Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monkey Bay in Malawi

Hi all, long time no see for the usual internet reasons. I am now in Nkhata Bay so will try to sum up the last month before I start forgetting important details. When I left Blantyre it was time for the usual Combi van ride up north to Monkey Bay. The ride took about eight hours getting me there after dark but a quick call to the Malawi Volunteer Organisation (MVO) people got me picked up at the main road and I was at my new home for the next month by around 9pm. The power was off but as I arrived the lights flickered back on to a big cheer from the resident volunteers. . not a bad start!

I arrived on the same day as Shawn from Switzerland and the next day we were given a tour of the relevant schools, villages and Mangochi (the nearest big town with ATMs and internet - about one and a half hours away by matola). The matolas are very interesting, technically they refer to any unofficial form of 4 wheeled transport but most commonly refer to flatbed trucks that fit as many people as humanly possible on to the back, including their possessions, fish, goats etc. Luckily for me a previous volunteer had bought a Chinese made 50cc bike and left it there complete with insurance for any driver so I was able to cruise around the local area on my very own put-put even if it did overheat regularly and then needed a few minutes breather before it would go again!

The next day the honeymoon period was over and it was time to work. I went off to MVO primary school where I was to assist a great teacher by the name of George in his standard seven class - normally aged from 11 upwards. Starting time was about 7am with the learning commencing by half an hour later. I took over the maths and English lessons with George explaining how to do my lesson plans and before long I was really enjoying myself. The eagerness to learn shown by these kids blew me away and some of them were so bright, understanding the concepts rapidly and then churning out answers just how I had hoped. The main test for me was in dealing with the slower kids as I quickly found that while explaining concepts a third and fourth time, some of the class would start to get bored. Once the lesson was over I was torn between being flushed with the success over the clever kids and figuring out a way to get the less academic ones to understand their maths. Overall teaching has been very satisfying but the sheer size of the classes (45-50 in mine) is an obstacle in itself.

The volunteer group had several other projects that we worked on in Monkey Bay. There was a wound clinic for anyone in the area where help was provided to a local doctor in assisting with all manner of ailments including the usual gashes and scrapes gained in the course of physical labour in the area. We also would do talks in several of the villages within a 20km radius on medical topics of their choice. This was always well appreciated and sometimes brought up some very interesting local beliefs. One that always stuck in my mind was brought up during a briefing I gave on epilepsy - one of the ladies was convinced that if an epileptic releases gas during a fit, anyone breathing in the smell is at risk of becoming epileptic! These little meetings were one of my favourite things to do while at Monkey Bay as they gave a chance to meet many local people and chat with them at length.

One thing we were advised by in our guide books was the risk of Bilharzia, a parasite that lives in the lake near areas where there is a certain snail that lives in the reeds. In itself it is not particularly dangerous although repeated and untreated exposure over a long period of time can lead to some liver damage eventually. Luckily the treatment is simple and cheap in Africa - simply get the right tablets from the chemist and take them six weeks after last exposure to the water - so job done!

Weekends here are time off so the whole volunteer group tended to head up the coast either to Venice Beach or Cape Maclear where we could simply relax in the sun and if lucky we might even have an internet connection available at times. Drinks were somewhat expensive by normal standards but that didn't stop me being introduced to some very crazy drinking games. The favourite tended to be 'Ring of Fire' a game I first played while in Vic Falls which invariably leads to some very funny nights!

Watching football is always fun in Africa (results notwithstanding) and I soon found all the TVs in local villages where people would congregate for the match of the day. Access tend to cost all of about 30MKwacha (about 10p) and the atmosphere was always good for the Liverpool matches. Yeah the results have sucked but at least we are crawling away from the relegation zone now and lest I forget - IN YOUR FACE CHELSEA ;P

After four weeks my stint was over and I am now free to explore Africa to my heart's content with no timetables or planning. Nkhata bay is the next stop where I hope to do my PADI diving course before heading up to Tanzania with Shawn who finishes on the project two weeks later. My plan is to take the Ilala to get to the north as it should make a nice change from the usual buses and matolas.


  1. Another excellent read dude and sounds like the teaching was a great experience for both you and the kids. A possible career change? :)
    How cool was that, someone leaving a bike around :D What are the chances!
    take care

  2. Great post and pics. No real changes here except plenty rain last week. Happy relaxing and diving.