Host homes

Living in a host home on your ICS placement is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable parts of the journey. Although daunting at first, after just two weeks, being part of a family is reducing my level of homesickness. It also enables you to get the full cultural exchange and feel part of the community, which would be extremely difficult under any other circumstances.

Having to introduce ourselves in front of 400 people at our host Papa’s church was an experience, especially when he announced that God had blessed him with two beautiful white daughters. The six-hour service full of singing, dancing and audience interaction redefines enjoying a church service. The 30-minute prayer session every evening really brings the family together and having 13 people all pray for your family in the UK is mind blowing. Being able to participate in activities like these gives you a real feel for the culture along with an amazing sense of community involvement.

Kimberley and Abbe introduce themselves to the church 

Next week I will be attempting to kill, pluck, cook and eat a chicken. While many of my peers are disgusted at the idea, I can’t wait to try something I may never have the opportunity to do again. As a return favour, we made our family rice pudding. They absolutely loved it but they had to add salt as it was too sweet, while we added extra sugar. Living in a host home gives you this opportunity to teach and learn.

We have taught our host family ‘SNAP’, ‘Go fish’ and ‘Joker’, the card games that they keep begging us to play, along with teaching our little sister how to create loom bands. They have taught us not to be scared of anything that can’t bite us. Such as the spiders, lizards, rats and chickens that roam around our house and hide in cupboards on a daily basis.

Cultural differences - Part 1

There are some extreme cultural differences between the UK and Malawi, which are so much fun to experience and learn about. 

Our first encounter of roaming into a Malawian village involved hundreds of children swarming around us when we stepped off the bus. Shortly after, a mesmerised UK volunteer reached out their hand and every child pushed and shoved to touch an ‘azungu’ (white person). A phrase we don’t go a day without hearing in rural Africa. The experience was so surreal, not to mention the fascination regarding our hair. A series of events that would never happen in the UK.

The first difference we noticed was the portion sizes… In the UK a common portion of rice is 1-2 serving spoons worth. In Malawi 8-9 is considered normal - enough to cover the entire plate with a few grains falling off! The Malawian volunteers and our host families consistently are worried about our health because we are unable to eat an overloaded plate of rice. Furthermore, Malawian people eat with their hands, it is uncommon to use cutlery. I was unable to complete this task without rice falling everywhere…

Host sister making Nsima at home

Having been here for almost three weeks we are beginning to understand how to cope with GMT (General Malawian Time). If we need to leave at 9:30am then 12:30pm is a more accurate time to prepare for. Although infuriating at times, we have been able to lay down and absorb some vitamin D whilst waiting. Another past time, along with the fact that white skin can burn, which Malawians are unable to comprehend.

In the UK it is common for us to consume chips at dinner time, often with fish. However, in Malawi their ‘English’ breakfast includes chips and it is common to be prepared on a Sunday. When we suggested chips in the evening the Malawians were shocked and said it was English to have the chips for breakfast!

Overall as a group of UK volunteers, we have and will continue to enjoy learning and teaching about the cultural differences between our two countries.

Written by ICS volunteer Kimberley Hagues