Jumping off the treadmill

After many weeks of threatening to write a blog about my upcoming time in Malawi, I’ve finally managed to get started. I’ve learnt from various friends who are struggling writing their dissertations here in Edinburgh, that the opening chapter or paragraph, or even sentence, is the hardest. Hopefully with this first post out of the way, the rest should be easy!

Writing a blog seems like a good way of keeping in contact and sharing my experiences*. It’s easier than sending out individual emails to friends and family, thus allowing for more regular news, and it also doesn’t clog up people’s inboxes.

There is an option to comment at the end of each post. Please use it! I think feedback would be great.

One less easy aspect is knowing how to pitch this blog. I hope that it will be of interest to friends and family in Cape Town, friends in Scotland, psychiatric colleagues, and other loyal hangers-on. So the focus of posts may vary from the uninterestingly psychiatric, or mundanely descriptive, to touristy and factual, to feverish and confused if the malaria takes hold. There is something a bit exhibitionist about writing a blog also, which doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me. But a songwriter on Radio 4 commented in an interview recently that, in songwriting, the more personal and specific it is, the more universal it becomes, paradoxically. The same is no doubt true for a blog, but writing a large group email like this to many people tends to flatten out personal nuances which might usually make stories more interesting. Striking a balance between the personal and the bland will be a challenge.

First some basic orientation. I’m going to Malawi for four months (at least) from September to December 2008, to fill a psychiatric post advertised by VSO on their website. The psychiatric job at Zomba Mental Hospital in southern Malawi was the only VSO job I could reasonably do, so it wasn’t an specific choice to go there. However, the more I read and hear about Malawi, the keener and more excited I get. Malawi seems to be a fantastic place! It’s advertised as “the warm heart of Africa”, or “Africa for beginners” according to my guidebook. Without fail, all the people who I’ve spoken to who have been there spontaneously volunteer that “the people are so friendly” – just like the guidebook says! It is relatively stable politically, relatively safe, beautiful, friendly, and most people speak some English as a second language. VSO (Voluntary Service Organisation, website here) have a great deal of experience in sending out volunteers, and have made the process very easy. (More on this in a later post I think.)

Three VSO workers from the UK, including me, are flying out on the 10th September, thus only necessitating a single in-country briefing when we arrive in the capital Lilongwe. So far I have no actual job description, though I will be based at the 322-bedded Zomba Mental Hospital. The town of Zomba lies about 200km south of Lilongwe, overlooked by the impressive Zomba Plateau which is good for walking. One friend laughed when I told him I was going to Zomba, then politely told me there is very little there, then gleefully chuckled again. Well, my understanding is that ZMH is the main and largest psychiatric hospital in Malawi, so hardly nothing there, I’d say! The hospital, unexpectedly, has it’s own website! Check it out. There is sponsorship from the UK and the Netherlands. I’ll write about the hospital when I’m there.

That’s it for this first post.

* Some friends, ahem, detest the idea of a “blog” – well, you know who you are, and if you’re reading this then before you know it you’ll be dining with drug reps, all your ideals drowned in expensive red wine.



  1. Mom said

    I found it! First try! Very impressed with my goggle skills. Seems like an excelleny way to keep in contact with everyone. Looking forward to future episodes…….

  2. Gareth said

    Well done mom! Very impressed. I’ll phone this coming Saturday when back in UK for seven hours…

  3. Natalie said

    Hey Gareth! I also think this blog is an excellent idea. A blog is far less intrusive than group emails so I think you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about writing about your experiences this way (I think you write very nicely by the way!). Please continue! x x

  4. Marielle van Velzen said

    Hi Gareth, I totally agree with Nat, it reads like a novel and I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures in Malawi. Lots of love from the Netherlands!

  5. Cynthia said

    Hi Bat…. What a lot you’ve done in a few short years! Had lunch with your Mom today hence am now reading your blog which is extremely interesting.

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