Greetings from Lilongwe, Malawi,
News came through yesterday of confirmation of the expulsion of the British High Commissioner after a confidential document with some criticism of the president of Malawi was leaked to the press. The policeman at the roadblock on the road as we travelled to the north will not welcome the news, nor the Head of the secondary school we chatted to outside the school, nor the minister of one of the missionary churches. Each beat his chest and spoke of strong ties to Britain, the mother country.
This is a beautiful country after the rains- green , fresh and lush. Each house has its plot of maize even here in the capital city, Lilongwe ; on our journey we passed hills and valleys covered with cassava, sugar, rice, rubber trees and sunflowers. Unfortunately the maize and cassava, the staple food here, lack necessary vitamins with widespread malnutrition as a consequence. I met someone involved in nursery education, primarily as a means of feeding young children and Mary’s Meals is a major charity here-distributing meals at school to counter this problem. The critical issue is how to reach the under twos, whose mental and physical growth is often stunted by their particularly poor diet.
We have seen the graves and heard the stories of some of the brave young men and their families who heeded Livingstone’s call, many of them giving their lives to malaria, at an age younger than our sons. Then there are the poignant graves simply marked “baby” a life too short to name. Livingstone , himself ,lost his wife and at least one child to the fever.
Tobacco , grown by small and large scale farmers, is the main cash crop but this particular tobacco will be banned on the world market from next year.My friends and I have been debating what crop could replace the tobacco; not cotton, even though it grows here naturally and was seen as the potential liberator from slavery by missionary explorer David Livingstone in the mid 1850’s. He promoted a message of commerce and Christianity as the way to stop the terrible slave trading between local chiefs and Arabs from the coast. His hope was that If the chiefs had legitimate crops to sell then they would cease selling their own people and their captives on raids of neighbours.
This morning we visited a primary school on the edge of the city with over 8,000 pupils. There are insufficient classrooms so the buildings are used in two shifts and even then at least eight classes are held in the open air, a rough bamboo shelter protecting the children from the worst of the sun. Teachers use blackboards painted on the walls of the compound. The class sizes are enormous. We watched a numeracy lesson in which over two hundred 6 and 7 year olds sat crossed legged on the floor, as a dynamic teacher did a simple sum on the board. There was some interaction, but how much interaction can you have when the ratio is 200+ /1 No wonder the literacy rate is low. British aid is helping to build new classrooms;it would be a terrible shame if funding were cut because of the tension between the two countries. Yet again the poor would pay for the sins of a leader.
This afternoon I learnt helpful hints on what to do if you meet a hyena, or leopard or lion on your path! I hope I won’t have to test them when I go to the game park at the weekend. I am looking forward to the trip, though I suspect the huge variety of birds is giving me as much pleasure as the big animals will.