annroberts's Malawi adventure Blog

Friday May 24th Annies Lodge, Lilongwe Malawi

I was awakened before dawn by a brilliant song  from some warbler like bird right outside my window. He sang just long enough to make sure I was awake and then I could hear him rustle from his perch and fly off…  my attention turned to other sounds and in the distance it was like the changing of the guards where I heard both an owl and rooster in concert with each other. More unfamiliar birds whirred and warbled.  I am so very happy to be in Malawi.


  I don’t even remember falling asleep last night after a relatively cold but still welcomed meal of an egg sandwich and chips(English term for fries). I have a feeling our young charges were less than thrilled with the meal- their first experience of Malawi cuisine and culture… we ordered before 5pm and I think folks started eating at 8:30…. The staff was trying to get everyone’s meal out at once but had no place to keep the food warm. On top of that the electricity was off for a couple of hours. And their tiny dining hall didn’t even have the capacity to sit us all. So folks were out on the porch as well as in their rooms. When I inquired as to how their dinner was, sheepish smiles appeared and they were all trying to be gracious and polite.  I heard little sounds after dinner. There was a rain shower and the air was cool which to me are ideal sleeping conditions.  I believe all the folks passed out in sleep as I did.

So…. Annie’s lodge….there are high Kelly green walls that surround the compound with a solid metal gate where folks have to be there to let vehicles in . I was greeted by Fatima who was brushing the floors. She was concerned I would think poorly of Malawi since electricity was out on our first night. I reassured her that I was an old hat with understanding Malawi’s electricity issues. She said the president had talked to the officials in Mozambique to get more electricity and maybe  by December they will have more. Annies is not a 4 star hotel

We headed out to Freedom Gardens after breakfast. Again our students were assaulted by all the foreign sites. The first time the cameras went wild was to capture the scene of cattle being herded in the city limits. The first market they saw with people in their rickety stalls of pipes, bamboos and thatched roofs  selling their wares of fresh vegetables, old tires, bright cloths, dead chickens, used shoes and clothes all piled in great mounds.  As we headed past the market we saw a mother with four girls ranging from the ages of 7-3. They were heading towards the bush on a faint dirt trail. All were brightly clad and all of them even the three year old had baskets on their heads. The females in this country learn to work hard at an early age.

I was amazed that Willy our driver, brother to Annie Fletcher, was able to pick out the narrow red dirt road we were to turn down to get to Freedom Gardens. The bus barely fit down the road and at one point we had to cross a wooden bridge that honestly had me planning what to do if we collapsed the bridge. The bright small sunflowers kept insisting to join us in our bus as they whipped through the open windows. The students saw their first glimpse of an actual rural bush community. The houses made out of homemade red bricks and thatched roofs blended well into the dry brown landscape. Pat said in the growing season you wouldn’t be able so see the village. It would disappear in the high grass. The landscape is spectacular as you look off to the distant mountains across the bush valley.

Freedom Gardens is an testament to the positive effects sustainable farming using   traditional methods has on the land. We had a tour and lecture by Daniel Chinkuntha. He showed us the nuts and bolts of a gentler way to farm the land without destroying the soil by using artificial fertilizers or pesticides. We learned about composting, irrigation, and organic pesticides. We learned how farmers get seduced into using  fertilizer, pesticides and seeds which are subsidized by the government but still cost a lot for the farmer.  Ultimately this modern process hurts farmers because it ruins the soil and makes them dependent on the industry who sells them these products.


We spent over two hours walking their 10 acre compound taking turns experiencing various tasks of their farm life, creating dykes to divert water flow, mashing the pesticide herbs by using a huge morter and pestle, incorportating mulch into raised beds with hoes. I think the band was ready for lunch. We learned about handwashing and how meals are cooked with rocket stoves and home made ovens.  Mrs. Chinkuntha, Daniel’s mother was gracious enough to provide us with our first authentic Malawian meal of  chicken, rice, beans, nsima, greens, and plantain sausage.

 On the way back the bus was silent as folks were being lulled to sleep by the slow bus ride home. Most folks crashed and napped in anticipation of expending more energy on the dance floor later this evening. At 8pm Peter finally showed up to escort us to his friend’s establishment.  After a typical wait we had our meals at about 10pm. The poet Q came and entertained us with truly amazing poetry which reminded me of Langston Hughes.  I bought a book of his which were poems that were more personal than political. I was a bit disappointed because I had hoped to use them to teach students how to incorporate poems into teaching political and geographical concepts. After chatting with Q he is going to send me a PDF file of his political poems. YES!

The dancing began and everyone was up out of their seats. The last vestige of college groups disappeared and instead of these are Tech students, these are North Carolina A+T students and these are Radford students we are know the group from the US. Between bus rides, hand washings, picture taking, eating, laughing and dancing, our student’s collective experiences have built a tightknit community. Tomorrow we are going to have a very long day as we leave Lilongwe to head to Zomba our new home for the next three weeks.


Thursday July 16th, 2009 and Friday July 17th, 2009

I am sitting here in the  Pizzaland in Lilongwe which is right around the corner from the Budget Inn where I had my first meal in Malawi. Pat and I have our computers out and are waiting for hot water for tea and coffee. The air is cool and few people are about…certainly none of our students are up yet. So now to recount yesterdays trip…

Thursday July 16th,

As usual I woke up at 5 am but this time I was in a fairy like bed…..a canopy with gossamer white netting all around me. I laid there in bed listening to the morning sounds of animals and people getting up. Pat was also up so we decided to walk to a Baobab tree and then watch the sun rise over Lake Malawi.

We ambled along the sandy beach and watched a worker use his wide wide rake to clean the beach free of foot prints and leaves. What a long arduous task! We walked in silence along winding paths noting the beautiful gardens until we came to a massive magnificent Baobab tree. The grey trunk instead of smooth had big folds like several elephant legs fused together. I am a card carrying tree hugger and stretched my arms as wide as I could around the base of this very old tree… Pat took my picture and then we both noticed quite a bit of bee activity. Upon inspection we realized there were several hives in the tree and the humming vibrations were very impressive… There must have been millions housed in that Baobab tree. We left in a respectably quick manner and headed back to the beach since the sun was about to pop up.

Pat got some great shots of the sun and different sights on the beaches, lone canoes gliding on the water, a man under a hut working on something, a craggy old tree. Club Mac really is a beautiful place.

We boarded the heavy laden bus at 9:30 and headed off to Mua Mission. It is clear that we have been together for a while and folks are a somewhat weary from traveling. Our students are a bit snippy with each other first thing in the morning especially when trying to find a comfortable seat but we all settle in with each other by mid morning. Before Mua we stop at some vendors shops along the road where they have Tokoloshis which are these dream like characters- with not totally human features but almost elfin like qualities. The people remind me of my friend Larry’s work and his playful creatures.

Mua Mission was started by a catholic priest in 1902. This priest befriended the various tribes and was fascinated by their cultures. He was accepted by the locals and was privy to their most secret rituals and dances which he documented. The result is this museum about the Chewas, Yaos and Ngonis and their beliefs and rituals. There was one room that housed all the Chewa masks. It was breathtaking seeing all these masks displayed by hanging from a tree like form. Hundreds of colorful wooden masks peered down at us from the limbs. Our guide pointed out examples of the masks and their purpose of celebrating fertility, initiation into adulthood, and rain. The traditional dances we saw the night before made more sense after hearing about the goals of the dances. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum out of respect of the cultures.

It was time to board the bus again and more and more students are succumbing to the heat and other sicknesses. We still have 3 hours of hot cramped traveling to get to Lilongwe. The ride was quiet as folks were either sleeping, deep in thought or trying not to get sick. Charles our driver got us there safely like he said he would. Kelsey reminded us on the first day we met Charles he said “You came to Malawi alive and you will go home alive.”

We got to the Budget Lodge in record time and it was fun to note how our students were now seasoned veterans of Lilongwe. When we came everyone was hesitant and scared and now they all got their belongings settled and headed out to bookstores, vendors, markets, stores, and finally to Ali Babbas were we all wanted pizza!!! I believe of the 18 people everyone except for one got pizza! We were happy! People drifted out in two’s and threes and headed back to the hotel where all settled in for the night.

Friday July 17, 2009

We are having breakfast at Pizzaland with Carolyn and DeAnna… They woke up to a homeless man sleeping on the steps. We talk about plans for when we touch down. Pat and I want to have a salad at Applebees. Kelsey and DeAnna are going to the same wedding somewhere between Galax and Fries. Beth will have here French toast at home… Casey…. Her pizza… So this is it for my blog from Malawi.

I think I will write one more time when I get home. We leave today at 10:30am to get to the airport at 11:00am… The plan leaves at 1pm and we are supposed to touch down in the US 8am Eastern standard time. It will be 24 plus hours of traveling! This morning folks plan to go to vendors and do last minute shopping. I am going to the internet café to hopefully post this…

Pitani Bwino,


Wednesday July 15th, 2009

This is my last day to hear the morning sounds that have become so familiar. The gardeners are sweeping the black top in that rhythmic tempo. I can faintly hear Pat’s TV in the next room. Morning prayers have been sung at the Mosque. The rooster never forgets his job. My bags are at the door. All the bits that made this room my home for several weeks have now been packed away for the long trip home. There is a pile of items under the television waiting for Tennyson’s inspection and I am sure he will be happy with his haul.

Down by the area where we are to load the bus are dozens of suitcases packed to the brim with memories of Africa. Drums, chiefs’ chairs, staffs, and other items too big for suitcases are piled next to back packs and carryon luggage. I can’t imagine how all this and 18 people will fit on our bus. The men started to work handing bags through the windows and the women looked on… It reminded me of when my father would start to pack and Mom would look on silently rearranging the items in my car.

Annie and Limbani drove up and more and more of the staff came down to where the bus was parked… I noted both Annie and Limbani had on the necklaces I had given them and I was touched….There were last minute pictures and promises of keeping in touch. As the pile outside the bus got smaller,  more and more hugs were given… Ronald one of the staff who had really connected with us had tears running down his face. Annie was in tears, I was in tears assuring her when she came for her visit we would dance and laugh together once more. All were aboard and hands were waving inside and outside the bus as we left Annies Lodge.

As we drove down the road I now looked for familiar markers telling me where we were. We passed the road to lake Chilwa, and then the Songani market filled with rickety booths made of bamboo and thatch. People are everywhere. The butcher’s booth still has shanks of goat meat hanging, waiting for a customer’s inspection. I wonder if Kelsey ever got that picture? I thought about our first trip down this road and how we were thirsty to take in every possible sight. Everything was new. We saw women with bundles on their heads and babies on their backs, fires on the side of the road, everyone walking everywhere… the distinctive shaped houses covered with thatch or tin…. Odd signs and shops the size of a phone booth. Just at the point where these sights are incorporated in our mental frameworks of what is Malawi, we have to part.

Our first stop is to Ndalapa Mhonge’s families village. Ndalapa finished his doctorate at Virginia Tech and works as a consultant for distance learning firm. The village iis on the River Shire and there are Baobab trees everywhere! Ndalapa’s father was an educated doctor and settled in this area. He had three wives and other concubines. Ndalapa stated he had over 60 siblings. We were presented to his father who is 102 which is very rare for Malawi to have someone living to that age. We toured the house where Ndalapa was raised. It had 11 bedrooms and the wives all lived together which was not common. He talked about how AIDs had taken its toll on his family and how is it such a problem in Malawi.

As we boarded the bus and headed out it struck me that our band of travelers are indeed ready to head home. When we first arrived we waved at everybody.  Now as we were parting waves were very tired and minimal. After all the build up Pat has done regarding Club Mac we were all ready! And she did not exaggerate… This place is absolutely beautiful… Robin if you are reading this… book mark this place for possible Malawi destination. The grounds are spectacular…Every house plant I have ever owned is in the flower beds here. Our rooms are not 50 yards from the sandy beaches that frame Lake Malawi. The pool is huge and right by it is a lovely bar.

As I sat at their internet cafe, monkeys were dashing about on the tin roof like a herd of….. monkeys. That racket competed with the Murala fruit falling from the trees. As I looked out over Lake Malawi I saw boats in the distance. No vendors were allowed on the property so some vendors were in primitive boats and paddling up and down shore hoping to attract some customers who will come down to the water’s edge and do business with them.

It took about 3 minutes for our students to acclimate and all were in bathing suits swimming and sunning and enjoying the comforts. Angela found me and said I should head out to the gate where there was a painter who did wonderful water colors of Baobab trees. I walked down to the gate and once again had to get my bartering persona back as I dealt with these wily vendors. Issac was selling his fathers and his art. I was struck by two pictures and with the help of James and Beth, I got a fair price for his work.

We all amassed by the pool at sunset with cameras in hand and were treated to a spectacular sunset over Lake Malawi. Then there was dinner and I think it was the best meal in all of Malawi… chombo, fresh vegetables, stir fries, potatoes, chicken, spaghetti, salads, deviled eggs, great rolls and I hear delicious desserts. We ate by candle light outside under the stars. And soon after dinner we were treated to traditional dancing.

As wonderful as this all was, I think I could have traded it all in for Annie’s Lodge and one more week with my students at Malemia Primary…

I am now anxious to get back…. And parents I am telling you having your children’s favorite food would be the best home coming present.. All Beth can talk about is how great her dad is at making French toast… and we have heard her litany at the last couple of breakfasts of wishing her dad would fix French toast the morning she returns. So Cathy just a hint on behalf of your daughter….

Off to breakfast and Mua Mission…

Peace and cheers,


Tuesday July 14, 2009


I got up early to write my blog with the hopes of posting. No such luck… but I was okay with that!

The bus was full to the brim of schools supplies, more socks and panties, home made good by cards, clothes, and other treasures students had planned to give to the schools or their teachers. On the way to school students were lamenting at who hadn’t even begun to start packing…. Those who were about finished started offering their services for kwacha. People were fearless in dickering over the price and it was then I realized our students  had REALLY adapted to the culture… I just want you parents to be prepared…

As we were traveling down the lane to the school DeAnna saw many of her ponchos on the clothes line and on children… I think she felt better about the whole problem yesterday. We got to the schools and it was just like any normal day but it wasn’t. This is it…. our last day…. I am not even sure all the students know it… once again the yellow chairs and desks were out under the big tree. Voter registration was still continuing and they were using the standard 8 classroom. Carolyn and Angela were not feeling well…. Carolyn had a chest congestion and Angela was a bit dizzy which could be from the heat… The Malawians think this weather is balmy… but it was hot!

 At 11am the teachers wandered in and when all were assembled Mrs. Liowande said this was a goodbye gathering for us and before the formal greeting we had Mr. Chitenje offer a prayer. “God is Love…. And God shows us his love by bringing these people to help us.” I am not going to get through this day…I am already a teary eyed mess. I wish I could remember his words because they were lyrical and beautiful. Mr. Nkhandwe was a speaker and then several other teachers and then I was asked to give a speech…. Thank you Jennifer Jones for preparing me for the formalness of these occasions.

After the speeches the staff provided us with a soda and some sweet cookies. The also had made us Chitenje’s which are the traditional wrap around skirts. The colors were teal and blue and gold… They are quite lovely. I sang a benediction and then Esther Majawa, who by then was with us, sang a good bye song and then the whole group sang a good bye song. Then we had closing formal speeches from teachers and me and then a prayer from Mr. Chitenje. Again the theme throughout was “please don’t forget us.”

Most everyone left to go to MIE. Tonight is our big dinner for the teachers. I walked around and glanced over the sea of children doing what they do all over the world… They were playing and bickering and talking and teasing and caring….. I would hear a chorus of “Ahnee” and turn around to see a group waving. As I continued to walk I would hear a faint Yafa Kumba and turned to see another small collection looking hopeful I would take them up on their invitation to sing… As soon as we would start students would run from across the grounds to join in and soon I was surrounded by 40 children. I think it was the ending they really loved… “Very good Very good YEA!!!!” As I threw back my head on the YEA I looked up to the sky and said a silent prayer that all these children would have a safe and healthy year… I wanted them to have enough to eat and not to be orphaned.  For the next half hour we played  simon says, drummed, sang, took pictures and laughed… My last exchange of giving and receiving love…It was time to go….

 Jeff and I stayed behind because we are being picked up by my friend Clements to go to the bank to finalize the change in plans and to go to the hardware store to buy bolts and locks for the classrooms. We want teachers to know their materials would be safe in their rooms. Mr. Laibu also came with us. We laughed and joked the whole way over and it continues to hit me that this is going to be over too soon….

 While the men were in the hardware store I stayed outside not sure if that were an unspoken sanctuary for men. I was taking in my last sights of Zomba, watching people and interactions. Coming towards the store was an ancient looking man in flowing robes and a cap which indicated to me he might be muslim. His craggy face and crinkly eyes reminded me of the Mother Earth picture my friend Andy has… His gate was slow with a staff in one hand and a wrapped machete in the other… I looked at his feet with gnarled toes and well worn soles. As he reached the top of the stairs I bowed and said Asalam Alekum… Peace be with you …. He smiled which showed his few teeth… Walakum Asalam… He said something else and I just shook my head indicating I didn’t understand.. and his eyes crinkled and he said something else… Which I almost thought was a blessing and he slowly ambled back down the steps and down the road.

 I wanted to recount this short interaction because I have a theory… Africa has many struggles and limited resources and so I believe God liberally peppers this land with sages and spiritual masters…. perhaps undercover angels?… I believe I ran into three… Seemingly non-descript people but they radiated a quality I almost never find in people in the states… Perhaps when the material is stripped and we are not diverted by illusions we have a greater chance to connect to God and connect to the earth… So perhaps where this land is lacking in what we believe is progress they have a spiritual capital we are lacking… Just a theory…..

 Everything I needed to get done got done and now it was time for the dinner. The students rehearsed their good bye song and we chose Amazing Grace.  We didn’t sound half bad and were ready for the event. The teachers came all decked out and I went around taking pictures of my teachers. The evening was festive. I met various teachers family members and all were delightful. I was drained by the end of the evening… It is all so emotional. I am tired as I write this…

 So just to let you know we are planning to head to Mangoche Wednesday.. to Club Mac. On our way we are going to visit Ndalapas village. Thursday we head to Lilongwe but first we stop at Mua Mission. We stay the night in Lilongwe and then head out mid morning on Friday.  I don’t anticipate being able to access the internet until Friday morning and I will post for the last time for this African visit…

 Peace and cheers,


Monday July 13th, 2009- Happy belated Birthday to my seester Nancy!!!!!

 I woke up this morning in an unidentifiable mood. I wanted to read my email and was unusually irritated by not getting on the internet. I purchased 3cards and was kicked off within minutes. I wasted 1800 kwacha which translates into about 10 dollars. It was then that realized I was homesick. I wanted to hear from friends and family. I felt a bit in limbo. Only two more days left going to our schools. Then three days until we leave. Our visit is really about over. When I finally got on to post my blog I heard from my house sitter and the daughter of a good friend. I found out that my critters were still fine and that helped with my need for home contact. I wouldn’t mind hearing how folks are even if I am returning in 5 short days.

Today we were to hand out the ponchos, socks and panties, school supplies. I thought the bus would be filled with chatter in an anticipation yet everyone was quiet. I mentioned my own feelings of being lost between two worlds and thinking about home. Well I guess this must be part of the transition process because it seemed everyone was thinking about home and were beginning to be impatient about the pending return. Some said they were a bit sad…. Others were thinking about foods they would eat… If Casey’s parents are reading she wants her favorite pizza waiting in the car when she lands. In fact any parents reading this, it would be a sure bet to have your child’s favorite food immediately available upon arrival. It’s not that they won’t want to see you….. Everyone misses your home cooking and American food. Lately it’s not uncommon for students to fanaticize their favorite meals.

There was so much that needed to be done at the same time today I was anxious about how we would fit everything in. The Radford students and several Virginia Tech students were in charge of handing out the ponchos DeAnna had commissioned to the standard one(Gertrude Kantunda-teacher) and standard two(Tryness Malemia-teacher) classes. Neither Pat nor I could help with the process. At the same time I needed Tryness Malemia to help me organize handing out the panties and socks. At the same time we had to have a meeting with Mrs. Ussi, Mrs. Majawa, Mr. Chitenje, Mr. Laibu, Mr. Walama, Mrs. Kantunda, and Mrs. Malemia. Mrs. Majawa was helping with voter registration and the teacher room was filled with officials.

Pat and I had to have this meeting first thing this morning because the outcome would include completing the arduous task of getting a name added to the bank account for the Malawi Chibale Project. The three people who have been in charge of the project have been more administrative type folks. After seeing the model school outside of Muvuu Camp we wanted to see if the feeding committee, consisting of teachers, would be willing to oversee the program. This would empower the teachers and have more people involved with seeing where the money is being spent. The meeting went well and we then hired a taxi to take us to Zomba to the bank.

While waiting for the taxi I had a chance to ask how the VT and RU students they fared with distributing the ponchos. It was what Liz Barber later termed a Lord of the Flies moment. Because of the last minute meeting, Mrs. Kantunda was not in the room and it was just Kelsey, Todd and Jeff to hold down the fort… Standard one and some of Standard two got their ponchos and then the classes were raided by older students who basically forced the children to give them their ponchos. It was survival of the fittest. It was a difficult sight to witness and our students looked on in shock and helplessness. Sheer numbers of students made it difficult to keep order. We are talking about over a hundred children in one classroom and many students coming in to take their newly received gifts.

Gentle Jeff became a sheriff. He went out to the school yard with justice on his agenda. He enlisted the help of standard 7and 8 students whom he called his posse. Jeff asked them to take the ponchos from any older student who had them. In short order many ponchos were returned. But this whole process left Jeff frustrated. It also left others disillusioned and frustrated as well.

DeAnna just wanted to help and she said later the seen she saw was not what she pictured. It’s so difficult to take ourselves out of our own culture to understand such a different context. These children are not more brutal than ours at home…. They had little supervision and many needs. It got straightened out in the end but since our students were emotionally a pint low coming to school today I think this hit them harder than it normally would have. They weren’t able to see the see all of children who were running around on the playground with their ponchos…. happy that someone gave them such a precious gift. I felt tremendously guilty… Not only was I not there to help but I took their teachers from them so they were alone in the crisis. And some articulated their frustration at the timing of the meeting and the giving out of the ponchos. They didn’t know how important this meeting was if the feeding program were to continue. Time is so limited at this point. And we had to get to the bank to make some changes. After all the students vented they were fine but emotionally drained.

Mrs. Ussi, Mr. Laibu, Pat and I headed out for the bank. I had no idea the task of adding a person to the signature card of an account would take HOURS! At one point the bank manager wanted us to open a whole new account and Pat with her 5’2 stature stood ramrod straight and patiently but very firmly told them what they were going to do and what we were NOT going to do. She was very impressive and I would want to be with her in any foreign country!!!!

We went to the internet café and waited for the bus to arrive from MIE. When the bus came Pat and I headed to the store because we wanted to buy Annie some wine as a gift from the schools. As usual there sat the deformed beggars in front of the grocery store. On the way out I approached the gentleman I spoke with from the other day. I greeted him and he was lively and cordial in his response. I told him I was going back to the states and this was my last trip to the store… He wished me a safe journey. I placed some kwacha in his hand and he thanked me.

We got the bus and it was locked. Charles had gone shopping and the students informed me he would be back in 25 minutes and then would pick students up at the wall. The wall!!!! I forgot I needed to pick up the sign I had ordered. Pat said she would stay with the wine and I could walk to where the vendors were. As we were talking there was a tug on my shirt. I turned around and there was the little beggar boy from the other day. He half heartedly asked for money but then showed me his treasures of two toilet paper rolls and some empty match boxes. He was wearing a large tattered orange t-shirt and baggy shorts. His feet were bare and calloused. The bruises around his eyes were less evident today.

As I set off to the wall where the vendors were located, my shadow proceeded to follow me. Since it was clear he was going to accompany me I held out my hand. He understood my intentions and tentatively slipped his hand in mine and we proceeded to walk up the road. I started to swing my hand a bit and glanced to see his reaction. He was smiling and looking at people. It then registered to me that folks knew him and were curious about our liaison.

At one point he dropped his match box and stopped to get it. When he returned he grabbed my hand and we continued on our journey. After a couple of minutes I glanced at him again and saw that he had begun to eat the match box. It broke my heart. We rounded the corner and there was a man who was selling popcorn, snacks and lollipops. I motioned to him and my little friend pointed to the popcorn. I bought the bag for 10 kwacha which amounted to 6 cents. Then I pointed to the lollipops and he lit up… I just had to buy it for him. He clutched on tight to his food but also clutched tight to my hand as we continued on. I swear he was walking taller as if to say “see I have a friend.” We got to the wall and he went off to eat his food but he was always in sight of me.

The students told me that someone gave him some kwacha and he ran over to a man near by and gave him the coin and immediately came back to beg. I kept thinking about that character…. Fagan in Oliver Twist…And wondered what the relationship is between adult and child. It was time to go and my young friend was by my side walking me to the bus… I reached for his hand and in my hand there was a coin. He knew it was there but had no reaction…. He absolutely played it off. As we broke apart he subtly slipped the coin in his pocket using almost no movement. I had hoped he could keep that bit of kwacha.

I was exhausted by the time we reached home….. And now we had to get ready for Annie’s goodbye party… I think we all wanted to crash but Todd and Jeff came to the rescue… Those two young men single handedly turned the bar into a beautiful party atmosphere. Todd had balloons and put them everywhere. Angela made a poster, Todd also had little containers of bubble stuff…Different students had made cards and the sentiments students signed were warm and heartfelt. We had a huge cake half lemon half chocolate which said Zikomo!(thankyou!) WE WILL MISS YOU!

The gathering was supposed to be at 7 and Annie and Limbani rolled in a little after 8pm. Later Annie confessed she is awful at goodbye’s and Limbani had to drag her down here. Students gave speeches on how Annie made their stay so wonderful and she was in tears the whole time. I think Limbani was touched as well because his head was often bowed. Limbani insisted I sing a song and play the guitar… He has never met a woman who played guitar… I want to make it clear… I play VERY POORLY!!! But I got the group to help me sing Blowin’ in the Wind and that satisfied him.

Clearly Annie was touched and the staff later said she always has given the parties but never had one given in her honor…. The beginning of the day might have started a bit rough but the end was very lovely and once again our students rallied and were beyond wonderful. We have learned each other’s peccadilloes and we accept each other warts and all. Each one of our students have been champs on this journey and I couldn’t imagine being with anyone different.

peace and cheers,


Sunday July 12th, 2009

 I woke late this morning (6am) to a glorious blue sunny sky. I can’t remember seeing the sky this clear. Today was our last day to go to the Presbyterian Church and Pat and I were not sure who would show. I put on my newly made Malawian outfit, a traditional top and skirt, and we headed out with seven students, several who also had on their Malawian dress.  We were a snappy looking crowd.


Again the service lasted almost two hours which went by very fast.  So after all these weeks struggling with the philosophical and practical question of how can I help, I felt like my query got answered in church today.


 And I would just like to say at this point….. It has been a bit difficult to record my journey in such a way that it is suitable for the host of readers who are from different parts of my life. From the responses I have received, the people who have been reading my blog include family members, parents of my Radford students, my students, friends, colleagues, school mates, neighbors, clients, and others (there’s that “other” category again!). In my blogs I have tried to write in my voice but to make sure it is appropriate for all sectors. So this following story is more of a personal nature but I feel is important to my trip. So without too much detail I will continue.


Any time the scriptures to be read are in the bulletin I always look to see if they are any of my favorite passages. This church does not print out bulletins so I had to wait for the scripture to be announced. When the pastor announced the passage I was stunned. He chose my all time favorite passage…. Matthew 25 verses 31-46. This deals with Christ returning and separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep went to heaven… because “when I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was sick you comforted me, when I was in prison you visited me….  When you do this to the least of them you do this for me.”  I won’t explain how it answered my question but suffice to say I have my answer.


After church I got another lesson in letting go and surrendering to the unreliable  internet service but it cost 1200 kwacha. I tried twice to get on but got kicked off minutes after that… I knew the signs that it was going to be futile but I just plowed ahead and was thwarted….


 At 1:30pm I was picked up by a former classmate William and his wife Esther and we went to Chowi which is a resort up on the mountain. The views were incredible as we wounded out way up the narrow mountain road. On the way down were dozens of people carrying chopped wood stacked on their bicycles or long pieces tied together and balanced on their heads. Children as young as 8 and, adults of all ages were making their way to the market with their cooking wood. At each turn where we had to slow down there were vendors with outstretched arms laden with fresh strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, bananas, and other produce.


The hotel was very posh in comparison to anything we have seen in Malawi. The views were overlooking the valley where Zomba is situated.  The grounds were beautiful with artistic beds of flowers and tropical plants.  There was a three foot high chess set on the veranda with a hotel staff person there to move the pieces as you play. I couldn’t imagine someone coming to stay at this hotel and think that they are experiencing Malawi. Perhaps they use this as a sanctuary after seeing the real Malawi one finds walking the streets of Zomba.


I got back in time to get ready for my next adventure. I was invited to Wotchiwe’s  house where Clemence, his wife Mary, and Hasten will be coming for dinner. We had the best time catching up! Everyone talked about what has happened since we all got our doctorates. We schemed at how we can work together doing research so I could return or perhaps they could return to the US. I met Wotchiwe’s son and her nieces who live with her. When the nieces came in one by one to say hello to the company they would kneel to each adult as they greeted them which is the custom in Malawi.


Dinner was wonderful and as usual the power went off. Since this is a nightly occurrence, Wotchiwe was ready with candles so the night light was warm and soft. We talked philosophically about what direction the education system should take and then went back to silly stories. I told them about my possum Perry and showed them pictures. We reminisced recalling all sorts of moments during our time together at Virginia Tech. Wotchiwe said one of her fondest memories was of my farm and when she got to mow the grass. Mine was on the way back from the goodbye dinner at Pat’s we sang three part harmony in the car. The evening was over in no time at all.


When I got back to Annies Lodge the reality of returning home hit me. I have so much to do. I still have so many things to hand out. I haven’t thought about what clothes I will be keeping and what clothes I will give to whom. Pat helped me look over my record keeping with the money. That put my mind to ease. I believe I have everything recorded and all the receipts to match. Tomorrow is the big meeting about the Chibale program where we are going to ask different people to be responsible for keeping track of the expenditures. Tomorrow night is Annie’s good bye gathering…. Tuesday the schools are giving us a goodbye celebration; Tuesday night is our good bye dinner with all the teachers at the three primary schools…. When will I ever find time to pack?


After Wednesday I don’t know if I will have any internet access. So if you don’t hear from me, I will post the last blogs when I return to the states… Wow that is so weird to write….when I return to the states…. I will also post all the pictures that needed to go with the different entries. To upload one picture takes an hour or more, I hear…..

Thanks for being a part of my Malawi journey!



Saturday , July 11th, 2009

I woke up to incredible pounding on the roof. Unbelievable!!!! We have had rain almost every day since I have been in Zomba…. I think I brought it from the states because that is what I left back in June. This morning we were to go to a community orphanage sponsored by Peter Thompson who is the son of Annie of Annie’s Lodge. We got word the roads were impassable and so we went to town to do business. Students went back to the wall where the vendors were uncovering their goods. I think for some it is now about the sport rather than getting anything… People just like to barter to see what type of deal they can get.   Some folks went to Tasty Bites to eat lunch and the plan was to reconvene at 1pm to see if the roads were any better.

The trip was on and this is the most rural village we have been to yet. You would have to go back to the deep mountains in Floyd to find anything comparable. It was like the roads you would see in corn fields. Everyone waved both children and adults. Pat said probably the only time they have seen a van like this was when she was here last year. We went across several creeks and small rivers which had bridges that should have said maximum weight 1 ton… There was one rickety bridge where I was REALLY worried but Charles navigated it beautifully.

This community orphanage is based on wanting the orphans to stay with family members if at all possible. The village is small and traditional. Sometimes orphans are relegated to almost slaves where they are given less resources and treated badly.  The goal of this group is to educate and support families in how to properly care for the orphans. They conduct workshops, perform skits, raise money to buy blankets and clothes for the children.

When we arrived we were greeted by members of the organization and the villagers. Everyone shook hands and we were warmly greeted. We were asked to the house of Dinnex J. Mdala chairman of the Chifundo Chathu community orphanage. We were ushered into the front part of his house which was made of brick. We could hardly fit in this small 10 by 10 room which housed sacks of maize and sheets of metal. The room faintly smelled of goat and farm yard.  On the walls were religious sayings and pictures. In the center of the room was a table with a cloth covering what was on the table. Mr. Mdala welcomed us and asked to share a repast. He then showed us the bottles of soda and rolls that were on the table.

On cue a woman came up with a blue plastic bucket of warm water and another woman had a big basin. As customary we were asked to wash our hands before breaking bread. One by one we washed and then were asked to choose a soda and take bread.  As typical of any meeting he asked the bread to be blessed by the village pastor and then he gave a greeting speech. It seems like in every situation there is a speech to greet to leave or accept or to give things. We found out that normally the villagers would give performances of music and traditional dance but someone in the village had passed away and so all were tending to the service.

We went back to the community building and there were wooden benches set up in a square outside the brick building and many children and women were seated when we got there. Again there were more formal speeches and we then gave them a donation which drew much applause. The chairman wanted a public counting of the donation so all who were there knew exactly how much was given.  There was more applause after the amount was announced. It was not much money by our standards but in Malawian terms it will help them a lot.

It was time to leave and more speeches were given to wish us well on our journey. The main message was loud and clear… “When you get back to America, please don’t forget us….We would be grateful if you can help us in any way. “ In this small village between the orphans, elderly and disabled they have over 500 people that need help which puts tremendous pressure on this rural poor community. Several people put slips of paper in the hands of our students which had addresses on them with requests to remain in contact. Mr. Mdala gave every one of us a business card and again asked to consider finding a way to help his community once we return home.

Over a hundred pairs of hands waived at us as we headed back down the single lane with two tire tracks. The scenery was breathtaking with mountains and vistas in almost every direction. I think about my mom and how she said when she had a good view she could breath better… She would have breathed well here.

 Then I am back to reflecting on our visit. The village is trying to take care of their own and each year the number of orphans and elderly increase. Peter Thompson clearly cares about this village and has done quite a lot to help them with their desire help those in need. I think about a Fraternity or Sorority and wonder what they spend on a weekend on drinking and merrymaking… I wondered how I could convince them to perhaps donate that one night of money to one of the many programs in Malawi that have so many needs.

We get back late in the afternoon and I got to work getting caught up on my blog. When I think about all that has to be done between now and Wednesday I get panicked.  We worked on developing a contract to help put a structure on the Chibala project. We found out that there is a committee of teachers that is supposed to be overseeing the feeding program and decide to ask them to manage the project. We set up a template for them to fill out a monthly report which they will give to our liaison in Malawi. Then our liaison will be able to PDF the report to the committee in the US. It is vital for all parties to have accountability and transparency similar to when Mr. Mdala have a public accounting of the money. The more people who know how much is involved the more likely it will be used well.

We are going to give Annie Fletcher a good bye gathering to thank her for all she has done for us. We are going make decorations and cards. I am working with Noel to order a cake. I think she will appreciate our sentiments.

 A week from today I will be on US soil. Where did the time go?

Pitani bwino (go in peace)



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  • annroberts: Ann you are on the wrong blog... it is I posted this one by accident on my old blog... please let me know you g
  • annroberts: Yes it is the one and only Liz Barber! What a wealth of information. I learn from her every time I chat with her. Oh no NCATE? BLESS YOUR HEART!!!! Yo
  • Ann: Hi Ann Mary is Liz with the A&T group? Look forward to following your adventures wish I was there instead I am into NCAte submission which seems