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The First Seventy Years: Chapter 81 - A Small World

When Eric Biddulph and his wife Mary paid a return visit to Malawi two chance encounters persuaded them that the world is indeed a small place.

To read earlier chapters of Eric's engaging autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_first_seventy_years/

Ericís book The First Seventy Years can be obtained for £10 by contacting http://mary@bike2.wanadoo.co.uk or telephoning 01484-658175.

All the cash raised by the book goes to a water aid project in Malawi.

On our last morning in Zomba Only took us back to the bus station. Boarding an almost empty 'big' bus we were back in Blantyre in just over an hour.

We perused the Servas list and located the names of a couple who would almost certainly be US born and bred. Sure enough an American accent came on the line when I telephoned. We could stay tonight but our host was giving a dinner party the following evening making it impossible for us to stay on.

Sandy and Cornell were US citizens who had been living in Malawi since 1978. Sandy had been a music teacher in a Blantyre school and Cornell had been a professor at the University of Malawi. They had decided to retire in the country and had bought a big old house in the select district of Sunnyside. They were still both actively engaged in their professional activities, albeit on a casual basis. It was soon apparent that we would 'gel' and it was no surprise to me when the next morning Sandy invited us to stay for dinner and a second night.

We compared our experiences of living in Malawi amidst another power failure. Our daughter had attended St. Andrews Primary School which was within walking distance. We set out on a nostalgic return to the scene of much of her unhappiness. Entering the school premises we were spotted by the headmaster who came out to speak to us. He told us that the school population was now very multi-cultural and multi-racial. In Jane's schooldays at the school it was predominantly white pupils with only a few of African origin, mainly children of diplomats. Although much had changed within the school buildings, computers and other modern teaching aids being in evidence the exterior was how I remembered it; a fine swimming pool and a marked running track.

It is often said that it is a small world. Two meetings on the same day confirmed how true this continues to be. Sandy invited us to escort her to the house of some friends. The lady of the house was celebrating her birthday and Sandy had a present to deliver. Her husband was the headmaster of St Andrews Secondary School. We learned that he had been born in Luddenden Foot, only ten kilometres from our home in Huddersfield. During conversation over a celebratory glass of champagne I mentioned that I had been a lecturer at Calderdale College in Halifax. "Did you know my cousin Liz Gould?" asked the lady of the house. Did I know her? You bet I did. I was the trade union representative for the Business Studies Department when Liz was the branch secretary, In addition she had been active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement at the same time as me.

The dinner party that evening witnessed us being introduced to four other guests. Two of them were a married couple who lived most of the time in the UK but returned to Malawi for a six weeks holiday each year. An architect by profession prior to retirement he had designed many of the new building that had gone up in Malawi including Kamuzu Academy, the originally discredited school built by President Banda to provide selected Malawian children with an education based on the English public school ethos. His wife was Swedish by birth but had been brought up in Iran. It was here where she had met her husband whilst he was engaged on a design project. The second couple looked vaguely familiar. As conversation began to flow I realised they were our old Dutch neighbours. He remembered me as the cycling organiser. Both he and his wife remembered the names of Jane and Paul because they sometimes went to play with their two young daughters. They had lived in Malawi continuously since the late 1960s. Pieter had owned and run a building company since that time. He was now contemplating selling the business and retiring. This was not a simple matter. Finding a buyer and deciding where to live afterwards were clearly causing him to fall into depression. Getting a reasonable price for the business and reaching a compromise where to live afterwards were clearly causing him sleepless nights. His instinct was to stay in Malawi but Nell wanted to return to the Netherlands to be nearer their daughters.


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