Malawi Life - Janelle's Perspective

I can’t believe I’m already halfway done with my stay here! I’ve gotten some questions about Malawian life, so I thought I would take a step back and explain a little about the typical lifestyle here in Madisi. I’m not an expert, but I hope my observations thus far can help enhance understanding about the surroundings the youth of RiseMalawi encounter.

Madisi is a small town about an hour’s drive north on the main M1 Malawian road from the capital city of Lilongwe.  It has a trading center with some shops and market vendors, but lacks a bank, which keeps it in the ‘less developed’ category according to local residents. Transportation around town and the surrounding village areas is by walking and bicycles. The only paved road is the M1, where there are mini-buses available to take you to other towns along the main road. There is a fairly large rural area surrounding Madisi from which people travel to school or the mission hospital here. So even though the leaders and I consider a weekend ride to the capital city Lilongwe as our trip “into town”, many consider trekking in from the villages to Madisi as their excursion “into town” for business and trading. Most houses are small and made of brick, with iron sheet or thatched roofs, some are wired for electricity while others are not (although rationing power outages average one 2 hr period per day). Some families cook over fire, others on hotplates or small electric stoves. Most households have a garden from which they feed their family and they also farm crops to sell such as maize and tobacco (interestingly- hardly anyone smokes here). Kids in the Rise program have walking school commutes ranging from 25-60 minutes. There is a mix of public primary schools and hybrid/charter-type schools.
The education system is quite different the US, and faces many challenges, so I hope to post a more detailed reflection in the near future that focuses on it. I’ll have lots to discuss with all my teacher family members and friends upon returning-so get ready!
It’s intriguing that many people, both Malawians and Americans, are curious about what is eaten in the other culture. I guess since it’s such a basic necessity and part of everyone’s daily routine, it can be fascinating to compare how others differ in this area. The staple food here is nsima, which is a soft grain dish made from maize or cassava flour. I’m told that learning how to make quality nsima is a sort of right of passage for children here (especially the girls, traditionally). I am still in the apprenticeship stage of learning how to prepare nsima, still requiring supervision and instructions.
The command is always, “too many lumps-keep stirring!” My goal is to cook it independently before I leave in a month and maybe even incorporate it into my American diet when I return! Vegetables and protein such as beans, eggs, or meat, depending on the family’s means, are served with the nsima and it is eaten with hands. The most traditional side dish in the villages actually also comes from the cassava plant by mashing and cooking the leaves. I love that there can be a resourceful and complete meal from using all the parts of one plant, although I also support the public health messages here to encourage variety in the diet to increase nutritional status. A more diluted porridge form is often eaten with sugar for breakfast, along with some locally grown tea. Other common foods include sweet potatoes, bananas, rice, and tomatoes.
Thanks for reading Malawian Life 101 :) In other news, we’ve had a productive week here, working with the CampLeaders and kids on their term 3 schoolwork as the weeks tick away and exams approach. I had two really good days at the hospital working alongside staff that helped me get more involved. Malaria, anemia, and pregnancy problems are the most common things seen. However, there is currently an outbreak of Measles in the region, so I’ve seen several cases of this and heard about the challenge of re-vaccination efforts by the government health department. I’m quite impressed with how the hospital functions considering the limited resources such as laboratory tests and imaging that are available. I’m also impressed at the dedicated support given by the family members of those admitted. The hospital does not provide any food, so someone must stay nearby and provide meals and other caretaking for the patients.
It seems that most things here usually get accomplished by communal rather than individual efforts, I love seeing and being a part of that!

Pictures:  Za and Tinashe hard at work in the RiseMalawi office, Regina and Veronica enjoying small group paint activity, and me enjoying a nsima meal.


Submitted by Mom on

Hey Janelle, I just love all your insights and feel like i am there with you. Why don't the hospitals provide food? I saw a similar thing on a DVD about Smile Train and the families had to bring their own food too. Is is about money? Keep up the good work :)

Submitted by Kelly- Little F... on

Very interesting to share daily life and especially food. Also interested in the traditional chitenje skirt--so pretty, will we get to see one?

Submitted by ros on

oh my, i have been offline for a while since my computer crashed but got it back today. all caught up now on all the goings on. glad ur learning and growing, its gonna be a long skype talk! glad to read that u now know how it feels to be the weird foreign one! lol my accent always drew interest in camden...... spit the skittle :-)