Sunday, March 25, 2007

Village Stay - Part 1: Chandiwe Village

Last week, from Monday to Friday, I stayed in a small village in central Malawi. I learned and experienced and incredible amount, so much that I don’t think I can fit it all into one post. As such, I will be posting my account of the village stay in multiple posts. I’m not sure how many yet, the plan is to type it all up and then see where it makes sense to break it up.

Chandiwe Village is located in the Dowa district, about a 45 minute walk from Madisi, a tiny little town on the main road heading north from Lilongwe. The bus from Lilongwe to Madisi takes about 45 minutes, passing through some beautiful country. Upon arriving in Madisi I call Heatherwick, a field worker from Total Land Care, one of EWB’s partner organisations. Heatherwick has set up my village stay. He picked the village, explained why I wanted to stay there, and set the expectations for the village stay. I have never met him, and don’t know what he told the village, so I am a little nervous.

The idea behind a village stay is to learn what life is like in rural Africa. Typically the people that EWB works with are rural farmers. EWB volunteers coming from Canada have little to no idea what life is like for a rural African farmer, and so a village stay is a great way to get a glimpse as to what this life is like. We can never fully understand, because no matter how long we stay in the village, we always have opportunity waiting for us. There is always a plane ticket home when we need/want it. The people in these villages don’t have that. With this in mind, I have set out from Lilongwe to get my first glimpse into rural life.

I am both excited and nervous. I stand by the road waiting for Heatherwick, knowing that the eyes of the entire town are on me. In Lilongwe a Muzungu is a common sight. That is not the case in Madisi. I am a rarity, and people are staring. After only a few minutes Heatherwick drives up on his motorbike. He is a warm nice man, who talks extremely fast. I have trouble understanding even his English. He straps my pack to his bike, I hop on, and we are off. We drive down the main road for about 10 minutes and then he pulls off and heads toward the maize fields. I can’t see the path until we are only a few feet from it, but Heatherwick knows where we are going.

The drive from the main road to the village takes about 10 minutes. Along the way we meet the Group Headman. This man is the chief of the 6 villages in the area, including the one I am staying at. I thank him for letting me stay, and we talk briefly, but he speaks very little English so Heatherwick does most of the talking.

As we pull into the village everyone comes to greet me. They are hesitant and shy. I find out afterward from Heatherwick that the village was very worried about me coming to stay. When he asked if I could come, they told him that they had no bed for me, they didn’t know what I would eat, and they didn’t know what I would do all day. When he told them that I would sleep on the floor like they do, that I would eat what they eat, and that I wanted to work all day, they were incredulous. I don’t know it at the time, but I will have to prove myself.

Chandiwe village is quite spread out. I don’t know the exact population, but Heatherwick thinks that there are 58 households in the village. Maize is grown throughout the entire area, in large fields and in small patches. The maize crop belongs to the village, not to anyone in particular. It appears as though everyone helps with planting, tending to and harvesting the maize, and I think the harvest and associated profits are distributed evenly throughout the village. Each household however has its own garden, which they tend to themselves. In the gardens they grow a variety of crops, including groundnuts (peanuts), cassava, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes pumpkins, rice, tobacco (this is a big cash crop in Malawi), and various other plants, depending on the season. Right now the maize is nearing harvest, and sometime in the next few weeks everyone will be out in the fields working.

It is Monday. My goal for the next 5 days is to work alongside the villagers, to do what they do, to eat what they eat. I know that communicating will be difficult, I know that the work will not be easy, but I am excited none-the-less. I hope to work on my Chichewa, the local language. This will not be the language that I will speak when I reach my placement in Zambia, but it is commonly used around Malawi and parts of Central Zambia, so it is still very useful.

After making sure I am settled Heatherwick hops on his motorbike and drives away. As the sound of his bikes fades I look around me. The scenery here is beautiful. From where I am standing I can only see a few buildings and the rest is trees and fields. In front of me there are about 20 children just sitting and staring at me. They are waiting for the muzungu to say something, to do something. I am both excited and uncomfortable. Two thoughts race through my head at the same time: “I am finally in a village, this is awesome!” and “What have I done, how will I last a week here, I don't know anything!”


Chris said...

Hey Brother!
Looks very cool. I am sure it was a little daunting and very cool at the same time. That first day must have been filled with great anticipatoin.

Look forward to hearing about more abou the rest of you week in the village.

Justin said...


Great post. You have left us hanging. How's the visa situation coming along?


Kathy said...


More, more...I want to know more! :o) I can't wait until you can post the next installment! Love you!

L said...


Outstanding.... absolutely.... I had to catch my breath after reading... and I can only imagine the emotions you must be feeling...

I can read in your posts how your perspectives are changing, am I wrong? You are seeing yourself as how the locals must see you? I'm fascinated... we continue to pray for you... I've been staring at the area on Google's satellite images... not sure what I'm expecting to see though... I zoomed in really close but I still can't see your pink face (ha ha) but I'll keep trying...
Don't forget God's guidance and leading will find you wherever you are so long as you remain open... take care...

AsHLeY.r. said...


You rock - you rock - you rock! Your posts are so amazingly well-written, I feel like we're chatting real-time :D

Everytime I hear from you I think I start to understand things better...that is until I read your next post that provides even more insight and shows me how little I knew before! (and then the next post and then the next....neverending education!)

I am learning so much from your thoughts and stories, I can even imagine how overwhelming it must all be experiencing it first-hand. I agree with everyone else...keep 'em coming!

Miss ya!

Anonymous said...

I would love to know how Heatherwick got his name I was wondering if it was from the missionery Dr Alexander Hetherwick who worked closely with Dr Livingston in Malawi.