Sunday, 8 November 2009


Sunday 1st November: We were up early with the sun and the dawn chorus - which in Lilongwe includes birds, crickets, hyenas and an operatic call to prayer from the city's mosque - and off to the markets with Ryan as guide. We're in the last days of the dry season, the hottest time of the year and by 6am the town is in action.

As Mzungus (whites - or in our case sweaty lobster reds) we immediately stand out and the local traders see us coming a mile off.

'Brace yourselves!' advises Ryan and soon we're swamped by hard wood carvers, painters and artists who've recycled bottle tops, glass and rubber tubes to create their work.

'That was intense!' said Jack as we disengaged after about twenty minutes and head fro the fruit market - huge walls of cabbages, sweet onions, avocados the size of footballs and everywhere the staple food bananas.

We work our way through the semi permanent shacks to the river where enterprising builders have constructed a network of rickety bridges from discarded wood. Ryan asks Jack to pick the one that looks strongest, we pay our 10 Kwache toll (3p) and precariously cross.

On the other side are hardware stalls, shoes and radios we walk through and arrive at MADSOC - The Malawian Amateur Dramatic Society, where Tfac have been basing their workshops for the last year or so.

The building was originally built in 1961 for the Scouts and Guides of Nyasaland, and still retains a slightly colonial feel. It's main use before Tfac arrived was to put on an irregular programme of light entertainment by and for the ex-pat community. The walls of the bar area are replete with photo montages of The Wizard of Oz and various traditional pantomimes from the last forty years.

The white community has slowly changed since Malawi gained independence in 1964 and the English administrators and land owners, who delighted in dressing up and prating around a couple of times a year in remembrance of home, have been replaced by an international army of NGOs. MADSOC feels like a relic left standing long after the sun has set. It is, however, the only theatre in Lilongwe.

Patrick meets us here and completes our tour. A flexible performance area, with two slightly raised stages either end. A bar area, an outdoor workshop space, dressing rooms, technical storage, a green room and land aplenty to develop storytelling spaces or even an outdoor amphitheatre.

The plan is to buy the place - about £80,000 is needed and change it to the CTC (Community Theatre Centre.) Run by and for Tfac as a place to both workshop, but also to programme some of the exciting work that's now being developed alongside the training programmes. It would be a wonderful extension to the work

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