Mwaya Mondays – Vol. 77

This week’s blog is written by RIPPLE Africa healthcare volunteer Vicky Peacock.

As a newly arrived healthcare volunteer at the beginning of June, I was excited to hear about the new women’s health club that had been set up just the week before by Susie, the outgoing female healthcare volunteer. She was naturally keen that the group continue, and I was more than happy to take over the reins. We now have an active group of seven women, led by Esther (manager of Lowani Beach where the group meets) who also plays a key role as translator. They were keen that some of the weekly meetings concentrate on health topics covered in teaching sessions given by me, but also that we alternated with crafts sessions so that they were able to make use of and show off their considerable skills in this area. Needless to say, there was much laughing when I confessed to being entirely unable to sew in a straight line and that even a button would be a challenge. For the women themselves, it was important that they have the opportunity to take part in an activity that was separate from those related to their husbands.

Initially the craft weeks involved discussing our plans to sell items made from chitenje material to volunteers, visitors to Lowani, and local villagers. I made the decision to purchase three 4m by 2m chitenjes which the ladies have expertly made into bags and skirts. Happily, the students visiting from Aldenham School were keen to buy our wares and, up to now, we have made over 10,000 kwacha in profit. The task now will be to keep this up, particularly during gaps between volunteers. The women have shown themselves to be admirably business-minded but, given the challenges of purchasing materials locally, I hope that their enthusiasm does not drop off. They have grand plans ahead and suggestions mooted so far include making T-shirts with the words “Women’s Health Club” on the back, as well as the ambitious notion of kitting out all of the local primary school children in uniforms!

The health sessions given up to now have concentrated on healthy living and hygiene, basic first aid as well as simple initial management of common complaints before they can get to a health centre, if appropriate. After some initial uncertainty, the questions came flowing and it has given me great pride and joy to feel that I have been of benefit to the local community. Much as the women are enthusiastic, there will certainly be challenges ahead – not least that of maintaining weekly meetings when there are no volunteers present at Mwaya. There is, of course, the tricky concept of balancing the difference between “mzungu” and “Malawi time”, and it is fair to say that all of our meetings have started late but usually just about within the hour that they are supposed to!

At times, it has been tricky for me to be relying so heavily on one other person, namely Esther, in her role as co-organiser and translator. It is crucial that I listen carefully to the conversation around me – to pick up any potential issues – even when I do not understand any of it apart from “awa” (“no”)! I really wanted to ensure that all the women had the opportunity to give their opinions about any number of things, from the colour of chitenje material to how much money they thought we ought to spend on buttons. It would be easy for Esther and I to decide everything together but that would defeat the purpose of a community group.

I sincerely hope that the group continues in one form or other and that any future female volunteers are keen to take over. It has been a wonderful way to immerse myself in the community, and I know that the women are very grateful for any small effort put in.

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Happy 50th Anniversary to the People of Malawi

RIPPLE Africa sends its best wishes to the people of Malawi on the occasion of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, and the charity looks forward to continuing its work with the local communities in Nkhata Bay District.

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The Body Shop Foundation Supports RIPPLE Africa’s Fish Conservation Project

We are thrilled to announce that The Body Shop Foundation is supporting RIPPLE Africa’s fish conservation project for the next two years through its Global Grants Programme. The following paragraph was written about this project in the Foundation’s announcement of this year’s round of grants awards:

“RIPPLE Africa works to confront some of Malawi’s most difficult challenges, running multiple programmes and projects in the areas of education, healthcare and the environment. Our monies were awarded towards their project on fish conservation, working with fisheries, communities and authorities to reduce the rapidly decreasing fish population in Lake Malawi.”

Watch the video below about RIPPLE Africa’s fish conservation project supported by The Body Shop Foundation, and click here to read about The Foundation’s Global Grants Round: May 2014.

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Emirates Supports RIPPLE Africa’s Changu Changu Moto Project

RIPPLE Africa was one of three successful projects selected from 400 applicants by the international airline, Emirates, as one of the beneficiaries of its environmental initiative, “A Greener Tomorrow”.

Watch the video below about RIPPLE Africa’s fuel-efficient cookstove project which Emirates has released on its website, and click here to read about Emirates’ “A Greener Tomorrow” environmental initiative.

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Walking 100km for RIPPLE Africa

Kate Rollings and two friends took part in the London2Brighton Challenge on 24/25 May 2014, walking 100km through the night from London to Brighton. Kate raised over £1,500 for RIPPLE Africa’s fuel-efficient cookstove project, and this is what she wrote about her experience:

“It was certainly a CRAZY challenge to say the least!! Weather was a mixture but it was a great experience – the hardest thing I’ve ever done, by far! I’m just so over-the-moon at the support we received – people have been unbelievably generous, and it has certainly inspired me to do something like this again. I’ve never seen so many blisters – my team-mates’ feet were a real sight at the end of the race. After 29 long hours of walking, I went straight home to bed and slept for 14 hours solidly! I was aiming to raise enough for 100 cookstoves – but am delighted we’ve raised enough now for almost 160!!!”


We’re halfway there! Kate (left) with Bex and Jennifer


Only 25km to go!


We’ve done it!

Well done, Kate, for an incredible effort and for raising so much money for the cookstove project!

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 76

This week’s blog is the third one to be written by RIPPLE volunteer, Anna Mohan.

I can’t believe that it’s June already, and I have been in Malawi almost 10 months; time really has flown by. My blog this week will try to give you a flavour of what we, as volunteers, have been up to recently, as well as some of the things that I have been doing myself.

In mid May, Will, Susie, Jim and I decided to explore a bit more of Malawi, and we organised a trip to Nyika National Park up in the north of Malawi. This is a huge expanse of wild landscape and very beautiful. We started out early on the Thursday morning, catching a minibus up to the Nkhata Bay road-block where our team of guides picked us up, and we started the journey up north, through Mzuzu, then Rumphi and onto the park itself. The drive through the park was a little bit bumpy as we made our way up to the plateau, and we were all on the lookout for wildlife. The plateau itself is a lot cooler than the lakeshore due to the altitude, and it is teeming with wildlife, such as zebras, impalas, roan antelope and bush pigs.

The plan for the trip was to wake up early Friday morning and go for a game drive up to the start of the walk which, over three days, would eventually lead us to the elevated town of Livingstonia. This is the town where David Livingstone set up a mission when he arrived in Malawi all those years ago. So, with the goal in mind, we started out walking up and down a lot of hills and through beautiful landscape that did actually remind us of the rolling hills in the UK. Our first night camping was in a tiny spot at the bottom of a little valley with a gorgeous view out over the hills…it even had a sitting down toilet (long drop with a box and toilet seat on the top!) with an amazing view out over the hills…a novel experience.

On the second day, we had a big descent down into our second night camping spot by the side of the river; it was a hard day’s walk and all the walking downhill took its toll on our tired legs, but we arrived in good spirits and a swim in the very cold water of the river refreshed us. The last day’s walk was the longest one up to the town of Livingstonia; it was a big ascent, but we made good time and made our way to Lukwe Lodge, an upmarket lodge with an amazing view over the national park, which we enjoyed with a few well-deserved drinks.

Talking with the owner of the lodge, he asked us where we had come from and what we had been doing, and we told him about our 45km walk that we had completed, to which he informed us that it was most defiantly not 45km and was more like 75km!!! No wonder we were completely shattered!!! It was a fantastic experience and was definitely more of a challenge than we had perhaps bargained for…I think the sore legs and blistered feet were the big give away! So we arrived back to Mwaya, hobbling around as if we were 90 year olds, but a good sleep sorted us out and we were back to normal within a couple of days!!

In terms of the volunteer work that I have been doing, I’m still going to Kapanda teaching PE and have just introduced the students to handball which they have loved. The Form 2s and Form 4s are working hard as their JCE and MSCE exams are looming very soon, and plans for the 2014 Form 4 Graduation on 28th June are underway so it’s a busy time ahead for the Kapanda students.

We have recently started a girls’ CAMFED Friday group which is a government campaign for girls education to try to encourage the girls to stay in school and to give them an opportunity to raise their confidence and awareness of the importance of education. It is a tough life for a young woman in Malawi; all of the household chores are a woman’s responsibility here – collecting firewood and water, looking after the children, cooking, buying food, cultivating the garden…and the list goes on! To try to fit in school and studying around these roles is quite a challenge, and I admire these girls very much. The girls have been composing poems and songs as well as performing dramas and dialogues in order to promote the importance for girls to stay in education.

I have continued to go up to Chiomba Primary School to teach the Standard 7 class every Wednesday. Last week, we had a cooking practical lesson learning how to cook mandazis (Malawian doughnuts). The students do not get much of an opportunity to take part in practical lessons purely because of a lack of resources and funding, so I have tried to plan as many practically based lessons as I can as the students love them. The mandazis even tasted pretty good, even if I do say so myself.

Life at Mwaya is going well; the staff are on top form and ever ready with a smile and a laugh to brighten up each day. In fact, thinking about the prospect of going home soon, I know it will definitely be one of the main things I will miss … I would love to put them all in my suitcase and take them home with me but I’m not sure how they will survive with the lack of sunshine and no nsima though!

In the month of June, we have a busy time ahead; we said goodbye to Geoff and Toby on 1st June and then a hello to Vicky on 2nd June. Susie, Jim and Will only have one more week left before they say goodbye as well. Towards the end of the month, Charlie heads back out, as well as a visit from the Aldenham students and my sister, so exciting and busy times ahead.

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News of Previous RIPPLE Africa Volunteers

Spring is in the air! Congratulations to three previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers on the safe arrival of their babies.

Jo Fletcher

First to arrive was Reuben James Fletcher on 2 May to Jo Fletcher and her husband Jason. Jo writes:

“Reuben has already grown out of newborn clothes as he is a real hungry hippo, and is of course our pride and joy. Reuben was born at 2:23am on Friday 2nd May; we were hoping for a home delivery and laboured at home for 24 hours until there were complications and we had to go into hospital. Eventually he was safely delivered by emergency section. I’m very thankful for the health services we have here in Britain and am aware that a birth like ours would have been very dangerous, probably life threatening, in resource deprived Malawi. I definitely couldn’t have tolerated a bicycle ambulance – the vehicle was bad enough!”

Marc and Rachael Hempling

The next arrival was Rose Aurelia Hempling on 15 May to Rachael and Marc Hempling. Rachael writes:

“Rose was a teeny 2.81kg (or 6 pounds 2 ounces). She’s happy and healthy and gaining weight like crazy. The boys are so proud of their little sister. Harry is really gentle and Leo just tries to poke her. But that’s being affectionate in his own way! We’re all good here, despite our crazy household with three children under 3 years and 1 month! Nothing like a challenge!”

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 75

This week’s blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer, James (Jim) Smith

Well, thanks to Will and Susie for setting up the story so far and explaining in quite some detail about the medical aspect of life out here with RIPPLE Africa! In this blog, I was hoping to give a bit of a brief update about the fishing conservation project and what has been achieved in recent weeks.

Let me first start by saying that, for me, the week got off to a rocky start. On a routine cycle back from Kande Beach, I got a dragged into a bit of a cycle drag race with two teenagers. I was almost certainly winning until my chain decided to come off. Now at slow speeds this might have been OK but, unfortunately for me, we’d built up a bit of speed on the downhill segment of our own personal ‘Tour de Kande’. I’ll leave out most of the gory details but after a fall at high speed onto tarmac (that was not built for comfort!), I ended up with a few holes in both feet and a broken pair of flip-flops … and little toe!! Thanks to Susie’s meticulous wound care, I’m now back on the bike (so no need to worry, mum!!) and training for my next race.

As a keen angler back in England, I had always been interested in RIPPLE Africa’s fish conservation project and, before we flew out, it was certainly something I was keen to become involved with. We all know about declining fish stocks around the world and, thanks to the highly successful Fish Fight campaign, pioneered by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, they are steadily improving in the shores around Britain and further afield. But what about the fish of Lake Malawi? Stocks have been declining rapidly over the last few years due to over-fishing, and the Malawian Fisheries Department has been powerless to halt the decline due to chronic underfunding.

My first exposure to the fish conservation project was at RIPPLE Africa’s office in Chintheche a couple of weeks ago. Susie and I hitched a lift with Geoff and spent the day sitting in on a highly productive meeting. The Nkhata Bay District Fisheries Officer and his deputy were both present, as well as a couple of enforcement officers and, of course, Geoff and Force from RIPPLE. The day was long but, at the end of hours of encouraging conversation, the basics of the project such as target species, closed seasons, and accepted net types, sizes and lengths were well on their way to being decided.

A brief guide to the fish and nets employed in Lake Malawi, and more specifically Nkhata Bay District. From smallest to largest, the main fish caught here are usipa, utaka, mayera, and chambo. The nets currently employed range from 0.5’’ to 5’’ with two main types of net: chilamera and gillnet. These nets are employed from dugout canoes, apart from the chilamera which is used to catch usipa and is normally cast from a larger boat. Currently, any fish at any stage of life is caught and this includes chambo young in mosquito nets (despite this already being illegal in the whole of Malawi!!). There is a still a lot to do but RIPPLE Africa is well on the way to getting it done.


Usipa chilamera net


Usipa boat

Between Monday and Thursday, I busied myself in the clinics and at Kapanda Secondary School, where I held a thoroughly enjoyable Biology revision session (the teenagers here really are fantastic and so keen to learn). On Friday, however, I had my first experience of the fish conservation project in action in the communities. The morning was spent at Mwaya Beach with the District Fisheries Officer and some of his colleagues, setting out the finer details of the project and making sure everyone was “singing from the same hymn sheet”. Following lunch, we set off for the mouth of the Katenthere river, a modest fishing village. Here, as well as encountering tens of excited children, we caught our first glimpse of the chambo young and the fishermen who protect them. We were introduced to the Conservation Committee who proudly showed us around their chambo breeding area and demonstrated how they fed the young fish on a strict diet of nsima and cassava. The District Fisheries Officer was delighted with the progress and even more impressed with the children who, when asked for a mosquito net, confirmed that it was illegal to fish with one as the fish needed to grow to adults before they could be caught.


Susie with children at Katenthere


Youths at Katenthere mending nets in dugout

After Katenthere, we went a little further down the shore of the lake to Chiwana fishing village. This is really the poster child of the RIPPLE Africa fish conservation project and the benefit is unmistakable. In this idyllic setting, the fishermen sat around mending their nets sheltered from the midday sun under grass-covered shelters. They possessed a certain visible contentment that was enough to convince anyone that this project was working. They reported increasing fish catches and size despite using only the bigger nets (4”-5’’) and seemed keen to progress the project further. It was a truly refreshing experience, and I was even shown how to mend a net, which is a lot harder than they make it look!


Mending nets at Chiwana

Unfortunately, on Saturday morning, we experienced first hand the ongoing damaging fish practices of some of the locals. We caught four boys fishing with mosquito nets at the beach next to ours. Despite some of the other villagers protesting, they would not stop and it was only when a few of us went across that they finally stopped fishing. One of the boys was a serial offender, and he was subsequently reported to the local village chief and will likely receive the mandatory K20,000 (£30) fine.


The ongoing problem, fishing with mosquito nets

Early tomorrow morning, we are heading back to Chiwana to meet the returning fisherman with their catch, and we hope to see some impressive chambo. The future of the chambo is certainly in the balance but, from what I’ve seen, the scales are definitely tipping in their favour!!

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 74

This week’s blog is written by RIPPLE Africa healthcare volunteer, Susie Worsley

Hello from Malawi, and from the second of three healthcare volunteers currently working with RIPPLE Africa. After two years of the NHS and the fairly intense ‘foundation year’ training, I decided to take a year out to allow me to decide where I wanted my career to lead and to explore medicine in what is evidently a challenging and resource poor environment. Malawi it was!

With no idea what to expect, I was thrilled to arrive at Mwaya – a stunning lakeside retreat with the friendliest staff. Having struggled to speak even the most basic Chitonga for the first few weeks, their patience and repeated efforts to engage me have finally paid off and enable me to scrape by with an impressive four stock phrases – there is work to be done but hopefully I’m no longer being inadvertently offensive.

As Will described, there is a lot for us to be involved in out here. After our community introduction’s, we were whisked off to meet ‘King Albert’, the rather formidable ‘District Health Officer’ for the whole region and were invited/informed that we would be spending some time in the District Hospital in Nkhata Bay. At just over an hour’s drive away (depending on the state of the minibus), Nkhata Bay is a busy lakeside town that attracts its fair share of tourists due to its dive school, good hostels and transport link on the infamous ‘Ilala’ ferry. The hospital is large – equipped with a theatre, X-ray and ultrasound facilities, an outpatients department (complete with psychiatry, dentistry, dermatology, and wound dressings), a laboratory, and lots of wards. It is the central referral hub for the region, and here we would learn what we needed to be of better use in the community.


Welcome to Nkhata Bay Hospital

Having been keen to stay put in the community clinics, I have to admit it was a great experience. Jim was immediately taken under Albert’s almightily large wing as his ‘foot soldier’ and was whisked off on ward rounds, quizzed on anatomy and surgical procedures before being sent to theatre in a pair of oversized pink scrubs and welly boots . Despite the crushing emasculation, he was able to operate with the clinical officers, whilst collecting data to help design a new checklist to improve surgical safety.


The reason GPs don’t go to theatre

Will and I had a slightly more conspicuous start to our time (as two GP trainees of the future, we were less targeted with the torrent of questions) and instead busied ourselves in the outpatients department. The clinical officers did a good job of getting through huge numbers of patients without stress or bad temper – something I marvelled at after my own experiences of breaking into a nervous sweat after overrunning by five minutes. Everything from malaria to skin rashes, headaches, contraceptive issues, back pain, and genital ulcers came through the door, and just kept on coming.


Outpatients department after the Easter weekend

The DHO was keen for us to spend some time observing the weekly diabetes and hypertension clinic – as he pointed out, overseas healthcare funding mainly focuses on HIV, malaria, TB, and malnourishment. Whilst these are undeniably large problems, there are huge numbers of people with non-commmunicable chronic conditions who go under the radar. With lack of funding comes lack of resources and education, resulting in poor management of these conditions and unnecessary deaths. I won’t bore everyone further, but the outcome of our observations will be taken back to Nkhata Bay in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, a few laminated posters to aid with patient education, and a new stamp to use in the notes in these clinics … and cake, the universal requirement for any successful meeting! It is a small contribution but, hopefully, something that can make a difference to the way these conditions are monitored and treated.

The nice thing about working with the clinical officers is that you work as a team – two minds are better than one. I enjoy being useful, and I felt useful. I learned heaps about things you’d never see in the UK, and the staff were keen to show us everything they could. There was also the huge perk of going back to stay at ‘Mayoka Village’ – highly recommended for a bit of a holiday feel! An interesting transformation from medic to vet also occurred … one dog owned by Steve and his partner (who also happen to run a great bar/restaurant) was unwell and needed antibiotics – cue lots of running around after a stressed dog with a duvet, bent needles, and narrowly avoided bites. This spectacle prompted some nearby Dutch ex-pats to enquire whether we also provided rabies vaccinations for puppies. This went only moderately better and also earned us an amazing free lunch at their lakeside home all under the watchful eye of one very angry puppy. Just your average week it seems …

So, back at Mwaya there have been several changes to our group as you’ve heard. Megan is still missed by all of us, and we’ve also just said ‘farewell’ to Anna’s dad, Tom, who set off from Kande on one of the overland trucks this weekend. Geoff is busily spending his time overseeing the ongoing RIPPLE Africa projects (Changu Changu Motos and the fishing project mainly), and we’ve been able to attend some of these meetings to explore more of what RIPPLE Africa is doing out here (more from Jim about this next Monday). Our evenings have been increasingly civilised since the arrival of Geoff – less poker playing with beans and more cheese and port evenings! We have enjoyed the company of Laura (ex-volunteer) and her boyfriend Patrick, and in their honour we spent an amazing evening on the beach with a performance from the local choir which really was incredible, and somehow descended into a Malawian style dance off. We’ve also had an evening of pizza gluttony at Ngala Beach Lodge – a fancy resort about an hour south of Mwaya complete with beach bar and infinity pool (slightly surprising out here!)


Sunset by the lake

The most exciting additions to our group are the three kittens – Chip, Buddy, and Midge. Having started with seven, there have been a few, ahem, casualties. To say I’m obsessed with them would be an understatement, and I’m currently researching ways of smuggling them home with me. There are also two other kittens who have lived in the roof space above the office, and, whilst being obscenely cute looking, they are savages who have learnt to hiss and spit. I may need to hone my cat whispering skills before I tackle the terrible two.


Feeding time at the zoo

Highlights of the week continue to be our daily cycling trips to and from clinic, picking up local food from the markets, ‘bottoming out’ Geoff’s 4×4 in front of a crowd of about 20 but triumphing after a filthy hour or so, being chased by children who all want to know your name and where you’re from, chasing a monitor lizard around the chalets, learning to scuba dive at Kande Island, and the sunsets/sunrises over the huge lake.


‘Bottomed out’


Kande Beach

It is picture postcard beautiful here, and the Malawians are some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have come across. I will stop here as I have a tendency to write far too much and bore everyone to tears, so ‘tawonga’ from Malawi and I’ll hand over to Jim!

Don’t forget to come back next week and read Jim’s blog.

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Mwaya Mondays – Volume 73

This week’s blog is written by Will Morgan, a RIPPLE Africa volunteer

‘Timoneni’ or ‘greetings’ from Malawi!

Although hard to believe as time has rocketed by, I have now been at Mwaya for six weeks. With a background in healthcare in the UK, I thought I’d write about my experiences of being a healthcare volunteer with RIPPLE Africa in Malawi.

Following a fascinating introduction to tropical medicine and the Malawian health service at the Nkhata Bay District Hospital (see James and Susie’s blog next week), I have been based at the Kande and Kachere Rural Health Centres. Each Health Centre has a consultation room and a rudimentary delivery suite/ward and has a catchment area of approximately 20,000 people. Clinics are phenomenally busy with in excess of 150 patients attending each Health Centre every day to see either the Medical Assistant or nurse. In addition to oral medications, and depending on availability, intravenous drugs and/or fluids are available for particularly unwell patients who may need either a period of observation or transfer to a larger health facility. The Health Centres also host malnutrition/feeding clinics, under 5s clinics and anti-retroviral therapy clinics.


Welcome to Kachere Health Centre


Kachere Health Centre delivery suite/ward

Of the many conditions seen at the Health Centres, malaria stands out because of its extremely high incidence. Using the Malaria Rapid Detection Test (a pinprick test that looks similar to a pregnancy test), somewhere in the region of 70% of patients who attend clinic test positive for malaria. While this statistic may seem shocking, it demonstrates that the local population is generally well educated with respect to the myriad of presenting symptoms of malaria. This means that while primary prevention schemes aimed at reducing the transmission of malaria continue (for example the distribution of mosquito nets), those who do fall ill can now usually receive effective treatment before major complications develop.


Malaria testing in a packed waiting room

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to spend time with the Medical Assistants and nurses in this small corner of Malawi. They have taught me a great deal and through discussion of cases, I hope that they too have learnt something from me. Working in often challenging conditions and with very limited resources, they provide a truly remarkable service. The experience has been humbling and has certainly put working life in the NHS into perspective.

My time spent at Mwaya has not all been hard work and we are coming the end of another fantastic weekend. We have been joined by Geoff (the founder of RIPPLE Africa) and Tom (Anna’s father) who have produced a remarkable number of consumable goodies from their luggage. On Saturday evening we enjoyed an after dinner cheese board which was complemented wonderfully by a drop of port. As if it couldn’t get any better, and following an exhilarating swim in Lake Malawi at sunrise this morning, we sat down to a delicious cooked breakfast on the beach complete with bacon!


Cheese and port!


A hearty breakfast!

As I write, the sun is setting over Mwaya Beach which is now bathed in a wonderful golden light. It is my absolute favourite time of day and if I look out over shimmering Lake Malawi, I can just about make out the mountainous silhouette of Mozambique on the horizon. It really is a very special place.


Sunset at Mwaya Beach

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