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I Used to be a Cisterns Analyst

Sunrise, Swim, Turtle, School and Repair the Lavatory, Malawi 24 January 1996
Our fourteenth day in Malawi, this follows on from Florence Nightingale Wasn’t a Nun. We rise at dawn on Lake Malawi. We breakfast on nsima. We visit a school and are tapped for aid, we swim in the lake some more, and get home to find that the lavatory is broken.
We had been encouraged to get up at 4am to see the sun rise over Lake Malawi, so we did. Very pretty, reds and oranges and pinks and purples. There’s something in the lake. An animal, or a log? Must be an animal. Not a croc, not a hippo. A snake? Looks more like a dolphin, too fat for a snake. And then we see it. A turtle. There are turtles in Lake Malawi.
Back to bed for a kip and then a swim in the lake before breakfast, with fishes around our legs.
For breakfast, we try nsima, which is a thin, watery maize porridge. Looks like semolina pudding, tastes of nothing at all.
Malawians live on nsima. They could surely do something more interesting with it than mix it to a paste with water. But they are poor people, and as we know from our hoteliering, poor people like ‘plain food’. Perhaps the solution for Malawi is the same as it is for Cumbria: improve the diet. Probably just as much a hot potato here as it is there.
After breakfast we drive to Bandawe. John and Gillian have 1,000 pencils that they want to give to the school which uses the old Livingstonia church as a base.
The Chichewa Lesson.
Pay Attention at the Back There!
Waiting to be tellt. It did not occur to us at the time, but it seems there are only boys in these lessons, no girls. Whether this was general or whether this was a boys only day we should have asked.
We see classes in progress. In one corner of the room a teacher is holding a Chichewa lesson. In another corner sits a group of children doing nothing. They are waiting their turn with the teacher.
The head of the school comes to see us and shows us round. Choruses in unison of: ‘Good morning, how are you. I’m very well thank you, how are you?’.
The head announces that we have brought pencils and that if the children behave themselves they will be given a pencil. The class applauds in unison. He then tells the class that he hopes these visitors will come again, but next time bring desks, for they badly need desks. The class applauds again. A lesson in international aid.
Outside the class children approach us saying: ‘give me kwatchas’.
We walk down to the graves of the missionaries, who died trying to operate the mission at the turn of the 19th-20th century.
The head teacher catches us on the way back, asks for a donation, which we give, and then for a film for his camera. We give him a film, so he asks for another. Tough luck, mate.
John is uncomfortable about the visit. Wishes we had hung onto those pencils that had been donated by a benefactor in Surrey.
We travel back to Sambani via a small beach where we meet an English beach-bum with feathers in his earrings.
Back to Sambani for a lunch of chicken curry. More swims and reading and writing under a thatched sunshade on the beach. Out on the lake, it looks like there is smoke rising. It looks like someone is setting fire to Mozambique. Lake flies. The clouds of flies move across the lake, ending up in the next bay to ours (fortunately), and causing a smoke-like mantle at the tops of the trees. In the sky are hundreds and hundreds of swallows. The flies do not affect us, though we can hardly see the next bay.
The lake flies are a feature of Lake Malawi, they suddenly appear for no evident reason and swarm in great clouds. We are told that the people net them in and eat them, for while one fly won’t make much of a meal, a large number pressed together in a cake can. We tried to see whether anyone was out there doing the collecting, but in the next bay we couldn’t see anything.
We drive back to Mzuzu through plantations of rubber, macadamia nuts and rice. The rice paddy-fields were set up by the Chinese Agricultural Mission. Now the Chinese have gone the fields look in pretty poor state.
At a village that has a band of bugle and three drums playing for the children to dance to, a man informs us that the bridge is down, so we have to turn back and go the way we came.
When we eventually get back to Rosewood, John and Gillian’s house (owned by Lady Roseveare) the lavatory cistern is broken. It’s not too badly broken and I am able to fix it quite quickly. At an attempt at an improvised joke that has just come to me, I say that it’s fortunate that I was here for I am well qualified to do this job, since I am a cisterns analyst. Lead Fart pompously announces that she has fixed the cistern already this week numerous times. Pomposity shielding how ignorant you are, or what?
The story continues with Shocking News.


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