JANEEMO Project - Making a film in Malawi

After finishing the first year of my MA course I went straight to Malawi with Julian to shoot two documentaries, one informational film and one character driven story about Joseph, a secondary school boy from a small village in Southern Malawi.

When we won the competition to go to Africa we had no idea what to expect!
We went for a two week journey in July and then for a whole month in September. We met many interesting people, lived in a village without electricity, running water and pavements. It was the most basic living and as such had its beautiful and also harsh sides. The weather was mostly warm and sunny. But in September, the dry season, it was often unbearably hot to go out of the house during noon time. It felt like our brains were instantly cooked with the sun burning into our pale skin. Nice tan though after one month!
During our stay we were hiking in the Thyolo mountains to find a band that played on self-build instruments, a guitar made from a huge olive-oil can, drums made with goatskin and a didgeridoo made from a pipe. Also the school-life was great to observe. Nearly all the kids have a mobile phone by now and their little pocket money is invested in credit for the phone or for charging it in a nearby town that has electricity. Every morning they gathered in their blue shirts, some are worn out and hastily stitched together.

Joseph with his sister on his uncles motorbike
The means of transport are basic too, local bike-taxis bring you to Fatima, the nearest town with electricity. The huge old-school cycles had a nice cushioned seat on the back and some footrests by the wheels. Hilarious how many people and goods can fit on a single bike! Even goats, pigs and massive sacks are tied to the front or back of the bike. Not very animal friendly sometimes. The usual public transport are trucks, loaded with goods from the many farmers in the valley, they stop at hitchhiking people and are crammed!
I was particularly stunned by the markets! An overwhelming spectrum of colours and goods, e.g. tomatoes piled in neat order on mats or stalls. People sitting patiently, young kids running around with large woven trays filled with nut-cookies or fried breads. The women wear the most colorful skirts, large pieces of fabric skillfully knotted around their waists and heads. Yelling kids with their frozen juice-ice sticks, smiling sellers behind piles of pulses, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, millet..., the butcher, dried-fish smell, goats screaming, sewing mashines rattling away, the cracking noise of a movie theatre that plays kung-fu films and is only visible by the large soundsystem piled up outside of one of the houses. Meat is being cooked in dented metal bowls, plastic bags flutter from a stall, chicken sit in the shade, breathing fast in the hot air. It's a quirky atmosphere and of course the attention you get as an Azungu (a white person) is a bit overwhelming at times. Though people everywhere are super friendly and welcoming! Everybody wants to know who you are, where you are from and they want to share their maize cobs, nsima or papaya (popo) but mostly they want to sell their goods and often we discovered that there are Azungu-prices too ;)

 our neighbours, the goats, early morning
At home Maxwell was preparing dinner for us every night, waiting eagerly for our arrival. Often we came late. The tour from Taboa to our home took longer than an hour. And the roads are not made for fast driving, very bumpy. After one month we knew the bumps, dry riverbeds, curves and rocks by heart. It was fun driving at night, but creepy to see the hillside burning, a long line of fire eating through the undergrowth along 40/50 km of the Thyolo mountains.
A welcoming distraction was the Obama Bar, loud blaring sounds awaiting us, a few drunkards torkeling around and a cold carlsberg at hand. Still in a t-shirt at night, the sound of the crickets was surrounding us. It was mostly pitch black after 6pm. Small lights peaked through tiny windows from village houses. But when the moon was full, it was like a lantern hanging high up above us. The light so bright you could see shadows, the milky way, usually clear and bright was swallowed from the pale face of the moon.

kids watching the dancing, Thyolo mountains

Looking back now it has been an amazing adventure, getting to know beautiful people, learning about the environment, different cultures, African village life and music!

filming at Manuels house, Nyangu Village

Now the two films are almost finished. Editing is in its final stage and soon both films will be used in Scottish schools to teach children about different cultures and climate change!

The film about Joseph will hopefully be screened at several festivals and you'll find out here where to see it!
The informational film about the Janeemo Project was already screened at the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 in an accompanying film festival.

The Janeemo project itself is explained in detail here. It is a great project and I hope the villagers will use their knowledge and training to benefit from the plants.