Mwaya Mondays – Volume 71

Love and Laughter in Malawi

This week’s blog is written by Megan Canning, RIPPLE Africa’s UK Projects Manager

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children perhaps—what can more the heart of man desire?” – Leo Tolstoy

Commanding a place in my heart for almost a third of my life, my time here in Malawi has largely been shaped by RIPPLE Africa and the community of Mwaya and surrounding villages for nearly a decade. From my earliest arrival as a young volunteer visiting Africa for the first time to my many follow-up trips as a slightly-less-young development worker, each visit has been shaped by people and places which have continued to challenge me and have left an impression on my heart. On this most recent trip I have been in Malawi for two months now, but sadly my time here is drawing to a close. I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on these past months for today’s blog entry.

As an employee of RIPPLE Africa, my trips to Malawi are usually constructed around project visitations, meetings with staff members, hosting donors, supporting volunteers, and getting reacquainted with what has been happening on the ground while I’ve been busy working from my home in the UK. This year in particular I was able to spend the month of February in our new Chintheche office, gain a better understanding of our new Fish Conservation Project which was launched just last year, and visit a number of communities participating in our Changu Changu Moto Project. I was able to spend quality work time with Charlie Knight, RIPPLE Africa’s new UK General Manager, who finished up his three-year stay in Malawi at the end of February before returning to the UK to head up the charity’s new Buckingham office. I have also been grateful that my stay has coincided with visits from a number of dedicated volunteers including Danish nurse Tine Westerdahl, English PE teacher Anna Mohan, English doctor Will Morgan, and the engaged doctor duo James Smith and Susie Worsley. The commitment of these dedicated people has made such a difference to RIPPLE Africa and to the surrounding communities here during my stay, and the companionship has also provided a positive emotional support for my own work during this time.

Unlike my previous visits, this trip has also been characterised by a month of intensive social research for my MSc dissertation in International Development. For the past two years, the flexible work environment with RIPPLE Africa has enabled me to pursue a part-time Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh and, during the month of March, I was able to take unpaid leave while I conducted original research on the gendered impact of private sector investment in Malawi’s sugar industry on the lives and livelihoods of workers and communities. This period has been one of the most enjoyable and challenging months I’ve spent here, and the opportunity to put into practice the development theory which has characterised much of my thoughts over the previous two years has been exceedingly rewarding. Due to the time I had already spent in Malawi over the years, I was able to approach my research with a strong understanding of life in this part of the country, but the practice of conducting in-depth interviews with over 40 sugar workers and 60 members of the surrounding communities not only deepened my knowledge of the economic and social processes underpinning my research topic, but additionally helped me to better analyse the cultural context in which I had been working for many years.

It hasn’t been all work! As a group we’ve enjoyed a number of special adventures, with a particular highlight being a visit from Joyce Banda to Kachere, which our donors and volunteers will know is a village very near to us where many of our healthcare volunteers regularly work. Charlie, Tine and myself counted ourselves lucky to have been included in a VIP box just a few feet from the key speakers and were treated to first class performances of both Malipenga and Chilimika dancing and festivities in the build-up to hearing the President speak. We’ve also had fun adventures – from crocodile spotting with Yona Kamanga and lunch with Dan Shaba and many others – to fun weekends away at neighbouring Kande Beach and Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay where we’ve been able to dance, relax and enjoy ourselves together.

Each visit here to Malawi has meant a different adventure; however, it’s the fantastic friends and utter contentment I feel when staying here at Mwaya that continues to makes this place so special to me. Many of RIPPLE Africa’s donors and volunteers comment on just how special a place this really is, and this feeling is even more powerful on return visits. Several of the friendships I have made here are some of the most important in my life; both bonds with volunteers with whom I’ve shared my time and especially with so many friends from here in Malawi who have shown me such kindness on so many occasions. It is these simple pleasures experienced while living here in Malawi that I believe makes the experience so special: the shared exchanges of love and laughter, the joy of seeing children who I’ve known for many years growing into young men and women, the possibility to be useful in helping my friends and to also allow myself to be helped, the madness of daily adventures which emerge unplanned, the delight of letting myself be vulnerable in participating in community life and language with my wonderful Malawian friends there to support my often ridiculous efforts, and even the shared grief when we have had to experience the terrible loss of of our friends here where this experience shared together, though difficult, is an important part of the love felt for those special people. It is this shared community which leads to love, fulfilment and happiness here at Mwaya. Add to this sleeping under the stars, swimming in the lake, rising with the sunshine, listening to the singing of children, giving in completely to the experience; this is happiness. It has been such an honour to share this part of my life with my friends and colleagues here over these past years, and this trip has been no less wonderful. I have loved my time with RIPPLE Africa where I have felt a part of something good which is providing so many positive things for the people here I love so much. Tawonga ukongwa to all my friends here at Mwaya Beach! It’s been another enjoyable adventure.

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