Thank You Malawi 

We’ve been in the US for four weeks now and I’m delighted to report we kept to my carefully prepared US itinerary, which now has us on a one-way flight to Amsterdam.


A Malibu wedding, a Depeche Mode concert in Santa Barbara, plenty of time with our nieces and nephews, a night out in Huntington Beach in my old local (Killarneys) with all our friends and Natalia’s birthday (30+10) weekend party/family camping trip (an absolute blast and a moment of realization for me; you don’t try to plan an event with Colombian in-laws, you just provide scheduling guidelines). I even managed to sneak in a couple of (approved) rounds of golf and a return trip to Killarneys to watch Manchester United (now at 7am).

Trying to catch-up on a year of socializing in 4 weeks took some doing (and Advil) and reminded us of everything we missed. Almost like speed dating but with relatives and friends. We got a lot of questions about our time in Malawi. But I don’t think we adequately conveyed how much we enjoyed it. I realized, after telling our stories a few times, that hardships (by US standards) and challenges are more memorable for others than hearing how much fun we had on a budget.

So, for the record, the fun was worth every minor inconvenience of Malawi life 10-times over and has us now questioning the excesses of our Western consumer-driven lifestyle. CostCo and the amount of food the US culture persuades us to buy was particularly uncomfortable for me, although the chronic over-catering of our camping event was due to my lack of meal planning.

I know traveling to unconventional locations isn’t everyone’s cup-of-tea and Natalia and I are extremely lucky to be able to do so. But don’t let the media misrepresent Malawi – it is a wonderful and safe country with the most gentle and welcoming people, and a gem of national monument; the Lake. Plus the surrounding countries are filled with incredible sights and experiences. 

I dedicated my previous post (Thank You SunnyMoney) to our wonderful colleagues in Malawi – how we miss these people. But our 1-year stay in Malawi was not just a great experience because of the personalities at SunnyMoney (and their drive to make a difference in a sustainable way) but also because of those we met during our numerous social outings, on our travels and/or who stayed with us. And because of the Malawian “warm-hearted” culture (it really isn’t just a catch phrase) – their focus on happiness through family helped me understand my army of Colombian-in-laws a bit more. Not completely obviously.

But my thanks to;

  • Isa – this is how we met but Isa was the inspiration for our field trips, specifically South Africa. Our first night in Cape Town says it all. A very talented Film Director too: check this out.
  • Lorraine – the super hero CFO of SolarAid who came to visit and had a true Malawi experience. Lorraine’s Visit.
  • Paola (fascinating and fun: read this), Emma and the team at the Mayamiko Foundation. SunnyMoney’s partner and friends. A shining example of an organization that truly makes a difference vs. the large, bloated, international NGOs.
  • Adrien (the Belgium) – who took such good care of us when we arrived. So many right decisions about living in Malawi were because of him. Never a dull day with him and we missed him when he left SunnyMoney.
  • Ronnie – such a friendly chap who sold us on visiting Uganda (much like Isa did on South Africa) and who hooked us up with his fascinating friend Jan who arranged our trip to the Gorillas and the Genocide memorial in Rwanda.
  • Juliana – our resupply visitor number two. Juliana is always up for an adventure – she even arranged a trip two weeks ago to California (from Trinidad) to see us while we were back.
  • Chisomo – our amazing Afropop dancer/friend featured in so many of our stories. Here’s the how it all started; Afropop.
  • Alan and Mem – two fun characters who have done and seen it all before on the international circuit. And Mem cooked the best meals we had in Malawi – I get hungry just thinking about her cooking now. We’ll see Alan in November when he flys into Gatwick to see his father and son (who lives 5 mins from my brother).
  • Violet and Adrian – we met the Malawian Gloria (Modern Family) one Jazz night and then both on one of many hiliarious nights out. Also, Violet was the second best United fan in Malawi.
  • Jeremy – the SolarAid chairman came to visit us in Malawi and the blogger became the blogged: Jeremy’s trip to East Africa .
  • Sally – our roommate for a couple of months, and an integral part of Team-Walton and a couple of Lake trips. Also introduced us to an exciting variation of the traditional banana bread recipe (replacing sugar with salt – obviously a Canadian thing).
  • Sam the Aussie – our passenger on our first trip to Nkhatabay, who popped up like an Australian leprechaun on our second epic trip for my birthday weekend. I plan to send him pictures of the RAV4 from time to time to give him nightmares. Super lad and another person we plan to find in the world again.
  • Mark Rutherford – a truly generous gentleman who became part of the story with his gift to the office of a Microwave.  Naty will be meeting Mark for the first time in November when we thank him face-to-face in Bologna.
  • Steve and Debbie – fellow escapees from the Corporate world. We met them in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and then again in Lilongwe and hope to find them again in the world one day.  Great people!
  • Wiseman – my personal RAV4 mechanic. Too many posts (unfortunately) to link. Just search blog for “repair”.
  • Martin “the IT Guy” – his two days setting up QuickBooks for multi-user was the biggest single step SunnyMoney made during our time. Smart and funny guy.
  • Catalina and Tim – met by Natalia via her Latinos of Lilongwe towards to end of our stay. Catalina is the arty Argentinan and Tim the English accountant who have seen the world. We wished we had more time to spend with them.
  • The entire SolarAid team for their humor and energy and the team at Accounting For International Development who placed us (and kept an eye on us).

But a special thank you to two couples;

  • Stewart and Diana (my sister-in-law and husband) – our base camp and support group in Temecula, providing vital supplies ranging from iPhone cables and battery packs to underpants. We missed them and their kids the most of all during our travels.
  • Marc and Jenni for helping us get around the globe. This time we’ve flown to see them in Amsterdam to surprise Jenni on a milestone birthday after her surprise European cruise.

Here’s a video of the moment we sprung the trap; Surprising Jenni

So signing out from Amsterdam for now.

Thank you Malawi. But, How Big Is Your Lake?


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.