Fishing boats on Lake Malawi

This is my last day in Malawi for this trip, and I’m reflecting on all that we have crammed in to these three weeks. I love our staff training sessions here, yet it is a challenge to present material that is culturally relevant. One thing I share in common with our staff team is a good knowledge of Bible stories and so we were able to use that on several occasions. The Church is at the heart of community life in Northern Malawi and our staff were brought up in the Church and, in many cases, they remain committed members of their local congregation.

Jesus lived in an agricultural society and his parables – the Sower, the Fig Tree, the lost sheep – all make complete sense to listeners here. Even the Good Samaritan is relatable, given the challenges and dangers of travel in Malawi. But I shared with them an incident that is a great metaphor for what we are trying to achieve through Malawi Fruits.

After Jesus rose from the dead, there was a period of about six weeks where he appeared to his disciples in different ways. On this particular occasion, the disciples, who were fishermen before they joined Jesus, had dragged out their old boats and were fishing on Lake Galilee. I don’t think it would be very different from fishing on Lake Malawi today, although Yamaha had not yet invented the outboard motor! We are told that, “the disciples fished all night and caught nothing.” Around dawn, a figure on the beach called out to them and asked what they had caught. On hearing that it was a fruitless night, Jesus (for it was him on the shore) said, “Throw your nets on the far side of the boat.”. They did that and caught so many fish that the nets started to break.

I asked the team how they thought this related to Malawi Fruits, and they got it! Farmers in Malawi have been doing the same thing – growing maize for food when the rains come – for centuries and they catch nothing: the returns are dismal. Malawi Fruits has come to show a different way – solar irrigation, greenhouse farming, good quality seed – and now the returns are so much better.

Of course, with Jesus this was a bona fide miracle: there was no reason why there would be fish on that side of the boat. Our successes are down to modern technology, but the miracles of improved yields, poverty overcome and hope for the future, are real nonetheless.

Clinging on to life

As I write, the world is going crazy over the Omicron Variant of Covid. I went for a PCR test yesterday and the clinic was bursting at the seams as Westerners scurried to get back home before red list restrictions include Malawi. Panic was in the air.

The lab technician, by contrast, was calm and collected. He told me that life is fragile in Malawi: “We have HIV and malaria – covid is just another bump in the road.” I was reminded of the picture above which I took a couple of days ago. The tree clings for dear life to a rock and it’s not at all clear how it manages to get enough water to survive. Again, a metaphor for life as it is for millions of Malawians.

The queue at the clinic was huge, but Kelvin, the technician, was in no rush. He asked if I was from Glasgow “where COP 26 was held”. I told him I lived close to there. Then came the killer question – “Why is the climate now an emergency because some people may die, and yet the poverty emergency has been killing thousands of Malawians for decades and you did nothing?” Good question.

And yet I am hopeful. We are a modest organisation but we work in partnership with others to bring about small miracles every day. Because of Malawi Fruits and your support, we are overcoming poverty and doing it with dignity and by supporting Malawians to think and work differently. To throw their nets on the other side.

I’ve now heard that I will be spending the next 10 days in Holiday Inn Express in quarantine. So, plenty of time to work remotely and reflect on what I have seen and felt in the last three weeks. My last day here will be spent at lake (see below) a far cry from a stormy, Covid ravaged world. In the midst of all the pain, Malawi is beautiful indeed.