By: Akeel Hajat
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. It’s a proverb usually repeated when faced by daunting and seemingly insurmountable tasks. The implication is that you need to take things in little bits, and that the most important part is getting started. According to Google maps it is actually 825 miles as the crow flies from my house in Blantyre to the flat in Pretoria. It’s not quite the thousand I was hoping for but since we are not in America we can call it 1327.7 kilometres. You may be wondering what brings me here from so far away? The answer is provided by some well meaning Norwegian people that have set up a work exchange programme swapping people all over the world for a year. It’s called the Fredskorpset (FK) programme (which is Norwegian for Peace Corps), and I’m on the south-south exchange. The people in FK have hit on the concept that one of the best ways to unite and develop Africa is to build on its internal networks. Having been on the exchange for almost a month already I can honestly say that I think they are onto something.
One of the goals of the programme is to promote reciprocal learning in terms of both the host and home organisations, and especially the participants. This does not only apply to information of an academic nature but also to cultural and religious values. I can already say that I have learnt much while I’ve been here. This place is full of interesting people who are at the forefront of their chosen fields. It was only after my arrival here that I understood what a privilege it was to be working alongside them. The friendly, open nature of the office has made the transition almost seamless. I just hope that I have contributed a little as well.
A few people I have met were surprised to find out that there exists a vibrant community of Malawians of Indian descent. Well guys, there are quite a lot of us in the interior of the continent, and yes our food is just as hot. For the record, Malawians do not ride to school on ostriches (at least none that I know of). Putting jokes aside, I can see how an exchange programme such as this has the potential to enrich all parties involved. It is now up to us to make it happen. It’s not easy, leaving your country and going to a completely random place. The two-week orientation workshop we did prepared us all for the logistical, technical, and cultural adjustments but it could not prepare us for saying goodbye to our families for a year. The onset of Ramadan (the month of fasting) makes the distance feel much greater, but there is comfort in the reception I have had from the people here.
I’m looking forward to the rest of this year… to the prospect of travelling, and contributing to something worthwhile, to making new friends and building bridges between South Africa and Malawi. I plan to approach this year with the same mentality as those who came before me; work hard, play hard, and in the words of Sir Richard “screw it, let’s do it”.
Akeel Hajat is an FK participant from IPI-Malawi at Idasa