Days like today…
End of trip days.
They usually start with an early alarm call and today was no different. Airport transfer with a collection of grumpy passengers (not us!) obviously not quite having had the caffeine hit their blood stream yet.
Blantyre Airport is small. Very small. And, so it seems, not too concerned about security. When we’d gone through security (which beeped for me, but no one seemed to notice/care) we sat down to wait for our plane. And noticed a lone abandoned suitcase by the door. We looked around. No one was coming to claim it. No one seemed that interested. So Sara (our very security-conscious person in the team) found the (lone) policeman to come check it out. He opened up the side pockets, seemingly unconcerned that an abandoned suitcase in the airport might be something to be wary of (and at Heathrow, would shut the entire airport down as they moved the robots in to blow it up); nothing in the side pocket other than a metal bracelet. By this point, a small crowd has gathered to give an opinion on what might be in the case. The policeman opened up the main section of the case and found… a photo. Of one of the crew members. “It’s ok” he declared. “It’s just the bag of one of the crew. All is fine”. And he walked away. 10 minutes later the crew member strolls up, picks up her bag and stands by the door to check our tickets.
I’m writing this as the Malawian Air plane has just taken off taking us to Jo’berg, the first leg of our journey home. The pilot hadn’t quite bothered to check if his crew were seated, so as the wheel is lifting off the ground, one of the crew is running to the back of the plane to take her seat!
Different worlds. Different standards. Which pretty much sums up our trip. I think that one of the stand-out moments of the trip for me was when we sat in a room full of kids in Lilongwe, listening to a debate on “should you discriminate against LGBTs” and half the audience who spoke thought it was absolutely right to discriminate against LGBTs. Because the Bible says so. Because it’s not natural. And because the Bible says so. In Malawi, as with so many countries across Africa, the Church rules. On the one hand, this is good. It gives community, a sense of security, a sense of hope in a country that is immensely poor with very little chance of changing because it’s land-locked with very few natural resources. The only things sold on the side of the road are tomatoes, cabbage and onions. Good to make soup with. There’s really not much else. And the crops have failed for yet another year. So religion rules. But it does mean (and I say this without wanting to insult anyone or any religion) that there is less capacity to think for yourself. If the Church says something is right (or wrong), there’s no debate about it. Condoms, therefore, are wrong. LGBTs are most definitely wrong. Girls and women are there purely to procreate; and in Southern Malawi, where we ended up, there’s the “Hyenas”, men who are paid to “cleanse” women – because their husband has died, or they’ve had a miscarriage of abortion, or for any other reason that the community can come up with.
So the work that our MTV Staying Alive projects do here is really really hard. And to see change, you have to be patient. But the young leaders that we work with have patience in abundance, and knowledge, and ambition. Ambition to do something with their lives because they know that they are the ones who have to change things for themselves, because no one else will hand them anything.
Amazing young people like Chipie and Alan who run Development Concept, our new Social Enterprise grant who are setting up a “tech hub” in Liwonde where access to the Internet is pretty much non-existent. Yesterday they took us to the building that in 3 weeks time will be open to the public. The walls have been smoothed down, the plug points are installed… all it needs now is a ceiling and the 20 computers (which are on order). This group are amazing – we’ve worked with them since 2009 and they have an innate understanding of the market they’re working in. When we look to fund our social enterprise grants (who come from our pool of grantees who’ve had 4 years of funding from us already, so we know each other and trust each other), we look for ideas that show an understanding of what the gap is in the market – and building an Internet cafe in a place where there is no internet seems to fill that gap pretty well. We just have to hope that when they open, the network (supplied by the Malawian phone company) works!
Days like today.
End of trip days. They’re usually the days – however good the trip has been – that I’m excited about because it means I’m on my way home to see Covi. This trip has been different because he’s been here with me every step of the way.
When he turned round to me, after having seen 1 in 3 people that night in Kisumu, Kenya, tested HIV+, and told me that he just hadn’t realised that HIV was still such an issue, I knew it had been the right thing to bring him along. When he confidently stood up in front of a group of 40 sex workers and MSM youths, and did a condom demonstration perfectly (phew!) I was pretty proud. And seeing him engaging with every project that he’s seen, asking questions, contributing to our blogs and taking his role as “official photographer” seriously, it also made me remember just how privileged I am. Privileged to be able to bring Covi along with me, and privileged to be able to share with him first-hand the job that I do. Oh, and privileged to do the job that I do. The job that I love, and – incredibly, after 22 years – the job that just gets better and better. And when I get the opportunity to meet with our amazing young leaders in their communities, fighting the fight every single day and changing attitudes, beliefs and lives person-by-person, square mile by square mile, I know that by having this incredible army of positive (and sometimes, but not always, HIV+) ambitious and visionary young people working with us, we can battle the statistics that I talked about in my first blog of the trip, one-by-one-by-one.
We leave tonight for London and New York respectively and one more final blog to come after we arrive home.
Thanks for reading our blog and following us.
Between Blantyre, Malawi and Johannesburg, South Africa
25/26 July, 2016