Saturday, June 02, 2007

Trying to catch up again

(Assembly at St Theresa's. )
June has arrived in a rush - what happened to May? - and only now am I able to get back to the material Matthew sent me some time ago. He has received books I sent him, but to read them all "might require a bit more effort than I can master at present after the long days of teaching, then washing clothes, cooking, writing lesson plans, marking books etc. " This from someone who had a job appreciating the teacher's lot not that long ago! "The rains are heavy at present and we have regular power cuts. Today we thought we had one, but just had to flick the circuit-locators. We felt stupid, but it was after two days of not eating a proper meal.

(Donal and Mr Phiri in the staffroom drinking tea from

plastic cups and eating bin laden. )
"We have a radio here and I listen avidly to BBC World Service on a Saturday to hear the Saints' results. The last time, the cable had broken so I tried a trick someone used previously at the school. I got the two bare wires, put a match in the safety socket and then placed the wires inside the other holes. Then I turned on the switch......BOOM!!! There was a huge explosion and the electricity went off. All was resolved quietly but I was very lucky (wasn't killed just scared). I shall definitely never try that again.

"I was distressed that England were beaten so badly in the Ashes - and it looks like more of the same in the one-day series. I am desperate to talk to people about sport, politics and film but there really isn't anyone. The time I spend with the other volunteers is dominated by small talk (something I think you have difficulty with too). I get on OK with Donal, though we see things differently. My use of speech and view of the world and the environment don't coincide. But it's a good atmosphere in the house and we can share a joke so it's not a bad situation in any sense.

"I have become closer to some locals, resulting in some really good friendships - in particular with Sammy and with Gama, our Ghanaian next door neighbour and a fellow teacher at St Theresa's respectively. Gama, Donal and I climbed Sochee Hill not long after coming here. That is the big feature in view from the picture of the school courtyard, and is also where the picture was taken of me with my arms stretched, presenting the scene of Limbe, Blantyre. Chichiri and about fifty different villages and townships, including Chiwembe, where St Theresa's is situated. (The camera didn't quite have the quality to show them all!) The whole experience of climbing the hill was great."

(Donal - can you see him? - uprooting weeds in "Chimwembe Jungle")

Matthew reveals he is writing all this in school, having borrowed a red pen "to keep the continuity".

"I am sitting in 6B teaching mathematics because the teacher has not turned up. I have briefly taught the class what prime numbers are and have given them a competition to see who can find all the prime numbers between 1 and 100. (It gives me a bit of time to write this.) They are all around 10 years old, but I imagine one of them will complete the task within half the lesson......Anyway, back to Sochee Hill or Mount Sochee, as I prefer to call it.

"The idea was to visit Gama's home (about 30 minutes away) then move on to the base of Sochee Hill (another 30 minutes). Chiwembe is a very "middle-class" Malawian village, but, cross the river (in one place crossing a brook on a bridge made of scrap metal nailed sporadically to two wooden poles) and a feeling of real adventure prevails, not to mention us being particularly conspicuous. After the 30 minutes' walk through narrow paths darting between people's houses on uneven dirt paths in a dominantly dusty yellow landscape, we reached Gama's house. The place is typical of Malawi's ultra-basic accommodation, with no running water or electricity, sandwiched between other 2-room houses. There was little inside - a few plastic chairs that wouldn't be out of place in the garden of No 4 St Johns Hill, a basic table and a few pictures of scantily-clad women Gama admitted he would have to take down if his mother came to visit from Lilongwe! It is humbling to see a person equal if not higher than us in Malawian society (judging by our roles as teachers) in much less impressive housing. Our house I'm sure is a source of envy for some at St Theresa's who live in one-bedroom houses with a wife and two kids, when they are plainly much more competent at their jobs. The privilege of the white man is undeniable.
"Anyway we quickly snacked on some popcorn and began the journey to the hill. Luckily it was the hot dry season so there was no worry of rain; but by the end of the day my t-shirt was wet-through with sweat. I think I lost a considerable weight from that climb, even though we had brought a picnic of mandazi (very fatty doughnuts) and eggs.
"It took about one hour to reach the peak - a small metal pillar on top of the highest rock. We were later to find out that the pillar had been there to hold a flag of Malawi and to honour the life of President Dr Hastings Kamaza Banda - but when he went evidently so did the flag.
"From the top of Sochee the view was magnificent and looking down on all the Blantyre district. From up there it almost seemed as if we were in a plane, except that, in a plane, you do not get that sense of atmosphere that comes with the wind and the sounds of carpenters working, cocks crowing and women chattering.
"On our ascent through jungle-like patches of growth and this slippery ground made of dust and stones, I had expected to encounter people and animals, but the reality was the only people going up there were Rastafarians to celebrate on Sunday, or men with big machetes to cut down more of the sparse lonely trees for charcoal. We spotted a man with a large machete on the other side of the hill when we reached the top and Game thought it best we didn't let him know we were there. After a few minutes' larking around on the rocks, peering over the edge and taking photos, we made our way back down, seeing plenty of monkeys in the trees. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we didn't see any leopards or hyenas, which, we had been told, do live up there.

(Donal and I climbing a Shamrock V2 in Chichiri Museum)

"It was great fun and I hope we can climb a few other hills like it when the weather clears up in May-June. The Blantyre area is surrounded by similar rocky hills; but they dominate most of Malawi's landscape (along with the lake, of course)."

(I have become one of those people who thinks everything their pupils do is brilliant! But I feel genuinely proud to have got these kids to draw abstract patterns such as this. They needed prompting as they are used only to copying basic images from the blackboard; so to have them use their imagination was new for them and they've done excellently)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

At Last The Lowdown!

Courtyard of St Theresa's School, Chiwembe.

(It is now a month or more since I received a packet from Matt, containing a letter started months before and a book of notes somehow to be translated to this blog. Also included were several snapshots, documents to do with teaching, plus other aids and examples of the children's work. I'll translate this as best I can over the next few posts! - Matt's Dad)

(Extracts from what I take to be Blog Notes - or maybe they've turned again into a letter - dated, to begin, January 20th 2007 - after the Christmas Break.)

.....Altogether, I find my luck on all really serious matters impeccable (is it my outlook or am I just naturally lucky?) and I have not had anything really terrible happen to me yet.....My diet and my sleeping patterns are good enough for me to feel confident of my health.

Entrance to St Theresa's

Overall I am indeed happy to be back here in Chiwembe (Chichiri is simply where we receive our mail). My view of school may have been slightly tinted by the long holiday - the children are the same as all kids and can be the cause of stress like you wouldn't believe! But I honestly have great affection for all of them (even the bastards who call me Mr Mattress!) and the lows are frequently shattered by the adrenalin rush of a successful day or, even, lesson.

The challenge is big and I have realistic doubts if, at this young age, I can be anywhere near as influential as you were with your students, but I am a person of ideas and I am quickly picking up the ability to turn them into reality.

Matt teaching!

I quite literally feel the positive effects of this experience (the bad and the frustrating particularly) and I believe people will see a change in my maturity (if nothing else) when I head back.
Goma watches on as Donal opens a bottle of
Shire Valley pure cane spirit at the house
Thanks to Goma and Mr Penembe I have taken a more serious (adult) organised approach to all things scholastic. I am sure I was too open, enthusiastic and willing to play footie with the pupils in ther first term and it led to me being viewed as a bit of a childish buffoon and an eccentric mzungu. But I am learning quickly and I am fairly well liked by the other teachers, owing to my friendly lively presence in the staffroom and I now know it is time to show them my more serious ambitious side.

My (teaching) code is 07 - chosen of course - and I am now class-teacher along with Mr Amieda, the music teacher, for 4A whom I also take for RE, Drawing and General Studies (which is a bit of science, history and geography mixed together - very good to teach). I also teach RE to Standard 6A and B, General Studies to 3B, Drawing to 4B and Play for Standard 1 and 2 boys. Also SWports for Standard 7A and 7B boys. I'm head of the Wildlife Club too - but that is an absolute farce.
We have Teachers' Guides we must keep to (all of basic spelling mistakes) and although by mid-November (school year is Jan-Dec here) my 4A class knew everything they needed, and were all fed up with revising, I found myself being criticised for teaching them something not in the curriculum.

My next-door neighbour, Sammy with his wife, Dorothy,daughter Joeanne and new son Jude in the grounds of Chiwembe Palace. It is strange not to see Sammy smiling!

(More of this to come! - Matt's Dad)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Catching up on yesterday's blog

The last of the photos received by e-mail from Matt a week or so back.
"This is of me and Joe Nyauti (a teacher at the school) inside a Nyasaland bus on a visit to the surprisingly excellent little museum in Chichiri"
Other news from the same e-mail:
" School is going well, even if it does knacker me out. All the ideas about travelling and instilling loads of new ideas into this place have faded little by little. This is not however negative in any way. It's just that holding everything in place, all the housework, schoolwork and bits of socialising fill more time than I have. This is fine though and it means I'm learning about a lot more than just Africa I can tell you.
"We've just had mid-term tests at school which meant composing tests for seven subjects and now marking several hundred papers. Also, as I'm a class-teacher for 4A, I have to compile their results for all subjects and then put them in a big neat box for the exams officer. I am going to fall into a deep sleep that will last a month when I come back.
"Which reminds me - I will have been gone from England six months tomorrow; and the day after that I will have been in Malawi six months - over half our stay as we're coming back on August 18th.
"Has life been bearable without me? I wonder if this place has changed me and if it will be noticeable back in Europe?"
Now I have a long letter from Matt, and more photos and various drawings done by his pupils to scour through. All of which I shall leave for the next few postings!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trying to get up to date!

(Maybe I'm getting the hang of this now!. ) Matt's comment on this snapshot is:
'This is of Donal and me sitting on a fallen tree over a pool of a waterfall near Chimoio, Mozambique.' (A trip they made over Christmas, I think!) 'The woman who ran The Pink Paiya - the backpackers' place we were staying in - took us on this daytrip up to these huge hills. It was really good to see so many trees. Unfortunately Malawi suffers greatly from deforestation.'
In a later e-mail, Matt adds:
"That photo" (one I had put down to being taken in Liwonde National Park - though uncertain at the time) is actually of a nusery near the house that I have been buying flowers and herbs from." Another photo, actually of Liwonde, "the one with the stream and the two canoes" hasn't surfaced yet. Referring to it, though: "Samuel and I went on a canoe safari. It was really something. We must have seen over a hundread hippos - one even chased us in a rather exciting/terrifying moment. Even a crocodile swam past us. As it was the rainy season most of the other animals were hiding in the bush though. I shall have to go back in the dry season, why did you never tell how much it rains in Africa? it's ridiculous. Anyway I have attached a few more photos, one I thought I had sent with Joseph "the soldier" from 3b. One is of me holding a birthday greeting to Matt Stoffel, slighty off topic for the blog but it is a good picture of the kids, and I can't remember what the other one's of."

The e-mail finishes: "I am really in a great mood today - when I am with the teachers and especially the kids at school i feel very happy, and, when they are behaving, incredibly relaxed also. "
I now have loads of photos, pupils' drawings and a long letter to transpose! Next post - and a few posts after, I guess!

Filling in the gaps!

There's much catching up to be done - many photos to be got onto the page, but this post seems willing only to take three!
The first, as far as I can make out from Matt's letter, is of Liwonde National Park - though it looks more like my son doing a bit of gardening somewhere. The second is of "a filthy cockroach", should anyone need telling; and the third (a snap that should have been posted months ago) of Donal, Matt's mate from Project Trust, and a friend whose name I was given, but can't find the letter to confirm.
(You'll see that this blog is at the mercy of many things, mostly to do with my inability to get the technology in line with my memory and organisation. Now, however, with the arrival by post of much more information, I may in the near future be able to lay the site out with more assurance! - Greg - Matt's dad.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More Photos and Extracts from a Letter

Following on from the previous posting, more of that batch of photographs. The third is after we came home after travelling a lot in December to find the place covered in weeds that had sprouted dramatically due to the heavy rains. It's like a jungle now, so there is lots of work to be done.

The fourth is just me with a few stunned children taken about a month ago, (have you noticed I'm losing weight).

And finally I have added a picture of me with 4A, my G/S (general studies, things like science and humanities) class, taken at the end of the year.

(in a letter to Matt's father - dated October 24th
but not received until January 12th)
I feel great pride in telling you I was right about what this
experience is doing for me. My perception and understanding
of the opportunity to come here were probably the only parts
of me functioning properly before I got on that plane.
A good thing too, as, without those, I would still
be plugged into the media and growing more and
more restless...........There have not been the intense
dramatics I thought might happen. Instead I arrived
with almost uncontrollable excitement
which has been steadily replaced by utter contentment
to go with my improving physicality, my new friends
and total glee or just being here.........News from your end
does seem a little strange, but, to be honest, home
does not seem all that far away. I think this is
because of the context in looking at this year in relation
to my life.....I see that a year is really a very short
time and I intend to live it properly. So I can't
imagine being homesick, because I know all those things
at home are there waiting for me when I return.
But my priority is here!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Moving into 2007

I have been slow getting information to this blog! My first term at St Theresa's was a very busy one. I shall contribute material more frequently from now on. I am making a concerted effort - there are already two separate letters on their way and for the next month I will send something at least twice a week. Here are some photos to start with. The first photo is of the teachers and myself who played in the end of year football match against the students. The whole school was watching and chanting. I really felt like a celebrity! I played reasonably (I was awarded Man of the Match, of course) but even my superhuman efforts could not win us the game. We snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. We were two-nil up at half-time, only to concede two late goals. (A true follower of Southampton!) The players from top left to right: Workman,, Workman, Phiri the Accountant, Matthew le Tissier, Phiri, Amidu. From bottom left to right: Jones, Gama, Joe Nyauti, Prince Utumbe (goalkeeper), Mahere (who surprised me by being awesomeat the eage of 38, an old man by Malawian standards), Bayubahe, Zimbiri (who is a referee who officiates all the big time games in Malawi, even internationals).

The second photo is of the garden to the house Donal and I live in just as work began levelling the ground.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Into Malawi - The Third Month

(posted by Matt's Dad - Nov. 7th 06)

This is an interim report, awaiting a long letter (now on its way).

"I'm teaching. It's difficult, but I'm enjoying it!"

These first pictures need comments, maybe, but they speak a lot for themselves.