Gill Leaper; 13: Unlucky for Some! Not Me!

Another Visit to Butterfly Space – Malawi

This, my 13th visit to my family at Butterfly Space, Malawi was certainly an
indulgence between other holidays of the summer of 2013 with my husband,
Chris. It was a short 2 weeks and very different from the usual as Alice had
been running the Lodge and her projects on her own since April and had
decided she needed a holiday away from it all so off we went on an
adventure. Not just us, and the girls, Ez and Thoko though, 5 other young
people came along too. These included an ex pupil of mine from

Oldburyon-Severn, Harry Collin and 2 of his fellow travellers who had been
successfully volunteering with Alice for the previous 2 months and 2
volunteer teachers from Jersey who had been teaching “The Little Leaper
Primary School” for 2 weeks.

They were all waiting for me at Lilongwe Airport – waiting, waiting,
waiting, for 3 hours! Passport control at Lilongwe has just been
electronically updated but sadly the passport control officers have not so the
queues were long, tiring, frustrating, stressful and eventually temper fraying.
To put the icing on the cake when I finally got through 4 of my 5 cases were
missing so I had to go through all the 3 carbon copy Malawian paperwork in
hope of retrieving them. I had this 13th time travelled South African
Airways because the airline is now allowing travellers to Malawi to take 3
extra bags in excess of the 2x23kgs bag allowance for only £50.00 each. So
I had taken advantage of the offer and taken 115kgs of aid donated by you
kind people reading this article. Do not despair, dear readers, I was reunited
with all the bags 4 days later.
So off we set South, me in the cab with Alice driving, Ez on my knee and
Thoko in a free flying car seat, the other 5 enjoying the fresh air and
freedom of sitting on the back of an open truck. TIM! This Is Malawi!
Harry and Ruby had been excited about this kind of no H&S transport well
before they had left England and were now very used to it. We drove for 2
and a half hours to Dedza and eventually found some very basic
accommodation. It was clean. It had electricity and running water and we
were able to eat a modest supper mainly comprising eggs and chips. Before
going to bed we all gathered together under Harry’s leadership to reflect
upon the day and pray together. Those end of the day reflections became
very special for me – thank you Harry.
Dedza is quite famous for its pottery and its cave paintings so we headed to
the pottery for breakfast and a bit of purchasing. We hired a local guide to
lead us through the bush and the undergrowth along narrower and narrower
tracks until a hillside track became a path and the truck could go no further.
Alice’s intrepid and fearless driving never ceases to amaze me. We then
ascended by foot to the awesome National treasure: 2000 year old paintings
on huge lipped overhanging caves thought to be descriptions of the initiation
ceremonies for young women. Following this we visited a one man paper
making establishment where Alice found inspiration for a new project at
Butterfly Space.
Another long and tiring drive for Alice with me taking a turn on the back of
the truck to Liwonde. One of those moments when I think “if only they
could see me back at home now!” Another struggle to find somewhere to
stay and another basic, past its original lustre place with empty swimming
pool, dry grassless, flowerless beds, empty animal enclosures, the promise of
hot water that never came, no restaurant, no bar BUT a viewing tower
overlooking the Shire River and as we arrived a herd of elephants came to
greet us along with a scurrying of mongeese. We watched with fascination
for some time and found out later that these elephants had escaped from the
nearby Liwonde National Park. They have learned that at cooler times of
the day the solar powered electric fencing around the park gets deactivated
and they can safely trample it down and go on search for extra food supplies
in the sparse dry season. We of course were delighted but the heavily armed
park rangers were greatly agitated and couldn’t wait for us to descend the
viewing platform so they could get on with encouraging the elephants back
into the park by shooting above their heads. The local village people are
constantly plagued by escaping elephants that steal corn and trample down
crops so when shots were fired hundreds of people took chase, screeching
and shouting after them. That evening we ate in a very splendid and
upmarket hotel with acres of manicured grounds, fish in the foyer, peacocks
in the gardens and hippos quietly munching on the grass.
The next morning as luck would have it we breakfasted in a tiny restaurant
on the edge of the river. Boys were fearlessly swimming in the crocodile
infested.river. We chanced upon a local guide who would take us into the
park for a safari in his 4×4 and at sunset on his boat for a river cruise. He
informed us that there are a lot of local people with missing limbs thanks to
swimming with crocodiles! For the next 6 hours the wonders of the African
landscape stretched before our eyes as we hung out of the back windows of
the 4×4 or sat on the roof. The dry season was at its height so little greenery
was apparent. The parched, dusty flatlands: buff, taupe, brown, ochre and
terracotta in colour were all around. We saw my favourite baobob trees.
There were stunted trees through elephant devastation, snake trees, umbrella
trees and candleabra cactus. We (well actually Harry) first sighted a huge,
male kudu very well camouflaged under the trees. Waterbuck were plentiful
as were impala, roebuck, antelope and gazelle. We all burst into Lion King
songs on seeing warthogs. Hippos of all ages wallowed in the river
sporadically yawning and displaying their enormous teeth. Throughout the
drive we stopped and looked at tracks, tried to take paces as long as an
elephant, heard horror stories of rhino and elephant attacks, drank beers and
soft drinks whilst watching POACHERS drag nets of fish from the river.
We would all have loved to see a rhino as none of us ever had but today was
not the day. The river cruise was startingly different because of the colour
change: water as blue as the clear African sky and lush green plants on the
banks. Crocodiles swam by which was quite daunting as we had a baby on
board (my Grand-daughter!) and the boat lay low in the water. As the sun
sank, we chugged by family colonies of hippos and elephants that were
coming down to the river to drink and forage for food. Birds were more
obvious too. A local dinner that evening at a roadside restaurant in town:
goat, chambo (fish), chicken, beans and rice eaten off plastic or tin plates on
the flowery plastic tablecloths.
A 5 hour drive early next morning back to Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe
and a tearful goodbye with Harry, Ruby, Floss, Nicole and Lisa. Harry left
for England with a very puffy eye thanks to a spider bite overnight. Alice
had so much appreciated their exhuberance and commitment to their
volunteering roles and knew Butterfly Space would be different without
them. The young people know they will return having fulfilled their time
with Alice beyond expectation. This is one of the penalties Alice has to
face. She makes friends, spends wonderful times with people, is inspired by
them to create new projects or have support for her own and then they leave.
Thursday meant another 5 hour drive to Mzuzu (had I only been in Malawi
5days?) in time for a 3 year old’s birthday party complete with bouncy
castle, egg sandwiches, caterpillar cake and party games, even some of the
adults had never experienced such things never mind the children. The
birthday girl was the Grand daughter of English friends of Alice who have
been in Malawi for over a decade. They too are proactive in supporting their
community and are also attempting to be self sufficient, growing fruit and
vegetables, keeping goats and chickens and now have a Jersey cow, Mini
Milk, who is producing about 7 litres of milk a day for cheese, butter and
cream making.
At last on Friday we drove back to Nkhata Bay with 3 extra passengers.
Arriving there always fills my heart with joy and my thankful prayers are
offered for my safe arrival. It has become my second home. I have got to
know the place so well and I am always greeted, so warmly, by so many
people. I love the lush variety of colours, the bustling noisy crowds, the
smells of fresh and dried fish and African bodies, the chaotic roadways filled
with dilapidated, rusty, broken cars, minibuses, trucks and lorries all
weaving haphazardly in and around the hundreds of pedestrians…The Bay!!
Now ensconced at Butterfly Space holiday over, time for work. This is
retirement after all!! Did I really say I would spend the week teaching “ the
Little Leaper Primary School?” Wasn’t I going to look after Thokozanie,
swim in the lake, play with Ezmeekie and do Granny things or Gogo things
as I am called there? Oh no! The former took priority especially as I had
downloaded a term’s lesson plans to put into practice. But what a delight to
see the progress this small class had made since May when I was last with
them – just 4 months – especially in their understanding of English though
there is always a translator there. Thomas and I work together well but it is
difficult to remember to say a sentence at a time for him to translate. Maths
is easier to deliver, numbers are the same in ChiTonga but teaching reading
and writing to Malawian children in English is a bit of a test for me. By the
end of the week I was totally drained by the 7.00am start, all the preparation,
resource making and teaching but also sad and despondent at leaving the
lively class, feeling I was letting them down despite handing over plans and
ideas to 2 trainee Swiss teachers who had shadowed me all week.
Amongst all this, dear little 8 month old, Thoko was diagnosed with malaria.
It is life threatening to all but in one so young doubly worrying. Alice was
beside herself with anxiety especially as Thoko vomited after every antimalaria

medicine, was not eating nor drinking. I am relieved to say as I left
after a second visit to hospital Thoko had turned a corner. Her blood test
showed no malaria and her white corpuscle count was higher. So as I flew
home I felt happy that Thoko was going to be OK. Thank you, God.
Alice’s latest project, the Mpamba workshop is now off the ground. Many
people with physical disabilities are learning tailoring, catering and
carpentry. The catering students have opened a roadside café and the tailors
have started a school uniform making business. Her new projects of the
moment are to set up a soup kitchen at the Nkhata Bay hospital, a
programme to feed street sleepers, a Bible study/drama workshop in Nkhata
Bay prison and a street clearing project to tidy up the town.
If you want to find out more about Butterfly Space look on

or ring me Gill Leaper 01454-411910. Donations to the many
projects Alice runs are always very welcome. If you would like to sponsor a
child through education Alice is setting up a new programme for 12
children. We are always collecting items for the Nurseries, the Youth Club,
the Little Leapers Primary School and general items. Bibles are needed, also
pillows. Butterfly Space is a registered Charity.

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