Waking up but still half asleep, I slowly stumble out of bed and make my way to the bathroom.
I'm about to turn on the shower as I step inside, but the sight of something unexpected makes me freeze. Afraid to move, I slowly lower my foot back onto the ground and gently step back. I carefully pick up my hairspray can with one hand, and my hairbrush with my other -the first two things in reach.
For a few short minutes I'd thought I was back in Glasgow getting ready for another day at the Mary's Meals office. But this is not Scotland, and in Malawi it's important to check your surroundings before stepping anywhere because you never know what eight-legged creatures are lurking around.
In the end, I decided I didn't really need a shower that morning... Malawi 1:0 Jackie.
A few days earlier, I'd stepped off the plane and been hit by a wave of heat. Filling in the immigration form, it dawned on me that I was in Africa. Strangely, I didn't have any fears about not being allowed into the country; my main concern was that my luggage may not have arrived. Thankfully, they let me (and my bags) in.
Having spent my first month with Mary's Meals in their Glasgow office, I'd got used to doing my job with electricity, water, and internet access all freely available. I've never really been in a situation where these things weren't justthere. However, I quickly learned that the amenities I considered basic are luxuries in Malawi. Power cuts and water outages are so frequent that the city areas can be left without such things for days on end. This was something I was going to have to get used to. This, and the bugs.
Just when I thought I was toughening up and getting used to my daily encounters with arachnids in the bathroom, I had another surprise visit from nature. A swarm of bees had somehow made their way into my little house and-at first glance-died. I swept up the lifeless little creatures and stepped outside into the heat. Then, all of a sudden, the bees began to twitch.
With tiny wings and legs fluttering all around me, I did what any self-respecting Scottish adventurer would do-freaked out, threw the dustpan into the garden, and slammed the door shut as I jumped back inside! Malawi 2:0 Jackie. This wasn't getting any easier!
During my first week in the Mary's Meals office I was keen to get stuck in, so I jumped into one of the office vehicles with Jacqui, our sponsor a school officer, and we headed out into the unknown. The roads in Malawi are not like the roads back home. They are dirt tracks with pot-holes-much worse than the ones I used to moan about in Glasgow-which make things very bumpy.
It feels a bit like you're off roading in a 4x4, wherever you go. The schools aren't like the schools in Scotland either. Some schools don't have enough classrooms and some classrooms don't have enough furniture. School materials such as books and pencils are also scarce. Yet, despite all this, the children are happy.
When they see the Mary's Meals car pull up they start cheering and jumping, and run down to meet us as we park. I barely have one foot out of the car when I'm surrounded by hundreds of smiling children. They reach out their hands and I high-five a few of them before the head teacher comes over to welcome us to his school.
'Muli Bwanji' I say; that's one of the Chichewa* phrases Jacqui has taught me, which means, 'how are you?' He laughs, as I've obviously pronounced it strangely, but seems happy that I tried and takes us to his office to chat.
While Jacqui is speaking to the head teacher about enrolment figures and feeding, I sneak outside to chat to the children. It's so noisy and red dust fills the air so it's difficult to hear what they say. I understand a few names and villages and take their pictures as they pose with their phala mugs*. I feel like I've just arrived but it's time to go-we have three more schools to fit in this morning before lunch and it's a long drive to the next.
That evening as I caught up on emails from my family, something caught my eye. I froze, only moving my eyes to the corner of my bedroom. There was nothing there. Blaming a possible hallucination on my malaria prevention, I returned to my MacBook and continued to write about my day. Then it happened again. There was definitely something in my room, and it was much bigger than a spider or a bee. Careful not to fall off the bed, I slowly leaned over the edge to see what was lurking behind my suitcases in the corner of the room. Then I saw a tail...
*Chichewa is a tribal language spoken throughout Malawi, widely considered as the country's lingua franca
*Phala is the children's nickname for likuni phala, a vitamin-enriched porridge-like meal served by Mary's Meals to over 622,000 Malawian pupils every school day
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.