Sunday, 8 November 2009

Rolling with Royce

Thursday 5th November: An early morning suited and booted meeting with Dr Kayira the head of Education at Mzuzu University to see if there is any room for exchange programmes with St Mary's. The taxis heading up the hill away from the market are all 50 Kwache (15p) regardless of distance, but operate like buses, pulling in to let people in and out up to a rather squashed maximum of six or seven.

The campus itself is green and peaceful and although nowhere near as well equipped as our place it felt like a purposeful academic community. St Mary's works best on a vocational level. Subjects like Sports Science, Drama and Education bring in the most students and Mzuzu has a similar feel - albeit Environmental and Agricultural study take priority over creative and recreational industry.

Dr Kayira met me in his study and we talked for about an hour without really getting beyond positive intention. There are possibilities here, but I'm not clear on the outcome beyond the wonderful experience that coming to Malawi brings our students. It's a long way to come without a clearly defined, deliverable project. Still there is time to muse on this and Dr Kayira certainly seemed interested in hosting.

Back in the bus station I realised that I'd missed all the reputable companies shuttles back to Lilongwe. The only choice was to get on one of the owner operator buses. The only one available had a huge spiders web of a crack over most of the windscreen. I asked what time it was due to leave.

'When it's full!' answered the man in front of me boarding with two chickens in a basket.

About an hour later, with standing room only and a double mattress completely blocking the rear windscreen a local priest boarded the bus prayed for our safe delivery back in the capital, shook the driver's hand for luck and crossed himself as we shunted out onto the open road.

The man next to me had an oil pump in a plastic bag on his lap. He quickly introduced himself to me as Royce.

'I own my own bus company!' he announced proudly.

'Great!' I replied ' how many buses?'

'One!!!' he said laughing at my stupid question, 'but things are not so good just now. The pump has gone and I can only get it repaired in Lilongwe, that's why I'm travelling.'

We spent much of the six hour journey talking about everything from the impact of the World Cup in South Africa next summer, to irrigation, to the popular re-election of the progressive Dr Bingo, which seems to have brought added stability and no little hope for future development. Each year new technologies mean that fewer rural families are made vulnerable by seasonal famine.

'It's good you're here,' says Royce,' as we approach the suburbs. 'Malawi is full of business, survival teaches you enterprise, but we need more infrastructure. We have a wonderful lake, but no port. Beautiful scenery, but no tourism. So education is a key, not the only one, but without it nobody will take us seriously. So it's good you're here.'

We said goodbye in at the bus depot by Devil's Street Market. Shaking hands I wished him well and hoped he would find a good mechanic. He smiled and told me he knew England would win the World Cup. Then suddenly a huge thunder clap and the sky opened up for the first time since June. The rains had come.

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