Dilo and Hessel with a beer

Whatever life throws at you, never lose your smile!

Some friends make fun of us, because we keep getting ourselves into interesting situations. Even in the months after we lost our jobs due to COVID-19, we never got bored. All sorts of things are happening all the time and we will probably have to learn to live with a permanent bit of chaos… Anyway, it’s time for a personal update from Malawi!

Coronavirus in Malawi

It remains the most important conversation topic for many and you can’t escape it here either. Malawi was one of the last countries in the world to remain corona-free, but early April the first few cases were registered. For a long time the numbers hardly increased, until some buses with about 400 Malawians came back from South Africa. The situation there was much more serious and these people wanted to return to their home country. Nothing wrong with that, except that they were tested at the border after a bus ride of three days and had to wait for the results. A stadium was set up, from which eight people had already escaped after the first night. The next day they had all disappeared. From that moment on, the numbers have accelerated and there are currently more than 5000 cases in Malawi. The amount of active cases is actually not that bad, because more than half have already recovered and sadly close to 200 people have died.

But this actually means nothing at all, because there are hardly any tests available. Anyway, the hospitals don’t seem to be under pressure, which is perhaps the most important.

New safety measures

A strict lockdown was initiated, but got cancelled at the last minute. A human rights organization was proved right by the court that many people would starve during a lockdown. Subsequently, the corona virus was ignored for a while, because political rallies in the run-up to the elections were more important. The celebrations after those elections were too. The next step was to enforce everyone on the market to wear a face mask. However, Malawians don’t want to hide their broad smiles, so nothing happened. However, people are generally strict about washing their hands. In front of every store there is a bucket with a tap and a soap dispenser. Security will not let you in until you have washed your hands. The dirty water is collected in another bucket underneath. Goats sometimes drink from this, so many believe they must all have corona. Often, to save money, the soap dispenser only contains water. And occasionally the dirty water from the bottom bucket is used to refill the top bucket. We always bring our own hand sanitizer with us.

Goats drinking from a bucket

Goats are believed to have COVID-19 because they sometimes drink from the buckets at hand washing stations

In recent weeks, more and more places kind of harass you with a digital thermometer if you want to go inside. They take the temperature of your forehead to see if you have a fever. Usually I have 35°C or 36°C, but the other day I was told 24°C. Apparently that is healthy enough?

Recently, it became the rule that everyone who steps outside their home must wear a face mask. Even if you are alone in the car, because it is everything or nothing at all… If you don’t comply with this, you could get a fine around €13. However, at the end of the first day someone already got away with it, because he had no money. So now basically all pedestrians walk around mask-less and only drivers are fined, because they must have some money. Fortunately, we are rarely pulled over. Probably because we still drive with a South African license plate and people here think that everyone in South Africa has corona. It’s a long and expensive bureaucratic drama to get our car registered here, but for now we are not complaining that people want to stay away from us!

How we get through the days

As soon as many panicking expats left Malawi in March, we decided to offer a pet care service. We are very busy with this! For some we go on home visits, others come to stay here for a while. Mocha loves to have new playmates all the time. JayJay is fine with everything, as long as he is not disturbed during his afternoon naps and they all stay away from his food. Some dogs stay for a few months, others weeks, and occasionally just a few days when the owners are still here, but going away for a weekend for example.

Hessel and dogs

Hessel absolutely loves having so many dogs around!

We are still doing some online studies, we sometimes get a transcription or translation job and we read a lot. We regularly take coffee breaks or go for a walk.

Building an extensive network has always been one of our strengths. We continue to do so now, both virtually and live in an appropriate way. For example, through one of our Eco & Wildlife teachers we came into contact with the Dutch SEEn Foundation (Sustainable Education and Entrepreneurship network). They have started a partnership with a village in the Kasungu District, about two hours north of where we live in Lilongwe. We are now working on plans to make improvements in education, water supplies and agriculture throughout the coming years. Everything as responsible and sustainable as possible and above all in a way that the community itself wants. Unfortunately, there are too many NGO’s that look at Africa from a too Western perspective. As a result, people are imposed all kinds of things that they do not want or need at all. Or it is dealt with so badly that the community always remains dependent on that NGO. Fortunately, the SEEn Foundation is thinking about this carefully and we are proud that we can contribute our bit here!

Building a real school has unfortunately been postponed until next year due to corona. Nevertheless, the SEEn Foundation has already collected money to at least build a sheltered classroom, so that the children can go for lessons in the rainy season. We recently were invited to check out at the progress. Here you can watch the video of this special visit:

No walk in the park

Although we know how to keep ourselves busy, it really isn’t always that easy. It’s increasingly becoming clear that tourism in Malawi will not really get going for the time being. The airports will reopen early September, but who would travel this way soon? Europe is getting more locked up again and in the United States it’s only worse. Unlike in South Africa, there is hardly any domestic tourism in Malawi. So, all our income has to come from outside and we regularly have sleepless nights worrying about how to keep going here. In recent months, we have applied for many jobs in agriculture and for all sorts of office positions, but we haven’t gotten anywhere yet. Going back to the Netherlands is not an option for us. Besides simply not wanting to be there, currently we can’t just find a job there either. The uncertainty makes us swear and cry often, but together we stand strong and we hold on to our goals and dreams.

Hessel and Dilo wearing an African-style face mask

We bought our face masks from a local lady who used to make cushions for lodges, before corona ruined her business

We mainly try to think in opportunities and possibilities. The crisis is creating more and more gaps in the tourism industry. Quality and sustainability are now more important than ever. In addition, we got to know a very nice and relaxed Dutchie, who is building a beautiful lodge on the most stunning beach of Lake Malawi. And there is a unique horse farm with guesthouse for sale, which is the only place where you can cool off after a ride by swimming in the Lake with your horse! The current owners agree that we would be a perfect team to further develop the business. We are secretly looking at investors and crowd funding options.

We have also submitted an official proposal to the Malawi government to run the lodge in Kasungu National Park. They work with lease contracts of fifteen years and the previous one expired last month. We have had quite a lot of contact with government officials and think we really had a chance, but they now decided to not do anything until there are enough tourists in the country again. Understandable, but a shame to leave such a place standing empty for the time being. On the other hand, we would also really like to have something of our own now, without being dependent on others again.

In any case, we always have enough plans and even more dreams, so sooner or later we will definitely get back on our feet! And until then, we will continue to bother you with all kinds of reasons to ever come experience Malawi. Thank you so much for all the continued support, zikomo kwambiri!

Dilo and Hessel with a drink

Whatever life throws at you, never lose your smile!

PS: Have you read our blog about lions in Malawi yet?

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