“You are most welcome”

Zomba seems to be a noisy place at night. Unable to shake my vague feeling of unease from the previous night, I slowly drifted off to sleep on my mattress on the floor, to the faint sounds of lively African music blaring from a tinny speaker somewhere in the distance. A short while later I was woken by a chorus of at least four howling dogs only a few houses away. They were almost synchronised, starting and ending within a second or two of each other, perhaps echoing the initial wail of their chorus leader. Each howl swooped up and drifted down in a mournful arc of sound, joining the other howls in closely spaced chords. Barbershop dogs, I thought. It was almost but not quite beautiful. Feeling sorry for the dogs, I drifted once again into sleep. Moments later I noticed a new sound, another mournful melody, too structured for a dog. A melancholic phrase was being sung repeatedly into the dark night, as if half-sung half-moaned through a shoe-box. I could not make out any words, but the tune was the same every time. Repeated again and again, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, always penetrating. Why? Had somebody died? Was this a very clever dog? Was I imagining it? I checked my watch in bafflement – it was 5am. And still dark. I tried to ignore the sound, and managed to get back to sleep.

I woke at 7am, before the alarm, to a beautiful day. Our backyard, seen for the first time in daylight, follows the style of our house: it is huge and bare.



After a cold shower (not managed to find the hot water switch yet), Steph, Penny and I sat in our living room waiting for the hospital transport. We discussed the slightly awkward situation concerning our night-guard. We think that sitting in the living room is not usual for a night guard, but are too polite and English to be able to say anything. It looks like we will spend the next few months in the kitchen, leaving the living room to the guard. No, it’s decided we must say something – specifically I must say something. I am about to make the awful confrontation, but am saved when our transport arrives. I did suggest however that the guard spend the day outside. On the way into work, we passed the mosque in town, and surmised that the mournful singing must be part of Ramadan. I hoped it wouldn’t happen every morning at five.

Everybody at the hospital seemed delighted to see us. “You are most welcome,” was the standard greeting. We met various hospital staff, from porters to clinical nurses, and there was much shaking of hands. The fastidious HR manager met with us again formally and outlined an induction program which would last two weeks – mornings only. We gently argued that this may not be necessary, but he was firm. He would draw up a program and we would start on Monday. He suggested that we be given a quick tour of Zomba, which seemed like an excellent idea to us as we needed basic supplies. We however were shown around the three main hotels in Zomba, given views of all the rooms and their prices. This was somewhat bewildering, as we had a house and were clearly not going to use a hotel. But it seemed to be what they thought we would be most interested in. Again, we gently tried to push onwards, into town to get toilet paper and bread, but there was no rushing our tour. Some of the hotels had wonderful positions and views, with lush well manicured gardens. I will remember these for any visitors who demand a bit of luxury*.

Hotel view looking at Zomba Plateau

Hotel view looking at Zomba Plateau

We were joined for lunch by Rob Stewart, a psychiatrist from Manchester who has just taken up a two-year teaching post at the College of Medicine in Blantyre. Rob has been in Malawi many times before, and is likely to be our fount of knowledge for a while. He gave us a quick lift back to the hospital and showed us around. The buildings are old, but there is evidence of new construction, and we passed patients playing soccer and netball on two recently constructed pitches. “There are a million things to do,” Rob tells us.

That evening our guard arrives, and I have the talk with him, suggesting that he would be more effective as a guard if he sits outside. He nods in agreement, and seems unbothered by his change of habitat. Before going to bed I decided to take him a cup of tea. (We plan to buy a flask for him soon.) I walked around the house once, but there was no sign of him. The night sounds wafted in the breeze, but no guard. I did another circuit, this time calling his name. Still nothing. This strikes me as curious, as Vincent appears reliable and responsible. I don’t understand why he would leave the house. I went inside to get my head torch. (My Petzl head torch, recommended to me by a friend, is just fantastic and I would recommend one to anybody.) This time I walk around, pointing my head to illuminate corners and the yard. Suddenly I hear a startled voice to my left – “Hey! Who goes there?”. It is Vincent, I have woken him from sleep in the garage. I to am startled, and call my name, then apologise for waking him. I give him the cup of tea, we engage in some light banter, and I return inside, wondering if we should get him a bed.



*Hint to mom and dad.


1 Comment »

  1. Sue said

    This did make me giggle – and sad not to be there anymore!
    Hope the motor cycling is going ok! Be careful!

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