Sunday, 8 November 2009

A Long Journey.

Monday 2nd November: An early start. Tfac have facilitators delivering curriculum in five of Malawi's teacher training colleges and so today we headed out to support some of this work. Jack and Ryan went to check in with Dumisani and Flora in Kasunga - an hour and a half north of Lilongwe and the birthplace of the revered first President Hastings Bandu. I continued on with Gheneli and our driver also called Patrick for the long journey to Karonga almost on the Tanzanian border.

I met Gheneli and Dumisani on my last visit when they had just been recruited to take part in the initial Tfac training and now eighteen months on they both hold key roles within the organisation. Dumi is now in charge of delivering a year's worth of training at Kasunga, supported by Flora, who completed her initial training this spring.

Gheneli is now one of three senior monitoring officers responsible for overseeing the work both in Kasunga and looking after Daniel and Joesph, two more recent graduates, who are in charge of the day to day running in Karonga.

On the journey up Gheneli talked a little about how Tfac had really helped focus her activism, particularly in the field of gender assertiveness.

'I'm really interested in the young women we work with,' she said. 'I grew up in a village close to Karonga and although because my father had a University education and my mother was the daughter of a chief I had some respect, I always grew up believing women had to be submissive. That it was just the nature of things. Too many rural communities believe in superstition and initiation. On market days the boys would come and buy the girls they liked some small domestic thing - pots and pans for example. If you accepted, you were seen as the man's property. If you refused you were seen as not doing your duty, as being difficult and strange. It's difficult to break out of these kind of customs.'

'Are things improving?' I asked 'You have a job, an independent income, and a huge amount of respect within you organisation.'

'In the cities things are improving. We even have some ministers who are women now.'

'So everything is set for you to be the first woman president of Malawi?'

'President Gheneli....I like that. Give me twenty years!'

'Can I still be your driver?' asked Patrick laughing 'I want a nicer car!'

The road between Kasunga and Mzuzu took us past miles of deforested land. The result of a fairly brutal scorched earth policy by the Chinese industrialists, who are investing huge amounts into this part of the South. Whatever the plans to reinvigorate the Malawian economy, maintaining sustainable woodland doesn't seem to figure. It was an upsetting sight.

We stopped for lunch in Mzuzu and then took one of the most beautiful roads in Africa, high through the coffee plantation mountains and over into the rift valley of the great escarpment, where the land falls dramatically away down towards the mighty lake, sparkling cobalt under a powder blue sky. Stunning and breathtaking scenery as we descended slowly down to the shore. Dr Livingstone came this way and found enough glory to re settle his Mission here at the end of the nineteenth century, high enough to see the curvature of the earth.

It was nightfall by the time we arrived in Karonga to be met outside the petrol station by Dan and Joseph. They helped me check in to a beautiful little guest house, complete with a flickering TV that offered a two channel choice between Spanish football or African Big Brother (the Malawian contestant is, I read in a local newspaper, currently binging shame on the country through her brazen behaviour.) Neither channel proved much of a distraction and I was soon fast asleep.

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