The locals

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My only complaint about overlanding through Africa is the amount of gated campsites we used.

I understand that this makes the experience safer but you do sometimes feel cut off from the real Africa. Inside the gates are sanitised backpackers encampments where the only locals you meet are staff and tour guides.

For this reason it was fantastic to have a guided walk through the local village next to Kande beach.

No sooner had we left the confines of the campsite and began walking towards the village than children sprang for all over the place and began following us. Soon each of us has at least one child holding our hands as we wandered around.

Gloria: One of the children who held my hand from the Village up to the school and back.

The village was an interesting glimpse into the daily life of the average Malawian. The men do the hard labour while the women look after the house, bring up the children and do the light work in the fields. The guide wasn’t bashful about admitting that 80 per cent of the work is for the women to do!

He took us to his house, well his mum’s house that he lives in with his wife and children. The house was a very basic brick built construction with four bedrooms coming off a central living room. The living room didn’t contain any of the trappings of modern day life, no chairs, no TV, in fact pretty much nothing.

Outside the back door was another small brick hut with a small store room and small kitchen. The toilet was in the centre of the village and was shared by all the residents. The lake was where they washed. It was all a little bit different to the western world. Can you imagine sharing one toilet with your whole street!

Leaving the village our tour took us to the local school. The Malawians place a great deal of importance on education and primary education is free. The kids son’t have to go to school, they go because they wnat to. However the school does not receive any funding from the government so books, pens, paper etc has to be provided by the parents.

The children also have to wear a school uniform which costs their parents $10.

Secondary education needs to be paid for and costs $50 per term on top of $200 parents need to lay out for the uniform.

The head teacher of the school explained that uniform is important because it gives the school an identity and stops the children being able to pinpoint who has more or less money.

By the time we reached the school there were already about 10 children following us, as we approached the building tens more came running towards us wanting to touch us hold our hands and have their photo taken.

I am not a natural with children and found it a little intimidating being surrounded by little people tugging on my bag, stroking my arms and wanting to hold my hands.

After a talk from the headmaster, which ended in the inevitable plea for money and equipment which you can’t refuse, we went to the games field to see the football training. But before we could get anywhere close were completely mobbed by youngsters wanting their photographs taken. They were fascinated with being photographed then seeing the image back on screen.

The school has 1,500 students, six classes and 12 teachers. Each class has between 106 and 160 students. Jenny and Priya, both primary school teachers were aghast when they heard this. After my experiences in Korea with up to 12 students in a class I can’t even begin to imagine how you would manage, let alone teach, 160 pupils.

Anna, Jenny and Pyria with some of our entorage.
Anna, Jenny and Priya with some of our entorage.

From the school to the local health clinic. Still, like the pied piper, the children followed us. Having just visited the school we had picked up a larger entourage and probably had about 25 of them vying for our attention!

We were taken in to the maternity ward of the hospital, which was very basic. No machines and monitors just a few mismatched beds with sheets that didn’t fit. One lady was laid on a bed covered in a bin bag. Again we were talked to about the hospital then a donation box that you couldn’t not put money in was produced.

I don’t mind handing over money to places like this where you can see they clearly need it, but it would be nice if the asking was a little more subtle!

Back outside the ward the scores of children were waiting and followed us as we made our way back to the village to walk through the main trading street which boasted a mobile phone shack and a charging shop amongst other things.

We passed two people sat in the street decanting water into tiny soft plastic tubes. Apparently this is how the children take their water to school, and explains why so many of them were asking for our plastic water bottles.

Every time I had a drink a child would pip up miss give me bottle or madam give me water, which was heart breaking. I got to the point where I felt too guilty to drink. How do you tell a small child they can’t have a substance that you have a plentiful supply of and justify your reasoning? But the village did have a water pump that produced clean drinking water so I reasoned that if they really needed water they could go and get it.

Also as we neared the end of the tour the guide’s son asked me for my bottle. His father had just bought two bottles of gin costing more than a bottle of water for his son would have. We were also about to pay his dad the equivalent of a week’s wages for most Malawians for taking us on the tour. So if anyone could afford a plastic bottle he could. This action from the little boy made me think that all the aid given to Malawi has developed a culture of asking. Children are taught that white people give things away so whenever they see someone they ask for things, whether they need them or not.

Despite the mauling by the children and coming away feeling like they had rubbed a thousand germs all over you the tour was fantastic. It was great to get out and see a bit of rural Malawi and learn more about how people live. It was just great to feel as though I had seen some of the real Malawi. It also reinforced that these people really are desperately poor and their schools and hospitals are in dire need of assistance if education and health care are to improve.

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