Learning in Malawi. Part 3.
Muli Bwanji! It's Saturday morning and time for another instalment of our blog. We left off having had a night out in Lilongwe getting a taste of the local music scene. Check out parts 1 and 2 of the blog if you haven't already.
We woke around lunch time on Sunday after having danced all night in the Lilongwe night time hotspots. We were very tired from the travelling and partying but thankfully only had one meeting planned for later in the day. It was an important one! We were meeting Francis, a woodworker and builder. Francis has a business in Lilongwe called, "Fungai Furniture and General Supplier". He came highly recommended by our friends from Lake of Stars Festival, having worked with them for many years building their stages. We had done quite a bit of prep work with the designs for the rink as we were guessing Francis would never have built a roller rink before. We needn't have worried, after showing Francis a few videos of existing roller rinks and letting him study the drawings he grasped the concept and had insightful questions and suggestions regarding the design. He pointed out a few difficulties and made good suggestions about how to circumnavigate them. It seemed wise to leave the designs with Francis for a week. This would give him time to mull them over and get together a budget for materials and a quote for the work. We were sure he was the right man for the job and agreed to meet him again in a weeks time. The last meeting of the weekend was done and it was time to get some rest, tomorrow we would begin our drive down to Zomba for the Lake of Stars 'Set It Off' festival at Chancellors College.
It was Monday morning before we knew it and time to hire a car and get on the road. Another good recommendation from the Lake of Stars team lead us to Baron's Car Hire in Lilongwe. The owner kindly picked us up from the lodge and took us to the hire place. The car we hired had a big bonus of having air conditioning. It was summer time in Lilongwe and we were struggling to acclimatise. Before we headed out of the city we decided to do one last job. Menes and Neil had written down a list of places they thought we should check out as potential sites for the rink in Lilongwe. We decided to go have a look. After seeing a few places where the rink could potentially work we found a place that seemed ideal. I won't go into too many details here but we met the owner and had a really positive discussion about the project. We made a tentative agreement and decided we should meet again when we came back to Lilongwe the following week. There's still a bit of work to do in finalising our agreement so we're going to keep the site under our hat until a later date. Suffice to say we were very excited about the place and our conversations with the owner. Keep following the blog and our social media channels to be the first to find out where the rink is going to be...
As we had a few days before we needed to be in Zomba we decided to check out the famously beautiful Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is the ninth largest lake in the world and home to more species of fish than any other. It is part of the rift valley and is formed where the African tectonic plate splits. Our first stop would be Senga Bay, near the town of Salima. Predictably we missed the turn off for Salima and had to take a bit of a de-tour via Dowa. Dowa is the home town of inventor/author William Kamkwamba, who wrote the book, 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind'. This is the true story of William building an electricity generating wind turbine in his village near Kasungu. It has been made into a film which is currently in post production and due for release in 2018. We can't wait to see it! The road we had to take to get back on track to Salima was a dirt one and our saloon type car definitely wasn't designed for it. A very nice man in Dowa assured us that there hadn't been rain in a while and that we would make it. So we pressed on. The road was bumpy and full of twists but it took us through some of the most beautiful hilly landscape. Thankfully the car made it through in one piece and we made it to Senga Bay. As a side note, it was one of the co-founders of Skate Malawi's birthday. It was here we met Howard, a soon to be sound engineer and one time roller blader from Zimbabwe. We persuaded him to try the quad roller skates we had brought along. He picked it up quickly. If you want to see a video go check out our Instagram feed. Whilst there maybe give us a follow. https://www.instagram.com/skate.malawi/
The next few days travelling along the lake would prove to be challenging for us, both physically and ethically. The question of why we were attempting to bring a roller disco to Malawi was becoming more pertinent. Doubts were beginning to creep in. It was very clear that many people in Malawi were lacking the basic necessities. 55% of people in Malawi live below the poverty line, earning less than $1 a day. What use would a roller disco be? Is it not arrogant for two westerners to import culture to a country which is so rich in it's own culture? Whilst the Lake is stunningly beautiful and the people who lived and worked by it were friendly, warm and welcoming, it was difficult to enjoy this slice of paradise given the massive economic status differences between us and the people we met. It is wholly unfair that your quality of life and the opportunities you are afforded are determined by the place you are born. Talent, intelligence and the effort you put in have less bearing on your success and happiness than the lottery of where you are born. This is a global problem and one that is created by a broken and greed driven system.
So, were we doing the right thing or was our whole idea and presence in Malawi naive and ill informed? All the questions we were and are asking ourselves are extremely difficult and important ones which don't have simple answers. They merit serious and careful thought. It was right that we were having these concerns, thoughts and conversations, but deflating after such a positive time in Lilongwe. Beyond the logistical challenges of our project, the ethical challenges were now the most important ones. I will write another blog post about our research trip in the next few days. If you want to learn more about Malawi and it's current affairs and issues the links below are not a bad place to start.
Skate Malawi x
Also, here's a talk by the brilliant William Kamkwanba.