Cinema Matawale

Various small retail triumphs today. After the morning’s induction – a very useful talk with Felix Kauye, the Chief Govermment Psychiatrist – we headed into town to do some shopping using Rob’s car. Rob comes in to Zomba from Blantyre every Monday and Tuesday, staying over in our large house, and while we are without transport his RAV-4 is a luxury. Found the local Carlsberg depot where one can buy a crate of 20 Carlsberg “greens” for K1470. That’s a mere 74 kwacha (30p or R4.60) per beer, including bottle deposit. I think we’re onto a winner there. Then into town, where I manage to find white bread flour – in 10kg sacks, for about the same price as the crate of beers! I’ll need to bake a loaf of bread in the little oven about every three days to get through that bag in four months. I am very pleased with this. Driving back to the house, Steph points out a small rattan couch being sold next to the road which she was quoted K3500 for. We stop and talk to the man who seems to be in charge of making them. This time, with more than one person showing interest, the price starts at K4500, but we rapidly bring him down, eventually negotiating two couches for K6000. Only one is ready now, and we’ll pick the other up tomorrow. That’s £24 for a very basic lounge suite – plus K300 (120p) for a gentleman to carry them to our flat. I do feel almost a bit bad about this, because the couches are well made and seem to be worth much more.

Later, on the way back from picking Rob up from his clinic, we stop in town to pick up some supplies. I park roughly in the brown rutted parking space, cars squeezing by and people walking past continuously on their way home. Rob nips into the shop. I buy a cell-phone top-up card from a vendor who approaches me (this is how mobile phones are topped up in Malawi), and am soon approached by the inevitable guy selling strawberries by the (tiny) box, and then by a guy selling oranges. The oranges look big and juicy, and I show far too much interest, but they are K90 each and thus expensive, I think. Slowly I’m calibrating myself to what things cost here. I refuse the offers of fruit, and the sellers smile and move on. They are incredibly persistent if they think there is any chance of a sale, but once it’s clear you are not interested they move on in a friendly manner. Nevertheless, I do find the constant approaches a bit tiring at times. Next, while I am still sitting in the car, a smart suited man approaches, seeking me out in the throng of people. He looks directly at me, and has a mischievous glint in his eye. I am immediately suspicious, wondering what he wants from me, or what he’s going to try to sell me. He can’t be offering me a taxi because I’m already sitting in a car.
“Moni achemwene,” he says, Hello young man. He speaks clearly and slowly, obviously trying to disarm me with his smoothness.
“Moni,” I reply, still suspicious.
We run through the usual greeting, but he still goes on. “Dzina lanu ndani?” he asks, What is your name?
It’s very common for Malawians to ask your name (and even phone number sometimes), but this is a bit weird. I’m sitting in a car minding my own business, and this dude comes up to me in his suit, smiling and charming, engages me in a slow deliberate conversation, and is now asking my name. I’m weary, and am about to tell him I don’t need whatever he’s selling. But first I answer him, “Dzina langa ndi Gareth*.”
“Ah, Gareth. Dzina langa ndi Dick.”
Aaah! Dick is Rob’s Chichewa teacher, and he is going to teach us also! Suddenly it all makes sense. Rob had come to pick him up, which I forgot entirely. Dick was letting me practise my phrases! I feel a twinge of shame for having doubted him. Dick is a very likeable character, and he really seems to enjoy teaching Chichewa. On the drive home with him and Rob, he exercises Rob a bit, as it’s his lesson tonight. Our household will be having lessons on Tuesday night, starting tomorrow.

Cinema Matawale

Cinema Matawale

This evening was also the opening of Cinema Matewale – after the suburb where we live. We have a large living room with large bare walls. Rob has a video projector and good portable speakers, which he has promised to bring on Monday evenings. Thus we opened with a screening of Casablanca, for an audience of around ten people, including all our local VSO colleagues and two visiting psychiatric nurses from Yorkshire. Despite the early power cuts, it was a successful evening, and I hope the first of many.

We may look dorky but we get the job done.

VSO volunteers: We may look dorky but we get the job done.

*Gareth is a difficult name for many Malawians to pronounce. I have to repeat it a few times. Already on our second day in the hospital some admin staff were calling me Peter , my middle name which obviously appeared on some documents somewhere. (Peter is also nice and biblical, thus well known to most Malawians.) Other names which I’m learning to accept are Greth, Garff, Jealous and Gyros. Another volunteer Theresa said she is known simply as Tweezer.



  1. Natalie said

    Hey Gyros, or should I say Garff? 😉

    Especially Gyros made me laugh a lot, as in the Netherlands Giros is a greek type of shoarma (in english also?). Nice to hear you’re settling in more, learning to pay the right price, buying nice furniture (will you have to sell everything again once you leave Malawi?) and starting a local cinema!

    x x


  2. Vassilis said

    Γύρος that is. Hello Gareth, nice to read you!

    If we pay some more, can we have the lounce sofa delivered to the Hague.

    All the best,


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