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Chirombo Village Pt. 4: The Apprentice Cow Herder

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 06 July 2010

The apprentice cow herder, Yamikani. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Here in Monkey Bay, many of the locals grow their own food and raise a few animals.  Goats, sheep, and chickens wander around the streets and fill the fields.  A less popular, yet still very important, livestock is cattle.  I met up with a young apprentice herder at one of the local farms in Monkey Bay.

Calves being herded between fields. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Yamikani Paulo is 13 years old.  He has lived in the Monkey Bay area since he was born, and he has been herding cattle since he was 5.  This farm, which used to be much larger a decade ago, has  between 25 and 30 cows, nearly as many sheep, and quite a few chickens.  Corn is grown in the surrounding fields.  The cows are rotated between three different pastures, changing at least once every day.  Yamikani usually herds only in the afternoon since he is in school from 7am until 2pm.

Yamikani and his family live on the farm along with another family.  The women tend to the crops.  Yamikani’s younger brother helps him with the cattle.  Yamikani told me that he neither hates nor loves being a cow herder.  He has no other occupational dreams because he knows he will remain a herder even when he is older and has finished school.  He says he is thankful that he not only has a job, but that he found one at such a young age and has been able to hold onto it.

The cows, sheep, and chickens on the farm are either sold or eaten by the farmers.  The proceeds from selling some of the animals pays for the school fees for Yamikani and his brother.

A curious cow sticking its head out the window of the barn to inspect the people outside. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

As I mentioned before, this farm used to be much larger.  There were twice as many buildings and every one of them was spotlessly clean.  The animals numbered in the thousands. Giant walk-in refrigerators kept the food fresh before it was trucked to stores around the country.

Between tending the animals, processing the meat (steaks, jerky, and sausage), planting and picking the crops (corn and mushrooms, among others), and managing the entire operation, this farm employed over 500 people in Monkey Bay.  It was the single largest employer in the area.

Unfortunately, it fell victim to the Malawian economy.  Now, almost half of the buildings sit in ruin, leaving little more than foundations covered in encroaching vegetation.

Shortly after this shoot, I was showing these images to two gentlemen I met at the lodge.  It turns out that one of them was the owner of the farm.  He was shocked and pleased to see photos of his farm, but he was disappointed to see just how much the buildings have decayed in his absence.

Adult cows protecting a curious calf. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

He also told me the story of how the farm came to be in such a state.

Years ago, when the farm was at its peak, he had gone to South Africa to buy some more equipment so he could increase production on the farm.  At that time, the Malawian kwatcha was 1 to 1 with the South African rand.  While he was gone, the Malawian economy took a terrible hit, drastically depreciating the kwatcha overnight.  When he purchased the equipment the exchange rate had increased, unknown to him, to 16 to 1 with the rand.  He had expected to find a nine or ten million kwatcha in his bank account when he returned.  Instead, he found that he had overdrawn by nearly seventeen million kwatcha.  That, of course, was a horrific loss.  The farm was one of his many ventures to suffer the consequences.

Almost all of the 500+ workers lost their jobs when the farm was closed.  Most of them remain unemployed even years later, but since the people here grow and raise their own food, there was not the starvation that is often associated with such a drastic increase in unemployment.

Now, the remains of the giant farm are tended by two families, with Yamikani planning on becoming the main herder in a few years.

When I was photographing the cows, I was worried that my lights would frighten them, stress them, or cause them to charge me.  I was very pleased find that even though the first flash of my lights startled them, they adapted very quickly.  They were more anxious about my presence than that of my lights.

A cow looking menacing. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Inside the barn, the cows remained very curious, but kept their distance.  One calf had the nerve to come close to me, much to the dismay of the mother.  The mother somehow thought that I had caused and encouraged the calf’s curiosity, and she bobbed her head menacingly, threatening to charge every time her baby came too close to me.  Some of the other cows tried to intimidate me too, but most of them watched me intently from a safe distance.  Some of the female cows were pregnant, so they were testy and easily upset, but luckily, none of the cows made good on their threats!

The cows are usually herded between the barns and the grazing fields early in the morning and at dusk when the temperatures are not too unbearable.  The paths to the fields are not direct; they take winding trails that often add a lot of distance so they can pass watering holes and small streams.  The fields have small shelters to protect the herders from the brutal sun.  The cows usually spend the night in the barns to prevent them from getting lost or stolen.

A cow near the waterhole at dusk. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

The cows and sheep share the barns peacefully.  The chickens run free around the grounds, but take shelter in some of the broken barns when necessary.  The women sit on their woven straw mats on the old, bare foundations to shuck the corn.  Piles of dry cobs are sprinkled around the cement.

Only one of the buildings still has its doors on the hinges.  Those doors are heavy and hand carved.  The owner told me that those doors protect the old walk-in refrigerators, which are still in working condition, if a little dirty.  The electricity would need to be reconnected before they can be brought back to life.

The owner has recently come back to Monkey Bay and hopes to reopen his farm and the other businesses he left when the economy crashed and bring them all back to their previous splendor.  The locals are already showing their delight at his return.  It might take a few years to bring the farm back to its former glory, but it will have an overwhelmingly positive impact on this community.

Yamikani sitting on the foundation of one of the old buildings. Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Chirombo Village Pt. 3: The Mill

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 22 June 2010

The mill in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

A few days ago, I visited the mill in Chirombo Village.  I arrived in the village early in the morning to meet Stanley, one of the villagers who has been showing me around.  Despite the early hour, the sun was already quite hot.  I put my folded reflector on my head to shade my face, much to the amusement of the local women, who carry very heavy loads on their heads.

Kids posing in front of the mill. One of them had stickers on her forehead, ears, and the back of her head. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

As we walked through the village, people stuck their heads out of windows and doors and around trees and fences to watch us pass.  A few children followed us.  At one point, a group of about twenty children on their way to school joined us.  They took turns gathering up their courage to yell “How are you madam!”

About two kilometers into the walk, I asked Stanley where the mill was.  I worried he was taking me to one of the mills in Monkey Bay, which are located at least six kilometers away.  He assured me that it wasn’t too much farther and that the mill was still in Chirombo Village.  Still, I was surprised how far it was.  Chirombo Village is not very wide, but it is very long.  Stanley told me that this is the only mill in the village, which means that some women and girls must walk up to four kilometers each way (if they live on the same side of the mill as me), carrying heavy corn on the way there and just-as-heavy flour on the way back.

Once we arrived at the mill, Stanley talked to the workers in Chichewa, asking permission for me to take photos.  The children who had followed us stuck around for a few minutes before reluctantly continuing on their way.  The two mill workers agreed to let me photograph the mill, though their approval was somewhat halfhearted.

The two machines that grind corn into flour. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Again, there was much excitement regarding my equipment.  When I set up my tripod inside, the mill workers and a handful of children and women came inside to watch me, unknowingly blocking the things I wanted to take pictures of.  I waited for everyone to get bored of watching me doing nothing, which happened fairly quickly when a woman arrived with a large bag of corn.

When the machines started, most of the people left the mill.  It took me a few seconds to realize why.  As soon as the motor roared to life, a cloud of corn flour burst from every opening of the machine.  The vibrations also shook the flour from the rafters, causing it to fall gently on my head and my camera.  I was covered almost instantly.  Throughout my stay, the children took turns brushing the flour from my hair, my back, and my jeans.  I could only take a photo or two before needing to blow the dusting off my equipment.

The busy mill. Workers and customers attending to their duties in the mill. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

There are two machines in the mill.  Both of them grind corn into flour, but they do it in different ways.  I’m not sure if the outcome of the flour is any different; it didn’t look like it.  The closest machine in the above photo grinds the corn, the force of which sends the flour through a pipe and a shoot before it empties into waiting buckets.  The second machine simply dumps the flour on the floor under the machine.  It was the second machine that was used to grind this woman’s corn.  When the machine was shut off, she spent a while scooping her flour back into the giant sack she brought with her.

Since nsima, the main dish of Malawi, is made from corn flour, the mill was very busy.  Luckily, a full sack of flour can feed a family of five for almost a month, so the women only have to make the trek to the mill every few weeks.  According to Stanley, it costs MK500 (around US$3.30) to grind a full sack of corn into flour and MK250 (around US$1.65) for a half sack (no discounts for bulk!).  This was the only woman who used an actual sack.  Everyone else brought buckets and tubs of various sizes.  There was no bartering over price, so there must be some sort of set price for those containers as well.

A woman preparing corn for the mill. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

The price of making nsima is low, even by Malawian standards.  Many of the locals here grow their own corn, but the others have to buy their corn in small one-kilo bags.  Future-orientated farmers can grow enough corn every year to last them until the next harvest.  Some even grow enough to sell off a few bags and earn some extra money.  But there are a lot of families that overcook when food is plenty, often throwing out up to half of what was prepared.  Then the corn runs out and they must scrape together enough money to buy corn until the next harvest.  In this area, each hectare can produce 12-15 sacks of corn.  Fertilized fields can produce around 20 bags per hectare.  The harvest season is usually between February and April, depending on the rains, so the locals are still eating well from the recent yeild.

One of the mill workers in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Tools in the mill. Chirmbo Village, Malawi.

A woman shaking dust from her corn to prepare it for the mill. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

There were only a few minutes during my visit when there were no customers.  I took advantage of this time to photograph one of the two men working at the mill.  The second one was very interested in watching me, but didn’t want to be photographed.  Neither of these men own the mill.  The equipment in the mill and the gasoline needed to run them cost a lot of money, so most mills are owned by the upper class Malawians.  This one happens to be owned by a government minister who lives in Blantyre (about three hours away).

When the customers picked up again, I moved outside to see how the women prepare the corn for the mill.  First, they pour some of the corn into large, shallow, woven baskets.  They shake the baskets to remove the dust and dirt from the corn.  The clean corn is dumped into buckets so the next batch of corn can be shaken clean.  When the buckets are full, they are emptied into the grinding machine, then, if the machine with the shoot is used, the buckets are quickly placed to catch the four.

A girl waiting for her corn flour. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Since it was mid-morning, most of the customers were women between the ages of twenty and seventy.  Most of the younger girls were in school.  I did see two young teens at the mill.  In traditional Malawian families, the females must take care of the house and prepare the food.  These two tasks take priority over everything else, including school.  These two girls must not have finished their chores in time to make it to class.  If they finished everything quickly, they would probably go to class in the afternoon.  The girl in the photograph to the right is even in her school skirt.

The longer I stayed at the mill, the more people gathered to watch me work.  Some of the women asked me to photograph them.  I started with an old, yet boisterous woman, who then patted me down, asking me for money.  I emptied my pockets for her, pulling out cords, memory cards, and keys.  When my pockets were empty, I turn them inside out.  The old woman thought it was all quite entertaining, and showed the other women all the strange things I had in my pockets instead of money.

A woman nursing her child while waiting to use the mill in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

One of the women waiting in line for the mill asked me to photograph her and her baby.  She stood very still and very strong, holding her child, who started crying when she took him off her back.  To calm the child, she began nursing him, but motioned that I should still photograph her.  When it was her turn to use the mill, she passed her child to one of  the girls who had come to watch me.  The girl had been making funny faces at my camera when I photographed her, but when she held the child, she became very composed.  The baby stopped crying when my lights went off, and he inspected me and my camera with unblinking eyes.

Finally, Stanley, who had become anxious because of the disruptive crowd that had formed to watch me and to be photographed, decided it was time to leave.  I thanked the mill workers and the women I photographed, then headed on my way, followed, as always, by a group of children.

A girl holding a neighbor's child in Chilrombo Village, Malawi.

Chirombo Village Pt. 2: The Boat and the Funeral

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 16 June 2010

My original model in the bwato in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

I went to the village last night in hopes of photographing a man in his canoe, or bwato.  (I participate in some online photo competitions, and this week we had to photograph a boat or any sort.  I planned on staging the whole thing, so I knew these would not be true photojournalistic photos.  They are real people from the village and the boat is a real canoe that they use for fishing, but the location and the poses are staged by me.)

I packed up all of my gear and brought a friend along to act as my human light stand.  Along the lake shore, we saw some children playing with dogs and some women washing dishes and clothes, but no men and no canoes.  Usually, the reeded area of the shore is full of boats, but it was empty.  Out on the lake, there were only one or two people fishing, so I knew the boats must be around somewhere.

Finally, at the main entrance to the village from the shore (which I have only used once—I usually take a short cut shown to me by Stanley) I found a group of men sitting under a tree.  One was making rope for his nets while the others chatted.  Nearby were a few canoes.

A boy posing in the bwato in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

In a cross between English, Chichewa, and sign language, I greeted them and asked if anyone would be willing to pose for me in a bwato.  They mumbled quickly amongst themselves before the man making rope stood up and signaled that he would pose for me.

He got into his canoe and I motioned for him to row down the shore a bit until he was in the sun with the island in the background.  The men all watched as I set my gear up, and they were particularly impressed by my giant reflector that snaps open on its own.

Using English and sign language, I ran my model through a series of poses.  Within two or three photos, I had a big group of people standing around me.  Most of them were children who kept jumping in front of my camera.  I asked the children to stay out of my picture and promised that when I was done with my original model, I would take their picture too.

I hurried through shooting my original model (whose name I unfortunately can’t remember) and asked him if I could photograph the children in his bwato too.  He agreed.

The kids jumped into the bwato. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

I motioned to a particularly excited three-year-old girl that she could get into the canoe first, but the oldest male child there quickly grabbed her by the shoulder and said some harsh words to her before climbing into the bwato himself.

As so it went.  I photographed the older boy children, then the older girl children, followed by the younger boys and finally the younger girls.  The children under the age of three weren’t allowed in the boat at all.  The teens and adults weren’t interested in being photographed in the boat, but they enjoyed watching me and inspecting my equipment.

The older children looked very stoic and strong in their posing and wouldn’t crack a smile regardless of what crazy positions I put myself in when photographing them.  The younger kids on the other hand, especially the girls, were all giggles.  Granted, most people think I look pretty silly when I’m taking pictures (I usually perform some intricate contortion moves to get just the right angle), but these kids thought I was absolutely hilarious.  Some of them were great actors and would erase their smiles as soon as I brought the camera to my eye, but some of them just laughed and laughed until their sides hurt.

A girl laughing at my funny poses. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Still laughing. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

One of the younger girls had a beautiful smile and couldn’t restrain her giggles.  I was so enamored by her smile that I easily took four times as many images of her than I did of most of the others.

When I finished photographing everyone who wanted to pose for me, I packed up my gear, still with a large audience watching (again, my reflector was a huge source of entertainment as I twisted it up to fit back into the small carrying case).

I returned to the village this afternoon and saw many of the same kids I photographed yesterday.  They called for me to photograph them, but I had told Stanley that I would be back in the village Monday or Tuesday to photograph the mill.  I didn’t do that yesterday, so I had to go today.

Before I left, the power went off.  One of the neighbors came over to chat with Nisar (the owner of the lodge I’m living at) while he waited for the electricity to come back on.  He told me he had heard that there was a funeral going on in the village.  I didn’t want to break my word to Stanley, so I pack my gear and set off to the village anyway.

Another girl posing in the bwato. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Sure enough, when I passed the cemetery (which I hadn’t gotten close to before, but had seen through the trees) there was a group of men waiting.  I asked them if they knew where Stanley was, but they said no.  One of them led me to a local house and told me to wait while he went to look for Stanley.

I entered the fenced area around a small brick house and greeted the two women sitting on the porch.  They seemed happy to hear me speaking Chichewa and started asking me questions.  It wasn’t long before they realized that I had already exhausted my Chichewa vocabulary.

One of the ladies passed her tiny (maybe a week old) baby to the other woman, changed her shirt, then went to help find Stanley.  The remaining lady and I sat on the porch in silence.  Children gathered on the other side of the fence and peered at me through the gaps.

After a few minutes, I heard singing in the distance.  It was absolutely gorgeous, and I could tell it was getting closer, heading towards the cemetery I had passed on my way through.  The procession had somehow organized itself into perfect harmony, with some people humming chords, others singing melodies, and a single man calling and chanting his own part that, while very different, wove itself effortlessly into the rest of the song.

I craned my neck to see through the opening in the fence.  Luckily, the opening lined up perfectly with a break between the houses across the lane, providing me a tiny glance at the march of the mourners.  I saw no coffin and no body, but when the group reached the cemetery, I could hear the mournful wails of what I assumed to be a mother or wife sounding over the singing voices.

A young girl posing and trying not to laugh. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

One of the girls posed with her pots. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Just then, Stanley came into the house’s enclosure with the woman who had left to go find him.  After saying our greetings, he explained that the mill was empty today because everyone was at the funeral.  He said I could come back tomorrow morning to photograph them.  He then introduced me to the women of the house, who turned out to be his sister-in-laws and his mother-in-law (who came out of the house when Stanley arrived).

On my way back, the group of kids I photographed yesterday, bolstered by some newcomers, asked me to photograph them again.  There was still some light left, so I agreed.  I snapped off some shots with natural light before I pulled out my flash.  When the flash went off for the first time, the kids who hadn’t watched me yesterday screamed and ran away or hid behind each other.  When they realized nothing bad had happened, they dissolved into giggles.

A girl posing in the bwato with the village in the background. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

The Namazizi School, Monkey Bay, Malawi

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 13 June 2010

On Thursday of last week, I visited the Namazizi School (also called the Namadzidzi School).  I had visited a few days earlier to get permission to spend a day photographing the classes.

Students gather for the morning assembly at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

I arrived at 7am, guided by the sound of a beating drum that is used to call the students to school.  As they waited for everyone to arrive, a teacher led them in some stretching and exercises.  A few minutes later, the morning assembly began.  They started by singing the national anthem before they all sat down to listen to the announcements given by the teachers.  Stanley (who met me on my way to the school) and I were ushered into the headmaster’s office, but we could still hear the assembly going on.  Stanley gave me translated summaries of what was said.

The day before, there had been an important meeting at the school that all parents were required to attend.  They were supposed to discuss topics including the future of the school, the progress of the students, and the upkeep of the programs.  Among other things, it was decided that the parents would pay MK100 (around US$0.65) for the students to have nsima (like finer, stickier polenta, or a corn-based porridge/paste that is the base of Malawian cuisine) at school.  The problem was that not all parents were at the meeting, despite the mandatory attendance.  The teachers told the students that if their parents had not attended, they were to leave school and force their parents to come.  They would not be allowed back in class until their parents came to the school to learn all that was discussed at the meeting.  The students nervously laughed and balked at the thought of forcing their parents to do anything, but sure enough, when the morning assembly was over, students filed both into the classrooms and out of the courtyard, towards the villages.

Award won by the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Because of excitement of the morning’s news (and the arrival of a mzungu girl with a backpack full of camera gear), it took a while for the courtyard to empty and the classes to begin.  Since so many of the students had left to fetch their parents, the headmaster decided that I should wait to begin photographing the classes.  She didn’t want the classes to appear empty, but I suspect that the absent students and teachers also didn’t want to miss the chance to be photographed.

The headmaster told me that the only class that was full was one of the lower grades, but she did not want me to sit in on that class because it would be taught in Chichewa only.  Despite my reassurance that the language didn’t matter, and my joke that the languages didn’t show up in the photos, I was still told to wait until the classes were ready for me.

So I sat in the headmaster’s office and photographed the posters on the wall and the occasional student who came to peak at me.  Hanging on the wall was a plaque that said that the school had won an award for the best kept school a few years back.  On the board to the left were all the school schedules listing who taught when and what each class would study every day.  According to those schedules, the classes studied by the older students, which I would be photographing, are English, Chichewa, mathematics, social and environmental sciences, science and technology, expressive arts, agriculture, and life skills.  The board to the right talked about the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) and other school organizations.

The teacher helping students at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

The teacher of Standard 6 at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

I continued to sit in the office well after classes started.  I could hear the younger students next door chanting the alphabet and the sounds of each letter.  When song broke out, Stanley told me that the students were embarrassing someone who had shown up late to class.  Every once in a while, I would hear lots of loud laughing and shouting.  Stanley told me that the students were chiding one of their classmates for failing something.

After a few hours, the heat and the chanting  started lulling me to sleep.  Finally, around 10am, I was told I could photograph standard/grade 6.  I was marched across the courtyard and into the classroom, where the students promptly stood up, chanted “Hello madam!  How are you!”, waited for my response, then sat back down in unison.  Quite a greeting.  The teacher walked in behind me, and she was greeted in the same way.

Girl Reciting Answers at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

A teacher discussing different types of irrigation at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.



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.The first lesson I photographed was agriculture.  The students were learning about different types of irrigation, which plants grew best with which type, and why it is important to irrigate crops.  They broke into groups to discuss each part, then gave a summary of what they talked about.  In between listening and writing, the students tried to slyly watch what I was doing.  When they thought I wasn’t looking, they would point at me and whisper furiously, breaking into laughter and hiding behind their hands when I caught them.

The teacher of standard 6 at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Next was mathematics.  The teacher began by having all the students stand up and asking them multiplication questions.  When a student answered a question correctly, he or she was allowed to sit down.  The rest of the class would clap for each right answer, always the same beat and always in unison: clap-clap-clap!  clap-clap-clap!  clap!  clap!  clap!  clap!  It’s pretty impressive (and slightly daunting) to watch and hear nearly 50 teens react in unison.  It reminded me of the military.

I thought I would be spending the whole day with the same class, but since it was such a special occasion to have a photographer at the school, all the classes wanted their time in front of the lens.  But the headmaster had only ok’d one other class.  After taking a portrait of the teacher of standard 6, I was whisked away to the next group.

A class at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Again, upon my entrance into the classroom, the whole class stood up, chanted their greetings and welcomes, then sat back down in unison.  They didn’t tell me which year the class was and I didn’t want to interrupt to ask, but they were mostly between two and seven years younger than the students in the other class.

They were just about to begin their English lesson when I arrived.  The teacher held up hand-written cards with vocabulary words on them and asked the students to read them.  When she exhausted the pile, she instructed the students  to open their reading books and read to themselves a short story.  When they had finished, she helped them critically analyze the story and answer comprehension questions.

A class at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

The story was about two students, one male and one female, who were in school preparing for the examinations that would decide whether they were eligible to attend university.  The boy wanted to become a pilot (one of the vocab words) and the girl wanted to become a doctor.  The girl’s parents told her that she didn’t need to take the exams because girls weren’t allowed to become doctors.  The teacher discussed gender equality with the class and explained that any of them could become anything they wanted, no matter whether they were male or female.

I had gotten the impression throughout the morning that the topics of the lessons had been chosen for my benefit and to show the school the way they thought I, as a westerner, a mzungu, would expect a proper school to operate.  That story may or may not have been chosen for that lesson that reason, but I was still very happy that the story was included in their thin reading book.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more first-world schools encourage their girls more as well.

A boy reading to his class at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

To finish up the English lesson, the class studied conjunctions.  The students answered the questions very quickly and would have put most native English speakers (who, from my experience, can rarely even define “conjunctions”) to shame.  This lesson was tied into the same story they had just finished reading, so many of the sentences in the exercise were about attending school frequently, studying hard, and choosing ambitious careers.

Throughout the lesson, giggles trickled through the windows.  Students from other classes were sneaking from their rooms to sit under the window sill of the room I was in, sneaking glances when they thought I wasn’t looking.  Inside, the students also watched me intently.  They dutifully returned to their work when I pointed my camera at them, looking very studious for the photos, but they returned to gawking when I photographed someone else  When I pointed my camera in the direction of the kids outside, the windows quickly became full of faces pressed against the slats, hoping to get in my photos.  I only snapped off a few shots because they starting making a lot of noise.  I knew my presence was disruptive enough, so I didn’t want the kids outside to create further distractions.

Kids peeking into a classroom at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

A student completing in-class assignments at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

When the English lesson was over, I decided it was time to leave.  I had already finished the liter of water I had brought with me and my stomach was voicing its emptiness.  The classroom was stifling hot because very little breeze made it through the slatted windows.  Between the heat, my hunger and dehydration, and the weight of my gear (I definitely over packed), I was already feeling slightly weak and very tired.  I thanked the headmaster and all the teachers before setting off with Stanley on the half-hour walk under the midday sun back to where I am staying.  My remaining energy only barely got me to the bar, where I immediately downed a liter of cold water.  (If the winter heat takes such a toll on me, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die come October when the real heat starts.)

A teacher at the Namazizi School in Monkey Bay, Malawi.

Overall, I think the shoot was successful.  I got some absolutely gorgeous photos of the students, but there isn’t enough room in this post to show more than those that tell the story.  At times it did feel like I was photographing a well-choreographed play instead of a normal school day, but I’m sure that’s just because having a photographer at the school was such a novelty and they wanted to look their best and be on their best behavior.

I’m hoping that the next time I go to Lilongwe or Blantyre, I can print some of the photos I took at the school.  I want to bring the photos back to the teachers and students so they can see what I have done and so they will feel more comfortable granting me more access to the classes in the future.

Chirombo Village Pt. 1

Posted in Malawi by stefaniegiglio on 08 June 2010

A man fishing in Chirombo Bay, Malawi.

Two women washing clothes and pots in Chirombo Bay, Malawi.

A man in a makoro, on his way to go fishing in Chirombo Bay, Malawi.

Since I’ve been living on Chirombo Bay for over a month now, I figured it was time for me to actually visit the village nearby.  I’ve walked along the shore a few times, but I hadn’t actually entered the village.

Today, I walked along the water, stopping to photograph some women washing clothes and pots in the lake.  They laughed and talked to me in Chichewa and I responded in English.  Although neither of us understood the other, we had a good time.

Further along the shore, I photographed some men fishing.  They were just leaving to go out on the lake, so I couldn’t talk with them for very long.  As I photographed them, some boys about 100m away saw me and called to me.  I was surprised they saw me–I was standing in some reeds behind a tree–but there are so few azungu (white people) in the area that they get very excited when they see one.

Boys of Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Boys next to a baobab tree in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

I went over to the boys and asked if I could photograph them.  Their English wasn’t very good, but they responded in Chichewa with one of the few words I have learned: “Jambule,” or “Take my picture!”  I motioned for them to stand in the shade (shade is beautiful light for photos, but it’s also much nicer on my burnt shoulders).  As I did earlier in the day, I chatted with them in English while they talked back in Chichewa, even though we only understood a few words of what the other was saying.  After some photos (in the various locations the boys led me to!),  I told the boys that I wanted to see the village.  It took some sign language and pointing on my part, but they soon happily led me up the dirt road to the village.

Within a few seconds of my arrival, a crowd started to form.  The adults peeked out of buildings and the children crept to within a few meters of me.  One man approached me and began asking me about myself.  I asked if he could show me around the village, but he was the only one working at a nearby shop, so he declined.

A homemade alcohol distiller in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

I wandered over to a baobab tree I had passed when I entered the village.  I was intrigued by the writing that covered the lower portion of its trunk, which I was later told listed some of the important members of the village.  I approached a group of men under a tree a few feet away who were discussing the future of the village and those who lived there.  One of the men who spoke very good English, Stanley, gave me a tour of the village.

Homemade Alcohol in Chirombo Village, Malawi

We started at his house, where I met his mother and two children.  He then showed me where he brews his “beer.”  From what I have heard from others, it’s not so much “beer” as it is “nearly pure alcohol.”  Supposedly two shots can make hefty German men pass out.  I was also told that there are some pretty gnarly things in some brews, such as batteries.

A pigeon house in Chirombo Village, Malawi.

But according to Stanley, the ingredients are only water, sugar, and corn.  He lets the mixture sit for three days before he puts it in his distilling contraption where it is boiled.   Somehow (he had difficulty explaining this part) the alcohol leaves the pot, flows down the tube in the log, and drips into a waiting bottle by way of a strip of reed.

Pigeons in the pigeon house. Chirombo Village, Malawi.

Near the alcohol distillery, there was a strange, small hut on stilts.  When I looked inside, I found pigeons.  I asked Stanley what he used them for, but he said they are like flowers and are only there for beauty.

Next, he took me to the local school.  I talked to the headmaster, and she gave me permission to spend Thursday morning photographing the school.  I’ll be photographing the oldest students because I am hoping they will be less distracted by me and my camera than the younger children.  We’ll see!