Friday, March 19, 2010

Village Life in Malawi

Day 47: Chitimba, Malawi
Yesterday evening, I lounged around the bar at Chitimba Camp late into the evening. There was a spectacularly beautiful silent lightning storm in the distance, hovering ominously over Lake Malawi. High above the storm clouds, the stars shone brilliantly, and the shimmering band of the Milky Way was clearly visible stretching across the dark African sky.

Lightning and stars over Lake Malawi, Chitimba, Malawi © Matt Prater
A bolt of lightning illuminates the starry night sky over Lake Malawi, Chitimba, Malawi

Today I went on a tour of the local village. We visited a primary school first, where we learned of the difficulties of funding and maintaining teachers. There are over a thousand children at this particular school – and only five teachers. Some of the classes have almost two hundred children. The current president of Malawi has reopened many of the teacher colleges that had been closed by the previous president, but the hardships faced by local communities in Malawi are intense.

Schoolgirl, Chitimba, Malawi © Matt Prater
Schoolgirl in a blue dress, Chitimba, Malawi
Children at primary school, Chitimba, Malawi © Matt Prater
Children at the primary school in Chitimba, Malawi

Room in medical clinic, Chitimba, Malawi © Matt Prater
A mosquito net hangs from the unfinished ceiling of a room in a medical clinic, Chitimba, Malawi
We also visited the local medical clinic, which faces similar shortages. The sole doctor at the clinic informed us that the government provides vital malaria medication and other supplies for free – the people of Malawi are among the poorest in Africa, so their lives depend on charity and government provided services. In addition to treating malaria, the clinic also provides testing and counseling for HIV and AIDS. The clinic does not have electricity and is suffering from shortages of soap and other basic sanitary supplies. The facilities reeked of urine and are quite dismal by Western standards, with exposed rafters and chickens grazing in front of the entryway. Sick patients wait to visit the doctor in an exterior corridor containing only a stone bench bathed by the brutal heat of the Malawi sun.

Our most exotic visit was to the hut of a local witch doctor. He wore a belt of rough-sounding bells and held a whistle in his mouth as he jumped and gyrated to the beat of drums. The result was a loud and energetic pandemonium of noise and movement. Afterward, he told us each our fortunes privately, speaking through a translator. Of course, the future scenarios were all ridiculously similar, with only slight variations: we all, it turns out, would live long and prosperous lives and produce many children. Still, it was all good fun.

Witch doctor, Chitimba, Malawi © Matt Prater
A witch doctor sits in his hut, Chitimba, Malawi
Witch doctor dancing, Chitimba, Malawi © Matt Prater
A witch doctor blows a whistle and performs a dance as men drum in the background, Chitimba, Malawi

Hot and dripping with sweat from the intense humidity, we journeyed through fields of maize back to our campsite and at last were able to lounge lazily at the bar by the deep blue waters of Lake Malawi.


  1. Very interesting information about the school. Five teachers for 1,000 students is certainly a large student ratio for each teacher. Also, that picture of the witch doctor is great!

  2. I wanted you to know that me, my mom, and sister were just all gathered around the computer looking at your route video, pictures, and journal entries. They were amazed and your in-depth planning and at all the places you are visiting! It's cool to have a friend who is traveling the globe!


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