Adventures at Mchinji

Ten days are not a lot of time to spend in another country. It seems even shorter when the list of tasks to complete extends over several A4 pages and Malawi time is factored in. In the end I achieved majority of the tasks I had to accomplish, but it was the rest of my experience at Home of Hope that has impacted on me the most. The unplanned and random events that take place and makes one day stretch out to feel like an entire week. Ten days now feels like an entire lifetime spent living at Home of Hope and at the end of it all I didn’t want to leave.

Arriving at the Home of Hope village after a two-year absence I made a bee line straight to the girls dormitory to find all my old friends, including now 15-year-old Emily. After getting dragged from room to room by excited teenage girls asking if I remembered them, Emily burst into the room, saw me, covered her face laughing and crying, before we head butted each other in our excitement to hug. Many more hugs later and sitting on her bed in dorm room number 8 I discovered that she was sitting her Form 2 exams and in three days time would be finished and returning to her village for the school break. This allowed us limited time to catch up and spend together, so we planned for a farewell dinner the night before she left the orphanage.

Wednesday night rolled around and we met up with the girls at their kitchen to collect dinner, before heading to the dormitory. I’d convinced the other volunteers (my sister and our friend) to give the local cuisine a try. Majority of meals at Home of Hope consist of Nsima and Beans which is really very tasty. Finding Emily, she quickly took off with our bowls returning with a heaped serve of Nsima and a side of goats meat. The girls didn’t look so convinced about trying the meat, but we set off to the girls dormitory for our farewell feast.

Dinner wasn’t so bad. Afterwards the girls began singing and soon we were gathered in a large circle in between the bunk beds clapping and singing as each person took their turn in the centre of the circle to dance. Halfway through the songs we noticed Emily and a few other girls huddled over the door and nervously glancing back at us. Curious, we ventured over to see what was going on. Emily was using a knife to attempt to unlock the door through the hole where the door handle should have been. In their excitement to keep the other hundred plus girls out of the room, the door handle had broken off… trapping 22 of us inside. News quickly spread of the Allendo’s (guests) stuck in the girls dorm and the window outside was crammed with faces all wanting to witness the event. The sounds from the rest of the girls and the house matron on the other side of the door echoing in and meshing with the excited rabble inside the room.

Locked in

Realising we could be stuck a while, I picked a bunk bed and made myself comfy. Another five girls climbed up with me and my sister (a workplace, health and safety specialist) worriedly informed me that the bed was not rated to hold that many people. But this is Malawi and while the bed swayed and buckled under the weight, it didn’t collapse. I’d had every faith in the bed’s ability to withstand the climbing and jumping and giggling girls, because it’s just the way things work here. If you worry about something, it goes wrong. If you laugh and go with the flow, then things turn out ok or even better.

Room full of girls

The door was still jammed, but the constant photos of us Allendo’s with the girls or the girls posing with their school books, dinner plates, on their beds, through the windows and with their friends kept us occupied. When word got out that one of the guests needed the bathroom a large bucket was pulled from under the bed and placed in front of her. The need to go, now gone and the room erupting into more laughter. Girls doubled over, hands covering faces as they struggled to hold back tears as the laughter boomed out across the room.

An hour or so later we were all told to stand clear. The noise level dropped as the door jarred violently with each shove from outside. The lock gave and the door burst open, followed instantly by a swarm of screaming, singing girls. Arms in the air, hugs all around, more laughter, before being lead down the corridor and out of the dormitory like royalty. Hand in hand, lots of cheering and more hugs, before extracting ourselves from the surrounding girls to head home to bed. Although we arrived at our house and spent the next few house reliving the excitement over a game of scrabble. The adrenalin taking a while to wear off.

Thursday morning I farewell’d Emily at the bus outside our village and wandered back to immerse myself in my long list of tasks to do. Jet lag had hit though so the battle to take in information and find children for photographs was being lost to the need to sleep. But I still had Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to continue on with my list to do and now with Emily gone, there wouldn’t be as many distractions.

That is until baby Emma arrived on Friday afternoon. I was ushered into Agogo’s house to meet the family that had brought their 12 day old baby to HOH looking for help. Her mother had died an hour after giving birth from an exploded uterus and the father could not afford to buy milk/formula to feed her. HOH currently was at capacity for care givers to look after young babies, but didn’t want to turn the baby away. It is a challenge faced by the orphanage regularly as they want to help all children, but when they turn up at their doorstep, they don’t always have the funds available or immediate care givers available to meet the needs of the child. After some discussions translated between English and Chichewa so that the family and I could both understand what was going on, it was decided that I could care for the baby to allow some time for a care giver to be sourced. this is how baby Emma came to be named… after her new mother. Weighing less than 1.5 kg at 12 days old, the tiny face was visible in amongst the thick blue blanket wrapped around her and poking out from the little yellow beanie that threatened to swallow her head whole.

Baby Emma

While the family said good-bye to baby Emma and prepared to walk the 30km back home to their village, I was taken to the storeroom to pick out a supply of clothing, blankets and nappies for Emma. A few towels were cut up to use as spare nappies until we could make a trip into the Boma (market) to buy more cloth nappies and waterproof covers. Dressing her in a babies jumpsuit I could knot the legs together underneath her, since her legs didn’t reach that far.

For the next four days Emma went everywhere with me. She travelled on my lap in the car trip down the dirt road to the farm, then on to the Boma. She came shopping with us as we bought baby supplies and groceries. She attended early morning devotions and Sunday church. I washed her nappies by hand and on the first night when I ran out of formula, baby Emma and I crossed the village square, much to the aggravation of the dogs, to get some more. I ate with her on my lap, did chores with her and she slept in between some rolled up pillows on my bed next to me.

But all to soon it was time to leave. The adventures that felt like a lifetime were coming to a close as I bathed Emma for the last time, dressed her in her new clothes that almost fit and handed her over to her new care giver. She had put on over 300g in 4 days and was feeding every 2 hours. She was growing stronger and healthier and I had helped my little namesake in more ways than I’ll ever understand. I kissed her goodbye then walked straight out of the room, not stopping to watch everyone else say their goodbyes.

Everyday something random and inspiring occurred out at Mchinji. Losing my iPhone 4 didn’t upset me as I realised I’d been lucky to own one in the first place. I could replace it on insurance when I get home. The adventures of Mchinji always remind me of just how fortunate I am.


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