Mon 19 Mar 2012
Two weeks have passed since our last entry so we will have to cast our minds back...
The lake was wonderful. As predicted swimming, snorkelling and doing very little dominated proceedings, with some eating and drinking thrown in for good measure. Maya burnt her legs, and I learnt to play Bawo from a couple of the local touts. We also met Josh (from London, Manchester United fan obviously) who is on a long backpacking trip and provided good company to watch Newcastle v Sunderland with a couple of Kuche Kuche’s (a nice light local beer) on Sunday afternoon. Until, of course, the power went out after about 60 minutes, with us a goal down but all over them – I find out on Monday that we drew, Shola scoring in the 92nd minute... Worth mentioning that we get much better premier league coverage here than in the UK – virtually every game is on DSTV (satellite) which has 9 sports channels – Maya is loving this.
So back to Blantyre and back to work. James and Alison (from CU’s UK office) arrive on Monday and it’s great to see them – especially as James has brought a chunk of cash out for us. The difference in being able to change foreign exchange (forex) instead of using cash machines is extraordinary. From the machine is at the official exchange rate of course, which is 265 Kwacha (MK) to the pound. However the black market rate is around MK400 to the pound, therefore our money is suddenly worth almost twice as much. Whilst good for us, the impact of this on the economy here is crushing, costs have spiralled in recent months, businesses aren’t investing, and people are struggling to afford basics (the price of bread has doubled since September). There are constant fuel shortages and long lines at petrol stations. We’ve heard talk about the devaluation of the Kwacha since we got here, and asked a few knowledgeable people about if this might happen and what would be the effect. They explained that there doesn’t seem to be political will to devaluate, as it may be seen as a sign of weakness. Also that if there was, then prices would probably rise to compensate – so it seems like Malawians won’t be much better off under any scenario. More research and understanding of economics 101 is needed for me to fully grasp all this – something I aim to learn while we are here!
With the visit of UK staff we take the opportunity to join them on some field visits, and have our first experience of rural villages here in Malawi. Like the INGO workers we are, we roll up in our 4x4’s, and are greeted with singing and dancing from huge gatherings of local women and children (check out one example here: http://tinyurl.com/7j9694s). We are then ushered to a row of seats under a nearby tree (the locals sit on the ground) and the speeches begin. This is in line with my other experiences in Africa - lots of formal speech making, greeting visitors and talking about how CU has helped their community. This will all be very positive comments, with nothing negative ever raised, only requests for more help. If we are lucky we are then treated to a local dance or two, one of which I filmed and will post on bookface (follow the duck to see!). We are then shown examples of CU’s work in that area – carefully pre-planned (and perhaps even practiced?) demonstrations and talks from selected community members. In three days we saw a huge range of work, from boreholes to solar panels to successful small scale local businesses. With such a packed itinerary we saw a huge amount, so will relate each day in order – coming up very soon!