Some guy has been here for a month.


So I have officially been in Africa for over a month, and I have come to the realization that time indeed does fly. It honestly feels like I’ve been here for maybe two weeks, nevermind an entire month. As my placement continues to progress, I continue to meet new people and learn more about this amazing place I get to call home for the next two and a half months.The beauty of this country continues to amaze me. From all the beautiful trees to the amazing landscapes, it really is something to see. Since I’ve been here there has been nothing but clear skies, and it has been extremely hot. This is apparently the middle of their winter season, and it usually gets to about 30 degrees Celsius. My host family is a true Malawian family, being born and raised here and having never left the country. They were very surprised when I told them that we get down to around minus-30 or minus-40 in our winters back home. This fact has actually escalated to the point that whenever it gets somewhat cold here at night (around 5 or 10 degrees) and I put on a sweater, my host mother would say “Don! You’re not cold, you’re Canadian!”

As time goes by, I continue to learn more and more about the Malawian culture. First thing I’d like to talk about is nsima. Nsima is widely known as the staple food for many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is made from maize flour mixed with water. This is cooked in a pot, and then cut into portions and eaten with another complimenting food. There is a universal way of eating nsima, and it is safe to say that it is an acquired skill. First, you take a piece of nsima from your blob, and roll it into a ball with your hand (this process gets nsima all over your hand, and if you don’t wash it off in a timely manner it turns rock hard). Still holding the ball, you then pick up a portion of complimenting food, and eat it. Nsima is very bland, and generally requires the taste of another food to give it any taste whatsoever. A meal with my host family would look like this:

  • Nsima (or rice)
  • A complimenting food (beans, cabbage, other vegetables)
  • Usually some form of meat
  • Bananas (for dessert)

Adapting to the change in food was a process for me, but I can now say with confidence that I prefer nsima for my meals here in Malawi. I have even started helping my family prepare dinner. At this moment they don’t trust me with too much (they’re just avoiding burning the house down), but I have been making nsima with their charcoal stove. Basically what you do is you boil water, and add this maize flour as you go. By the end of it, the mixture is incredibly flipping thick. I have begun to incorporate making nsima into my weekly workout routines, as I am often sweating after the process (jk, I am in perfect shape).


Now, let’s shift away from food and my incredible physique for a while. There are a few things that I have noticed about Malawi that irritate me slightly. One of these things is the stares. I have come to the conclusion that I am the only white person in the entire Kasungu district, and with this fact comes a lot of eyes. Walking to work I get looked at by everyone I pass; not in a way that causes me to fear for my safety, but stared at nonetheless. While I do understand that it is rare to see a white person in a city not called Lilongwe in Malawi, it is something that causes a slight uncomfortability. There are people (say on my walk to work for instance) that are beginning to know me by name and recognize me, so that is a sign of progress. The next thing is the traffic infrastructure, or lack there of. Malawi has no street lamps, and very little traffic lights/stop signs: basically every interaction between vehicles is in the hands of the drivers’ discretion. In a country where walking is a major mode of transportation, traffic can be quite frightening. When cars are zooming by going 70 km/hr on a road weaving through lines of people, accidents become somewhat frequent (more frequent than Canada). Last week when I was in Lilongwe, we took a taxi to our friends’ house for dinner. On the way we got stuck in a traffic jam for around 20 minutes, not really knowing why. Before we knew it, we got to a four-way intersection, with backed up traffic coming from each direction. This intersection was an enormous mess, with people going through the intersection at their own discretion. It reminded me of the game “Unblock Me”, where you have to move other wooden blocks to get one singular block through an opening. Bottom line is the transportation systems here are very liberal.


The last thing I’d like to talk about is my work. A lot of the work I have been doing to this point has involved meetings. From DEC (District Executive Committee) meetings to DCT (District Coordination Team) meetings, I have been able to meet many interesting people, and I’ve been able to build an understanding of how different NGOs work and coordinate with one another within Kasungu. The project I am working on demands an understanding of these systems, and how different stakeholders interact with one another. A lot of the work depends with meeting with others, which depends heavily on their schedules. People are busy all the time, and to get anything done you really need to pursue what you need. Coming into this placement, I was constantly told “be prepared to not do as much as you’d like to.” Being the very ambitious person I am, I took that advice and blew it off; I’d be able to do anything, wouldn’t I? But that definitely is not the case. The work being done here by many of these NGOs are focused on short-term but innovative projects that allow them to monitor and evaluate the effect of these projects on the community. By finding what works effectively within these different sectors (water, hygiene, education, etc.), they are then able to scale-up or mobilize these projects to different districts. On a grand scale the impacts of the projects are often very low in terms of significance, because they often deal with complex problems. Seeing the work being done by these NGOs has been helping me understand how many different factors contribute to poverty, and how insignificant my work is in the grand scheme of things. I’m just a little minnow in the ocean of International Development. But all I can do is keep swimming, and hope for the best (dang that is poetic).

Here is a picture of my super cool host brother to wrap things up.


-DC, signing off!





Some guy is settling in nicely.


Now that I am completely settled in with my host family in Kasungu where I will be staying for the next 3 months, I figured it was about time to do another blog post. As I sit here on my bed on a beautiful Saturday morning, it can be quite tough to recollect all that has happened over the past while; but I will try my best.

After I arrived in Kasungu, my coach Macmillan took me to the Regional District Water Office where I will be spending my weekdays all summer. The first person I met was my host father Winkford Kalawinda, who is the Human Resources Manager at the office and one of the most friendly men you will meet in your entire life.  A man not much taller than 5 and a half feet, he immediately greeted me with a large smile and a huge hug. I’ll be honest and say that I was a bit surprised at how open he was at first, enthusiastically hugging some random 21 year old white kid he had just met. I also met the District Water Officer Charles Mwenda (the man I will be working the most closely with this summer), and several of the Water Monitoring Assistants. From there we went to the DC office, where we met some of the more formal government representatives. “This is my son from Canada!” became a very common phrase used by my host father Winkford, as we met more and more people. He immediately took pride in me choosing to stay with him, and I have to say I felt very comfortable with him from the very start. Later that afternoon, he took me home to meet the rest of his family. I could tell right away that Winford’s family was on the wealthy side of things, having a wall surrounding their beautiful house. Here is a picture:


I met his wife Estella, his daughter Kaylana (14 years old), his son Hamilton (21 years old), and his nephew Bright (8 years old). They are all very respectful and kind people, and I have no doubt that these 3 months are going to be an awesome experience living with them. 

Let’s talk a little bit about the work I will be doing. After becoming more acquainted with the office and the systems in which they work, I was very excited to get started on the project that I am working on this summer. Let’s start at the beginning. The organization that I am working for this summer, WASH Catalysts, has this program called the Tingathe Fellowship program. This program allows District Water Offices in Malawi to apply to the program with an innovative idea, and in turn WASH provides them with a thought partnership on how to leverage the available resources to be able to implement and sustain this innovative idea. So to break it down, the Kasungu district applied to be a part of the Tingathe Fellowship program with an idea, and they were admitted. By joining the Fellowship program, WASH has deployed me to work with the water office for the summer, hopefully helping them to reach their goal by the time they leave. The idea that the Kasungu District Water Office had was centred on the facilitation of a management shift of the area mechanics (the people who provide maintenance to boreholes) in a given district from a local NGO, to the local Area Development Committee, or ADC for short. At the moment the management of these area mechanics is operated by InterAide, who is an NGO focused on improving the systems within the water and sanitation sectors here in Malawi. Let me at this point describe what the management of the area mechanics entails. The area mechanics are individual hires that live across the district of Kasungu. They are hired and paid per job that they do, and are managed individually by InterAide. The management includes regular follow-ups, performance monitoring, and the follow-up of their relationships with the community. InterAide also manages the local spare parts shops, which are the main vendors for the area mechanics when certain parts are needed in different maintenance situations. The evaluation of the spare parts shops includes the review of their products in-stock, and the general management of the stores. I realize this is a lot of information, but just a little bit more to go. With all of this happening, there are health representatives currently in the district that collect water point data. This data can include the functionality rate of boreholes in different districts, and data on how quickly boreholes get fixed. With all of this information that I threw at you in mind, it is now our job to shift these management practices to the Area Development Committees. The ADCs are local committees made up of community leaders that focus on different developmental issues in their communities. By shifting the management to them, it will allow the data collected to be presented in a more transparent light, and allow the general public to have access to it. With InterAide as management, it is quite difficult for them to distribute all of the data to everyone; if the data is controlled by the local ADC, there are more points of contact between the ADCs and the general public, almost like decentralization if you will. Okay, the rant is over.

Now let’s get back to my family. One thing that really surprised me a bit about Malawi as a whole was how religious of a country it is. Approximately 98% of the country practices religion, with 68% being Christianity. When a learned that my host mother was Catholic and my host father was Presbyterian, I was happy. This would allow me to have access to religious communities similar to my church family at home. Since I’ve only been here a week, I’ve only been able to experience my host mother’s Catholic church to this point, and man was it ever an experience. Going into the church service, I expected it to maybe be 2 to 2 and a half hours max. But little did I know that it was Sabbath, and that I was very mistaken. There was one instance in the service when everyone began forming a line starting at the front. Absentmindedly, I decided to join the line thinking we were taking bread, or some kind of communion. When I got to the front, I see the offering box. In a new state of panic, I quickly fumble my wallet, proceeding to drop it on the floor, pick it up again, and drop it again. I eventually got an offering out, and was able to rid of the embarrassing situation. The first half of the service seemed quite routine in terms of Catholic services. From collecting offerings to taking the bread to singing songs to alternating from standing to kneeling, it followed what I expected to get out of the experience. But once the entire church made their way outside and began walking through the streets of Kasungu praising God and singing songs of worship, I was very surprised. We’d walk for about two blocks, and then stop and kneel and pray. This sequence occurred about three or four times before we were done. The walking and worshipping took about another two hours, but I really enjoyed the entire experience.


If i can take anything out of my first week in Kasungu, it’s to be patient. It will take time to get things started in my work, and it will take time to open up to my host family and really feel like a part of it. But at this point and time, I’m settling in very nicely and things look very promising.

-DC, signing off.