Friday, 4 February 2011

To fart or not to fart: That's Malawi's burning question

Wow. And there are those that think Malawi is slightly backward when it comes to the rule of law and the local court system - well the doubters have sadly been proved right with the latest debacle going on in Malawi's parliament.

So what are the facts?

George Chaponda, Malawi's justice minister: George is aiming to pass a bill, part of which criminalises passing wind in public to protect Malawi's public standards.

Anthony Kamanga, Malawi's solicitor general: Anthony is completely opposed to farting, deeming the clause in the act as just covering 'pollution' rather than farting in public.

So how will they enforce it?

The plan is to hand over enforcement of this to local police chiefs, supposedly to be enforced alongside such acts as urinating in public.

What does Malawi think?

Malawi's people are divided. On the one hand they see an ebb of civil liberties being taken away from them. Other's are quoted from various sources as agreeing that the improvement in

What next?

Well, with this being argued about - the bill is supposed to pass next week - expect some potential delays!

I'd love to hear your thoughts - just post them below!!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

7 Names You're Likely to Hear in Malawi

I recently had an email through from from someone who was wanting to know a few ideas for Malawian names, this got me thinking about the names Malawians give their children, and so I thought I'd blog it! So here's my take on 7 names you'd be surprised to hear in Malawi.

1. Loveness
One of the stranger names I've heard, Loveness seems to be a derivation of loveliness. The lady who possessed this name was suitably lovely!

2. Chance
Pronounced 'Chancey', this is not a hugely common name, but one I've heard in my travels. Quite fun - you can only imagine the origins!

3. Charity
Quite a cute one, charity is a popular name in Malawi.

4. Blessings
Also quite a cute name, blessings is a popular name in Malawi. This is translated from the name 'Dalitso'.

5. Shame
The owner of this name was actually called John, but he was known as Shame - when asked why, there was no coherent answer, just something that he had always been called. I sensed there was another story there, but didn't manage to get to the bottom of it!

6. Happy
No, not a dwarf, but the name of someone I met in the Karonga Boma area, all his friends called him Happy - a really appropriate name for someone from Malawi, I'm sure you'd agree!

7. Chastity
Hmm...ok while some of the others I can understand, and think are quite cute - this is the most ironic name I've ever heard (you give your child the name Chastity) but then religion does play a big part in many Malawian people's lives so maybe it's a reflection of that!

So those are just a few names that I've picked up in Malawi - are there any I've missed? I'd love to hear your comments!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

8 top tips for travelling with a baby to Malawi

I recently took my 7 month old daughter to Malawi for a couple of weeks, and since our return, I've had a few people ask me how we coped with such a young baby on the plane, in the heat, and with all sorts of creepy crawlies etc out to do her harm.

So here is my list of 8 top tips for travelling with a young child to Africa!

1. Be prepared
I've borrowed the scout motto for this one. The most important weapon in our arsenal was to make sure we had enough of everything we thought we might need available in hand luggage. Note you can take baby food, bottles of water etc through security as long as you taste it in front of the officials. We loaded up with a few all-in-one romper suits, a handful of disposable nappies (evil I know, but try carrying around 6 used reusables for 27 hours!) and some simple (non-noisy) toys to entertain her. Add to that a few bibs, some baby paracetamol and some rice cakes, and we were pretty much sorted for the long flight.

2. Ask and ye shall receive
It continued to amaze me over the course of our trip how willing people were to help us stay comfortable with the baby. So this tip is to remind you to ask for things to make your journey easier. Our first request was that we have a sky cot (bassinet) for the baby. As there are only a select few of these available on each plane put a request in early with the airline and then reiterate at the check-in desk. Note that getting a bassinet also puts you in the front 'leg room' seats - so a double win!

3. Plan for the time zone change
It sounds obvious, but if you're going to get jetlag, it'll be because you haven't planned for the time zone change. We had to force ourselves to go to sleep during the middle leg of our journey (the 5 hours wait in a freezing cold Addis Ababa airport!), and we did away with the usual baby sleeping arrangements, allowing Tio to go to sleep on one of us. It was great of course, as she was like a little hot water bottle!

4. Take plenty of changes of clothes
Babies get dirty. Very dirty. So make sure you take plenty of changes of clothes for your little one - I think we went through five sleep suits over the 27 hour travelling period through a mixture of vomit, food, and other nefarious substances. And don't forget a plastic bag to put it all in!

5. Travel cot and baby carrierJust to make your life easier. We used a Baby Bjorn front carrier which left whoever was carrying the baby with both hands free for passports, carrying hand luggage and duty-free shopping. The travel cot also worked really well, as it had an enclosed fly/mosquito net, so we were certain she wasn't going to get bitten while sleeping in Malawi!

6. Sun cream, hat, onesy, insect repellent
Absolute no-brainer, but had to mention it. When we took Tio swimming we coated her in sun cream, then put her onesy on, then put a hat on her. She was very tolerant considering the hassle, but she loved her dips in Lake Malawi while we were down at Sambani Lodge. Also, baby insect repellent is really important, we used it mainly while we were in Mzuzu, staying at Monkey Puzzle Lodge (on the Nkhata Bay road), and she didn't seem to mind it too much (I think she was too interested in eating the lovely bananas!)

7. There is a time and a place for jars of baby food
On the plane, an absolute godsend! The airhostess very kindly warmed up the meal, and security let us through as we tasted it in front of them. She actually quite enjoyed the jar (we normally mash up what we're having for dinner), and it lasted a couple of meals. We also knew what she was getting, as airline food tends to be quite sugary/salty.

8. Finally, don't let your baby lick your flip-flop....
We had been so careful to keep Tione out of trouble for the entire trip, until it came to the day before we left. Blame it on the heat, or blame it on how comfortable we felt with her ability to adapt Malawi, we were letting her play on a mat on the floor and in a more adventurous move than she had tried previously, she managed to reach across the mat, and grab my wife's flip-flop, then it went the way of all things do when babies get their hands on them - straight into the mouth. There was a moment of realisation between us, and then a slow motion 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO' as we dived to snatch it out of her hands. Alas, the damage had already been done, and for the next couple of weeks she had a stinking cold. Still, it could have been worse, can you imagine what a flip-flop can pick up in Africa...!

Are you travelling with a baby, have you got some tips of your own. I'd love to hear your thoughts!!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Karonga story: The recent earthquakes in Malawi

This post takes a more serious look at some of the real life situations of local Malawians living in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in the Northern region of Malawi.

Karonga seems to have borne the brunt of the damage when the earthquakes hit the region last year, and although international aid was quick to arrive, some of the poorer villages are still in a bad way. One of these villages, Mpata, is located about 15km from Karonga Boma, and I recently spent a day there, talking to the inhabitants about their experiences since the natural disaster struck.

Kenja is the village matriarch, a wizened lady 90 years old (roughly, as no-one counted when she was younger), her mouth has retained only a smattering of teeth, testimony to the high sugar diet enjoyed by many poor Malawians, yet her smiling eyes twinkle with happiness, belying her years. She is very matter of fact about the quakes "when the earthquakes began, I thought it was some very large lorries passing on the road nearby", Mpata sits on a recently built road that connects Karonga to a Uranium mine that is being dug for yellow-cake by the Paladin mining company, "but then it continued for a number of minutes. I was in my house, it started to shake so I went outside. I have not slept in my house since that day." She shows me around her house, which is still standing, but has dramatic cracks up the walls, and the structure of the roof is warped.

Kenja is one of the luckier ones in the village, her house was made of bricks, while many of the people had constructed theirs from daub and mud. I noticed not many of those houses were still standing, as I walked around the village.

Kilama is another one who's house was damaged, but is still standing. "My house is damaged, I don't have the means to repair it, so I still sleep here", she tells me (in chingonde), "there was some aid that came, maize and tents mainly, but the tents were bad quality and have already disintegrated."

As many of the villagers are either homeless or say it's too dangerous to sleep in their damaged houses, they have constructed a series of temporary homes, slung together with sticks, straw and black plastic. These look basic, but fine for the dry season, however my fear is when the rainy season arrives later this year many more people will become ill as their temporary accommodation becomes damp, and the mosquitoes begin to breed.

Have you seen any of the aftermath of the earthquake in Karonga? Please share your experiences below.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

5 things you need to know how to say in Chewa (the official language of Malawi)!

Malawi is a country made up of many different tribes, all of whom have slightly different languages. The differences aree most pronounced as you travel from North to South - as you go from Nkonde in the very north, to Tumbuka in the North, to Tonga on the lake shore around Nkhata Bay and Sambani Lodge, and then Chewa as you go further South.

The good news is, the national language of Malawi is Chewa, and it is taught in all schools from an early age - as is English from secondary school. Bearing that in mind, you can no doubt get away with speaking English, but if you want to really impress, here are my top 5 things you need to know how to say in Chewa!

1. Greetings

The greeting is the cornerstone of Malawi culture - nothing happens without a long drawn out greeting ritual - so it's important you can play your part. Perhaps you can find a willing volunteer to enter into a roleplay with you.

Moni (mo-ni): Hello?

Muli bwanji: How are you?
  - Ndiri bwino, kaya inu (nee-li bwi-noo, kaya ee-noo): I am fine, and you?
Ndiri bwanji: I am fine
  - Zikomo (zee-ko-mo): Thank you
Zikomo: Thank you

There are different versions of this greeting across malawi, but you can instigate this, or respond as appropriate. Often you may have to repeat this several times - to the delight of your hosts or nearby Malawians!

2. I'm not from around here...

Mumalankhula chizungu: Do you speak English?
Sindimalankhula chichewa: I don't speak Chewa
Sindimvetsa: I don't understand

3. Medical care

Mundithandize!: Help me! 
Ndikudwala: I am ill
Chipatala: Hospital
Ndikufuna dokotala: I need a doctor

4. How much...?

Ndi ndalama zingati ichi?: How much is this?

5. Goodbye

Yendani Bwino (yen-dar-ni bwee-no): Travel safely

So those are my top 5 things to know how to say in Chewa (the official language of Malawi). For more phrases, and the conjugation of some common verbs, why not download the
Malawi phrasebook - a snip at £3, just pay with PayPal!

What are you top phrases a traveller would need in Malawi? Just use the comments section below, I'd love to hear your thoughts!