New Cabinet, Workshops and other sorts of ‘carpentry’??

Thursday morning arrived with me feeling at 90% and having had an excellent night’s sleep. I grabbed a ride with Patricia’s colleague from YECE again and got dropped off in Old Town. I walked to the COWLHA office and ran into Solomon, the young boy who sells papers among the Ministry of Agriculture offices around us. I was eager to buy the paper because it had coverage of the new Malawian cabinet appointments.

Malawi had a general election in May (the 19th, I believe) and this is only the second such election with multi-party participation. The whole business of multi-party democracy is a learning experience for Malawians. They have had to come to grips with the idea that it’s okay to be a “loser” in the elections. (It doesn’t mean you are out to topple the government and need to be ‘managed’ by the ‘winners.) They are also growing to understand the idea of a ‘loyal opposition’….because in the past if you didn’t agree with the President/party of the day, then you were on risky ground. Interestingly, this past election campaign featured supporting civic education programs and initiatives designed to keep polling activities orderly. They also ran special initiatives to increase the number of women in the Malawian parliament and their numbers were increased such that women are around one-quarter of the elected representatives. One gathers that these various initiatives went very well.

In any event, Malawi had previously ‘enjoyed’ a minority government but, with this May election, it has provided a majority government with a president who appears to have considerable general support among the populace. He has acquired a reputation for standing up for Malawi in dealings with international financial institutions. He’s an advocate for women – 11 women are in his 42 member Cabinet (26% of Cabinet as compared to the last one with only 17% women) – and is giving strong leadership in addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS. It’s so interesting to see how they are grappling with regional, party and economic politics as the work of the new government is unfolding.

And, like any good multi-party democratic system, many promises have been made by those elected to government. The honeymoon period is still in place, but soon the expectations will begin to call this new marriage with the Malawian people to reality. I suspect the ride ahead will not be easy; clearly the needs are huge and the resources are extremely constrained and often come with ties. (For my colleagues at the University, this storyline may sound a bit familiar!!) Truly, though…..the basic social and economic needs of this country are breathtaking.

So….getting back to my day….I arrived at the COWLA office just before 8:30. Daphne and Victoria arrived around 9:30 a.m. They had gone to an internet café on the way to the office. I took the opportunity to read the paper and some other materials I had with me.

The first thing Daphne wanted to do was prepare a budget for the workshop I am to offer next week. WUSC has offered to cover the cost. So, Daphne sat with me as I pulled out my rusty Excel skills and pulled together a spreadsheet that reflect the budget categories and costs she felt needed to be covered.

I suggested to Daphne that she might like to write to some of the relevant new Cabinet ministers to offer congratulations and offer help from COWLHA, etc.   She seemed to like the idea, so I drafted a template letter to the Ministers for her to tailor to suit each minister’s situation and also one she might send to the President.   She took the drafts to look over.

I then prepared an outline for the workshop program and shared it with Daphne for her input. She agreed with the approach, so this gave me a basis for continuing to work ahead on a set of powerpoint slides. (WUSC will lend a computer projector so we can use it for the workshop. This saves on paper, which is also expensive.)

As I started working, Agnes arrived. I think she was briefing Daphne and Victoria on some of the planning activities for the Candlelight Memorial program that will take place shortly after I leave. They spoke Chichewa and the conversation was quite animated – with lots of howls of agreement and laughter. Not the easiest conditions to work in, but I plowed through.

I didn’t really stop for lunch. My system is still only inching forward to normal eating routines (…but I ate eggs this morning!!). I just snacked on my soya nuts and cranberries which I brought from home (…great move…). I was just about to ask Daphne to sit and chat with me about some of the information we would cover in the workshop, when she and Victoria advised that they needed to be out of the office for the balance of the afternoon. Victoria was going off to a meeting for the Candlelight service and Daphne had to head to Blantyre (..about a 4 hour drive from Lilongwe..) for an important government meeting. Furthermore, neither of them would be in the office tomorrow. They offered to give me the keys to open the office so I could come in on Friday….but only if I wanted to come and work there.

“Go with the flow”, ….I said to myself. Okay. Well. I guess I will take our budget to the WUSC office this afternoon and then head back to the Lodge. I can work there just as easily as I can at the COWLHA office. (Thank goodness I brought my notebook computer!) So, we just agreed to see each other again on Monday morning….that would be the day before the workshop…..! Okay, I’ll just do the best I can with what I’ve got.

I dropped into the WUSC office and provided them with a soft copy of the budget. Tamara thought it looked okay, but she wanted Lawrence to look it over before it is submitted to Jacob for a decision. I left it in her hands.

I also had the opportunity to meet Cathy Stiles who is in Lilongwe. Cathy is the Regional Co-ordinator for WUSC and is based in Botswana. She is here meeting with all the current WUSC volunteers in Malawi and, wonderfully, in order to meet with Patricia and me, she has agreed to go with us to Senga Bay this weekend. Better yet, she has offered to drive….and we are bringing along some other WUSC volunteers. It should be great fun. I look forward to getting to know her a bit and chatting with her about my experience.

As is becoming my habit, I’ve dropped into the Capital Hotel to do my emails and post information on my blog. I enjoyed a cup of yummy Malawian coffee while working.  I’ll then head back to the Lodge. Tonight and tomorrow, I’ll focus all my energy on getting the workshop slides done. If I can make further progress on the complementary advocacy report I’m working on for COWLA, I’ll do this as well. With the workshop on Tuesday, I’ll need Monday to refine details with Daphne. Tuesday will be gone….leaving Wednesday and Thursday to finish up my advocacy report and project report for WUSC. I’ll also have to work in a wrap-up meeting with Jacob. Saturday, I go home. I can’t believe how quickly the time is flying by.

I plan on posting photos tomorrow!

Cabinets, workshops….am I in carpentry???  Yikes.


  1. Gen says:

    Hi Vicki!

    Wow, I can’t believe you are already halfway done … so glad to “read” you are feeling better … enjoy the weekend!!


  2. Kate says:

    The work sounds amazingly challenging and interesting – especially as you wend your way through the cultural differences! Just please look after your health!

    All fine here!


  3. Hélène Fournier says:

    Bonjour Vicki,

    I am glad to hear that you are feeling better. I can see that there is no time for your French homework. When you are back, I have to make sure that your are not falling behind….meaning….double work…..

    À bientôt.


  4. Mark says:

    It is not carpentry. There may be cabinets and workshops but it sounds like you are not “board”.
    It is fun following along with your activities and adventures. Glad to hear you are back on your feed.
    Love and hugs,

  5. Mary Childs says:

    Hi Vicki: am enjoying your blog and trying to learn from all your experiences including the idea of bringing your own snacks….good one. I am glad to hear you are feeling better too….mustn’t forget the Imodium! Anyway, enjoy your weekend..unbelievable how quickly time is flying…

  6. Hilary Van de Kamer says:

    Hey Vicki!!!

    The pit crew misses you! And in the time you have been gone I have decided to go to law school so I need you back safe and sound so you can write me a reference letter! Richard concurs! So we are all glad you are feeling better! (not just because of reference letters but because we may like you a bit too!) We are slightly worried though that due to your blogs you won’t even have any stories to tell us. So save some info for the 4 o’clock meetings! Your reference to short sleeve suits has also promoted much discussion because as you know we are very fashion aware in the pit… ha ha ha! I am very interested in what you were writing in regards to the new elections and I look forward to hearing more! See you in such a short time! Continue to be safe!


    Hilary and the rest of the Pit Crew!

  7. aunt Jane says:

    enjoying your journey Can hear your laughter with the mishaps Thats the only way to go Glenn had a good report from the surgeon everything is a okay In fact he is in the garden hoeing Enjoy the rest of your voyage Loves and big hugs Aunt Jane