Weekend Wandering: Our Front Yard

Summer has come early.


After a long few months of study, surgery recovery, and hubby on night-shift, we came out of winter hibernation this weekend and ventured out into the sunshine for a weekend enjoying all our gorgeous little community has to offer.

Tucked between Bribie Island and Caboolture, the coastal-village of Beachmere has the charm of any other costal township without all the people or traffic. At low tide the sand and mud flats extend out and provide miles of beach to run and explore. Soldier crabs and worms huddle around the edges of shallow pools, the soldier crabs shuffling away before disappearing into the sand. 


Along the white sandy beach there are shells to collect and drift wood to climb. Then castles or pictures to create in the sand, decorating each creation with seed pods, leaves and the other treasures collected while walking along the beach.

When playing at the beach in the sun gets too much, the Beach Shak Cafe is the perfect place to chill out and enjoying a cold drink, a bite to eat and listen to the live local music on offer every Sunday. Or better yet, grab an ice cream, head across the road and let the kids burn off some energy in the playground, while you relax in the shade.

Death of a wanderer

I swear the planes flying overhead are somewhat louder today. Maybe, it’s the spring air and their noise is travelling further in the clear blue sky. More likely, it’s because I could’ve been on one of those planes this morning… to New York… and I consciously chose not to go.

WHO DOES THAT?!?!

Honestly, who in their right mind decides not to go to New York? Who in their right mind chooses not to go overseas, period. Me. And I was fine with that decision until this morning when the planes started taunting me with their low flight paths and engine sounds trailing long behind the big metal lumps rising into the blue horizon… probably flying to New York… well at least LA and then connecting to NY.

I’m in mourning. But, I shouldn’t be. I decided not to go. I put my big girl pants on, sat down, and consciously went through all the reasons for and against going to New York:

FOR:

  • I would be spending time with my yoga teacher and fellow yogi’s at the NY Ashram
  • Travel
  • It’s New York
  • Travel
  • Yoga
  • Travel

AGAINST:

  • I’m getting married in a couple of months and should probably save some money to buy future hubby a wedding ring
  • Should be working on Ph.D.
  • Can continue practicing yoga with yoga community at home
  • Just got back from trip to Malawi two months ago
  • Future hubby’s daughter wants to come with whenever I go overseas and can’t

The first four on my list of reasons not to go to New York were quickly demolished as excuses:

  • Did it really matter if I got future hubby a proper ring or a plastic toy one?? We were getting married and making a commitment, so the ring was just a symbol, right??
  • My Ph.D. is in creative writing. I only need a laptop. I could work anywhere if I really wanted to.
  • Pretty sure my local yogi’s would understand if I went to NY for a complete yoga immersion at the Ashram. Hell, they’d probably all want to come with me.
  • That was Malawi, this is New York. Different place, different reasons for going. And Malawi was a whole two months ago!

But, it was the last point on my ‘against list’ that got me. Future hubby’s daughter is five years old. And over the course of our relationship I have slowly lessened the amount of travel I do, both in the length of trips and number of trips per year.

Correction: I have lessened the amount of SOLO travel I do. We make a huge effort to go on family camping trips or weekend’s away. We’ve even turned our upcoming wedding into a holiday, stretching it over six days of beachside hangs. But driving a few hours away to go camping doesn’t have quite the same air of excitement as jumping on a plane and heading halfway around the world for months at a time to lose yourself in another culture and place.

If I had to make the same decision right now, if someone said: quick you can jump on this plane heading to NY right now! I’d still say no. I’d still stay here, so I could be here for her just in case I was needed. When you live in split households every moment you get together is precious because when they are not with you, you’re missing out on what is going on in their life. I could use the argument that I’m not her mother so technically I don’t have to be here for her. But it doesn’t work that way. I still feel guilty for leaving her, and her dad, every time I go overseas. When future hubby and I decided to take the leap and be more than just friends, I knew that compromises would be made. And one of those compromises is that I would do anything for the two humans who mean more to me than anything else in the world. The older she gets the harder it is to go overseas without her because I don’t want to leave her behind and she doesn’t want to be left behind. It’s not my decision to make about her going overseas though. That is for her parents to decide. But, she is five years old and has the rest of her life to explore the world, so there is no rush to go to places halfway around the world right now anyway. Instead, we keep our explorations local. But we do them together as a family. So no one is left behind.

So when the time came to click the purchase button on a ticket to New York, I closed down the browser and walked away. I told my New York yogi friends that I didn’t have the money and the universe had other plans in store for me. I was avoiding the real reason behind not pressing BUY on cheapflights.com six weeks ago when I had the chance. Me, the self-proclaimed wandering gypsy, had planted roots and didn’t want to go without my little tribe. This was different to a trip to Malawi. New York was all about me, and suddenly I don’t feel like that’s a good enough reason to go anymore. Money was never the issue. When travel is involved there is always a way to make it happen, whether I’m broke or not. Something greater had occurred, though. Something had changed and subsequently I was growing as a person.

If I were to be really honest with myself, maybe rather than mourning the loss of a trip to New York, I’m mourning the loss of a part of me. Something has shifted. Something that makes me put aside a trip to New York so that I can be here on the off-chance that I might have to pick up future hubby’s daughter from school one day or because I want to spend the weekend playing in the park or at the beach with my family. Or buying future hubby a wedding ring instead of buying myself another plane ticket.

I feel like I’m mourning the loss of my wandering self. The self that hated to be in one spot for more than six weeks at a time. The self that after arriving back in Australia, after losing all her money in a poker game in Vietnam, lived out of a backpack, sleeping on people’s couches, floors, caravans and once in her car, in order to avoid settling back down. That self is gone. I have settled, putting roots down for the first time in a very long time. It is scary and exciting all at once and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My choices would be the same. There will still be adventures – they’ll just be closer to home.

Another plane flies over and I’m reminded that just because I’m not on one to New York this time, doesn’t mean I won’t go somewhere (anywhere) at some other time… Maybe by myself, or maybe next time I’ll be fortunate enough to take my family with me.

School holiday destinations: Yamba

My best childhood memories are of school holidays spent running wild on secluded beaches with my sister or family friends. Bush walks through native Australian flora, scrambling up rocky outcrops for sweeping views of the rugged inland sprawl or endless turquoise ocean. And while some of these destinations could take days and days to reach, others were not that far from home.

Places like Yamba, on the New South Wales north coast, are a perfectly balanced little gem. You have all of the everyday conveniences one becomes accustomed to when living in a city (great cafes, restaurants, food stores, ice cream shop), as well as absolute isolation just a short drive or boat ride away. Instead of camping, we upgraded and stayed at the aptly named “Hilton”, a little shack a short walk between the surf beaches and town. So that everyday we could walk to the beach and hang out in the sun and surf. Then every afternoon walk into town for an ice cream… because what else are school holidays for!

A ten minute drive down the road to Angourie and you’ll find swimming holes to dive into, rock pools to explore and kangaroos feasting in the late afternoon sun. A little bit further south off the main highway is the Yuraygir National Park. Take the inland 4wd track to find a nice little surf break off the point at the northern end of the beach or drive down through Wooli and access the beach at the southern end and drive along until you find a spot to set up for the day.

Regardless of where you end up, you really can’t go wrong spending school holidays at the beach somewhere.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Rum Balls

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… well, the only Christmas-y thing we have done is make Rum Balls. Christmas day this year will be spent in Mozambique with my dad camping. So we are forgoing the tree, decorations & presents, and instead going exploring and camping. Just like we did when I was a kid. We are going to go snorkelling and eat seafood on the beach until we are so full we have to roll back to our campsite. I’m finally going to learn to scuba dive too.

But there is one tradition in our family that we couldn’t pass up. The making of and gorging on rum balls is a staple part of my families diet all through December. For as long as I can remember rum balls were made in quantities large enough to feed several neighbourhoods. Wrapped in cellophane and spread out to teachers, co-workers, friends and family as gifts, they were our family contribution to Christmas spirit.

So arriving in Johannesburg with a bottle of original Bundy Rum (my sisters Christmas present to my dad) and a bottle of limited edition Dark Oak Bundy Rum (my Christmas present to my dad), the first thing my dad said was “now we can make some rum balls”. And either my sister and I should have communicated better on our choices of gifts not to double up, or we know our dad so well that the only acceptable gift was as much Bundy Rum as I could carry into the country. I am going with the later, as there is nothing worse than living in another country and not having access to your favourite foods or drinks from home. Plus, through mine and my sister’s sensational ability to know just what dad would want, we were now able to make rum balls.

And our family Christmas tradition can live on, even if it is in another country.

Ingredients

Ingredients

Rum Balls

250g Weetbix

1 can of condensed milk

1 cup of cocoa

1 cup of shredded coconut

1 1/2 tablespoons of rum (although this is really flexible, so add what you want to suit your own taste)

extra coconut for rolling.

Method

Crush Weetbix in a mixing bowl. Stir in cocoa and coconut. Add condensed milk and rum. Using your hands combine mixture, then roll into small bite size balls. Roll in extra coconut. Place in fridge to cool. Then eat!!

Rum balls... & the benefits of being the one making them

Rum balls… & the benefits of being the one making them

 

Instant Mother

* This is the start of an extended piece I’m working on about my experiences in Malawi.

Allendo. Linda, office,” she said. Her scrawny arm bending in and out as she pointed wildly. As if it would speed up my walk.

“Yeh, I know. I’m meeting Linda at the office,” I said. I wasn’t meeting Linda for the administration staff photo until 2.00pm. But this was Malawi, and it ran on its own time. Friday at 2.00pm, could mean anywhere from 7.00pm Friday through to 10.00am in a months time. Malawi time means anytime it happens.

I rounded the corner of the hall. Linda, with her short stature, tightly wound braids, and ample bosom was trying to run towards me in a pair of wedge-heeled sandals while avoiding tree roots, rocks and potholes in the dirt.

“Emma, I have been looking everywhere for you. Come, Let’s go,” she said. Turning back in the direction of the office, her pace slowed, while her back heaved as she gulped in air.

Linda led me up the path, but turned left to Agogo’s house, instead of right to the office.

Agogo, or grandparent in Chichewa (the main language of Malawi), founded Home of Hope, a children’s home in Mchinji, Malawi. It’s a village currently home to 490 children, and provides schooling and two meals a day to another 100 children through an outreach program.

Every so often, Agogo would call me for an unexpected meeting. It was a chance for him to talk about the needs of Home of Hope, ask how my stay was going, and talk further about my plans for setting up a charity in Australia. But following Linda into the lounge room in his house, I found Agogo, his wife, and an older woman cradling a bundle of blankets on her lap. Two men sat at a table, behind the lounge chairs.

“Ah Aunty Emma, come in please. I want you to meet Baby Emma.” Agogo said, reaching out a hand to point towards the blankets. “I feel that it is important for you to see how people bring their children to Home of Hope looking for help. It is one of the many challenges we face everyday, as we can not always provide all of the help required.”

Tucked inside the thick bright blue blanket, and brown and yellow patterned chitenje on the older woman’s lap, poked a tiny baby’s face. Baby Emma. A crotched yellow beanie loosely covered the top of her head. Little lips pursed together, her tiny nostrils barely flared in and out as she breathed, eyes closed peacefully as she lay, wrapped warm and secure.

I sat beside Linda on the remaining lounge chairs. Tears welled up as Agogo began sharing baby Emma’s story. She was 12 days old. Her mother had died one hour after giving birth. The family could not afford to buy formula to feed the baby, instead trying to feed her with cow’s milk from a cow in a nearby village.

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. The three other volunteers at Home of Hope shuffled in and quickly found a place to sit.

Agogo continued, “This is a challenge faced by Home of Hope. A family brings their child here after the death of a parent. With Baby Emma, we are unable to take her, as we already have many young babies being cared for by the mother’s. We are able to provide Baby Emma with formula though. The family then only has to come back once a month to collect more formula, as it is a long way for them to travel.”

“Agogo, what would you need to be able to keep Baby Emma at Home of Hope?” I asked.

“For a little baby like this, she would need more attention from a caregiver, so we would need another house-mother.” Agogo said.

I looked to Ann, a regular volunteer at the orphanage and my sounding board for every crazy idea I had in this place. “What if the baby came to stay with us at the house for a few days? Just until a house-mother could be found?” I whispered beneath the Chichewa conversations taking place across the lounge room.

“Yeh. That could work. Where are they going to get a house-mother from?” Ann said.

“Agogo?”

“Yes, Aunty Emma.”

“How much does it cost for a house-mother?”

“It is 12000 Malawi Kwacha per month.”

Ann and I bowed our heads to calculate the currency conversion in whispers.

“I could somehow afford $40 US a month.”

“Agogo, if I pay for a house-mother can Emma stay here? She can live in the house with us until you can organise someone over the weekend.”

“Aunty Emma we are truly blessed to have you as a friend of Home of Hope. God has provided through you to help this needy child.” Agogo said.

Chichewa conversations flew across the room. Many zikomos, or thank you’s, were said, and then we prayed. Thanking God for his hand in what had occurred, for my likeness to Moses or Pharaoh or some other person in the bible’s sister who cared for a lost and needy child, and for a whole list of things we had to be thankful to God for. I don’t remember the details of it. I was concentrating on holding back tears, as I looked at the precious little baby in the bright blue blanket.

“Amen.” The room chorused.

“Now let us go find some clothes for your new baby.” Linda said, taking my hand and leading me out of the lounge room.

 

The first 24 hours had passed without incident. Baby Emma, after some coaxing, squirting a 5mL syringe into her mouth, had begun to drink the powdered formula. Swapping to the bottle not long after. She took little drinks. 10mL here, 25mL there, so on her first full night in the house with us, I’d estimated that we had plenty of formula to last through her feeds.

At midnight, she finished off her bottle.

New to this mothering business, I’d neglected to bring her tin of formula from the caregiver’s house. Emma would not last the next six hours without a feed.

Wrapping my new little baby up in an extra blanket and slipping into my Ugg boots, we set off from the guesthouse to trek 400 metres across the village. Baby Emma swaddled tightly in one arm, her bottle hanging from a plastic bag around my wrist, and my iPhone torch app glowing in the darkness to light up the rocks and pot-holes along the way.

A growl seeped out of the darkness behind me. A few steps later and two more growls joined somewhere to my right. I froze.

The dogs that lay around all day, actually went on guard at night, and now me, my new baby, and iPhone torch-light were standing in the middle of the dark village, at least 100 metres from the nearest house.

I took another step. Several sets of paws moved closer. One dog barked.

I shone my light around, but they were just outside its reach.

Don’t be scared, Emma, just keep walking and they will leave you alone.

Several dogs started barking, while more were running out from the midnight black surrounds, to add their voice to the chorus of growls.

“No!” I yelled, setting off at a brisk pace towards where I thought the house was. “No! No. No.” I growled back at the dogs.

Surely someone would hear the dogs and come out to see what was happening. Or maybe they’d hear my attempts to frighten the dogs away. I kept walking towards the doorway I could make out in the light thrown from the porch, a little way out in front of me.

I felt like I was drunk, trying to walk in a direct, purposeful line to my destination, but tripping and stumbling over rocks, potholes and tree roots in the shadows of my torch-light. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry or run at this point. My arm was shaking, loosening Baby Emma’s blankets.

Stepping over a drain pipe, the dogs stayed just beyond the trees surrounding the village, still growling, but not moving towards us anymore. I’d crossed some invisible line that the dogs wouldn’t cross.  A few more steps and they still stayed where they were. I ran. Straight to the doorway, never have I been so glad to arrive inside the house, as I was at that moment, I knocked quickly, but opened the door without waiting for a reply.

The house-mother, fast asleep, jumped up out of bed. Somewhat startled by my sudden appearance in her room, but seemingly understanding that I needed another bottle of formula, as she fetched the tin and thermos of hot water from under her bed, before I had time to remove the empty bottle from the plastic bag still dangling from my wrist.

The house-mother prepared a bottle for us and I asked her how to shoo the dogs away. She smiled and handed me some more cloth nappies, then went and climbed back into bed.

From the doorway, all I could see was darkness mixed with shadows, and the light of my front porch 400 metres away. I looked around, desperate for another person to emerge and rescue me.

I was failing at this mother business.

With no one in sight, I tucked Baby Emma in closer to me, took a deep breath and set out into the dark. I walked as close to the house as possible, before going across the village and running the last few steps towards a house with the TV blaring. I knocked loudly.

“Shinghai, hello? It’s Emma.” I called.

The door opened and a young boy stood inside.

“The dogs are following Baby Emma and I and I’m worried about them biting us, cause they’re growling. How do I make them go away, I don’t know what Chichewa words to use to make them stop?” I said.

The boy came out onto the porch he looked out to where the dogs stood a few metres away.

“Come, let’s go,” he said, leading me down the front steps.

 

 

 

 

There was a knock at the door, before it squeaked open.

“Good morning,” my sister Sarah said, “I’ve made you some breakfast.” She placed a bowl on the chair beside my bed.

“Thanks,” I said, groggily shifting to look inside the pile of blankets beside me. She was still sound asleep.

“I did run out of formula last night,” I said, then rehashed my midnight adventure and the dogs.

“I did ask if you would have enough formula for the night,” Sarah said.

“Well, I grossly miscalculated how much she would drink, based on her previous feeds. Lesson learnt ok? I’m going to pick up the tin of formula today.”

“Some girls already dropped it over this morning, along with a few sets of clean clothes.” Sarah said. “Do you want me to take her for a bit so you can have a little bit of a sleep or eat your breakfast, before we have to go to church?”

I nodded, extremely grateful to have a moment to sleep. Between the midnight run for formula, the six dirty nappies during the night, and waking up in a panic at every noise Baby Emma made, I was exhausted. Worse than the noise was the silence. My heart leapt, certain that she’d stopped breathing or I’d smothered her in her sleep.

I changed her nappy, adding the dirty one to the pile in the plastic bag on the floor.

Wrapped in her chitenje and blankets, sound asleep, I passed Baby Emma out from under the mosquito net.

I lay staring at the ceiling, eyes heavy, but thoughts raced around my head, keeping me awake. It was Sunday, so a day of rest and church. Except Baby Emma had gone through all but one of her cloth nappies, even using the extras we’d picked up the night before, which meant I needed to wash them all, before we ran out completely. She needed a bath and clean clothes for church, and I had to be at church early to take photographs of the children in their Sunday best, dirt free and where possible, in shoes.

I slowly rolled out under the mosquito netting and sat on the chair eating my breakfast. I could always catch up on sleep later.

 

 

Malawi is close to the Equator, but in June and July, chilled southerly winds sweep across the dry, dusty plains. Baby Emma cried every time I changed her nappy. It didn’t matter how much I rubbed my hands together before touching her skin, they were still icy cold on her tiny little body.

So when it came to bath time, she screamed the house down.

Her twig like frog legs kicked out, as she desperately tried to push away from the water. She arched her back and twisted her head, all the while her high pitch cry echoed off the concrete floor and walls of the bedroom. The laundry wash bucket was big enough to fit her small limbs and pot belly, and I squatted beside the bucket with her cradled in one arm. Sarah looked on with a video camera over my shoulder.

I had only ever bathed older babies, babies that can sit and hold their heads up. Holding my squirming baby with only one forearm running the length of her spine, my thin little wrists balancing her unstable neck, and round little head in the palm of my hand, I felt awkward. That at any moment she would kick out those skinny frogs legs and topple into the bucket of water.

Somehow, I managed to wash all of her.

“That was the longest baby bath in the history of the world,” Sarah said.

“Hey, new mother remember. I’m learning as I go.”

The day before, one of the villager’s had ridden a bicycle into the nearest Boma, market, to buy talcum powder, cloth nappies and pins, and waterproof nappy covers, since all we had for Emma were over sized jumpsuits and towels cut up with a razor into nappy size pieces.

Dry and naked wriggling around on the towel on the bed, Baby Emma had stopped crying. Her curiosity turned to the piles of clothes and folded nappies stacked around her. I tipped the talcum powder upside down and with a flick of my wrist, out puffed enough powder to cover her entire body. Her stomach resembled a marshmallow, white, round, and soft to touch. No matter how much I rubbed the powder in, spreading it around into her armpits, along her shoulders, onto her bottom and legs, I couldn’t get rid of the white.

“Whoops, that was a bit too much. Silly mummy, but at least now your skin will be lovely and soft,” I cooed.

Dressed in her last clean nappy, two newborn jumpsuits that were twice the size of her and wrapped in two fresh blankets, Baby Emma was ready for her first Sunday church visit.

I left her on the bed, in between two pillows to stare at the ceiling, mosquito net and anything else in sight, while I took the bag of nappies out to the front yard. Everything in this place takes far longer to do, than at home. There wasn’t a washing machine I could just stuff her nappies into, press a button, and 30 minutes later clean nappies were left in the machine to hang out.

I filled the saucepan as high as I could in the little sink then emptied it into the laundry bucket on the ground below. To get enough water in the three laundry buckets I had to fill the saucepan at least 10 times per bucket. Then there was the large pot on the stove heating some water to also add.

I carried each bucket out the front onto the grass, emptying the dirty nappies from the plastic bag into one of the buckets. Scrubbing yellow stains out of white cloth with a bar of Nu-clean laundry soap, the absurdity of the situation hit me. Here I was living in a place where the power went out on a regular basis. If I wanted clean drinking water, I had to boil it then add purification tablets to it. If there was washing to do, it was all done by hand. There were no mirrors in the house, so I couldn’t see how I looked after my sleepless night, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care, because there was a tiny baby, warm and comfortable in my bed. She had a full belly and clean body that was growing stronger with each feed. I would stay awake in the middle of the night listening to her breathing, happy in the knowledge that she was still alive, when she had arrived a few day’s earlier so close to death.

Knuckles red from scrubbing, I wrung out the nappy and dropped it in the next bucket to rinse the soap out. A little boy, walking past on the road, called out and waved. I waved back and called out a hello.

A cry escaped from the inside of the house.

Shaking the soap off my hands, I wiped them dry on my skirt and went inside to my baby.

 

 

 

 

Baby Emma

The day before my little girl turns 2 months and I’m a very proud foster mummy right now. That she is still alive is impressive on her part. That she survived at all, well, it makes me wonder what is really out there guiding us all to these exact moments in time and space where things change forever and we become entwined in something so much bigger than ourselves.

Baby Emma arrived at the orphanage at 12 days old. She is the last of 11 children (8 surviving) and born at least one month premature. I’ve never seen anything so tiny. Weighing less than 1.5kg (3.3lb) when she arrived it broke my heart to even think about letting her go back to her village. For starters they were over an hour bicycle ride from the nearest clinic if she needed emergency medical attention. They had no way to feed her and with a newly widowed father caring for 7 other children, he had realised the need to seek help in caring for her.

One month after her arrival at the orphanage and we took Baby Emma back to her village for a visit, to show off her progress and find out more about her birth and family history. Her grandmother was incredibly grateful for the care provided to Emma, as she said she had thought the baby would surely die if they had kept her in their care.

It’s a humbling experience to be a part of. So to share a small snippet of the experience I’ve added a few photos of Baby Emma’s first 6 weeks of life…

Women of Malawi

I set off to Malawi with this idea that I wanted to document some of the orphans stories. Share what they have gone through at such an early age. But as I started reading and talking to the children, caregivers, local villagers and Malawians, my idea grew into sharing the stories of some of the women of Malawi. The women who are working hard to empower a country and change the course of the future for themselves and the next generation. The women who are left behind due to lack of services, education and health problems. The mix is vast, but there is a definite shift in the driving force behind empowering the country, particularly with the death of previous President Bingu wa Mutharika in April and the second woman head of state in Africa, Joyce Banda stepping up to lead the Republic of Malawi in a new direction.

Initially it was the children’s stories that provoked my interest in the women of Malawi. Children orphaned from parents dying of HIV/AIDs; babies buried alive at one day old with their deceased mother to prevent the mother’s spirit from being angered; babies orphaned as their extended family handed over the child as the mentally ill mother was raped and after the child’s birth the mother tried to kill the baby; a 9 year-old girl running a child-headed household on a social welfare payment of 2000 Kw a month ($7.39 USD) to provide food and other needs for her and her 5 & 6 year-old siblings; a 16 year-old girl fortunate enough to attend high school with the dream to be a Pastor, except in Malawian culture they do not allow women Pastor’s so instead she aims to study nursing after completing school. This is just the beginning of the stories shared. And they are horrifying and heart breaking stories, but after years listed as one of the poorest nations in the world and with global development indexes ranking very low in all areas of education, health, life expectancy, etc, there are many people working hard to change the outcomes for future generations.

Ezalina & her siblings living at an orphanage 4 years after they were found living as a child headed household

Magret is 12 years-old when I meet her. She is the leader of her choir group and loves singing. She is in Standard 6 and after school loves to hang out with her friends Dorothy and Ezalina. They help with feeding the younger babies or like to draw with their colouring in pencils. When Magret finishes school she would like to go to college to study to be a Secretary. Singing though is what makes her the happiest in the world. Margret knows that her mother died while giving birth to her. She also knows that her extended family buried her with her mother the following day. She is fortunate that one relative was upset by her baby cries that day and had the graveyard boys dig her back up, and immediately took her to the orphanage so that she could have a chance at life. Magret smiles while answering my questions and when I ask if I can take her photo she beams and begins posing with her friends and by her self, not shy of the spot light.

Magret and her friends

Female school attendance after the age of 14 is fairly uncommon. It is the females place to stay at home and help with the care of younger children or tending to the crops to help with providing an income for the family. This skill on the land though is being used in a new business strategy by women in the villages. A co-operative formed of women from the Sampha, Chalendewa and Kalumba villages outside Lilongwe, has a plot of land in the Sampha village where they grow organic Aromatherapy crops. Aromatherapy crops have the potential to bring in four times the income of Tobacco as they can harvest several times a year and co-plant other food crops in amongst the aromatherapy crops. This adds an additional source of income through food crops the women can sell at the market. The women’s co-operative has a workshop set up with a lab and distillation equipment in the process of being set up this month. They have received training through Build A School UK to use the equipment and are negotiating export of their organic fair trade oils and products in the UK and throughout Africa.

Women’s Co-operative farmers

As of April this year, the second female head-of-state in Africa, Mrs Joyce Banda has already begun leading the nation in an attempt to empower the people. Firstly selling off the presidential jet and 60 Mercedes limousines in an attempt to redirect the priorities of the government towards the needs of the people. The fact that the Republic of Malawi is lead by a woman is a huge step in overcoming cultural inequalities faced by the 7.6 million females of Malawi.

Mental health seems to be a common factor amongst reasons for orphaned children. In my short time visiting the country and reading through 600 of the almost 1 million orphans stories mental illness was a recurring issue. The mother was often noted to “go mad” after giving birth and either tried to kill her baby or herself. Suicide was a recurring reason for the mother’s death. The type of mental illness never specified. Mostly due to the lack of training of health officials (Malawi now has two qualified Psychologists) in being able to diagnose and treat Post Natal Depression or other pre-existing mental illnesses or conditions, these women are suffering silently. Their extended family often caring for the mother and her new-born baby, as the mother cannot cope or doesn’t want the baby. It is in this way that babies like 4 month-old Hugh end up in an orphanage after his mother repeatedly tried to kill him by flushing him down a toilet or attempting to put him in a pot of boiling water when he was less than a month old.

Malawi has a long way to go. But as more schools become available to support female attendance and health care improves the country is slowly improving its rank on the UN human development index. After years of oppression the women in the villages are empowering themselves, their families, communities and the future generation of women to come, through education and support from the government and many NGO’s. This is just the beginning of the story. It’s the tip of the research I’ve conducted for a longer piece I need to do at university this upcoming semester. The more people share with me about their lives, dreams and the future they are working towards the more I want to know. The more I want to return to Malawi and keep learning and being involved.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: