Warming up to Malawi

Moving to Malawi has taught me a number of things about myself. I had no idea how much of a home body I am and how much I need to have my ‘shit’ together!

The Shire river

The Shire River

Malawi home

Home sweet home!

Sugar cane fields

Nchalo Sugar Estate

I thought camping in my own house would be fun. I thought all of my family sitting around the gas cooker, waiting for mum to hurry up and cook dinner (which happens to be scrambled egg and toast for the 3rd night in a row) would be an awesome bonding session. I thought not having TV would encourage us to play scrabble, or cards, or snakes and ladders – only we forgot to pack the games! I imagined all of our pets settling in just fine.

Trip up to Malawi

Car trip up to Malawi from Mozambique with the dogs, tortoise and 5 guinea pigs!

But out of the 5 guinea pigs that were transported all the way from Mozambique to Malawi, only 3 have survived. One died of a heart attack after our dogs attempted to break into the cage. My husband kindly built a new one. It took him 2 days, with help!

Malawi Garden 059We left the property for 1 hour. And in that time our dogs gnawed their way through the wire and killed another one. Ate its head but left the body. My kids seem to be okay with this, but funnily enough- it’s me who seems to be struggling with the death of a guinea pig! I haven’t spoken to my dogs for 3 days!

malawi2 005_edited-1

malawi2 003_edited-1

I’ve learned ‘moving’ is not so easy. Who was I kidding when I thought I’d take everything in my stride? My youngest child asks me to take him back to Mozambique on a daily basis. In fact he has even packed a suitcase and headed for the gate himself. “Well if mum is not going to take me, I’m gonna walk myself!’ He has also completely rejected our new house and garden staff and runs away crying any time they come near him.

Malawi 2 019_edited-1

New garden

My new garden coming on!


Then there is the photography, or more so, the lack of it! I thought that three weeks into our new life in Malawi, I would have taken thousands of pictures by now. I should have published at least 2 posts by now, surely? New country = over flow of material. But that’s just the thing; I’m a bit nervous to take photos here. Many of you know what type of photography interests me. While I love the landscapes, it’s the people who truly inspire me. But it seems the ‘people’ do not like to be photographed.  I have spoken to a couple of Malawians about taking photos and got 2 things straight. One, you NEVER take a photo of a policeman here – instant jail time or mega multi-million kwacha fine! And you ask for permission before you take a photo of a person. I do that in Mozambique without difficulty, but maybe it’s because I’m new to Malawi that I don’t feel as at ease with the people here, yet. When it comes to taking photos of people, it’s important to make them feel comfortable. It’s important to engage in conversation and draw them into ‘what you are doing.’ It’s important for them to trust you.

Nchalo Donkey cart

Malawi 1 324

Malawi 2 027_edited-1

I have been to the roadside market a number of times so far. And every time I go there, people have shouted ‘Hey American, come here.’ Or Hey you!!! 2 things I get from this: 1, there must be many American visitors in this part of the world and 2, bloody hell – but I’m going to miss not understanding the language! They speak fluent English here and I can’t play dumb!


But let’s be straight – I am well aware that moving is a ‘transitional’ thing! Malawi is very different to Mozambique in so many ways. Things are going to be different here. I may have to find a new approach to getting material. I may have to do more organized interviews and less spur of the moment stuff. I don’t know. I’m definitely feeling things out! But I have to say, it’s driving me crazy!!! I want you to see what I am seeing here. It’s AWESOME! There is chaos. There are thousands of cyclists who are the mafia of the road. There are goats, sheep and cattle that stroll in between the market stalls. There are donkey carts, shop names such as ‘One way to heaven coffin shop’ and food that most of us blog readers would consider ‘fear factor’ material. One day, I will taste a rat kebab – that is my Malawi mission!

But it’s all going to take time. I’ve arrived here with a sense of urgency; make friends quick, get house sorted, start a routine, explore, totally redesign garden, employ staff – get back what I had!!!

I have never been one to sit around and hope or wait for to things to happen. I’ll make it happen – but 3 weeks into our new adventure, I’m fast realizing that ‘things’ will happen in ‘Malawi’ time and not my time!


Have a Malawi G & T!!!

26 replies »

  1. Wonderful post. The shot of your younster by the gat, touched the heart and reminds me of our daughter’s reacion when we travel to visit her brother. A day long journey, part way there she is ready to go home to her cat. 🙂

  2. Three weeks since this post and I wonder how much has already changed…my dogs ate my parrots. I forgave them instantly but my husband didn’t talk to them for a good month. I hear you.

    • Your husband and me have much in common! It has been a month since I last wrote this post but I am beginning to lighten up with the dogs. Our dear little male guinea pig that perished in the most violent of ways, managed to sow his seeds before his untimely death! During our move to Malawi, for one night, he escaped into the female enclosure and had a night of passion! Much to my delight, we have 2 baby guinea pigs! The dogs have been forgiven.

  3. Wow, I would’ve thought Malawi would be much better. Course I’ve never been to Mozambique. But I really liked Malawi. I never experienced anything close to being rudely shouted at (in fact the opposite). I would certainly have explained to any shouter how I wished to be treated in the future though! Didn’t meet any other Americans the 3 weeks I was there, but didn’t feel particularly out of place or any anti-American stuff (which I think is mostly people’s imagination). I was in the north and it looks like you’re in the south, and I understand there’s a sort of division in the people north to south. But still. I got some good pics of Malawians, but I almost always talked with them first and asked. But I got in trouble with the police when I was shooting a child. The mom was right there telling them she had given me her okay, but I had to do some pretty fast talking anyhow. Upshot is I had a fantastic time there and would absolutely love to build a solar/geothermal powered home right on the lake somewhere along the NW shore. Give it time!

    • You’re absolutely right about it taking time! I am fast realizing that it takes ‘time’ for a place to become home, especially if you’re moving country and have young, unsettled kids! I wouldn’t call Mozambique ‘better,’ but I’d rather call it ‘different’ and a country that I am familiar with. Like you, I have found the Malawians to be friendly and have fortunately had the pleasure of visiting Malawi a few times before this move when my husband worked and lived in Kasungu before we were married. Then and now, I have noticed the huge number of NGO’s and missionaries working in this country which is most likely where the ‘Hey America’ comes from! Since I am South African, it’s a first I’ve been called American – which in itself doesn’t bother me at all. And I agree with you that they’re not shouting at me in an ‘anti-America’ way but rather are trying to get my attention very loudly and persistently! Coz that’s what they do here! And that’s the bit which is taking me some time to get used to! All the attention when you don’t really want it!

      I’m told that the Malawians living alongside the lake are more open to being photographed than those who live inland. Either way, getting permission to take a photo first is important, as it is in Mozambique. The difference between Moz and Malawi, in my short experience of living here, is that the Mozambicans seem EAGER to have their photograph taken. Here in the Shire Valley, I have to work a little harder for that awesome shot! And thanks for sharing your police experience, I’ll remember that one. Good luck with the solar powered home, sounds like a fantastic idea 

  4. Brings back so many many memories – Malawi time rules – knock back an MGT or 2 and you will find the “warm heart of Africa” opens up to you. My most enduring memory of Malawi is her smiling people and although I have been gone a long time am sure that at heart it has not changed that much. As I sit here in London, I shall look forward to reading of your new adventure and how both you and your family fall in love with this wonderful country – keep smiling and love living life as they say!!

    • Thank you Mary 🙂 and sorry I have taken so long to reply to your comment. You will be glad to know that a month on, Malawi is working it’s magic on me and we’re all feeling a lot more at home here.

  5. Malawi time is the biggest lesson to learn about Malawi. So excited for your new move! This country if full of such beautiful people! I’m sure you’ve already heard the word “mzungu” hundreds of times! Reading your blog brings back so many memories for me, thank-you! Can’t wait to read more!

    • Hi there, sorry it has taken me so long to reply! You are absolutely right about Malawi time! And the continuous shouting “Mzungu” even features in my dreams!

  6. I hope that you settle in soon and have a wonderful new adventure. Children don’t like change but I’m sure it won’t be long until they love their new home.

  7. We all admire your courage and aplomb. I also love the idea of a gestation period. In my experience, time amd your natural determination will see you over the hump (and lots of G and Ts!). Your little one will settle in too. Hang in there, and thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures.

  8. You’ll get there! ‘ Adventure’ is the word to keep repeating. Aw, poor little chap, change is so hard if you understand it, how hard must it be for him!
    I am living in my 27th home and that is some moving! But need to move soon as this house is too full now!

    • My gosh, your 27th home!!! Well then I’ll definitely be coming to you for advice when it comes to moving 😉 And to think you are about to move again…Wow!

  9. I fully agree with triciatierney on the six months adaptation period. It never took me less time and one time took me more. And, btw, I’d totally go for that rat kebab – it rhymes!

  10. Aw! Your little fellow by the gate! Six months — that’s the average time to start to settle in from a move — and a normal one, not a huge one like you’ve made. Settle down there and be gentle with yourself! Consider this gestation time and we’ll (well, I will) look forward to updates when you’re bloody well ready to give them. (best wishes for settling in – looks lovely)

    • I know, my son standing at the gate broke my heart! He’s too young to fully comprehend the move and it’s permanency. I think you are 100% right about slowing down and I love thinking of it as ‘gestation’ time. Sounds about right! Things always sort themselves out and I know that in time we will all be fully settled and looking back at this time thinking, ‘shit I’m glad that’s over!’ Thank you for you support and for reading 🙂