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Friday, June 16, 2006 

Football in Malawi

Mwasewera bwanji? (literally, 'how have you played?'--the standard greeting for the afternoon and evening in Malawi)

So the World Cup is on. Football in Malawi is pretty big. People flock around tv sets or radios to see or hear the matches, and there's always a lot of talk at the office about last night's results. Though I'm sure it's like that in just about every country. But outside the World Cup, football is still pervasive. In Katimba village, where I'm staying while working at the Masinda plant, people of all ages will be spending a large amount of their free time playing football. As you drive down the highways you see a lot of tiny little villages, many of which have large football fields with goal posts made from thin logs nailed together. Children, upon seeing a white person, will yell 'mpila' (football in Chichewa). They don't want money, they want a soccer ball. At the moment that the World Cup was kicking off, I was playing football with the kids in this picture. They didn't know what the World Cup was, and didn't care.

Most families don't have the money to buy a football, so the children improvise. You see groups of children playing with these ragged looking balls, which, on the surface, are blanket wrapped in plastic and string. However, they bounce pretty well. When I asked a young boy what made the ball bounce, he nonchalantly told me that the ball was filled with condoms. I was a bit stunned for a few seconds: by the easy manner with which he replied, by the childrens' ingenuity, and by the recognition that Malawi is a country with a 15% HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. I hope these balls translate into greater awareness of condoms and more open discussion about sex-related topics.

Katimba village is no exception to football passion. The kids will play all the time, and the village even has its own team. The players on the team range in age from mid-teens to late twenties, and they have a coach and assistant coach. They play games on Saturdays and have practices on Sundays, with occasional games during the week. The first Saturday I was in Katimba, they invited to come out and play with them. The two days prior were pretty trying: the machines were breaking down, work and village life was slow, and our truck got a flat tire. I got home early on Sat afternoon and was looking forward to sitting back with a book and just chilling out for the rest of the day, but a few of the people got me up and took out to the pitch. I'm glad that they did. It was great to play with them and I even managed to squeak in a goal. At the end of the game the coach sat everyone down, and they all introduced themselves to me and invited me to join the team. So I'm leaving Lilongwe tomorrow to go play with them. This weekend is the intervillage tournament that takes place over Saturday and Sunday. Should be good.

Hey Hans!

What an adventure. A soccer ball made out of condoms... what a riot. I bet the AIDS workers aren't too pleased at this particular application, hehe. How do you communicate with the children? Do you speak their language? Do you have a translator? Hope all is well and keep posting!

Hi Hans,

Two fascinating posts. Hope things are going well overall there. Sounds like an amazing experience!


Darnit...you made me sign up for a blogger account to comment, haha. Hopefully I don't become a blog addict... (well, I do have xanga).

Anyways, sounds like you are staying fit overthere. You by any chance got an opportunity to follow the World Cup between your buzy schedule? Well, I won't tell you who won, just in case you decide to watch the final game later, but I'm sure you have heard from others.

And yeah...I'm curious to know how prevalant is English there (although it is the official language right?) Do the kids know enough of it for you to communicate with them? Or have you picked up enough Chichewa (is that what they call the local language? I don't know how trusted Wiki is...) so that you guys can communicate.

And well, since I'm not in Toronto currently, I can't comment on the weather there. But I can tell you that Vancouver (the obviously better part of the country) is have great weather (as always =P )

Can't wait to hear more updates from you!


Sounds like you are having an amazing time. I truly understandt he world cup fever, as they are INSANE about it in Peru. Everyday i have to field questions about why Canada is not in the world cup (i.e we suck!).

Keep on enjoying...

Hey people,

Thanks for your comments! Means a lot to get them here. Got a couple of language questions on this one. I found a sweet Chichewa (the major language in Malawi) book online before I left, so I was able to get the basics down before I got here. In the major cities, like Lilongwe, English is pretty prevalent (English is in fact an official language of Malawi along with Chichewa). It's a tough guess, but I would maybe say that about 40-50% of people in the major cities speak good English. In the village it's a different story. There I'd say maybe 1 in 20 speaks any English. So living in the village I've managed to get a lot of Chichewa practice. I can now do a good basic conversation. Doing some language practice before I left and continuing while here was the single best thing I did to help me with this placement. People here are always shocked to hear a Mzungu (foreigner/white person) speaking Chichewa, and I think it's really opened a lot of doors.

Oh, as an indication of the gender disparity in education levels, I don't think I've met a single woman in the village that can speak English. Only the men have learned.

hi hans!

sorry to be barging into ur weblog like this, but i'm going to be moving to lilongwe in october and i'm on the lookout for all the tips i can get. thats how i stumbled across ur blog. are u still in malawi though?

i'm particularly wondering how to go about finding housing in lilongwe. i'll be moving with my partner and we're looking for an apartment or small house. any ideas on how we should go about this? do u know of anyone that is looking to rent out a place? all tips would be most welcome!!

and of course, would be nice to meet u once we're there!

take care!

Hi Michelle,

Email me (link on the right side of the page) and I'll try to get back to you soon.



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