Emma’s First Blog – Settling in to life in Chipata

“We would like to offer you the opportunity to travel to Zambia and help set up our lendwithcare initiative”… I received something to this account a few weeks ago whilst on holiday with my boyfriend.  I immediately started grinning like a Cheshire cat; he was a little less enthusiastic. Three months working in Zambia – I was excited!

I’ve been in Chipata, close to the Zambia/Malawi border for 4 days now and it already feels like a home from home.

I was picked up by one of the team at MicoLoan Zambia and we drove from the airport in Lilongwe, Malawi for about 3 hours through undulating, terracotta landscape. On our drive we overtook many cyclists that populate the road carrying a variety of objects from bags of cement, bikes for repair, more loaves of bread than a UK supermarket stores. As we were approaching Chipata the sun was beginning to set and the light cast a warm glow over the town.  A lovely first impression of where I am to call my home for the next few months.

Work began early the next day. I was introduced to all the staff at the Zambian headquarters and got straight to work with the Finance Manager to put together a schedule and discuss lendwithcare. Everyone is very excited about the project and keen to make it work. I will begin by spending time in the regional branches, meeting the women entrepreneurs and seeing how the organisation works as a whole. Then will come the task of trying to work lendwithcare into it. You can read more about the lendwithcare initiative, and MicroLoan’s involvement, here.

My first weekend was spent getting to know the place – more importantly, where to buy food and figuring out how to cook it! I am pleased to announce that I am the proud owner of a hotplate and kettle and have successfully cooked popcorn!

Chipata is in the Eastern Province of Zambia and as you drive from Malawi, it is the first town you get to. It sprawls out from the Great East Road and I am coming to learn that you can get anything off this road; hotels, supermarkets, the hospital. If in doubt, just walk along the road and you will soon reach what you are looking for.  I learned this as I searched for the Saturday market – it’s actually an everyday market but more sellers are there at the weekend. Not only did I know I had found it because I saw stalls, but because I saw bucket upon bucket of potatoes, tomatoes, dried beans, and silver, shiny objects that look like jewellery – in fact they are dried kapenta (a type of sardine). They look like pieces of silver until you get up close and see that they are in fact small fish. They are a hugely important staple to the area (Mozambique and Zimbabwe included) as they provide a refrigeration-free protein. I’m yet to try them as I forgot to bring any money out, but I’m looking forward to it!

The compound I am staying in has a little bit of everything; the apartment style rooms I am staying in, a campsite, conference centre where I think I heard a congregation singing and preaching on Saturday, a large bar with pool tables and a covered patio.  There is a communal eating room where guests and visitors can sample local food. I am definitely going to ask the chefs if I can watch them cook and get some tips to bring back home. On Sunday evening I joined a group of visitors to watch the football; Zambia vs Zimbabwe – they get almost as excited as the Brits, almost! The only downside I’ve encountered so far are the spiders in my room and bathroom – although my mother says they make very good listeners! – and the way the dust gets everywhere. It’s a very pretty terracotta colour but it is turning me slowly orange.

Back to business; today has been spent working out the logistics of the role, better understanding the difficulties of the organisation and tomorrow is my first day “in the field.” My mode of transport is a motorbike(!) and I will spend the day with the Loan Officers; getting a to know how they go about their work, and meeting the entrepreneurs. I am quite excited to meet some of the women that MicroLoan works with… who knows, maybe I’ll try my first kapenta.