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

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