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!