Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Malawi – Field trippin’ in the forest

September 7-9

Hello everyone!

Less than one month into my latest teaching position and I’m already off on a residential trip – a 3 day, 2 night jaunt with seventeen Year 5 children to a completely different world from the relative prosperity of Lilongwe.

We were heading 250km north to a place called Luwawa as part of our current unit of learning: equal opportunities.

The larger area is known as Luwawa Forest Reserve, which was once the largest manmade forest in Africa, full of an alluring mixture of indigenous trees and a towering Mexican species called Pinus Pitala. The latter was specifically imported due to its resistance to drought, a problem which is causing massive stress to the area and country.

Destruction and deforestation has led to Luwawa losing this title to a location in Kenya.

In spite of the decreased forest area, Luwawa Forest Reserve is a beautiful area to walk through. The gentle swoosh of the wind through the long grass is particularly relaxing.

Another spot of tranquillity can be found at the dam in Luwawa, built in the 1950s by the British. They actually gave the name to the area; it was originally called Mwawa, but the colonists couldn’t pronounce this correctly so changed it to Luwawa.

The place we stayed in Luwawa was also incredibly peaceful and enjoyable, with two wonderfully caring and sociable owners in George and Christine. Luwawa Forest Lodge is somewhere I can certainly envisage myself returning to without nine-year-olds in tow in the future, particularly to experience some of the other activities on offer such as abseiling.

More raucous was the local school we visited. It was certainly a humbling experience seeing a school very different from our own. There was one main classroom for all to use. We also played an entertaining game of football with the children from that school.

I hope the children learned a lot from the three-day trip: I certainly did. Unusually for a residential trip, it was relatively stress-free and relaxing as the lodge had organised all of the activities. Luwawa is a place I’m definitely looking forward to visiting again next year.

Love you all


Monday, 5 September 2016

Malawi – Highway to the Ded Zone

August 27-28

Hello everyone!

Three weeks in Lilongwe, with only brief visits outside of the city limits, can feel like quite a long time, especially when trying to settle in a new country with all the issues that brings. Luckily, many interesting and relaxing places are within an easy drive from the capital…

A Dedza sunset

…if you have a car, of course. Getting one has proved to be…how should I put it…problematic. Mainly because every car we have seen up to this point has had major problems which would double the cost of the vehicle in order to fix.

An example from a Facebook group of a car for sale

Friends have cars, however, so we joined a family who live on our compound and headed (direction) to the village of Dedza, mere kilometres away from the border with Mozambique. Well, one of the borders: Mozambique envelops much of Malawi.

Dedza is famous for its pottery. We camped at the pottery lodge, where they have many lovely and carefully crafted pieces for sale. They even take special requests; we’re converting the cup used in churches for the sacrament into pottery wine glasses! They said that orders will be completed within three weeks. This is Malawi, though – it will get done, but best not to put a date on it.

We used the pottery lodge as our camping ground, staying in a frankly ridiculously large tent on the Saturday night. Dedza is higher up than Lilongwe: colder, particularly when the sun has gone.

Could easily sleep 12, that monster

The lodge is situated within some bizarre natural features, one of which looked like a whale soaring out of the water a la Free Willy.

Shamu decided to take his show global...

We went on a lovely afternoon hike through some wildly changing flora – the contrast between the dusty bottom and almost lush greenery near the top was quite staggering. I’m sure it will be incredibly different when the rains start to fall later in the year.

Walking through the dry countryside - I'm sure it will transform when the rain arrives

A vista of the Dedza hills 

We didn’t quite make it to the top of the highest hill but walked through some wonderful areas.

Upon our return, we spied a small, concrete building called ‘Stop-Over Bar’. Feeling thirsty and adventurous, we entered the small hole which constituted a door and ordered a few beers. That was before I spotted something I had read about but hadn’t seen anywhere in Malawi: Chipiku Shake-Shake.

One of the smaller bars you'll see...
Not your usual drink, this. It comes in a litre carton, for one. It has to be shaken before consumption, hence the name. The carton gets opened with a pair of (probably unsterilised) scissors and handed to the brave person who has ordered it.

The innkeeper opening our...carton
 As you can see, it looks…horrendous.

Looks more like a milkshake than a beer to me
 And as you can see, it tastes…even worse. I don’t think I’ve willingly drank something so foul. Acquired taste and then some.


I managed three small sips before handing it to a local man in the bar. He gulped down about half of the flimsy box before giving it to his wife. Who poured the awful liquid down her throat whilst holding her baby.

A forced smile after suffering through a mouthful of Shake-Shake

Whilst on our hike, we had passed close to a hamlet which was colourful with noise. We encountered them again, close-up, at Stopover. Throngs of children danced and leapt to the sound of drums as the crowd circled us. We also witnessed a large football game across the road. Everyone seemed very friendly and surprised to see a group of muzungu. This surprised me as the pottery lodge, about 200m down the road, is a popular visiting spot for expats.


A variety of football kits were visible as we drove past
The following morning, we took an eventful detour on our way back to Lilongwe to find some rock art at Mpunzhi. After bumping along a dusty track for what seemed an age, we eventually reached the end of the road at the foot of a large hill.

No one was around when we arrived so we started following what seemed to be a path. Three teenage boys quickly located us and tried to send us in a completely different direction. Unlike most people we have met up to this point in Malawi, they seemed standoff-ish but keen to assert their route upon us. Their lack of English and our lack of Chichewa led to an uncomfortable situation which eventually resulted in us returning to our car…where we found the local tour guide.

Many paths, no idea of which one to follow...

The guide, called Linton, took us to four of the eight sites. It transpires that the young boys were trying to send us through a shortcut up to the furthest, highest location of the rock art. The art on the rock faces, red from the soil, is up to 10,000 years old.

Our guide, Linton, showed us different patterns they would draw
Linton was very informative, highlighting different patterns and a ladder which suggested how they created such tall creations, such as the giraffe which is over five metres tall.

This might give you an idea of how tall the giraffe is

A painting of a paw print, suggesting a time when lions roamed across the land

We weren’t alone with our guide when being shown the ‘paintings’. A group of young boys and girls were enthusiastically following us around, chatting, smiling and throwing a ball made out of plastic bags.

How to solve the world's plastic bag problem!
The children were an absolute delight, in contrast to the shady behaviour of the boys we had met before.

The dress was too big for this adorable little girl
so she had to keep hitching it up

I get the feeling that a weekend out of the modern sprawl of Lilongwe will happen a lot during our time here. Dedza will definitely be one of the options.

Love you all


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Malawi – King (and Queen) of the Jungle

August 20

Hello everyone!

Africa is known for its wonderful wildlife, a vast array of animals who stomp, slither and swim across the spectacular landscape. Many people visit the southern reaches of the continent to see the ‘Big Five’: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. Today was one of their special days.

World Lion Day is on August 20, apparently. There aren’t many in Malawi. The largest African cat is only found in a few wildlife reserves. Luckily for us, one of them happens to be right in the middle of Lilongwe!

In the UK, wild animals within the confines of a city are usually kept in a zoo. Though they do tend to them and try to make their life as pleasurable as possible, it’s not the sole aim of the zoo to do so. The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is different; its only purpose is to care for sick and injured animals, often ones who have been rescued from horrible situations abroad.

Many species are visible in the wildlife centre, including baboons…


…a massive python, which terrifyingly was partially camouflaged within a tyre…

…and vervet monkeys. Many, many monkeys.

These cheeky chimps apparently jump out of their own enclosure and steal the food of other animals, which is why certain animals are fed at dusk. Other than that, they’re generally well-behaved. Being allowed to roam free around much of the enclosure, and in very close proximity to humans, comes with a bit of responsibility.


All of these creatures are charming and are brilliantly looked after by the wildlife centre. We gathered lots of information about them and the work of the place from boards placed on the sanctuary trail; certainly a lot more than our guide, Maxwell, who seemed to be trying to speak as fast as possible in a thick Malawian accent.

I found the first fact fascinating!

On the trail we were also taken past the clinic, where the animals are regularly checked upon and maintained.

Being World Lion Day, we had come to see the ‘King of the Jungle’. We weren’t disappointed, with one male (Simba) and one female (Bella) sleeping and then stirring a few dozen metres away from us.

Remarkably, Simba was sleeping with his foot in the air. Their stories are both sad and heartening – sad in terms of the way they were treated in France and Romania respectively, and heartening because they have been rescued and are now getting the love and care they were lacking in Europe.

Unfortunately, most of these animals will never return to the wild again, having lost many of the hunting skills needed to survive outside of the centre’s walls. Nonetheless, it is lovely to see that they are being cared for in such a loving way. Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is definitely worth a visit for that reason alone.

Love you all