• Jack

Learning in Malawi. Part 4

It's the fourth blog post! I'm genuinely going to try and finish with the research trip over the next few hundred words and in the process link you up with some excellent Malawian musical artists. Then in the next blog post we can get to more current developments in the project.

At the end of the last blog I wrote about some of the ethical doubts we were having with the project. I barely scratched the surface of some extremely complicated issues, which have long histories in developing countries. I hope you the reader will understand that these are not things we take lightly and it is of primary importance to us that we move forward with this project in a careful, thoughtful and respectful manner. Our ears certainly more open to criticism than they are to encouragement. Our reasons for undertaking this project are born from the desire to share our love of skating and music. We will hopefully make some friends, help create some employment and contribute to the work that Tumaini Festival is doing at the Dzeleka camp. We are not doctors, nurses or engineers and we don't have the skill sets to solve the problems that these professionals tackle. We are skaters, music lovers and roller rink managers who can bring a bit of fun to a place, share some skills and help to establish a small sustainable business for some local people. This very well might have the effect of improving a few peoples lives. It may not be groundbreaking but it is something. Our conversations are ongoing and we are still very much learning.

Via a couple of stops along the lake shore and a night in the beautiful Liwonde game reserve we were on our way to the town of Zomba. Having packed our bags and successfully navigated the trusty saloon car along a very slippy, muddy road we hit the tarmac road south. Along the way the landscape changed significantly and there seemed to be Mango trees everywhere. People were selling the most delicious fruit on the road side and we were making good progress. Suddenly panic took over the car... Xavi realised his wallet wasn't in his pocket. We pulled over and a scramble through the car ensued. The drive back to Liwonde would be an hour and a half. In total this would add 3 extra hours to our journey! A frenzied search through the bags revealed the wallet. So we ploughed on and soon made it to the stunning town of Zomba. Located in the Shire Highlands, Zomba was once the capital of Malawi and home to the Malawian parliament. It sits at the base of a large plateau and was notably cooler than the places we had previously visited. It is also home to Chancellor College, a part of The University of Malawi. The college was to be the venue for Lake of Stars Festival's launch event. The event was named 'Set It Off'. Tickets for the event were free and they were expecting over 2000 people along for music, poetry, dance and talks. The theme of the festival was women's empowerment, it featured an almost exclusively female line-up and a largely female production crew.

One of the organisers of the festival had recommended that we stay at the Pakachere guest house. If you are in Zomba it's a very nice place to stay with very lovely owners and food. We laid down our bags got some food and headed to Chancellor College to meet the team and hopefully lend a hand. The production crew were all over it, running round getting the show together. We helped by giving the floor a good sweep.

The show started the next morning and when we arrived it was already a road block of excited people. The atmosphere was great, traditional dances were happening outside, there were talks, poetry and performances happening in the theatre space and in the main venue local hero MC Lady Pace was tearing it up with her band. Here's a link to some of her music. After Lady Pace finished up her rousing set I headed to the theatre to listen to a group of women speak about their experiences of sexual abuse as both children and adults. The stories they told were deeply disturbing and left an impact on me that I'll never forget. It was amazing to hear the woman talking so openly and bravely about such harrowing events in their lives. Over the course of the day and into the night there was a wide range of musical styles on display, from folky guitar stuff to RnB through reggae and hip hop. The craziest reception of the event however was reserved for Malawi's DJ Bubblegum. The crowd was utterly bouncing to her high energy set. Another of my favourites was Rina, a female MC with real attitude. She's definitely one to look out for. You can find her on the ever brilliant Malawi music website. The evening ended with the soulful Sangie, a big star in Malawi with a great voice and stage presence. Here's a link to her music,

Aswell as all the music and arts the event was a great opportunity for us to talk to the students from the University of Malawi about our project. If young people are our core demographic for a roller rink, these are the people who would tell us whether it was a good idea or not. We had a lot of enthusiastic if not slightly bemused responses to the idea. The combination of a puzzled look and the question; "sorry, what? you want to build a roller rink in Malawi?" was something we were becoming used to and had become a de-facto response. Email addresses were swapped with new friends from the university so we could carry on conversations. Surprisingly to me, many of the students were Grime music fans. The night ended around midnight and I helped a very inebriated Finnish man find his way back to Pakachere Lodge. It was a fantastically well produced event with a high quality line up who all brought their A games to the stage. A big congratulations to all the people who worked to bring it together and all the performers, speakers and artists who absolutely smashed their sets, talks and performances. It was without doubt my favourite day of the trip.

The next day we were scheduled to make our way back to Lilongwe for the final few days of our trip. I was sad to leave. Zomba was a place unlike anywhere we had been in Malawi. The high concentration of young students gave the place a tangible buzz. If you are ever in Malawi and wondering if you should pay Zomba a visit I would urge you to go. Although we didn't have time to go up to the Plateau, I hear it's stunning. Next time...

So that's it for another instalment of the blog, I didn't manage to finish up with the trip so I'll be back soon to sum up it up and get you up to speed with what's been going on since we got back.

Big love,

Skate Malawi x

Here's a list of links to some music and other things mentioned in the blog.

#Lakeofstars #Zomba #Setitoff #Chancellorcollege #Malawimusic #Womansempowerment #SkateMalawi #Malawi #Getmalawirolling #Blog

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