As we flew over Ethiopia, our stop over, the seatbelt light came on prompting everyone we would be landing soon. The plane began its gradual descent and we were greeted by the warm, inviting sunrise over Ethiopia, which stretched lines of vibrant blues, greens and deep orange across the horizon. For a moment everyone sat and stared out of the window, as we were welcomed to Africa.

From the airport windows Ethiopia looked very dry and barren but we were all excited to be nearing our destination. We boarded our second plane that would be taking us directly to Lilongwe, Malawi, our home for the next two weeks. As the cloud cleared over Malawi we could notice a distinct difference in the landscape. Unlike Ethiopia, Malawi was full of fields, trees, lakes and mountains. 

Driving to our apartments we instantly noticed differences in the way of life. Large numbers of cattle were being herded by children as young as 5 years old, working a job that we’d usually expect an adult to be doing. We saw queues for the filling stations reaching 400m in length. We were told this was due to the fuel shortages and people sat and waited in the heat for an entire day to fill up their cars. 

The rest of the week was spent in lessons learning the language of Chitumbuka, as we are going north to Mzimba for our placement, as well as culture lessons from locals about the way of life in Malawi. We were told the life expectancy for a person living in Malawi was 37. Our trainer told us this gave him 8 years left of life and it became a reality when it was said in plain terms.

At the weekend we were able to visit a crocodile farm and the famous Lake Malawi. As we walked around the farm we saw large numbers of crocodiles crammed into small enclosures. A guide told us that the smaller crocodiles were bred to be made into ‘handbags and shoes’ and the elder ones were for breeding purposes only. It was hard to accept that an animal that you’d usually expect to be wild was farmed solely to be another victim of consumerism.

As we reached the lake you could see the reason for its fame. The huge expanse of water looked more like an ocean. The clear water, golden sand and greenery made it a truly picturesque place. 

We are looking forwards to working with our partner charity, MANERELA+ and experiencing village life. 

Nakhalani makola. Stay well. 

ICS Progressio volunteers Charlotte Issac, Sarah O'Gorman, Jordan Newbury, James Digby and Rhoda Martin reflect on their first week in Malawi.