Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thank you.....

As I sit here...reflecting back on my time in Africa...I am overcome with emotion......what a journey it truly was!!!!!

I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity....that I know others will only ever dream of......

I am so thankful to so many people who have helped me to realize this life long dream....

To CCA and John Julian for developing such an amazing program that I have seen first hand is making a difference in the lives of others in developing countries by providing them with a hand UP and not a hand OUT....and to Laurie and Sarah for picking me out of dozens of applicants...thank you!

To my employer, Interior Savings Credit Union, thank you for allowing me to participate in this incredible program and being such great supporters of the credit union movement worldwide...and Barry, thank you for your support, it meant everything to me...I am really going to miss you when you retire! :)

To my co-workers, who are like my second family, who have picked up the slack for me while I have been gone and who will put up with all my millions of stories I am going to be telling and re-telling over and over again...hahaha.....thank you.....I am so fortunate to work with such talented people who are so dedicated to our credit union and our community! I was so proud to represent all of you!

To the incredible Malawian people I was so fortunate to meet...thank you for sharing your beautiful country with me and teaching me all about the "Warm Heart of Africa" was a gift I will always cherish...deep in my heart!

To my fellow coaches, from both last year and this year....oh boy where do I even begin.....oh come the are some of the most passionate and talented people I have ever had the pleasure of was truly my honour to be in such good company and I was so touched by your friendship, and promise to keep in touch! 

And last, but certainly not my have been behind me 100% while I went through this meant so much to hear you were proud of me...thanks for being my cheerleaders, I love you all so much...especially my boys, Luke and Nick...thank you....for inspiring me to want to be the best Mama ever......and for teaching me so many life lessons and what is really important in life!

Zukomo Kwambini (thank you VERY MUCH!)

Heidi :)

Oh Yeah!

P.S. Cory - I DID end up beating you with more hits on my blog than you! hahahaha.....
and CCA - if you ever need a last minute fillin in the future - I am SO IN!! :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My New Malawian Friend :)

Receiving my gift...a moment I'll never forget! :)

Lennie and I in our SACCO cloth outfits :)

Experiencing the "Warm Heart of Africa" one last time.....

We had a great day today, our last full day in Malawi before we leave tomorrow.

The MUSCCO staff took us to a tailor here in Lillongwe to have our SACCO cloth made into an outfit before we leave for home. I had done that last year in Ghana and really wanted to have an outfit from Malawi.

We got all measured up and then dropped off our cloth - it was around 10 am and we were told to come back at 2 to pick up our outfits.  So while we waited we went back to the hotel and lounged around the pool for a few hours, and oh boy am I burnt! LOL....I can hear the groans now...and the violins playing in the background from my Canadian friends back home as you are in the dead of winter!

We went back to the tailor in the afternoon but the outfits weren't quite ready as they had run out of buttons in the market.  While we were waiting a lady selling cloth and beads offered me a seat, beside her, on her bench while she did her beading.  It was fascinating, and she was so friendly.....again.....the "Warm Heart of Africa" surfaced......

I purchased a couple of sets of beads from her and then she told me to pick one.....she wanted me to have one, a gift from her.......WOW!!! I can't even begin to tell you how touched I was.....they have so little and yet they are the ones always was this lady, making a living selling material and beads and she was offering me one...for FREE!! This place truly is amazing, please add it to your bucket list as you just have to experience it to believe it!

When we went to leave I gave her my last Canada pin...she was so thrilled......she said thank you and I love you...hahaha.....I think that just means she was happy to have met me :)

Another amazing day in Malawi.....I wish I could stay another week........

Heidi in Lillongwe :)

 P.S. The outfit cost 3500 Malawian Kwatcha to have made which is $15 Cdn!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Visiting with the SACCO employees

hahaha...they all had to get in on the photo op!

Elephant Mountain, Malawi

The Mountains of Northern Malawi

Back to Lillongwe we go......

We travelled another 6 hours today to get back to Lillongwe.  The trip could have been made in a shorter time frame but we stopped to visit with 2 different SACCOS along the way as well as make several stops for some amazing photos!

One stop we made was in the "exotic forest", they have a pine tree plantation here and I felt like I was back home in British Columbia!  They have hundreds of trees and for every tree they harvest they have to plant a new one. I'm not sure what species of pine they are but they sure grow quickly!  The reach maturity in about 10!

We made it to Lillongwe this afternoon and met up with Lennie and Roccio another CCA coaching team.  Lennie and I are friends from our trip to Ghana together last year and I've never received a warmer was awesome!  Lennie came running at full speed and gave me a great big hug! :)

We went to Mama Mia's for dinner and exchanged stories about our week, it was great! Then a storm rolled in and we had to make our way back to our hotel, which was a few blocks a downpour...and I mean a downpour...hahaha......the gutters which are about 1 foot deep were overflowing!  When we got back to our hotel looking like drowned rats, the staff came running out with umbrellas even though we were already soaked to the core and said "oh, so sorry".

They are so polite here they even apologize for us having to get wet in the Malawi, and love these amazing people!

Heidi in Lillongwe

Monday, January 30, 2012

Meeting with the Board of Directors from Phindu Community SACCO

Madame Hide and Mr. Garth....

We finished off our last SACCO visit today in Rumpi, we are now referred to as "Madame Hide" and "Mr. Garth" over here, hahahaha.  We worked hard to give them our best suggestions ....they were very appreciative and especially liked the Canadian pins that we handed out before we left! I was really proud with the info we were able to come up with in such a short period of time.

This SACCO, Phindu Community has faced some real hardships in the last few years......the majority of their members are farmers with tobacco crops...years ago they were very profitable but now with the price and demand for tobacco way down it has drastically affected them.  But the board is so committed to this community and this much so they that have elected to give up all of their director's pay except for out of pocket expenses until they are more profitable, now that's what I call passion and commitment!

As we were driving back to kind of hit me.....that was the last credit union I will be working with here in Africa.....I most likely will never return to this beautiful country and experience these amazing people....I started to get a little teary about it......

I have so loved my time here, and in Ghana last year, it is so humbling and fulfilling all at the same time....

I sent my boys a text back home to let them know I was finished my "official" work over here, and I received the following back from my 11 year old son.....he said "I love u and know u probably helped lots of people with this so u should be proud of yourself"

Oh boy!  Then the tears came.....

I am just so grateful to so many people who have made this life long dream of mine a reality....and thanks to all of you for coming along for the ride!

More travel tomorrow as it's back to Lillongwe to reunite with the rest of our Malawi CCA team.

Madame Hide in Muzuzu :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

View of Lake Malawi in Nkhata Bay - Chintheche, Malawi

Collecting Rubber from the Rubber Tree

Rubber Tree Plantation

A day in Chintheche @ Nkhata Bay

We had a day off today from work.  In Malawi the SACCO employees work 6 days a week, Sunday is their only day off, wow!

The Regional Manager Ezekiel picked us up from our hotel and along with his wife, Mildred, we headed out to Lake Malawi. We saw some amazing things today.....first we came across a rubber tree plantation, where they are growing rubber trees from seedlings.  Ezekiel explained that their President had a vision for Malawi about 30 years ago to have it full of trees, in the North there are so many and it is really beautiful. 

Further down the road we came across a mature rubber tree grove. To collect the rubber they slice ino the tree and insert a shunt to have the rubber drip out into a collection pot - much like maple syrup, cool!

Then we arrived at Chintheche at a beautiful private beach area where we spent the day visiting with Ezekiel and Mildred learning many things about Malawians and just life in general.  Mildred is a registered dietician and also a chicken expert.  She told us to never break apart a chicken wing as it is in this joint where all the steriods and other shots are given to the bird and if you split it apart all of that will seep into the meat you are eating...yikes...who knew?!

On the way home we stopped at a road side market area and Ezekiel bartered for us for our treasures in the local dialect, but it was all very respectful and they weren't overcharging us by much, but perhaps that had to do with our company :)

All in all an absolutely wonderful day...I'm a little sun burnt, but hey this is Africa after all.

Oh Yeah!  P.S. Ezekiel told Garth and I that our report for Karonga Teachers' SACCO was "good, really, really good", ohhhhh......I was so pleased....I feel so honoured to be able to share my credit union knowledge from back home to make a difference over made my whole trip worthwhile!  Now I've left a little piece of me behind in Malawi! <BIG BIG SMILE!>

Mugone Bwino (good night)
Heidi in Muzuzu

Friday, January 27, 2012

A special memory :)

I think it cost me $30 to post this picture but it was worth every penny to share it with you :)

You are most welcome.....

And back to Muzuzu we go.....

We had a great start to our day, we received word that Itai's daughter was doing better...I was so relieved! She has now developed an ear infection so I shared with Itai some tips I had as my son suffered from chronic ear infections for was nice to bond with her about our children.

We finished up our report for the Karonga Teachers' SACCO today and we sat outside under a big tree with the Board and Management to present our recommendations at their board meeting. It was really lovely sitting outside, I remarked how we would never hold a board meeting outside at my credit union in felt very African! I can honestly say I was living in the moment and enjoying every minute of it! Zikomo Kwambini (thank you very much :)

One of the things I love about Malawians is the way they say things....if you enquire if you can ask them a question they reply with: Yes, you are most is so lovely and they say it a lot...hmmm...and I thought Canadians were polite, the Malawians have us totally beat.

Ohhhhh....what a GREAT moment I had today!! I can hardly wait to tell you about it....<BIG SMILE!>

We were on our way back to Muzuzu (YES, we saw the monkeys again!!..well they were actually baboons I think but I just love to say MONKEY! HA!) and our driver, Ezekiel pulled over so I could get yet another picture of the beautiful landscape...and a small group of children came running over to see the Muzungo (the white ones!) hahaha....I asked if I could take their picture and of course they said YES, so I had Ezekiel take my picture with them.....they were so tiny so I kneeled down to be close to them and they all mimicked me and kneeled down too, right there on the road they were kneeling beside me while we had our picture taken...they were SOOOO CUTE!!! It was amazing.......I then crouched down again to show them the display on my camera so they could see themselves, they laughed and laughed.....and I felt a little hand reach over and touch my white ankle.....just a quick little poke to see what the Muzungo's skin felt was so GREAT! I love Africa, and these beautiful children!

I can honestly say that I have experienced the “Warm Heart of Africa” and it is beautiful my friends, just beautiful!

P.S. I also got to cross yet another item off my bucket list this trip...I saw my very first firefly! ( I know, sheltered life...but I was thrilled to finally see one after 29 years LOL! :)

Tionana Mawa (see you tomorrow)
Heidi in Muzuzu

Putting things in perspective....

(This posting is from Thursday, January 26th)

My heart is a little heavy tonight as I write this......we went to work at our first SACCO today.......

We spent the morning at the Karonga Teachers SACCO, with their Manageress, Mrs. Itai Msiska. However things were quickly put into perspective for me when I learned that she had been up all night and had not had any sleep as her young daughter was sick. Itai looked completely exhausted, and it made my own sleepless night (as the electricity had gone out and we did not have any air conditioning) pale in comparison. However, Itai was still there at work and eager to meet with us and answer all of our questions, even though she had to be worried for her daughter.

As the day progressed Itai received word that her daughter had become quite ill, it was confirmed that she had Malaria and she had been taken to the hospital and she left work to be with her......for me, as a parent, my heart really went out to Itai and it put things into perspective how very different our worlds are......

I am so thankful to be a Canadian and to have access to excellent medical care - if one of my children needed to go to the hospital they would be readily accessible and I would not have to pay a fee for excellent health care....and that I live in a country where I would never have to worry about my children catching a potentially life threatening disease from a simple mosquito bite.....

I said a prayer for Itai's daughter tonight, that she will fully recover, as many children in Malawi die from Malaria each year........

Heidi in Karonga

P.S. I miss you boys and wish I could give you a big hug & kiss...xoxoxo Mama

In Karonga

(This posting is from Wednesday, January 25th, as I had no internet in Karonga, but we are now back in Muzuzu so I will be adding several posts from the last few days...boy did I miss the internet! :)

Hello from Karonga!

Well we had another long journey today as we travelled 4 hours north to the city of Karonga....I had no idea how beautiful a drive it was going to be! In fact I'm sure the drive could be completed in 3 hours but I made our driver stop so many times so I could get out and take lots of pictures...I have some real beauties to share with you...including a great shot of some monkeys we saw on the side of the road but I'm afraid that will have to wait until I get home due to the internet issues here! (how disappointing!)

But just so you can picture come down a winding road from high in the mountains and as far as the eye can see is this beautiful lake with a white sandy beach bordering it's really was stunning! I had no idea it was so beautiful here and from what I've seen even though we've had the furthest to travel, we have, by far, the best posting in Malawi! Eat your heart out other CCA coaches!! hahaha...

I also wanted to tell you about one of the stops we made...I had hiked around the corner to get an incredible shot of the whole valley and as I was walking back to the car I could hear footsteps behind me that were running....2 boys caught up with me and approached our driver who speaks the local dialect...they asked him if we had a spare pen that they could use for of course Garth and I each dug one up from our bags (darn I wish I would have brought some more from home!) it was a great moment. I told them to stay in school and get good grades, that it was very important....hahaha.....the “Mom” in me coming out!

We stopped in at the Karonga Teacher's SACCO late this afternoon to meet their President and Manageress....they were so warm and welcoming! We are all set now to start work first thing in the morning and they are so excited to be chosen as one of the SACCOS to have Canadian Coaches.....they referred to us as International pressure or anything.....I know we will work really hard the next 2 days to help them in as many ways possible.

All in all a good day, with some amazing scenery but now it's time to get to work!

Heidi in Karonga :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another Travel Day...

Sorry for the boring posts....I'm having internet issues and cannot post any pictures which makes it kind of hard to tell a story...and we still haven't started our work yet, so far we have just been travelling to get here!

Today we travelled from Lilongwe to Muzuzu, which is in the Northern Region of Malawi. 
The scenery was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and the roads were amazing, not at all what I was expecting!  Considering we were going to the far North I thought the roads would be more like Ghana (4X4 country!) but they weren't at all, they were just like the highways back home so we were able to travel up to 130 kms/hr with our driver Venge, who is an Accountant with MUSCCO and his wife and 2 year old daughter, Rose who was a delight to sit beside...I was bribing her with some of my gummy bears from home! :)

We met with Ezekiel tonight, he is the Regional Manager for the Northern SACCO's.  When we first met I gave him a firm he went into an extra shake and then clasped my hand and I automatically went into a Ghanaian handshake from last year...hahahaha......we all laughed, then Venge had to shake my hand again so he could give me a Ghanaian handshake was great, although I have to admit I was a little rusty...but I think I took them by surprise!

We have more travel in store for us tomorrow as we drive to Karonga, we are hoping to finally visit with the SACCO there and get to work! They asked what time we wanted to leave in the morning and we said 8:30, and they said how about I asked is that REALLY 9:00 or do you mean 9:30....and they laughed and said Malawian Time! there is a "Malawian Time" and a "Ghanaian Time"...I think I shall just refer to this as "African Time" from now on......

Our first year coaches learnt all about African Time this morning...although they tried to hide it I know they were a little ancie this morning waiting for our rides as our drivers arrived over an hour late...hahahaha.......their first lesson from just relax and live in the moment...I hope they can do that so they have an incredible experience here, it is such an amazing place with so many life lessons to learn if we sit back and take a moment and really appreciate them....

P.S. my hotel in Muzuzu ( is right beside a very nice golf course, but unfortunately my partner Garth doesn't golf...but I'm going to take one for the team and see if I can play a cool would that be to go golfing in Malawi! YES!

P.P.S. I'm starting to recover a little from the Malarone pills and don't feel like I've had a half dozen kuche kuche's today! HAHAHA....

Tionana Mawa (see you tomorrow!)
Heidi in Muzuzu

Monday, January 23, 2012

Learnings from Malawi

We spent the day in the capital city today, Lilongwe, and the Malawian Central Credit Union, MUSCCO.  We've learnt some very important things today about Malawi and I wanted to share some of those with you......

recycling - the average newspaper in Malawi is read 17 times! Wow! I wonder what this is in Canada.....I can't help but think it is probably one...

identification - they have no national identification system - this means that there is no way to identify an individual and more importantly there is no way to prevent them from opening multiple accounts in different financial institutions under different names......a potential huge fraud issue for them

and most importantly......

beer - the local beer "Kuche Kuche" pronounced koochie kocchie is the best beer in Malawi.....but I still burst out laughing everytime I order one! hahaha.....

Street vendors in the Malawi countryside selling maise

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Phew! That was quite the journey!

We left Ottawa on Friday afternoon and we finally arrived here in Malawi late today (we are 10 hours ahead here!)...what a journey it has been so far!

I have to admit the highlight to me so far was was that I got to cross another item off my bucket list!!!  YES!!!

A fellow CCA coach used some of his Air Canada points to upgrade me to 1st Class on the flight from Toronto to London, England and I was lucky enough to get the last seat....WOWEE!!!  You should have seen my high five'ing and jumping for joy in the airport!!!  Thank you so much Scott I couldn't stop grinning the whole time and got such a good sleep in my POD! Thank you, thank you, thank you....what a wonderful start to my journey!

After 4 long flights and close to 30 hours later including a layover in London, we arrived in Malawi and noticed immediately how different it was from Ghana.  It is very lush and green and not as humid as Accra.  However there are huge gas shortages so the line ups for gas are extremely long and take at least a day!!! YES, it takes a whole day here to wait in line for gas!  Remind me not to complain about our gas prices again, at least we have access to gas when we need it!

So it's off to MUSCCO tomorrow (the central credit union for Malawi) to hopefully learn more about out the credit unions (or SACCOS as they are called here) we are visiting....and another full day of travelling for Garth and I as we are off to the Northern Region of Malawi!  Hopefully I am feeling a little better as my Malaria drugs are making me extremely dizzy!

Zikomo Kwambini...which means thank you very much as we learnt today Malawian's always say thank you very much not just thank you...and from what we've experienced so far the Malawian people are just as kind and generous as the wonderful Ghanaian's I met last year......WOW!! I still have to pinch myself at times that I am even here!

Heidi :)

P.S. sorry for the lack of pictures, I'm having internet issues.

Friday, January 20, 2012 we come!

Well, this is's the day we leave for Malawi....oh boy! <BIG sigh!>

There are just so many thoughts running through my mind.....

- what will it be like?
- are we prepared?
- did we bring the right materials?
- will we be able to help them?

but most importantly......

- will we make a difference?!

I'm thinking back to last year and the advice my Irish partner, Damien Brady gave me......he said "as long as we leave one "ting" of ourselves behind on this journey that will help them, then, we will have done our job"....hmmm......ahhh was good solid advice then as it is today...thank you Damo my friend as I will keep that in mind as I start this new journey with new experiences and look for the one gem that I can leave behind that will make a difference.......


Heidi :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cultural Training in Ottawa with CCA

We arrived in Ottawa safe and sound and completed day 1 of our cultural training. The program is a little different this year, in the past, the returning 2nd year coaches would go to the same country and be the resource person for the 1st year coaches.  This year due to funding we were required to return to a different country so it brings in a little uncertainty...while I know what to expect this year as far as my role as a coach I really don't know all that much about Malawi, other than what I've read. So it was nice yesterday when we had the opportunity to visit with William, a Malawian who moved to Ottawa 12 years ago.

William was very open and honest with us as we asked very frank question of him about his country....being Canadian we don't usually ask such direct questions of a person when you are just meeting but you have to put that aside as we have so much to learn and William is our best resource. We learnt that they are 2 languages in Malawi (besides English) and as I will be posted in the North they speak Tubuka there and a common greeting is “Moni” which sounds like morning and they use it all throughout the day when greeting someone. I also learned that as a woman I should be respectful when meeting a man and to do this when we shake hands I am to grasp my shaking arm with my other hand and do a small curtsy....he helped me practice so I could get it just, that will be a first for me!

We also learned that in a business setting in Malawi it is expected that you would wear a suit jacket.....and while they would never say anything if you didn't have one it certainly wouldn't go unnoticed......who knew?! Certainly not Garth or I as we did not bring one of these from home, hopefully they will cut us some slack on this as we are foreigners.

All in all it was a great day and wonderful to have had the time to talk with William and gain some insight on his country......after meeting him and seeing first hand his warm, laid back nature I think I am starting to get what this "Warm Heart of Africa" is all about....I can hardly wait to experience it in person.....

Zikomo (thank you)
Heidi :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1 week to go!!

Only one more week to go until I leave on my big journey.....YAHOO!!!!  I am really starting to get excited....oh boy.....I can't believe I am actually going to Africa..AGAIN! I am soooo lucky and feel so fortunate to be in CCA's Credit Union Coaching Program, and even more so to work for Interior Savings, who has supported me in this incredible opportunity to share my credit union knowledge with others...thank you from the bottom of my heart...I'll work hard to make you proud!

Speaking of "heart", Malawi is know as the "Warm Heart of Africa" and I can hardly wait to experience it first hand....and more importantly share it with all of you :)

I've received my posting and I will be travelling to the Northern Region of Malawi this year, in and around the city of Rumphi.  I understand that it takes a while to travel there from the capital city of Lilongwe, but hey that's all part of the adventure!

My partner this year is Garth Sheane who is another credit union professional from Vancouver Island and we will be travelling to 3 credit unions together in Malawi...look out Garth...we are going to have quite the adventure together, you'll never be the same again! hahaha.....

Our hope is to leave a little piece of ourselves behind, and to help the people of Malawi...I hope I can do just that my friends, leave another little piece of myself in Malawi!

Zikomo (thank you in Nyanja, Malawi's native language)

Friday, January 6, 2012


Tomorrow is Dukoral vaccine day for me…YUCK! I think this is the worst part of preparing for my trip to Africa.  Dukoral is an oral vaccine to prevent traveller’s diarrhea and to me it tastes like the fluoride rinse from the dentist only way more potent, and that stuff makes me gag so you can imagine what this stuff does to me. (Although I have been told by others than it is “no big deal”…what can I say…other than maybe I just have way better taste buds than they do…hahaha)

Last year my boys got the biggest kick out of watching me try to drink the stuff…it went something like this…take a sip….GAG….take a sip..…GAG……this went on for over half an hour….hahahaha….okay maybe a little longer....hahahaha.......

My son asked me when I have to take it this year and I said Saturday and he was sooo excited as his friend is sleeping over and now they both get to watch me go through this whole process…..hmmm…..I think someone might just be a story teller like his Mama!

11 more sleeps till Ottawa! :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What to pack for Africa....the "real list"

Only 2 weeks to go until I leave on my big journey to am sooooo lucky!!!! :)

I thought I would share with you what you really need to pack when you are going to Africa, or at least what MY must haves are:

Camera (with extra memory cards)
Multi country converter (awesome invention, has 5 different converters on one plug in)
99% Dheet insect repellent (only available in the States)
Head lamp (for use in "brown outs")
Cotton hankies
Hand sanitizer
Travel Guide
Map of Country
Journal (in case you do not have Internet or electricity)
Portfolio (handy to keep notes in when visiting)
Sleeping mask for airplane
Canada flag pins and stickers (lots!! ask your MP for some, these were a HUGE hit!!)
Business cards (bring tons! I ran out and everyone wanted one!)
Sham Wow towel (dries very quickly and doesn't get smelly!)
Travel soap & shampoo (Zellers sells soap and shampoo in paper thin wafers, in a container that looks like dental floss, in their travel aisle - awesome stuff!)
Comfort food from home (we had a Canadian junk food night and it was fantastic!)
Laptop with converter (tape your business card on the bottom of the laptop to recognize which one is yours when going through security)
Extra flash drives
Photocopies of important travel documents and passports (I also email copies to an email account that I can access internationally)
Ear bud style headphones for plane
Clothing (as little as possible, have it laundered in country)
Hand scale for weighing suitcase (I bought one at Wal-Mart for $10 - best $10 I ever spent!)
The biggest suitcase you have (even if it is half empty, it certainly won't be on the way home)

And one really good tip for you...if your suitcase is over weight, start putting your extra clothes on from your suitcase and wear them onto the plane!