From another world, to about the world

29 April 2019 – This is an imported page from an old blog I kept during my travels to Malawi in 2013. At some point I will re-format it and make it look pretty with the original pictures! Stay tuned 🙂 – Kit

From another world, to about the world
Dedza, Malawi

Dedza, Malawi


To cook is to eat well. For heat is a good steriliser of food and the bringer of different tastes. To cook allows creativity and diversity in familiar foods; to change the regular into the unusual. So to bring good food that enriches the body and soul you need to cook, and you need familiar foods. But cooking can be wasteful, and familiar foods are often not familiar. How to address this dilemma? Enter the designer clay stove. It is made of the earth beneath their feet. It is fuelled from small and manageable amounts of wood. It is shaped in a way that captures that magical heat. And it is designed and made by the people themselves. So praise your land! Savour your wood! Capture your heat! Treasure your home-grown ingenuity! And enjoy your food.

It was back to our link school, Umbwi Secondary for the day – and time to be more active. The focus was of course mostly Geography and English, given the specialism of the link staff of Joc and I.

We arrived a little late for Mr Mpakati’s English class (for which we were told off for, to the delight of the students!) Francis has very elegant handwriting for writing on a chalkboard. His lesson was on adverbial phrases. He would demonstrate on the board and then ask the students to spot the patterns in example sentences, and then request for the students to come up with sentences of their own. The students would be invited to comment if they were correct or not (and why/why not – a kind of verbal informal peer assessment). There was a good level a humour from the teacher which kept the classroom in a safe and positive learning atmosphere.

After disembarking from our first lesson of the day, my Geography colleague of Umbwi, Mr Nova, walked out of a classroom at the end of the lesson carrying a large rolled up map of the world under his arm. It reminded me of when my Geography teacher used to unroll a world map in front of his chalkboard; a throwback to classrooms of my youth, giving a view that teaching and resources in Malawi schools are at least 20-30 years behind (and no doubt even further).

With a measure of pride, Nova took me to show a project that the school and its students have been working on: a carefully designed clay ‘stove’. It’s shaped in a way that allows for more heat from the firewood to be channelled where it is needed, rather than being lost to the surroundings. There are two parts. An ‘oven’ on the left, used for baking and what can be best described as a ‘hob’, where the heat is channelled through a blackened opening on which a pan can be set. The body is made of clay, from the same soil used to make the bricks for the houses. It is a perfect example of appropriate and sustainable technology. Locally designed and sourced; made for efficiency (using less wood); and allowing better cooking of foods.

I then stepped into Nova’s next class, and was invited to take the lead. They were currently learning about climate change, but, I wanted to test out the student-made resources made back at Framingham Earl. I was graciously granted permission. It was not an uncomfortable experience, but a strange one! For one, I have never used a chalk-board, and always had the option to display something on screen (like the pictures I was using). Secondly the class was twice the size of a large class at Fram. I counted around 60 students. Proceeding to do group work with them was quite taxing and hard work; trying to get them to chat and explore the strange scenes on the images. And lastly was the structure of my lesson. It was clear they were not used to this method of teaching at all, or at the very least did not experience it very often. The students had to be coaxed and coached into how to discuss and feedback in groups. It was a very interesting experience!

Joc’s English ‘lesson’ with Francis turned into a Q&A session, which I was brought into upon my arrival. Automatically it became a team-teaching lesson where Joc or I would answer a question and elaborate for each other, either by pitching in or supplementing our responses with a sketch, diagram or spelling on the chalk board. We slid into the operation easily, given that we have done team-teaching together on occasion. The questions from the students were very thoughtful: “Do you have a religion?” (which we answered honestly but politically); “What is your government like?” (which we answered…. honestly!); “How long did you spend at school and university?”; and the most interesting one of “Do you have employees at your home?” (i.e. do you have house maids?). Our response of ‘no’ followed by our reason surprised them the most!

There was a clear feeling from the students and staff that we were welcomed there. I believe that our colleagues in their reciprocal schools felt the same way (I will endeavour to find out more details!)

I felt extremely exhausted at the end of the day, but not worn down like I do on an average work day. I think the afternoon nap I took upon returning to Panjira Lodge might become a more regular occurrence!

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