The Last Mile

My birthday weekend never seemed to end. What a great party. As we checked out of the Mayoka Village, the receptionist asked if a blue, with bright yellow giraffes, chitenje shirt at the bottom of plastic bag was mine. I had never seen it but as we prepared to leave Isabel remembered this was another gift from Fishani that must have been in the bottom of the bag his cake was in.  This traditional Malawian shirt is a little snug – I squeezed into it and looked like a ripe caterpillar so another reminder I have to get back to these lentils (and away from those Greens).

Then as we left Nkhata-bay, Brave pulled over and picked up a wooden plaque he had arranged with “Phil Walton Malawi” and the Manchester United logo engraved on it (missing the ‘R’ from Manchester – that’s an easy fix but I don’t think I want to as this somehow reminds me of Malawi). 


After picking up our Mzuzu based sales rep’s (Kingsley) two children to deliver them to their grandparents for a holiday we had a leisurely 5-hour drive in convoy along the lakeshore road back to Lilongwe. Violet and Natalya chatted the whole way. For 5-hours.

The RAV4, on its final voyage, performed flawlessly. Now available for purchase (as I think Fishani has gone a little cool on the idea). I wonder if this ad would work; “blue and dented, sounds like an old washing machine, locked drivers side window, disco warning lights on the dashboard but runs like a dream.” Offers please.

Home, the day before my actual birthday. The next day in the office and Carys had baked me a massive chocolate birthday cake and Saidi, our Central region sales rep, also brought one in too. Here’s Fishani, Saidi and birthday boy.


That’s 3 cakes this year. 

In the evening, we went to dinner with Alan and Mem who had just recently returned from the U.K. with their very engaging 16-year old son, Darren, who has moved to Malawi (joining an international school) . Amazingly, in the U.K. they had spent a couple of nights a few miles from Brother. Natalia took full advantage of this and had business critical supplies (eyelash treatments and makeup) delivered to my brother (via my father) who in turn delivered to Alan (it sounded like my brother brought his A-game as Alan was highly amused). Plus birthday cards from my Mum and Dad, and Brother and family, which were handed over during dinner along with a size 40″ waist belt from Natalia. Ok, that’s enough – I’m on a diet.

So, that’s it for another year. I mistakenly said this was my best birthday ever which made Natalia very happy until she realized we got engaged on my birthday 4 years ago. She asked me again just so she could point this out which is entrapment in my book.

So we’re now Lilongwe-based until we leave on Sept 13. But this isn’t going to be a smooth downhill glide to the finish line. Brave and Carys left for a month holiday last Thursday and Natalia, Isabel, Fishani, Ericho and I are holding the fort. A very capable team but when you don’t have two people of the caliber of Brave and in a team of 15 it’s going to be tough. More worryingly, Brave won’t be here for the start of the football season with Manchester United’s first competitive game this coming Tuesday. Thank goodness Violet is here – we’ll be in the Breeze Bar at 8pm in our colors, loud and proud.

But Brave and Carys will be back before we leave. We have much unfinished business to address, including our “Solarmen do Afropop” video. We’re really quite sad to be leaving our friends in Malawi. I feel I’ve not finished some of things I wanted to see through (at SunnyMoney and I’m letting the team down) but I think I would always feel that way. 

We focusing in on Sept 9th as the Goodbye Party. Visitors welcome. It’s going to be a big one.

The Incredible Kumbali Country Lodge

I’ve realized our adventures have all come about or were made so memorable because of the characters we’ve met along the way.  Over the years we’ve had such fun trips in Alaska (and Florida) with Captain Fantastic and Jenni, the Lake Trips in Malawi with the SunnyMoney crew, visiting Isa in Cape Town, partying with Natalia’s friends in Medellin Colombia.

Even when we’ve gone away solo we’ve also met the best people: lunch with a complete stranger in Kyoto Japan, Steve and Debbie in Dar Es Salaam, Sam and the death race to Nkhata bay, our Kiwi buddies on our near disastrous trip up Kilimanjaro (Yang and Ritchie – we’ll never forget seeing them appear on the way down to save us) and so on. Others (like Mr. Rutherford) have become joint friends though we’ve never met them together. Of course, moving to Malawi has been an ongoing experience of meeting new people and we’ve continued to be very lucky finding quality, classy and fun friends such as Violet and Adrian, Paola, and Alan and Mem. And of course, Carys, Fishani, Isabel and the irrepressible Brave, my partner in United-crime.

I thought it was my sunny disposition and charming character that behind all these friendship. You may be surprised to learn that it is not. I have worked out this weekend it is all Natalia. She is so striking, carefree and a whirlwind of accidental humor – like a little Latina cartoon character. I just ride in on the wave she creates.

This Saturday night was a great example. A causal message from Alan in the afternoon – “volleyball @2.30pm at Kumbali Lodge”. Kumbali is a high end lodge and conference center situated on 650-hectare forest reserve and dairy farm in Lilongwe.  The owners, Guy and Maureen Pickering, immigrated to Malawi from South Africa in 1991 and built this amazing lodge with a clarity of vision that resulted a one of a kind location that stands alone as the truly luxurious African styled accommodation and retreat in Lilongwe.  Always involved in the local community, they have added two sand volley ball courts for Saturday afternoon matches. Guy and Maureen are also good friends of Alan and Mem, going back 25 years when the all lived in Mzuzu (North Malawi).

We’re been to Kumbali estate before, for breakfast (with the fabulous African band) at the Farmer’s Market. I read my post from 9-months ago and we learned about the volleyball then but it took us meeting Alan to get us there for the first time in May.

So this Saturday we arrived for volleyball and met Guy as he limbered up for the game. The less said about my volleyball skills the better but, as the sun set and after Naty’s photo shoot with Guy’s estate runabout car (see above), Guy invited Natalia and I to join his wife Maureen, and Alan and Mem, for dinner at their house. In just our dusty volleyball clothes we were a little embarrassed to show-up empty handed but we all headed to the lodge and their house behind it. Spectacular;

That’s me and Alan outside, and Naty, Maureen and Mem enjoying a few Glenmorangies. Great (and hilarious – Guy’s driving experiences were especially memorable) conversation and a delicious meal – we felt very privileged to be invited.

It was fascinating to hear the history of the lodge and the unique environment Guy and Maureen provide vs. the corporate hotels in Lilongwe City Center. So unique that Madonna has stayed at Kumbali 11 times during her humanitarian (and, as we learned, misreported and misunderstood) visits to Malawi.

We asked about how her frequent guest status had impacted their business and, surprisingly, this has set the expectation that the price is out of range of most visitors to Malawi. NGO CEOs are booked into the ‘safe’ hotels (meaning chains) by their secretaries so Kumbali remains a secret gem for those in the know. At about $150/night it’s a must for anyone visiting Malawi who wants a luxurious Malawi experience and personal attention and care from those who know how to welcome new friends to their home.

 

 

 

 

 

Winner of the 2017 National Energy Globe Award for Malawi

Yesterday, June 5th, was World Environmental Day.  And as a kick-off Energy Globe launched its annual global online-campaign (run in cooperation with United Nations Environmental Programme) to introduce all the 2017 winners’ of the National Energy Globe Award 2017. 177 countries participate in the ENERGY GLOBE Award, thus it is the largest and most important environmental prize.

The World Environment Day in Malawi coincided with a free public event called the “Open Day 2017” in Lilongwe at Bingu National Stadium. This was arranged by MBAULA (Movement for Bio-energy Advocacy Utilization Learning and Action), an organization primarily focused on promoting the use of cleaner cooking technologies across Malawi, in conjunction with the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Natural Resources.

The cook stove industry is part of a larger renewable energy community that seems to get organized by GIZ, the German International Development Agency. This community has been expanded to the solar sector – I was going to make a joke about Germans not being very good with borders but this is probably the wrong post for that.

So, SunnyMoney and other solar vendors were invited to the Open Day, to exhibit our products on a table inside the stadium.

Even better for us, we received word the previous week that SunnyMoney Malawi had won the 2017 National Energy Globe Award for Malawi.

So, after I had complained (to Brave) that this event wasn’t going to help our local Sales Rep, Sam, make his numbers for the quarter I did a complete about-face and decided I would go with him.

Our table was in the furthest corner from the main stage but the guests of honors started with us;

This is the Honorable Bright Msaka, Malawi Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining and Áine Hearns, Irish Ambassador to Malawi, getting my solar pitch.

I had already told the presenter of the event about our award and written them a short script. Interestingly, no-one seemed to know anything about National Energy Globe and I realized there was a very loose connection between our global award and this Open Day event. Still, maybe we would get a short word of acknowledgement during the cook stove awards.

But, as the final award for the day, the Presenter announced SunnyMoney had won the 2017 National Energy Globe Award for Malawi as I stood with my back to the crowd (mostly school children on a day trip).

Phil at Environmental Open Day at Bingu stadium

I’m not the face we want picking up awards in Malawi so I looked over to Sam (who was at the other end of finishing stretch of the race track at our table) and he read my mind.  He ambled the 100 yards in the inside lane while the Malawi Minister of Energy waited for or him. The presenter got a little impatient but filled the time with reading my script perfectly as the press gathered for the photo opportunity.

Sam collecting 2017 National Energy Globe Award in Malawi from Minsiter of Finance

This was all followed by the artists Faith Mussa and Sonyezo who performed their popular “Ndapeza Mbambande” song plus “Mdidi“, a song that Brave’s continuously plays at every party (and solo on the beach at 4am) that has become our Malawi Theme tune.

How appropriate. A good day for SunnyMoney.

 

SunnyMoney: the Fashion Line

This week our long awaited T-Shirts and Caps arrived. The pictures below are of Sam holding one, Brave and me trying our best to be Solar models and our simple but effective messaging on the back.

And, as always, there’s a story behind the t-shirts and now a great opportunity for Brave, Fishani, Sam and me to make fools of ourselves in the name of good cause.

This all started with a passionate plea from one of the SunnyMoney Sales Reps for marketing materials; posters, flyers, t-shirts and caps. Except he wrote “capes” – so Carys made a SunnyMoney orange cape which Brave wore at the Sales Meeting (see link for full story), dramatically bursting into the room on cue. But we were committed to buying the caps.

Orange is our color, which is great for standing out from the crowd and fits well with our intent to make visible in the community the success of our agents; bright orange caps and t-shirts should do the trick. Except orange was the color used by a losing political party at the last elections and there is a national shortage of orange t-shirts.

So off to another vendor who said they could obtain orange t-shirts. After a couple of weeks the blank t-shirts arrived (from South Africa). The caps and t-shirts were two different shades of orange. Now, that just looks like you’re wearing a mistake.

So, we went with the black t-shirts with bright and cheerful lettering with orange caps. And a 200-slot/month radio campaign starting at the end of May with Brave cheerfully announcing the availability our SM100 light over a sound track recorded by our Northern Sales Rep (Donnex); here’s a sample: The SunnyMoney Song

So, we’ve only got 250 of each which we’re going to carefully assign to our best agents and headteachers  (who sell our SM100 lights to their students). To extract a bit of extra value from this, after hearing about (and our course trying) the dance moves at Naty’s Afro-Pop class we decided the men at SunnyMoney (and friends) should record an Afro-Pop dance class for public viewing in the hope of raising a little bit of money for our solar work in Malawi. I have been asked where someone can donate to ensure they don’t see it..

So, we’re off to find our tight shorts and assemble a medical team (the “stir your Nsima” move looks destined to pull a muscle). Early June is the plan so time to recruit a few more SolarMen….

 

Chairs and Mail

I know I’ve described the frugal budgets at SunnyMoney. I’ve not been trying to sound honorable, just we would rather spend our money funding our Sales team’s travel to the off-grid rural communities in need for solar lights. But the result is a very low-tech office. 

Even chairs. This week our friend Alan won an office auction for us and we delivered a new office chair yesterday as mentioned last post. But I don’t think many appreciated how big a deal it was for us. So we arranged our chairs today for a line-up.

We have white and green patio chairs. A old church wooden chair that I think was carved from an oak tree. And a 4-spindle office chair with 3 wheels that is the source of much falling-off amusement.  Plus our new state-of-the-art ex-NGO chair.

It is amazing how normal this has become. Who needs more than one comfortable chair anyway? But the water cuts have started again which we are not looking forward to as you can put up with a lot if you have access to flushing toilet.

The lack of a postal service has been a difficult one too as there nothing like receiving a letter or card from time to time. Also a problem for celebrating family and friend birthdays so we thought we were quite clever by buying small wooden gifts, each carved with the names of the recipients, and mailing them from Cape Town. We had shipped the first batch back with our Intrepid Head of Finance but she still has them at home (Lorraine!) so we thought we should try a more direct route.

First envelope arrived this week at Natalia’s sister (Diana) home in California. Sliced open and contents stolen. Hate to admit it but we blamed the South African mail workers. Especially when the second envelope was safely received by our friend in San Diego, with 3 items for Lori and her two girls and two envelopes to forward onto my friend’s son (for Graeson’s first birthday) and to our wedding flower girl, My Linh.

Envelopes to Graeson and My-Linh arrived opened and contents stolen. So if anyone knows a Californian postal worker with family members named Diana, Graeson and My-Linh please let me know and I’ll send them a picture of the men’s toilet at our office.

A long Easter weekend coming up and the gang is off Thursday evening to Manchogi and Palm Beach to celebrate Carys’ birthday (30th -sshhh!).

I suspect plenty of blog material to come on this.

Afro-Pop

Every Wednesday night Natalia has been going to “Afro-Pop”. I began to wonder if this was a nickname for a local boyfriend until I dropped her off and realized this was a dance class to African popular music. It is not a place a man should be.

But I am a little curious.

I had a peek at the class a month or so ago and noticed a lot of girls gyrating, stretching and getting sweaty in tight Lycra. So I thought it would be a little creepy of me to take a video of the class. So I asked Natalia to shoot a video at tonight’s class at Club Inferno in downtown Lilongwe: Afro-Pop Dance Class.

Originally recommended by our friend Paola Masperi, the Founder of the Mayamiko Foundation, it’s obviously a lot of fun (the “pull your pants up” and “check your watch” dance moves have become legendary) as well a vigorous workout and Natalia has recruited a number of characters in our story (Juliana, Isabel, Sally and Mem) to attend a class.

The instructor Chisomo (Anadzo Chinyama) even came to our house to give a private lesson to Natalia and Juliana on our driveway, much to Ruben’s (our gardener) horror who ran off and hid.

Chisomo is not only quite a dance instructor but also a very accomplished businesswoman; here’s one of her instructional videos.

I’m almost tempted to suggest the men of SunnyMoney produce our own video to raise money for our solar cause here in Malawi. I think I can find a pair of Lycra shorts somewhere…