After a few emotional farewells to our friends and family, we set off on our 10 week adventure to ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. We all arrived at Heathrow and made our way to the departure lounge, all eager to embark on our journey. After boarding the plane the pilot announced that we would be delayed for three hours which meant that we would miss our connecting flight in Ethiopia.

After 30 minutes of phone calls to Progressio to ensure that our luggage wouldn’t end up somewhere else on the continent or that we wouldn’t be stranded in Ethiopia, the captain announced that we had a slot and we had to leave immediately! We were off! We landed in a laid back and disorganised Addis Abbaba airport which was a stark contrast to the regimental Heathrow.  We watched the hand written departure signs being moved around by disinterested staff and eventually found our gate.

Made it!

Coming out of Lilongwe airport we were greeted by McDonald holding a Progressio sign however we were accosted by a group of local men wanting to carry our baggage. They grabbed our bags and followed us across the car park to where Godwin awaited. The men put our bags in the back of the truck and demanded cash.

We were quite taken aback and confused as we thought they were members of staff. It all happened so quickly we didn’t have time to assess the situation and they wanted 100 Kwacha each. Gemma reluctantly paid them but they argued for more! We politely declined and set off on the M1 towards Msamba Catholic Centre.

Upon arriving we were all very impressed at the standard of accommodation and at the friendliness of the locals. We were shown to our individual rooms which came with en suite toilet and shower room. Our beds were comfortable and rooms clean. We were delighted to find that we had the rest of the day to relax which we all needed because of the lack of sleep we had during the journey.

Our first meal was chicken, chips and vegetables which tasted amazing compared to the airplane food. Our dinner was a choice of spaghetti, beef, cabbage and rice. We were all impressed at the standard of the food and accommodation and had a great first night’s sleep in Malawi, eager for our orientation the following morning.

Language and culture

Week one has been a combination of Chichewa language and cultural training given to us by Shupe and Franciswell. Shupe commented on our determination and desire to learn Chichewa which we all find very fun to speak and the locals love helping us improve.

The cultural training was quite interesting. Franciswell is a public health worker in Lilongwe and is used to leading HIV/Aids awareness and support sessions which meant his approach to sex was surprisingly blunt in comparison to what British people are used to and in fact Malawians as a whole. For example in one of the sessions we were asked to talk about our ‘sexual debut’ in which most of the group declined which left Franciswell to tell us about his. We understood his reasoning as to in his line of work you must be open and comfortable to speak about sex and sexual experiences. It vividly showed us how in Malawi people feel very uncomfortable about talking about certain issues to complete strangers.

It was a long, tiring week as we tried to get to grips with all of the information we had been given. We learnt a lot of very valuable information which will help us in our field work in Salima and Nkotakota next week such as tribal hierarchies and historical backgrounds along with formal greetings which everyone must use as manners and respect are paramount within this culture.

We also had a presentation from Progressio partner Environment Africa in which Barbara gave us lots of inspiring information on the organisation’s work. We were asked for our own ideas and inputs which made us feel like our work here was already being valued. Some of us gave ideas and suggestions on recycling, renewable energies, trade agreements and advertising and marketing. She asked us if we would like any specific information and so next week she will give us a presentation on specific agricultural techniques, the links between HIV/Aids and nutrition and information on specific crops grown in our areas as well as a list of terminology for us to get a feel of.

Markets and lions!

Our day off this week was Saturday and so we decided to explore the city as a group. We walked 6km through Lilongwe Old Town to the Central Market where we experienced the culture without any leaders for the first time. We all imagined to be pushed into buying produce by the sellers but in fact a lot of us were surprised by their willingness to just chat and find out things about us. This helped us put our language skills to the test and helped lift preconceptions about the market place.

The girls bought some Chitenges for our rural visits as females are required to wear this cultural garment which is a two meter long piece of material worn around the waist and drops down to the feet, similar to a sarong. There were a variety of colours and patterns on offer, even football flags!

After lunch, some of the group visited Lilongwe Wildlife Centre where they keep rescued African animals from around the world. We saw Bella the lioness rescued from Romania. She had one eye and rickets due to maltreatment. There were also crocodiles, primates, antelopes and snakes.

Godwin and Innocent then took us to the very grand Parliament building where we visited the memorial of Hastings Banda who was the Malawian dictator through the 1960s and 1970s. We were then taken to the Chameleon bar for a quick drink and a chat. Everyone came home for an early night as church started at 8.30am. A very enjoyable first week and we’re all very excited about what the next week has to offer!