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At Malawi

From Milan, via London to Nairobi, I had to transfer once more to go to the Republic of Malawi, the destination. Despite the long, long distance, when I saw Africa from the sky, I was struck by a bolt of energy and I was so excited that I didn't feel tired.

Do you know the country called Malawi? For Japanese, Africa is far but in Africa, the country, Malawi, is especially not familiar. Of course, I, too, didn't know about it at all till my friend, Yuki, the same name as mine, who took care of me this time, moved there for her business, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency).

Malawi, located in the inland part of south east of Africa, is a long and narrow shape from south to north. And Lake Malawi, which neighbors the Republic of Mozambique, to the east, and the Republic of Tanzania, to the north, occupies 20% of the country. The size of the country is about the same size as both Hokkaido and Kyusyu of Japan added together. Export of tobacco and tea are the main industry but it is very poor in general and they are generally self-sufficient. Anyway, only 4% of the houses have electricity so they go to bed when it gets dark and start the day with the sun goes up. The food situation is also not good because of droughts and floods and nearly 30% of the population, 11,000,000 people, is not able to eat satisfactorily. It is the 2nd worst in terms of food shortage, next to Zimbabwe. Also, they have a problem of HIV.

Even though the life in Malawi is so severe and difficult, people are warm- hearted and they always have a smile. Maybe, because of the lack of goods, the children are friendly and are interested in anything. When my eyes met the children's, they smiled naturally and when I had a camera, they asked me to take pictures of them.

Yuki married Aaron, a Malawian, and has been working related to JICA and living in Blantyre, the biggest industrial city in Malawi, from a few years ago. Aaron, who teaches French and guitar, was elected as a Diet member last year and is actively working to improve life in the area up to the national administration level. Even though he is very busy, he is always smiling. Yuki supports him behind the scenes.

April in Malawi, which just finished the rainy season, is like the beginning of summer in Japan. As soon as I arrived, by the arrangement of those 2, I visited Henry Henderson Institute (Japanese High school), where Aaron graduated, to introduce Go. It is a mission school with a reputation as the most excellent school in Blantyre.

School in Malawi consists of grade 1 to grade 8 and 3 years in junior high school followed by university. Regarding primary school, children at any age can go (there is no family registration so there is no way to find out their age) but to enter junior high school there is an exam so it is a narrow gate. Because Malawi was under the control of Great Britain till 1964, the official language is Chewa (local language) and English. English newspapers are common and TV is broadcast in both languages.

By the idea of the teacher who is in charge, over 20 students who are good at Mathematics took part in the Go class. All of them were quick learners and they immediately enjoyed the new game. Above all, the teacher was deeply impressed and was enthusiastic and told me ` I will use Go as a tool for Mathematics class!' It seems that she felt that there is something in common between Mathematics and Go.

Similar to western Chess and eastern Go, in African countries, there is a traditional game which is enjoyed and made by seeds of trees and a wooden board. The size of the board and the name of the game differ in each country but it is called `Bao' in Malawi and people gathering with boards and playing the game on the street or under trees are often seen. Even though Malawi is influenced by Great Britain historically, there are only a few people who are economically wealthy enough to buy a Chess set. In that case, `Bao' which is enjoyed by things around them took root and I think that it naturally spread widely.

So, in Malawi, people are doing their best to live and there is hardly any entertainment or hobby which costs money. Children's games only consist of playing soccer using newspaper which is found on the street and made into a ball. During the rainy season (from November to March), they can't go outside and they have nothing to do as there is no electricity.

In the case of Go, for 9x9 board, anyone can enjoy playing Go right away if you draw lines on the ground and gather some small stones. For 19X19 board, if luxury is not an issue, there is a way to make the necessary parts with less cost by drawing lines on a piece of paper or making a wooden board. Go is not only telling Japanese culture but also creating an enjoyable time to enrich their lives and is a way to help young people who don't have jobs avoid delinquency so Go could be a wonderful tool. There is a great possibility that Go will spread in Malawi.

We, Japanese, are also called `azungu', meaning Caucasian and wherever I went, I was stared by people. Yuki told me, ` `azungu' is like honorific language to not only Caucasians but also to any foreigners'. But I was flustered by feeling someone's eyes on my back which I've never experienced living in Europe. When I was surrounded by Malawians, my skin was whitish and I definitely stood out.

The life of `azungu' and Malawians is completely different. Aaron's house is a big house with a big garden and it was very comfortable with hot water and a telephone. It is possible to have an ordinary life which you imagine if you have money. And yet, a few blackouts and suspensions of water supply happened every day. The external walls have high voltage current and they have to hire guards which cost money. The main streets are paved but once you go into a side street, the street is bumpy and in the rainy season, the street will be flooded and it will be difficult to walk and the cars will often break down. Malaria is also a worry. It is necessary to have concerns for everyday life that you never think of in Europe and Japan. It is really tough to live in Africa!

Nevertheless, I like this country. It's strange, isn't it? See you soon.

This "GO Friends Report " started in February !


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