Following two weeks of intensive in-country training, we will be heading off to Salima to work with Malawi Interfaith Aids Association. We will be involved in projects aimed at changing communities’ views and perceptions surrounding HIV, AIDS, gender issues and abuse. The aim of this blog is to keep you as up to date as possible with information on our experiences.

After a long sixteen hour flight, which included stops in Kenya and Zambia, we arrived in sunny Malawi. The cultural differences between Malawi and Britain were immediately apparent when we were greeted by a much friendlier and laid back security check. After collecting our baggage we set about finding Progressio staff member, Godwin, who took us to our accommodation; one 45 minute breakdown later we arrived at our accommodation. Much to our delight, we had our own rooms and showers in a quaint lodge. We quickly settled in to our new environment, not quite believing we had arrived in Africa, at the start of what is sure to be a life changing experience. 

Over the next week we began our Chichewa and culture lessons. Chichewa lessons have been an exciting challenge and the simple sentences and linguistic skills we have been developing will be very beneficial when integrating ourselves into the communities we are working in. 

Culture lessons led by our enthusiastic teacher, Francis, were extremely eye opening. The roles of men and women in society are very different to those of western culture. Women are very much in control of the domestic side of life such as child care and cooking, whilst men are responsible for earning money for the household and labour such as building. We also learnt the importance of the chiefs in their respective communities, the power they hold and respect they receive. We were also shocked by several ‘norms’ that exist in Malawi such as men never cooking in their own homes and not being allowed to carry large quantities of water, as it is a woman’s job.

At the weekend we purchased ‘Chitengas’, pieces of material the women wrap around their waists. The material hangs right down to the ankles. Women wear them this long to cover their legs because a show of the leg here is only classed as acceptable when alone with your husband. Now appropriately dressed, we went to visit Dzoole village.

A tombstone unveiling ceremony was taking place in memory of the village’s recently deceased chief. Stepping out of the car after a bumpy ride, a queue of thousands of mourning people stood before us. We joined the queue which was separated into men and women and began the slow walk to the graveyard where the ceremony was being held. A melancholy atmosphere could be felt throughout the queue and was echoed through the tears of women and children. We all sat around the tombstone and the service began. The respect and reputation that the chief had earned whilst he had been alive was clear to see and it was evident that he meant a lot to the community. Wreaths were laid on the grave by tribesman of the village and surrounding tribes. A choir also performed throughout the ceremony which was very moving. 

The Salima group of ICS volunteers are Alexandra Mackenzie, Liam Flynn, Dominic Smith, Stacey Coutts and Rachel Baldwin.

Photo: People pay their respects at the tombstone of the village chief, Dzoole village.