Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Malawi #2 - The Daily Grind

Disclaimer: All photos were taken with a disposable film camera, so I apologise for the poor quality. I also apologise for my mediocre skills as a photographer and photo editor.

Many of you, I'm sure, will be familiar with 6am starts, which are never fun. You live for the weekends, right? I know. Unfortunately, weekends were pretty much the same. Those of you who are not familiar with 6am starts, I recommend you do not discover them whilst you are also sleeping on the ground in a different hemisphere with a new diet and weird medications and outside noises. However, there was no real choice in the matter - we had to get up with the sun and get on with things. I was working on base camp for most of the trip, so I had to help the team of young people on duty to make a vat of porridge every morning to feed the hungry masses. Breakfast was at 7, sharp. No excuses. Incredibly, we nearly always managed it too! I love porridge. Unfortunately, I can only make it for 60 people over a fire. I have no idea how much porridge you make for one person, or how to do it in a microwave.

Since we were a group of fully-invested, promise-keeping Scouts, we ran flag break every morning at quarter to 8 - usually in our casual uniforms, but full shirts and kilts on Sunday's and special occasions. It's kind of nice to have that sort of official start to the day. For me it marked the time where I started to feel like a human being again, and not a morning zombie. If we were lucky there'd be bagpipes!

Project work started at 8 o'clock (more on that in a different post) and the base camp team would go back to tidy up after breakfast, and send a small group off into town to go shopping, nearly every day. There was always bread to be bought, as well as meat, vegetables, eggs and so on, depending on the menu for the next few days. The young people planned most of the meals themselves - the leaders were there to be facilitators for the most part. The shopping party would take the van into Zomba to visit Metro and Shoprite, the Wonder Bakery, and the market. I wish I had photos to show you of this, but it can be considered rude and there was never a lot of spare time for tourism anyway.

Lunch was typically rolls, with corned beef, tinned luncheon meat, or egg mayonnaise, tomatoes, fruit and sometimes crisps. I developed an incredible taste for corned beef and tomato sandwiches, and I miss them probably even more than the porridge.

Dinner could be anything from macaroni cheese (a rarity - cheese costs a fortune), to chilli, to goat curry, to chicken and nsima. Some of what we achieved was quite impressive considering the ingredients and cooking facilities we had available, and that is entirely down to the hard work of the cook team each day. When you have a group of people who are living and working outside for a month, it's really important to keep them properly fed, and I was so proud of how well every team did, despite all the challenges we faced.

One of the most exciting things to cook was chicken. This is because the chickens arrived on site in all their feathered, clucking, flapping glory (that's how you know they're fresh - no fridges where there's no electricity!) and had to be corralled and stopped from escaping (you've seen Chicken Run, right?) until we were ready to take care of them. I'll spare you the graphic details. It's not something I did myself, and not something I enjoy talking about. I was OK with the plucking, and OK with taking the wings and legs and things off, but the rest was all just a bit much.

Nsima is a traditional Malawian food made of milled maize (much coarser than your average bag of cornflour) which would be cooked with water until it thickened into a substance which is hard to describe. It was similar in consistency to cookie dough, but looked like mashed potato, and which tasted of not-really-anything-at-all. You're supposed to roll it into a ball with your hands and dip it into a relish - made from vegetables, kidney beans, and/or meat if possible. The cooking process involves a lot of stirring - I did my best but I wasn't really strong enough, given how HUGE the pot was. Do excuse how awful I look in the photo. I had no idea I looked like that or I would have done something about it. I'm dirty and sunburnt and my hair needs a wash. But hey, there were no mirrors, and I have red hair so I can't help the sunburn, even with SPF 50+!

Dinner was usually served not long after it got dark, around half past 6, and after the washing up was all finished there might be a campfire, some ceilidh dancing, a disco or just the chance to sit around and chat or write diaries or play games. The disco equipment was rented from the nearest wee town with a night club - two enormous speakers and a box with twiddly knobs (that's the technical description) which was wired together just with lengths of insulated wire. I'm not sure it would pass a health and safety inspection but it got the job done, and they were loud as anything, it was quite incredible.

Despite all the routine, every day was different, and every day I learned something new about camp cooking, mass cooking, Malawian cooking, the people I was working with, or how to try and deal with some spectacular cooking disasters!

Love and hugs

Part 1 - The Epic Journey
Part 3 - Not Your Average Sunday Morning

Monday, 26 September 2011

Malawi #1 - The Epic Journey

Good afternoon dear reader! Today begins a series of posts about the incredible trip I took this summer to Malawi with a group of Scouts. I'm moving house soon (I told you that already!) and I figured it would be good to ensure some regular posting whilst I'm all tied up with that. So for the next 3 weeks or so, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you will be supplied with my over-long and somewhat tiresome dazzlingly funny stories about what I got up to in the warm heart of Africa.
*Note: I didn't actually manage to schedule the posts properly so they were not posted in order, but they will all be linked at the end of each post in the series, so you can still read them in sequence.

Disclaimer: All photos were taken on disposable film cameras. Therefore they are pretty crap. Unless they are ones which I nicked from people off Facebook, in which case they will be appropriately credited.

Our epic journey to Malawi began on Thursday 30th June, 2011. And you probably read epic and assumed I was exaggerating, but that wouldn't really be fair. For a start, there were 10 leaders and 34 young people (aged 15-18), 45 kit bags, 1 large plastic box, 1 guitar, and 14 enormous canvas tents. Well, we were going for 4 weeks, so we couldn't really help but have a whole heap of crap with us!

But yes, the epic journey began on Thursday, when we left Edinburgh on a coach at 7am (roughly!) to begin our first leg, on the motorway to Heathrow. So far, so blah. It was like getting the megabus, except you knew everyone, and you were allowed to wear your pajamas...

We arrived more than 9 hours later, at half past 4, queued for a very long time to check in, spent a very long time getting through security, and then spent a very long time waiting for our flight, which was around 9pm.

Our first flight was the red-eye to Addis Ababa, which took about 8 hours and arrived at 7am (5am UK time). So we were knackered, achey, travel sick, but excited. We weren't there yet but we were in AFRICA! Yuss!!

A few hours later we hopped on a shorter flight to Lilongwe, which is the capital city of Malawi. I sat between to lovely America missionaries and we started off having a conversation, but they'd been travelling as long as we had, and so all three of us fell asleep in about 20 minutes and barely woke up until we started our descent. THAT knackered people. So sleepy and disorientated that I, in fact, left my best ever jumper that my mum knitted me under the seat on the plane, and did not even realise until like 2 weeks later when I wanted to wash the other jumper I had with me that I had actually brought two jumpers with me out of Edinburgh. Well, what can I say, it's hot in Africa. You don't need jumpers that much! But yeah, I shed a few tears, I won't like. She is making me a new one though, because she's an official babe.

But yes, we arrived (less one jumper) in Lilongwe, and met up with some of our old Scout friends from my 2007 trip (more on that another time, perhaps) and some new ones, and hopped into another coach and to the Korea Garden Lodge. It was great. Nice clean rooms, and GREAT food, and a swimming pool which was FRICKIN' COLD! But good after all that hot sweaty travelling. One of the kids, who's pretty tall, decided to dive in across the ways (parallel with the short side) and zoomed across and hit his head off the wall. Idiot. He had this massive cut on his nose, and our resident nurse was out at the Scout HQ looking for a geocache *eyeroll* but we patched him up and he was fine really.

The next day (this is Saturday now - I was confused too) we were up early again and onto our trusty coach (they had to open the hatch to the engine to get the thing started!) We had to stop for diesel, police checks, toilet trips and all kinds, so we got the opportunity to oggle the locals through the window, and see the gorgeous scenery as well. These adorable kids were at one of the stops, and at another one, this teenage boy was trying to propose marriage to some of the girls through the window. I was amused.

Our final stop was in a place called Liwonde, which is right down to the south of Lake Malawi, where the Shire River and the main road cross over. We stopped for a juice, and we were hoping for something to eat, but the cafe didn't really have the capacity to feed all of us. But some helpful person told us there was a "supermarket" which was "just round the corner". Half an hour's walk later, we arrive at this miniature Cash and Carry - different from what you would get in the UK or the US I imagine - and just about managed to buy enough bread, bananas, peanut butter and pilchards to feed the crowd, as well as a whole stack of paper plates and some knives. After a lot of confusion due to a lack of phone contact, the bus eventually arrived to pick us up and so the grand sandwich adventure began. I don't know if you've ever tried to make sandwiches for a bus full of hungry teenagers, on a paper plate in your lap, on the bumpiest road known to man, where one of the kids is somewhat allergic to the peanut butter you're trying to feed to everyone else. I would recommend it. Although we were laughing at the time, probably to stop us crying...

An hour or so after that, about 4.30 or 5pm, I reckon, we eventually arrived at the Makwawa Scout Campsite. Huzzah! Fourteen hurriedly pitched tents, one massive pot of spaghetti bolognaise, and a check under the toilet seat for scorpions later and it was pretty much time for bed.

Love and hugs

Part 2 - The Daily Grind
Part 3 - Not Your Average Sunday Morning

Friday, 23 September 2011

Budding Interior Designer?

I had some time to kill on Friday morning so I spent about 45 minutes wandering around John Lewis, which is rapidly becoming my favourite thing to do. All the stuff in there, is gorgeous. And it's not like going to Harvey Nichols or anything, I figure one day I would probably be able to afford a new duvet set, a rug, a pair of curtains, cushions, photoframes, massive black and white photographs of models and actors and maybe even a sofa.

You see the thing is, and some of you will already know this, but I'm moving house soon. I've lived in this house we're in now for my whole entire life apart from two years while I was studying where I lived over in Newington, but those days are past now, and in the past they shall remain. Because ladies and gentlemen, dear reader, I'm moving up in the world. Literally, our flat is on the top floor. It's high. There are lots of stairs. It's also in Bruntsfield, which is just cooler than Newington in every way.

Perhaps when I have moved I shall show you some of the reasons why, but today's post is on interior design. Now, I'm pretty sure John Lewis would not be my friend if I went around taking photos of all of their stuff on my crappy camera phone, so I have done my best to find the things on their website - yay for professional quality photos!

Now the first things that caught my eye were some gorgeous patterned Persian rugs - really big ones because the new rooms are really big. But they were like more than £1000 and I'm not made of money. And what I really fancy is something with an incredibly thick pile that you can wriggle your toes into, because there's a fair chance of me ending up in a room with a hard wood floor, and if I only have a tiny bit of carpet, then it has to be the best carpet EVAR.

John Lewis Derry Rug, Dia.150cm, Lacquer
Dear reader, this rug truly fits that description. It comes in a lovely red wine colour, or taupe if you prefer neutrals. It's circular, although there's also a rectangular version which didn't float my boat so much. That pile must be, what, 2 inches thick? It's incredible. I want to marry this rug.

But then my loyalties were torn. I wandered up to the lighting department and found this bad boy.

John Lewis Jolie Table Lamp, Yellow
Now, not only does it come in yellow, which is the best shade (no pun intended) for a light, in my humble opinion, it also comes in bright pink, and bright green, which are the coolest. And some other less awesome colours, if you are a neutrals person (who are these neutrals people? Who wants a taupe rug and a beige lamp? You? WHY ARE YOU READING MY BLOG??? This is not a blog for any form of neutrality, lets be honest. I get too excited about things...) So I may be divorcing my rug, and marrying my lamp.

And then, having just yelled at all the neutrals people, I found an incredible sofa. Although it's huge, so I might just get the chair.

John Lewis Calanda Leather Chair, Chocolate
Yes it's brown, but it also came in cream. And this is chocolate, which I would hardly count as a neutral. Whatever, who cares what colour it is, look at those ARMS! They are the most gorgeous arms I've ever seen on a chair. My favourite way to sit in a comfy chair is not really to sit, but to curl up in a tiny ball, or stretch my legs way out over one side. None of the furniture we have at the moment makes this very comfortable - the arms are all too hard, and you have to find a cushion and it's just so much effort. Look at the arms on this baby. I tried it out in the shop. I didn't curl up but I did sit on it, and they are as soft and squashy and pillowy as anyone could ever wish. It's just a shame about the price tag. That'll be the one I'm saving up for.

Dear reader, if you ever felt like helping out a graduate in great lust of better furnishings, just let me know - I could set up a gift list...

Love and hugs

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My Second "First Class"

Bet you weren't expecting to hear from me again so soon eh?

Well, regardless, I'm back, with a post inspired by another adult ballet blogger, Dave Tries Ballet who also wrote about his second "first class".

I took my first ballet class waaaay back in January, did two terms of Classical Ballet Beginners and then had a hiatus for a couple of months while my ballet school was closed for the summer holidays and then the Edinburgh Festival. And now term has started again and I have moved up a class - I'm now an Improver, and not a Beginner. Although I still feel extremely beginnery. My teacher and I both noticed that I wasn't being fully challenged by the beginner level class towards the end of the last term. By no means was I perfect, or even that good, but my extra term had put me enough above the level of a lot of the others that I felt a wee bit out of place.

So now I've moved up and the class is much more challenging. We only did pirouttes en dehors (I don't know who thought those up but I'd dearly LOVE to give them a piece of my mind). If you don't know what's so bad about them, check this post here for my thoughts on my first encounter with the things.

Apart from that the rest of the class was all things I felt able to do, although many things I'm not that great at. Apart from balancing. I can't balance on the ball of either foot. I can barely balance on the whole of one foot when in arabesque. Or on the balls of both feet. Or just, like ever. That's probably why pirouette are so hard - because I wobble like a wind sock in a storm.

But I did spend the whole time smiling to myself. I'm just that glad to be back.

The other thing that's different about improvers is the class "style". In beginners, everyone was all about hiding bums and legs with skirts and shorts and joggers. In improvers, it's all leotards with slouchy t-shirts and no skirts.

All very Flashdance.

I also really want a pair of thigh high legwarmers. Probably because most of the girls I've seen wearing them are really skinny.
You can get them for less than £5. I'm SO tempted!

Love and hugs

Sunday, 18 September 2011

National Museum of Scotland

You will have noticed, dear reader (if any of you are still out there?) that regular blogging is not my forte. However, I have eventually returned with another offering.

Last week I took a trip to the National Museum of Scotland, recently reopened in my own fair city after a long refurbishment process. Anyone who visited the museum in the past will no doubt remember the fish pond? Alas, it has been removed. Perhaps all the fish were dying of copper poisoning... who knows.

But the refurbishment is great. I wish I'd had a better camera with me, although I still don't think it could capture the incredible space in the main gallery. It's a huge airy chamber with a glass roof, four floors high, with all of the display galleries branching off it. It's the kind of room I'd love to get married in - it feels like light and air, very uplifting. Like a cathedral but brighter.

So no pictures of that because I really couldn't do it justice, but one of the exhibits everyone's been talking about is the tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and indeed it's very impressive.

It's in the gallery which used to have (if I remember right) the skeleton of some enormous sea creature. But it's been so long since I went before the refurbishment that I don't really know for sure.

That gallery is also four stories high, but it's smaller, and the lighting is lower to preserve the taxidermies and things. And instead of that single massive creature that I only half remember, they now have a whole parade of watery creatures, including the ocean sunfish, with whom I made friends.

I also quite liked the painted stork - but you'll have to forgive the glassy reflections of my snazzy pink camera phone!

In the geology section, looking at how the Earth was formed and rocks from space and things, they had this enormous geode, full of purple crystals, which was formed by cooling lava. The bubble shapes cooled and solidified first, but the heat evaporated whatever solute was present, leaving these beauties to form on the inside of the shell. Incredible.

And the last thing that caught my eye was this slice of iron meteorite with "Widmanst├Ątten patterns" on it. They're formed by the presence of nickel-iron alloys which cool over MILLIONS of years to form these big visible crystals, which you can only see when you slice and polish an iron meteorite. And because it takes so long to form, we can't produce them in a lab and they are proof of the extraterrestrial nature of an object - they're like as old as the Earth's core.

The museum also has lots of exhibits of foreign cultures which didn't interest me nearly so much as the natural history, and also some sculptures, including Greek and Roman ones, up at the top of the main gallery, on the top floor, which I enjoyed because I've studied Classics and I knew what they were about.

The Chambers Street section of museum has displays of British and Scottish historical artefacts which I didn't look at on this trip but which are definitely worth a look.

In fact the whole place is is worth a look - set aside an afternoon, or a whole day if you want to read through everything in the place. There's something for everyone, wherever your museum-based interests might lie, and this is really only the tip of the iceberg.

Love and hugs