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Shocking News

We Receive a Phone Call from the UK, Malawi 25 January 1996
Our fifteenth day in Malawi, this follows on from I Used to be a Cisterns Analyst. We receive bad news. And Penny and John have a difficult meeting
On the bus for Lilongwe at Mzuzu at 6am. The bus driver plays Chichewa music – much preferable to the slushy western stuff we suffered on the way up. An uneventful ride, made less pleasant than it might have been by an American who wanted to be our companion, and who had extremely smelly armpits.
We arrive at Penny and John’s house, they are out at work. James comes in after having answered the telephone and says to Hilary: ‘There is a call for you ma’am’. Hilary’s brother Rod is on the phone. Rod tells Hilary that their dad has died.
Hilary decides that there is little to be gained from rushing back to the UK since we are not here for many more days. Rod is plenty capable of handling everything. We carry on as planned, albeit in a state of some disorientation.
A relative of Penny’s called Sofia turns up at the house. She is the posh pronunciation of Sofia, So-fire, not So-fear. We bundle into the fire engine to go and look for material for shirts. If we buy the material the then mother of one of the drivers will make us shirts from it.
We go to a mental handicap centre where the Rotary Club’s overseas aid section had set up a workshop to provide work for disabled people in Malawi. Once they handed the project over to Malawian management and left it went bust. Another aid agency has now pumped in cash, to try and get it going again. We see people magically embroidering patterns on cloth by eye. (Some time later we heard that the centre has closed).
We meet up with Penny and John who are smarting from a difficult meeting with their trustees. SOS’s policy is to have a local board of trustees whose role is to ensure local involvement, to avoid as far as possible complaints of foreign, and especially white, influence rough-riding over African culture and sucking more money out of the country than they put in. The Malawian trustees want complete control of the finances, in other words to do exactly what they like with the aid money. Of course they cannot have this, for quite apart from other practical considerations everyone knows that the first thing they will do with it is to buy themselves each a new Mercedes.
This battle between foreign and local aid money seems to be a constant one that the aid agencies have to face. The locals want to assume local management, but of course it is not their money, and the people whose money in it is, as happens throughout the world whether it be aid or grants, want to ensure that the money is spent for the purpose they gave it, and this means an element of control. John and Penny get shouted at, accused by the Malawian trustees of being neo-colonialists and racists. [Next political . . .]
Then dinner with So-fire, still in disorientation.
The story continues with Shirts, Shouts and Township.


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