As part of my mandate with the Agricultural Research & Extension Trust (ARET), I’m in Malawi to help build capacity in the domain of data management for knowledge mobilization purposes. This means I’ve spent the week trying to understand the short, medium, and long-term goals of the organization, and chatting with my office mate, Maurice to make sure I’m on track.
But working with ARET is only one part of the story. As a Leave For Change volunteer we are expected to contribute positively as much as we can to build capacity and resiliency inside and outside our partner organizations in any way that we can. Sometimes that means working on things that step a little beyond our mandates1. But it also means getting out into the community and experiencing Malawi.
Two weekends ago that meant I jumped in a car with Dylan, Jon, Sarina, and Justeen so we could make our way to Liwonde Safari Camp, south of Lilongwe, to pay a friendly visit to the human and non-human locals who lived there. To quote Dylan, I was a “Happy Chappie”. And since we got on so well, we decided the adventure couldn’t end with just one weekend. So Friday morning we decided to load up the car again2 and head to Mayoka Village on Lake Malawi.
The road to Mayoka village was simple; head north on M1 until hitting Mzuzu. After that, we basically just followed the signs as we made our way east towards the lake. Along the way, we stopped when necessary to stretch our legs and to take a few moments to take in the scenery. The landscape was not like that which I experienced on the way south to Liwonde; while both were incredibly beautiful, the northern landscapes were significantly different.
As we wound our way around and over the hills of the African countryside, the vegetation transitioned from a much drier climate to one that was lusher. The trees were fuller and taller, and although the soil was still dusty and the beautiful rich red colour I’ve come to expect, there were fewer open patches because the bulk of the ground seemed to be covered by plants. The hills were blanketed by a canopy of trees that eventually transitioned into conifers. This came as a huge surprise to me, as I wasn’t expecting to see coniferous trees in Africa.
As we drove on, I often found my mind drifting off as I kept questioning whether or not this was actually something I was experiencing, or whether I was simply dreaming. I stared out the window and couldn’t stop myself from smiling. The breeze blowing in the car, the smells in the air, the music on the radio – all created a surreal experience that had me feeling like I was in my own music video. The only thing that would snap me back to reality were the people in the car with me; and typically because something was said that had us all laughing.
After about 5 hours of driving, we arrived in Mayoka Village. Our home for the weekend was more than I could have expected. For $15 US per night (per person) we found ourselves in a tiny blue cottage with two queen sized beds and one bunk bed spread over two rooms that were separated by a full bathroom. As if that weren’t enough, we had a second shower outside, just around the corner from our patio. Through the trees (which provided ample shade for the cottage, and a playground for monkeys in the morning), we could see the lake down below. Several other cottages lined the path.
The water was clear and cool and perfectly refreshing. The skies were free of all but the distant hint of clouds and the heat from the sun was at a perfect not-too-hot level. As I soaked in the rays of the sun and looked out over the lake, I couldn’t help but think we’d found a small slice of paradise in Mayoka Village. More than that, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that I had the entire weekend to soak in this place, and some rather excellent company with whom I could enjoy it.
1 For example, while I’m developing an overall framework for the data management needs of ARET, I’m also going to help work with the communications team to develop a social media campaign. This isn’t exactly part of the data management mandate, but it does fit nicely with their efforts to strengthen and improve their extension efforts.
2 This time sadly without Sarina who had to stay behind because of work.