Apologies for the belated blog – internet access in Africa is limited – I am writing this upon arrival at home.
Alas, our days in Malawi as a Quest Team have come to an end. The final week and a half has been action-packed and exhilarating, and, without further ado, this is what we have experienced:
The evening of Saturday, August 1st fell upon us in full blow. We had left Chitakale mid-morning and made our way into Blantyre. A hostel going by the name of Coffee-Backpackers was to be our base; a nice and cosy place, with a homely feel to it. Ras, a.k.a Nas, a.k.a Rastaman, a Malawian, who had spent a good part of his life in the UK, is the man in charge of Coffee-Backpackers; he himself told us that their coffee was terrible. This mattered little to us- everyone was just glad to be in a place with hot showers, toilets one could sit on and flush, electricity and different food. Besides, the coffee wasnt that bad either.
The afternoon passed in a sweetly relaxed manner; half the group went into town to go to the market, spend time on the internet and have their happy-pants made up, whilst the other half were content to unwind at Coffee-Backpackers have a couple of drinks, read books, and play cards. The group was reunited in the evening, and Richard informed us that we were going to have a night out in Blantyre more specifically, go to a club called Twiger. Those who had happy-pants donned them, and, after a great BBQ, a lot of drinks, and a semi-sober jam with two African musicians around a fire, the Quest-Team made their way to Twiger in taxies. What a night! Ranging from sitting outside the club and chatting, to Richard dancing hard and heavy with everyone, including a (forgive the blunt phrasing) fat African lady. Sotiris shocked us all with his sexy dance moves, and seductive Miriam was a highlight amongst the local boys, who couldnt take their eyes off her. Needless to say, everyone had an amazing night.
I think it is safe to say that everyone felt terrible on Sunday morning. We went to bed with our heads buzzing from the previous nights events, and awoke with our heads and bodies aching, also thanks to the previous nights events and a rough sleep in tents on hard floors. A classic morning after the night before. Thankfully we had showers and a big breakfast – eggs and toast, prepared by Richard, Kaiky and Sotiris to remedy our queasiness. Once again, split into several groups, the day was spent in the city, hunting for souvenirs and gifts. As dusk broke some of us made our way back to Chitakale. Others stayed behind in Blantyre as our leaders had organized for us to visit an orphanage, Open Arms, this week, which we would all be doing in separate groups.
Monday must have been a strange day on site, with the number of workers reduced to three Quest volunteers and a couple of builders, however the Quest-Team was complete again by the evening, with people having returned from Open Arms. The apprehension of next day was getting everyone excited; it was to be a big one… Kaikys birthday!
Yet another splendid day; Kaiky awoke to a fabulous breakfast, which our leaders, Alex and Sotiris had been preparing over our little coal-fires for ages. Toast, bacon, eggs, fruit-salad, blue porridge and blue water obviously dyed as blue is Kaikys favourite colour. Natalie, the artist of our team, had drawn an amazing birthday-card, with each member of the group on it – one of the highlights of the day. People had prepared gifts aplenty for Kaiky, Bella and Elise even brought a small puppy, which they had borrowed and was almost lost at one point. Birthday lunch was tremendously satisfying; chapatti, guacamole, tomato and onion salsa, and, to top everything off, we got baked beans and sausages for dinner! We played birthday games, Lauren and Miriam wrote a hilarious rhyme about the Quest team and there was even a nice fire going to sit around. If only it were Kaikys birthday everyday!
The majority of the Quest team went back on site on Wednesday, it was Richard, Bella, and my turn however to visit Open Arms. When we got there at 11 a.m. we got a little tour of the place and were told however to return at 2.30 p.m. because the infants were sleeping and would only awake to be fed in the afternoon. Open Arms takes care of up to 40 infants at a time, children to the age of five. Aside from the obvious fact that the children do not have parents to take care of them, it is safe to say that they are happy there. Once they have reached a certain age, Open Arms tries to reintegrate them either into their families and environment they came from; in case problems arise however, Open Arms does keep track of the children once they are returned to their community.
The rotation continued on Thursday with Bella, and I returning to Chitakale, and Alex, Miriam, Ali and Sotiris going to the orphanage, all to return including Richard, by nightfall. Work on site was eventless until Friday, when the majority of the builders returned from Pen Sulo, where they had been working on another project. By nightfall, half of the roof had gone up, the right-hand classrooms floor had been cemented and smoothed out, painting in the left-hand classroom had been initiated and the guttering was under way. A huge leap in one day!
And then the weekend arrived with all its action-packed beauty. The Quest-Team arose early Saturday morning, packed their essentials and were on the way to Liwonde National Park by mid-day. A good two-hour drive through Blantyre and Zomba, we arrived at a camping site on a hill, overlooking a prairie reminiscent of the Lion King; in fact, the greater part of the weekend was compared to the Lion King: On our safari we saw elephants, monkeys, waterbuck, warthogs, impala, palmnut vulchers, a variety of other birds (of which I cannot remember a single name), and even a hippo from a distance. But that wasnt all! On Sunday we set up camp in the Michurie hills for a bit of hyena spotting. Once darkness was upon us, we trekked up to the hyena-caves and silently sat a distance away in hope of spying the four-legged scavengers. After an hour, without sighting anything, we returned to camp defeated, but returned at 5 a.m. in the morning; there is something remotely magical about sitting on a rock in complete silence as dawn rises and the world slowly materialises into colours in front of you whilst waiting in anticipation of seeing hyenas. We were once again unlucky; only Elise saw a hyena, which she poetically described as an oversized dog. Nonetheless it was a fantastic weekend, which was topped off by an afternoon in Blantyre city and a dip in the river when we returned to Chitakale on Monday.
Tuesday was to be our last working day with the closing ceremony of our project to take place on Wednesday afternoon. We did go on site on Wednesday morning however, to help add the finishing touches to the school. What was once a pile of bricks and dirt is now a solid, two classroom building with smooth, flat floors, and blue doors.
The closing ceremony was very similar to the opening ceremony; dancing, singing, long speeches, and thank-yous all around. Everyone was pleased with the result of our project, however it is important to recognise however that it is not only the Quest-Teams achievement. None of this would have been possible without Jofat and his builders probably the kindest, most patient and hard working men in the world and the people of Chitakale, who have embraced us in their community with open arms as if we were part of it.
We celebrated our last night in Chitakale with a party similar to the last; good food drinks to go around, and, to top it all off, a silent disco in the school. Good times.
Packing on Thursday was a silent affair whilst people were happy to be going home, they were also sad to be leaving Chitakale and the kids. The good-byes were joined with tears, sad smiles, happy smiles and children waving us away as we drove up the dirt track to Blantyre for the last time.
With that, dapita everyone, thanks for reading.
– Amrit Thind, 25/08/09.