As we flew over Malawi and came in to land, way back at the beginning of this adventure, we caught glimpses of long, straight, dusty red roads, stretching out across the landscape. It looked exactly how we had imagined Africa might look.
We’re in the colder, dry season now. We haven’t seen rain since we arrived. This is the Malawian winter. Temperatures reach the mid 20’s during the day, but plummet to 5 or 6 degrees celsius at night. That probably wouldn’t feel cold to us back home, but the contrast is tough. We layer up before bedtime, and hope that the samovar downstairs is hot enough for tea. Socks, leggings, tshirt, a hoody (or 2 if you’re Jen), then bundle up in blankets before carefully draping our mosquito nets around ourselves. We’re told that it’s not a bad time of year for mosquitoes but we’ve all had a few bites so we’re playing it safe and trying not to miss a dose of doxycycline (or malarone).
The daily doxy tablets makes us photosensitive, so we’re extra diligent about sunblock. A sunburn would just make us stand out even more. At first we thought we were getting an amazing tan, but disappointingly it was just the dust. It swirls up in clouds, and covers everything with rust coloured grit. When we wash our clothes (by hand, in buckets, with water from the samovar…) it turns the water red. If we don’t sweep our room every other day or so, it becomes impossible to get dressed without our socks and uniforms being painted with terracotta coloured patches. The students here wear bright white uniforms, but when they go out into the community they add a bright green apron (for the girls) or a 'duster' (a bit like a lab coat, for the guys). But we still couldn't figure out how they managed to stay looking clean all day.
Most ladies in Malawi wear a bright chitenge over their clothes to combat the dust. It’s 2 metres of wax printed cotton and it has many many uses; either as a skirt, or to hold a baby to your back, or to tie things up in a bundle. We’ve been getting lessons from the students on how to wear them, and we’ll definitely be bringing a few back to Glasgow. Even if the red dust isn’t such a problem back home.