I must recall the landscapes and rolling hills as I retreated from north or south Malawi. Here everything was open and spread out compared to the closed fenced in roads in the UK.

Road from Lilongwe through Dedza
The lake was always going to be a regular visit as the boyfriend lived there. I am now comfortable and relaxed after getting used to his very young family where there are many kids.

This is compared to my sisters in the UK who are of ages 27 -31

 3 sisters
Look closer: my 3 sisters are somewhere in this image but this image clearly highlights the age range.
I still haven’t quite managed to save up enough money to buy a car because of my different priorities as I really enjoy travelling around town by bicycle. My mind immediately changes as I use the public transport from Lilongwe to Cape Maclear.  The slightly skewed priority becomes urgent as I wait to fill this truck full of people. This was a picture towards the middle of the time when it became a full truck. I got squashed but it is all part of the fun and experience as you meet different people all the time and now my local Chichewa language is coming along things are a lot more exciting. I reply like I understand for most conversations! 

A fully loaded pick up truck
I had a lovely few weeks balancing work and play with my first friend Jess who arrived from UK, for a total of 1 month stay. Ofcourse we had to get on the bikes: it was the only way to see a country! 

A day of cycling from Lilongwe to the village and back again

We also managed to take a trip to the closer strip of Lake from Lilongwe, a place called Senga Bay. It might sound strange but talk of UK politics and debating other international topics was so refreshing as my mind had been lost in the red earth pavements, sunken into the daily routine and Malawi talk and news.


As I spoke indepthly about all activities here in Malawi I once again clarified my happiness here and purpose in the environmental approach to encouraging quality earth building techniques in Malawi. I can be a proud Malawian as my time here has now stepped over the 2 year mark. People were very impressed with the Sam’s Village site and the work going up.  Our Landirani Trust team have persevered another year to be near to the opening ceremony of the self sufficient training village.

New reception build

This 2 year mark was when I said I would leave but there is so much to do here that a have not even touched on. My inspirations are still running along after understanding the people and the culture much better.
Site managers house: 2011 and kitchen extension: 2015

Visitors accommodation: 2013

Workshop and water tower: 2014
And then it was Christmas.. back to Cape Maclear
Due to the lack of prioritized internet time I am including a few words about Christmas so I am up to date before my next travels. Christmas for me has been balancing my Chichewa and much more local activities with the tourist world of Cape Maclear. My home (for 3 weeks break) was chaotic (much like being in the UK for Christmas) where it was hard to find a minute to myself. I loved the routine of setting the tea and bread out every morning for breakfast then getting the kids excited for our morning swim and wash in the lake just 5 minutes walk away. The kids often started as a group of 3, then joined together until there were around 8 getting home and getting the bags packed for the walk to the tourist side of town, this was often very refreshing. It was often quiet(er) although this often depended on the company and festive season feel of the day. Depending on the situation I went back and forth enjoying each place for being so different.

The courtyard of traditional Cape Maclear house
My friends all partying at Malambe

Christmas here came with the arrival of heavy rains (much later than other places in Malawi). This was the time where people could truly celebrate knowing they can plant and once again (just once a year) grow and harvest the staple food, maize. These months are known as the hunger months as people spent all their money on fertilizer and seeds and worked solidly knowing this would be their years supply.

Localised rain over the other side of Lake Malawi
 Christmas for the people of the village was a large meal in the middle of the day with a fanta. For some tourists and wealthier people it was enjoying the Lake Malawi for relaxation and non-work purposes. 
Tourist hotspot

I can say it is like any Christmas in Malawi with a few exceptions…
·         there are always a few drunken lost souls who have not been sober since I arrived 2 weeks ago,
·         many people joyful will just walk singing repetitive phrases of Malawian pop songs 
·         any activity has focused on food, drink, cleaning or washing
·         my first malawi family Christmas (this is the exception)
Another exception... cheaper, more efficient way to sail, sailing boat: the best invention seen yet on Lake Malawi

Tree trunk canoe with a maize bag sail
Winston and I are starting our New Year with a big adventure. We’re off from Cape Maclear to Cape Town, South Africa for culture, fresh air, a holiday and eco architectural inspiration. The blogs will continue as I wish everyone a content and happy new year full of achievements and adventures.

Happy New Year Everyone