Blisters and Back Pain

My host family celebrating Canada Day with some Hot Chocolate 🙂


The Soul fam jam is a sweet little gang. Witness and Loveness are a happy couple who have two kids, Olivia and Prince who are five and one, respectively.  Witness is a busy guy, working as a Health Surveillance Agent (HSA) at the local Health Center then after work rushing off to school. He’s upgrading his secondary school grades to further his education at a university level; his goal is to reach university by 2014. Olivia is a shy five year old that thinks I’m a freak. Honestly, every child I’ve met here has been over the moon to see me. Olivia, she couldn’t care less – I’m taking it as a reality check. Prince is a handful; weather he’s eating some random object, rolling in the dirt, or singing his early morning songs you can count on him to be up to something. Loveness went took driving lessons after secondary school (few people in Malawi have drivers licences), but living in the village isn’t exactly conducive to life as a driver, so she’s been busting her butt as a house wife for the past few months. Loveness to visit family this past week, and this busting your butt action is what I got to experience first-hand.

Welcome to my Home


The day after Loveness left I realized that I should not have graduated from boy scouts. Armed with six matches I went to battle against the newly splintered wood, aiming to set it ablaze. I set up the tried and true tepee system, with dried kindling and miniscule flakes of wood. Nevertheless, to my fellow boy scout graduates dismay I was down 4 or 5 matches and all I had to show were the chard match sticks. Disappointed with my assumed fire god capabilities, I caved and used a piece of paper from my notebook to start the stubborn fire. This was but the first lesson in my week of “learning’’.

Lesson two: cooking is exhausting. In rural Malawi, people don`t have the time or money to be comfortable cooking. I had the privilege of experiencing this first hand. One lunch midway through my week of learning, it was my time to shine; Mr. Soul was busy at work, and my hunger (which I can only assume matched Mr. Soul`s) was consuming me. With a successful ride on the now pedal less Super Bike I got home determined to unleash my inner chef and make some nsima with soya pieces.

I decided that inhaling the plastic bag was worth the familiarity of cooking with charcoal, but twenty minutes passed and I still wasn`t sure if I had lit the fire – once again failing my fellow boy scouts. Reluctantly, I dove into the cooking unknown and started the wood fire, on which I had never cooked nsima. I found the nsima pot in the darkness of the kitchen covered in the previous night’s snima. Half-heartedly, I grabbed the pot and started scrubbing away which my body quickly rejected – sending obstinate, frustrating aches throughout my back. Finally, with the water heated I started to cook. Successfully cooking nsima on a wood fire, without injury, could win first place at any talent show. Singers and plate spinners got nothing on nsima cookers who have to balance a pot on rocks with precision while aggressively stirring, dodging molten projectiles, and avoiding the scolding touch of the nsima pot – effectively cauterizing any blisters and cuts that you`ve accumulated chopping wood. Needless to say, I came out charred and with a new found appreciation for nsima. Luckily, I had a much easier go with the soya pieces. I sat down exhausted from my laborious work and let the nsima dissolve the hunger brewing within me. It took an absurd amount of time to cook this seemingly simple meal, and Mr. Soul could only laugh when I re-enacted my cooking prowess.


Things I learnt this week:

  • Use the dull knife when peeling cassava
  • My body is soft, and borderline intolerable to changes to the privileged lifestyle that I`ve been accustomed to.
  • Attempting to chop the knotted mango tree is more character building then for fire wood
  • My mustache is awesome (personal reflection)
  • When carrying water on your head tilt the water bucket farther back then you would think
  • Be attentive to your firewood reserves – cold baths are soul shocking
  • Searching for sweet potatoes in the morning is a great opportunity to meet your neighbours

Even though this week was my most frustrating, painful, and tiring week yet, its allowed me to understand some of the challenges that Malawian women face on a daily basis.

Now I’m heading off to Lake Malawi for a team meeting and Mid Placement Retreat! So stoked! Time to feel like a tourist 🙂

Thanks for reading! I’d love to read your comments and questions!


So what’s Canadian culture?

– Boo ya internet’s working! 

So what’s Canadian culture? What’s Canada like?

I answer these questions no different than the other plethora of inquisitive questions I’m asked here – laughingly because of the nuance of the question and reflective to come up with a reasonable answer.  

Typically, I say Canadian culture is hard to describe, a mash up of sorts. We have two national languages of which I can only speak one – queue the Malawian head shake. We don’t really have a staple food comparable to nsima (maize patties) in Malawi. People dress in a way often unique to the individual but along the same guidelines as is in Malawi. We dance sparingly and give head nods down instead of head nods up to say hi. Overall, I say nothing special.

But sometimes Malawians push for more, “You don’t have local languages or traditions like Malawi?” I almost boast as I speak of something I know next to nothing about, the ancient traditions and assortment of local languages that make up native culture. It’s interesting to me that in Canada the notion of native culture is a seemingly separate identity then Canadian culture. Contrarily, while I’ve been in Malawi I find myself identifying native culture as almost the foundation of Canadian culture. But in reality this idea seems more farfetched then true. I’ve also noticed I idealize Canada when I’m describing it. Not so much that everything’s blue skies and smiles but idealizing in the way I personally see Canada: mountainous, forests of pine and cedar, fishing the salmon run, the immenseness and vibe of Vancouver, the beauty of living in the Okanagan, the sights and sounds that are special to Canada’s West. It’s all impressive to say the least.

These are my personal views of course, but I wonder what would happen if every Canadian had the opportunity to travel to a far off place and describe Canada for how they saw it. Would people come back with a little more fire to fight for what they believe in?

Ultimately, what’s required to transform the conveniently unresponsive Canadian to a demanding citizen? I’d love to know the answer to this question.

What a Morning

This morning my Bike Taxi driver told me that a man committed suicide. We were heading into town on the back road when we saw the man hanging from a tree. It’s rumored that he just returned from the hospital, where he found out he was HIV positive. What a morning.

Feeling the Zomba Vibe


Welcome to Zomba

Ha ha I’m incredibly sorry for the incredibly delayed post! The internet and I have formed a sort of love hate relationship. Which involves awesome highs that involve comments on my blog and email updates to frustrating lows that see me staring at an unable to load page. Enough excuses, here’s some thoughts from my last few weeks!

With the sounds of Jay-z and Kid Cudi vibrating the walls I moved into my new place at the Makwapala Health Center. I was welcomed into my new home, by my Rap/Hip-Hop loving roommate Robert Lapkin. The house is pretty snazzy with three rooms, two beds and electricity – living in luxury. The funny thing is both beds are packed into one room while the other two rooms are empty; making the bonding experience that much faster. I spent the first couple days practising my Chichewa, settling in to work, being confused and making a fool of myself. Robert and I, eat at Kumbo’s – a 22-year old nurse – house where Auntie – a middle aged woman – is hired to cook and clean. Auntie’s English is years better than my Chichewa but is broken at best. One night, I was with Auntie as she was preparing dinner. We exchanged sign language, and pieces of Chichewa and English, trying to communicate with one another; however, we were both lost in a haze of each other’s language. Then we heard the all too familiar “Click” of the power being shut off – the daily blackout in rural Malawi. In this moment, we both looked at each other and went ahhh, and for a split second the haze was lifted and we understood each other. We couldn’t help but laugh in the darkness.

These black outs are a means to reduce the amount of energy the country consumes. The power usually clicks off around dinner, which forces people to use the loosely illegal charcoal stoves or their limited fire wood to cook up nsima, or fry some unlucky nsomba (fish). Starting these fires is usually an issue as kindling/paper is again limited. “Luckily” plastic is in abundance, and holds a flame surprisingly well. Here’s a blurb from my journal.

“I sit back as Auntie (Fabian) lights the fire with an old plastic bag. I watch as the bag slowly burns – fumes encompass Auntie. I watch as Aunty smiles, enjoying the newly lit fire, on which the nsima will be cooked.”

These moments are pretty disheartening. If Auntie’s aware of the health risks or not, I don’t think it would make a difference; burning plastic is the easiest and cheapest option.

Mr. Mandala is the Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) Supervisor at the Makwapala Health Center. I’m working closely with Mr. Mandala gaining information on the Health Center’s Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program. One of the objectives of my placement is to look at how CLTS fits into the HSAs role, what makes this relationship work, and what challenges this partnership faces. Last week, Mr. Mandala and I went out to collect some bamboo to revamp his fence. Technique is the key as Mr. Mandala demonstrated; braking through a knot I was sweating over with ease. Loading the bamboo onto our bikes I ensured Mr. Mandala that I was strong and could handle the larger load of bamboo. As he unwillingly strapped the big load to my bike, my feeble bike carrier wavered under the weight. Never the less, I hopped on and with the guiding balance of Mr. Mandala I was off! That is, until I hit sand, which sucked up my tires and tipped Superbike (I’ll introduce my bike later) and I over. The crowd of villagers watching literally fell to the ground laughing. Reluctantly, I switched loads with Mr. Mandala. On the ride back to the Health Center, Mr. Mandala spoke as a wise mentor as we established we have much to learn from one another.

Who’s the popular Canadian musician in Malawi? It’s a toss-up between Drake and Shania Twain. I’d put my money on Shania Twain though, as the same Shania CD plays on repeat every day at Kumbo’s house. I mean 5am to 9pm, 16 hours of Shania love. Every day. In terms of music, it can only go Up Up Up from here.

A couple thoughts from my week:
• Transportation Challenges – Simply not being able to travel to town to use internet or get supplies, because of lack of transportation is trying on your nerves.
• Family sponsor from Italy, directly supporting a friend to go to school. It was neat to meet someone that a sponsor a child programs has affected.
• Robert and I’s repertoire of cookable recipes with the available ingredients is limited to rice – we enjoyed rice for every meal while the girls were away last the weekend.
• Malawians are incredibly hard working. Case and point, two guys spent three full days cutting wood planks out of a fallen tree. The rhythmic sawing went on for hours on end.
• Malawian churches are welcoming, friendly, and a place to develop a stunning voice.

Let me introduce the self-titled “Superbike’’ in all her beauty. I bought her last week, stocked with features such as 18 gears, pad brakes, and a shiny coat of paint. Her maiden voyage from the Boma (district capital) to my home (approx. 17km) was smooth and flawless.

Captains Log May 23, 8:25 am
I woke this morning excited for Superbikes third voyage, this one to the Matawale Health Center. In my pre-boarding check I discovered the air pressure in both tires were below standards. I stopped at a bike repair stand and for 20 Malawi Kwacha (KW) the Superbike and I were practically flying again. However, as we were about to hit the long awaited shady downhill part of our journey; I heard a disturbing flapping noise. The Superbike’s rear tire had blown out. My 45 minute bike ride just turned into a 2 hour walkathon. Some of my journal notes explain the rest of the adventure

Captains Log May 23, 9:27 am
I thought I found my saving grace 10 minutes ago, another bike repair shop. At the shop I met Gift who quickly patched up my leaky tire, taught me some Chichewa and sent me on my way. Not a kilometer later, my left peddle fell off; a lethal blow to my biking experience. Conveniently, there was another bike repair shop nearby (bike repair shops are common along the main roads of Zomba). Through banging of what seemed like random metal objects and a little wrench work, my peddle was back on and I was good to go.

Captains Log May 23, 9:39 am
AGH! My peddle wobbled itself off again. Obviously a quality repair job. No more repairs for this “Superbike”, I’m walking. Let me emphasis this is a NEW BIKE!

On my way home, I stopped at 3 different repair shops. Each one failing to secure my bike peddle for more than 10 minutes of on-edge riding. At the third bike repair stop (where my friend Gift welcomed me once again), I rode around after Gift fixed up my bike and sure enough the peddle rattled loose. A bewildered Gift tightened the peddle on again, this time I added a couple strenuous turns of my own to the stubborn nut. Realizing this was all I could do, I paid Gift and rode on praying that the peddle would stay in place. Luckily, the peddle held and I made it home – ass numbed, and legs drained. A couple of short successful rides later the Superbike and I headed out for Matawale again. Once more this didn’t pan out, as my back tire popped 4 times travelling there and back. My theoretical 45 minute bike ride home took me 4 hours… Needless to say, I bought some higher quality tires for my “Superbike” today.

Last night, I moved into my friend Witness Soul’s house, which is tucked away in the beautiful Zomba landscape. I’ve been taken in as a brother would be to their family of four which includes Witness, Loveness (Witness’ wife), and their two children Olivia and Prince. The first night came with a volley of first experiences, new conversations and of course laughs. Getting to know my new family makes me excited and relieved to settle into where I hopefully will be spending the next few months.

I’m anxious to ramp up the work that we’ve been building towards for the past few weeks and to get to know my new family. I’ll work to post a new blog on a more frequent basis as I find these tid bits of information simply don’t give my experience justice. As always I’d love to read your comments and ponder your questions.

Week 1 in Malawi

Kids from Palombe in Ninja mode

First off, I have to give a big thank you to my chapter, the fam jam and everyone that worked to make my placement with EWB possible. Special cheers goes out to all the SA JF’s and all the people at National Office for the great conversations, music exchanges, debates, beers, stories, and inspiring experiences that made training such a great experience.

I’ve been in Malawi for a week and as cliché as it sounds this country is already starting to show me another side of the bigger picture. Through my first week it’s apparent that Malawians are welcoming, honest people that are keen to help a stranger in need, whether that be a Chichewa lesson over some nsima, sticking up for you on a bus, or telling you to grab more oranges because you paid too much. In general, the Malawian vibe is pretty relaxed and understanding.

I landed in Lilongwe on the 7th and have been training and travelling around the country with my manager/coach/guru guy Mike since then. After several days of detours and stop overs, Mike and I finally arrived in the Zomba district today sunburnt, legs shredded and hopped on Fanta. Zomba seems great on the surface – lush and friendly. I’ll be working here for the next 3 months focusing on improving CLTS adoption within 3 health centers (HC) and looking at what factors inhibit and benefit the adoption of CLTS methods.

Prior to being in Malawi, I had a lot of conscious and unconscious assumptions that I collected through twisted stories, news articles, and info off the web. My first week has proved many of these assumptions invalid. Assumptions like what level of infrastructure might be present, or even how many people live here were dismissed upon landing in Malawi. Whether you’re in the boma (district capital) or on a back road, you are always surrounded by people. Maybe it was naïve of me, but the amount of people here is still something that surprises me.

On a basic level I’ve successfully enforced the stereotype that all Canadians know one another… In conversation it would come up that we are Canadians and then the immediate response would be, “Oh you must know Owen or Mike (all members of the EWB team here).” The only Canadians that the Malawians we spoke with knew, just so happen to work for EWB.

I’ll throw out some travelling tips that I’ve learnt over the past week:

#1 Always give yourself more time than you think you’re going to need to travel. Whether your bike taxi goes astray, or your mini bus driver has to explain why he doesn’t have his licence at every road block, there is probably going to be some sort of tweak in your travel plans.

#2 Wear Sunscreen. Seriously do it. It might save you, when you find yourself lost on a bike taxi.

#3 Only bring out your camera if you’re willing to pay a time penalty. Kids can sense a camera from a mile away, so give yourself at least 20 minutes to account for the barrage of kids that will assemble and pose like ninjas.

#4 Bring a positive attitude and an open mind. There are a lot of things that I’ve tried for the first time living in Malawi: sugar cane, a bike taxi, local foods, shitting in a hole, make shifting a clothes line, trying to make an air filter out of my shirt to avoid exhaust poisoning, being a minority, attempting to communicate in Chichewa and heaps more.

I think having an open mind is the key. Simply put, half the time I don’t know what the heck I’m getting myself into. Being able to stay positive and go with the flow seems like the best plan to squeeze out every opportunity that presents itself, but hell only time will tell.

As is the JF tradition, I’ll be living in a village for 3 months. I expect electricity and food variety will be limited over this time, which should make for an interesting summer.

I`m sorry for how incredibly disjointed this post is. I’ve left many important details out, but please have faith; there will be more to come! For the inquisitive minds I’d appreciate to hear any questions you may have or simply post a comment.

For a detailed break down on the last couple days check out Mike’s entertaining post at

First One Baby!

Hello World!

My names Will, and I’m in my 3rd year of Civil Engineering at UBC Okanagan. This summer I will be on an internship as a Junior Fellow with Engineers Without Borders. Stay tuned for personal updates in Canada and Malawi!

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