Mzimba is a small town within a large district of the same name, which confusingly also houses Mzuzu city. Despite a small Muslim population, seen by the mosque and the two shops with Asian proprietors, the vast majority is devout Christian, with many different denominations represented. For example, my host family is Catholic, but there are also many Seventh-Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, to name but a few. Local families do their main socialising at church - indeed it is how my host mum knows her friends. Church activities are also a common source of entertainment, for example being a member of a choir or a youth group.
In more rural areas of Malawi, Mzimba included, there is next to no activity after dark. Our curfew is 6.30pm, and when I first found this out at pre-departure training, I was not happy. As a 23-year-old woman who has lived independently for four and a half years, I did not like the idea of someone else telling me when I have to be home. But now, as I write this in Malawi, I can see why this advice is necessary. Here in Mzimba, the sun sets around 5.30pm and it is completely dark by 6.00. There are no street lights, so apart from the stars, it is so dark you can’t even see your own hand. Also, there is no activity after dark. Since many Malawians get up at 4.00am, they go to bed around 8.00pm. They return from work, eat dinner, shower, then head to bed.
Whilst there are bars here, the drinking culture we have in the UK does not have a place here. Alcohol consumption is frowned upon. Getting drunk is regarded as something that immoral people do. Young women don’t drink, whereas it is more acceptable for older women to do so. For Malawians, throwing a party means killing a chicken and eating it, but what it also means is spending time with family and friends and sharing food.
So if you are reading this in the UK and thinking ‘why do you like Malawi then? It sounds like no fun’ I’d forgive you for thinking that. The fact is, Malawians have fun in a completely different way from British people. For us volunteers from the UK, it has been an opportunity to unplug from our internet-fuelled lives and find other ways to entertain ourselves. We are spending a lot more time outdoors. We have got to know each other in a deeper way than we do some of our friends at home. We spend our free time trying to find ways of cooking the food we love with what is available in Mzimba. We chat to strangers in the street and find out about their lives. We play sports and make up silly games to pass the time.
Yes, it is a simpler way of life, but it also means it is simpler to feel happy here.
Written by ICS volunteer Holly Baker