Ku Mudzi

Ku mudzi”, “at the village”, this is how I spent my last weekend. For much of my time in Malawi I’ve been based at a youth hostel in Lilongwe. Although I’m kept quite busy by EWB’s programs, and my own learning objectives, I still don’t have a formal placement arranged. Things are in the works but, as those who have been to Malawi likely know, sometimes things can be a little slow in this part of the world.

The youth hostel is comfortable, but it isn’t at all representative of Malawi – the crowd is mostly other volunteers and travelers, plus some expats and Malawians who come in at night to hang out at the bar. For this reason I’ve been taking every opportunity to get out into the field, and deepen my connection to rural Malawi.

The only picture of the hostel I’ve taken – random plants just outside the patio. I’ll come up with something better later.

Luckily, just such an opportunity came this past weekend. Graham Lettner, a fellow EWB OVS and recently acquired friend, offered to organize a weekend stay for me with his old host: Mr. Enos Banda.

For Enos, I think hosting EWB volunteers is a bit of an old-hat. Danny Howard, a former OVS and current EWB Canada Director of Outreach, lived with him in 2007 for three months. Following that, Graham lived with him for nine months, becoming quite close with his family. Finally, through those connections he has had as guests, for varying lengths of time, no less than six other OVS, and one of EWB’s co-CEOs. All that to say, he’s pretty used to having EWB people as visitors.

SDC13348 The informal EWB Guest Room at Enos’s house. Not the world’s most comfortable bedding arrangement, but not that bad at all. It’s actually kind of nice sleeping on a reed mat – it’s strangely humbling, at least in some romantically self-deceptive kind of way.

His comfort with visitors was actually the biggest draw for me when thinking about the stay. Although he is actively learning, currently Enos speaks very little English. Graham, intent on learning Chichewa, used this to his advantage, as it forced him to speak Chichewa every day at home. As a result, Enos is now very used to speaking Chichewa to second-language learners, and Graham is now nearly fluent.

During my visit he spoke slowly, enunciated clearly, and checked regularly to ensure I was understanding (“mukudziwa?”). After only 3 days with him, I feel like my Chichewa skills have improved tenfold. Returning to the youth hostel, for the first time I managed to get past simply greetings, and did my whole check-in, small-talk, and room selection with Dennis (one of the staff) without needing to lapse into English. A small victory, but at this point I’ll take it.

I really enjoyed my stay with Enos. For two people with very little linguistic overlap, it’s amazing how much we managed to share in such a short time. Before leaving, I made sure to tell him I would return (“ndidzabwelanso”) and I definitely meant it. If nothing else, I have a few pictures (below) that I will need to drop off to his family. He’s also got a lot of cool stuff in the works after the harvest (moving to a new house, considering a heavy investment in livestock, and, most exciting according to my biases, thinking of setting up his house with a solar power system for lighting), and I look forward to keeping in touch with him as things move forward.

SDC13341Enos (seated, bottom middle), his wife Naba (back right), and their children: Nehemiah (front left), Reniah (middle left), Andrew (back left), Esmie (middle lap), and Brenda (far right). [Big shout-out to Graham for helping me get/spell all the names right]

Staying with farmers like Enos, deepening my connection to Malawi, learning Chichewa – these things number among the most important for me during my time here. In recent years EWB has upped its ambition substantially. We are trying to become a major player in the water and sanitation sector here. We are trying to influence major donors. We are trying to punch above our weight. All of this has meant a shifting of our priorities: more phone calls, more internet access, more meetings and retreats.

These things are important, and I believe in our new approach, but I also believe that if we lose contact with the field – with farmers like Enos, with families, with the people we are trying to help – then none of it will matter. In the end development is about people, but not the people in board rooms, not the people in shirts and ties, the people sitting behind computers, the people riding around on motorbikes and collecting lunch allowances.

Development, at least to me, is about farmers like Enos, trying to make ends meet, trying to put their kids through school, trying to improve their lives in a world that has not provided them with the same opportunities it has given me.

SDC13343 Practice picture I took to show Enos how to use my camera. Actually much nicer result than my usual photography…

To clarify quickly (despite the above generalizations), I know that in reality there is no typical “villager” or “farmer like Enos”, and I’m not trying to put him up as one. He is a unique person, just like all people are. I know that even by staying with him, by trying to learn his language, by trying to understand a bit of his world, that I am not gaining some universally applicable understanding of “rural Malawi”, whatever that even means.

SDC13344 A new family member in the mix? (nope, just a guest posing in a family photo).

Still though, through these experiences (this was my second stay in a village so far) I feel like I am gaining something, and whatever it is, I think it’s important. Without it, I feel like I’d be lost here – so thanks to the hospitality of Enos and his family, I think I can say I’m a tiny bit less lost. If nothing else, I guess that’s a start…



  1. ahh owenos! great reading about your experiences buddy. i sortof stumbled upon your blog via facebook -- i had no idea you were in malawi! not that it surprizes me, you were always the most adventurous of us. i will definitely be back to read more, and i'll fire an email to den and matt to follow suit. hope things are well, ~ke!th

  2. man how many languages do you know now?? i'm shocked at how fast you seem to be able to pick them up.