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What's it like in rural Malawi?

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

This week’s post is a journal entry I wrote as we were leaving Malawi and heading up to Kenya in August. I know that this short description doesn’t even begin to explain the complexity of life in Manyamula village, I’m just sharing my reflections on a few of the interesting experiences we had there. — Tanya Cothran


August 1, 2011 Lilongwe, Malawi

Boyd and I had three days full of visiting, seeing, and learning. I took so many notes about the amazing progress people are making with the help of the Small Business Fund and the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans group (MAVISALO) there – it really was inspiring. But, in addition to that, it was also fascinating and special to stay with Canaan Gondwe, SIA SBF Coordinator, and his family for three nights.

Life in Manyamula is very different from what I am used to in Minnesota. Firstly, there is no electricity in Manyamula. When the sun goes down, around 6:30-7:00pm every night (they are not too far south of the equator), people sit in the dark or use candles or flashlights for light. The total lack of electricity means that the stars are absolutely amazing at night. They said that when there was a full moon you could walk to Mzimba (22km) just on the light of the moon!

There is also no plumbing. Canaan lived right next to a well borehole put in place by World Vision, so his family didn’t have to walk too far to get water. The women pump water before sun-up (and others do it throughout the day) and carry it to their houses on their heads. The water is treated with chlorine so it is safe to drink. Each family has an outhouse for using the latrine.

Each morning we got to take a bath with warm water, which always felt so refreshing and amazing. They heated up the water over an open fire in the back of the house then put it in a water basin with some cold water. There is a small cement room next to the cooking room where you can bathe and rinse.

Nsima, maize flour mixed with water, is the staple food and indeed we had it everyday for lunch and dinner. Boyd really took a liking to nsima! It’s served with chipies (French fried), relish dip (blended kale), soup (tomato, also for dipping), and some salad of cabbage and tomatoes. So, the meals are carbohydrate-heavy, but flavorful!

We had the good fortune of having fried chicken from the MAVISALO coop that was established with a SIA grant. One of the SBF groups we visited gave us groundnuts (peanuts) and Lilian, Canaan’s wife, roasted and salted them for us. Yum! There is no refrigeration so nothing can be stored for long once it has been cooked.

The custom is to eat with your hands so at the beginning of each meal there is a hand washing ritual where one person pours water from a pitcher over a basin for each person to wash their hands.

Saturday was a busy day of visiting the market and all the Small Business Fund and MAVISALO beneficiaries and their projects. People were so proud of their accomplishments and they all had visions for more expansion and greater food security, health, and prosperity. They were pleased that someone had come all the way from America to document their testimony and take a picture to share with more people in the US. I was happy to be there to do that – to listen, record, and encourage.

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