Hi Katy

IMG_2546This is an email that Ruth sent to a nine year old friend to help her with a primary school project. We thought it might be of wider interest.

Hi Katy,

It was lovely to hear from you, and we are happy to help you with your school project – life in a village in Suffolk is very different from life in a village in Malawi – especially for children.

Firstly your house in a village in Malawi would be very small, with just one living area, and one bedroom for everyone to share. It is made of mud bricks and a grass roof – unless you are fortunate enough to have a tin roof, which is better at keeping the rain out in the rainy season but can get very hot in the sun. There is no electricity and no running water. There isn’t much furniture – you sit on the floor and sleep on a mat on the floor. The kitchen is outside, round the back of the house, where mummy cooks on an open fire. And the toilet is a hole in the ground with a pit under it, some distance from the house, and surrounded by a wall of reeds for a bit of privacy (maybe a brick wall). You will share this toilet with other families in your village.Picture1

Every day you will have to get up about 5am (its always daylight by then, all year round) and do some chores – maybe go to the well to collect water for washing and cooking. By your age, you should be very good at carrying a full bucket of water on your head – no hands!!

DSCF6051You will probably only own one set of clothes, so there won’t be any big decisions to make about what to put on in the morning! You might have shoes, but you might be concerned about wearing them out, so you will go barefoot. Your mum will already be up, because she will need to get the fire going for heating the water for washing, and cooking your maize porridge. School will start around 7.30am, and you will have to walk there (because only very wealthy people who live in the cities have cars). And your school may be as far away as Aspal is from Debenham  – or possibly further, so your walk might begin at 6am or 6.30am. But you wouldn’t have too much to carry, maybe one pen if you are lucky enough to own one, and one exercise book to write in. Your mum might be able to afford a little bag of nuts or something similar to eat if you get peckish – but maybe not.

At school there are no text books, bright display boards, educational games, and probably no chairs and desks. You will just sit on the floor, and your teacher will use a blackboard and chalk, and you will learn by repeating things over and over again.

High school might be further away from home than primary school, involving a longer daily walk, but that might not be a problem to you because your dad possibly won’t be able to afford to pay for you to go to high school. He just might not have enough money, or he might think that, since you are only a girl, you’re not worth the expense. That means your schooling will end when you are about 11, and from then on you will just learn from mummy how to do washing and cooking, maybe running the family stall etc. You will never be able to go to college, or learn to be a nurse, or a teacher, or anything else.

Anyway, your primary school day will end about 12 noon, and then you will walk home – in very hot sunshine (or pouring rain if it’s the rainy season). Your mum might have some nsima for you to eat (think thick porridge) with some beans (just beans – not Heinz baked beans in tomato sauce!). There will be more work to do – possibly helping in your parents’ garden weeding or planting to grow food for you to eat, or looking after the chickens or goats. There’s no electricity so there’s no computers to play on or TV or DVDs to watch. In fact, you probably won’t have any toys or books – but maybe you and Sophie might find an old tyre to play with, or a stick to draw in the sandy soil and play hopscotch. You have to use your imagination! For dinner you will have nsima again, maybe with a little bit of chicken, or goat, in a thin sauce. And there’s no point asking “What’s next?” – because there’s nothing next! No puddings, no sweets, no treats. By the way – this will be what you eat EVERY day – there won’t be something different tomorrow, or the next day.Picture2

You will go to bed soon after 6pm because it gets dark then, all year round, and you have no light in the house, so you might as well go to sleep!

When you are not at school, as the big sister, you will be responsible for Sophie, because mummy will be too busy running a stall by the roadside trying to sell some of the garden produce to make a bit of money to buy other things. So if Sophie gets tired, you will have to carry her on your back!IMG_2484

I have referred to the rainy season a few times – that’s about December through to March – when it rains REALLY HEAVILY for a few hours nearly every day, often accompanied by thunder and lightening. The muddy roads turn into streams, and the water will probably come through your roof, and start to dissolve the mud bricks over time.

Well, I hope this helps you with your project. If you want a few pictures, let us know, we’ll send a few and maybe daddy can print them out.

Please write to me again. How is Sunday School going? What else are you doing in school at the moment? Are you keeping well? Has it been snowing – did you build a snowman? Oh, that’s another thing about Malawi – it never snows!

Bye for now. Love, Ruth

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