Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shopping in Malawi

Paul and I did a little shopping at Shoprite yesterday. Shoprite is a grocery store and its 4 or 5 blocks from our hotel. It was really hot and muggy in the grocery store, and it smelled of the chambo that was likely laid out earlier that morning. I have found that the stores that sell fresh produce (Shoprite, 7-11, etc.) usually smell like fish. Not many of the stores have air conditioning, so it is a struggle to stay in a store for any length of time.

Today… The Markets! Last year, I recall blogging about mentally preparing for the markets. That's no exaggeration – the Markets are a test! I find the markets absolutely fascinating. We foreigners are at a huge disadvantage. First off, we have no idea what the cost of each item is. In Canada, we have an idea of what an item costs, and we are able to base our decision to purchase or pass on such item comparing the value we receive for it relative to the cost. In the markets, each item is priced according to what the buyer is willing to pay. Secondly, the sellers are very good at pricing. They add or subtract "value" to/from a transaction by throwing two or three other items into the transaction and change the price up accordingly. Today, I had finally got the seller down to a price I was ok with, when he took away a few of the items, added a few others, and re-priced it at a higher price. Disaster… I ended up panicking, falling for the new deal, and regretting it later… Finally, there is a group peer pressure associated with each transaction. Five or Six sellers are a part of each negotiation – one leads the negotiation, the others boo or cheer when a poor price or a good price is discussed. It's hilarious after the fact, but incredibly intimidating in the moment! It literally is played out like this:

Bobby: I'll give 1,000 Kwacha

Crowd:    BOO!!!! Bad Price! No! Do not! No way! Boo! You crazy!

Seller: 2,000 Kwacha

Crowd: YAAAAH! OH YES! Great Price! Good Deal!

Paul and I hung out after our hour-long hazing session in the markets and laughed about some of the one-liners we had heard from the salesmen. The cost of the items we bought today is only a mere fraction of what we paid for them. The experience is worth the extra Kwacha we paid. The Blantyre markets are much less intimidating than the Lilongwe markets. We were told that many of the sellers in the markets were not Malawian; rather, they were from other African countries. Some of the sellers from the northern African countries are very aggressive, and follow you around, grab on to you and your bag and shout while you are there. The Malawians, however, ask if you are interested, and usually leave you alone if you say you are "just looking". In Blantyre, there were very few aggressive salesmen. They used the group peer pressure, similar to what we saw last year, but when told "just looking" about four or five times, they left us alone.

Paul did really well today. He found his price, stayed committed, and came out with some awesome deals! Me… well… I would score the transaction like this: The Markets: 1, Robert: 0. I thought I paid a fair price for the stuff I bought today, but I was humbled by the deals Paul was able to strike with his friends! Good job Paul! I plan on winning some more battles next week. I have my eye on a wooden xylophone – if I come home with it, you'll know I've won!

We start our four-day visit with the MBC SACCO tomorrow. I have had a really relaxing weekend and I'm feeling refreshed and ready to start work with the SACCO tomorrow.

Catcha later,

Robert Christiansen

PS: GO CANADA GO! We heard on the BBC News today that the Vancouver Olympics has been the most successful Olympics for the host country in the history of the winter Olympics! AWESOME! Hope we can bring home the gold in Hockey tomorrow!


 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Michael’s, Tea Plantations and… Rain…



First thing is first – Thank you for all of the comments and emails! I received a lot of emails about my orphanage photos. Thanks!  I've received a couple of emails, stating that the pictures are too small to view.  If you click on the photos, you will be able to view a much larger version of the photo.  Hope that helps!

The meeting with Henock and the Board Chairman went really well yesterday. Paul and I reviewed last year's recommendations, made our own analysis of the Sunbird Tourism SACCO and made our own recommendations. Working with Henock Chakhaza and his team (Getrude Chiomba, Henrieta Mambiya and Madalitso Benito) was awesome! They were all really welcoming and accommodating, and their SACCO seems to be functioning really well. Our recommendations were very well received by Henock and the Board Chair, and Paul and I both hope that we were able to assist this SACCO in some way with our recommendations.
The hotels we have stayed in thus far are really nice. And, really funny! As soon as word gets out that there are Canadians at the bar, patio or restaurants, the staff put on Canadian music. We've heard Nickelback, Garth Brooks, and everyone's favorite (but my own…) – Celin Dion. As I type this, Beyonce is being pounded over the lounge's sound system, informing all of the single ladies that if their men like it, they should put a ring on it… - not a Canadian artist, but certainly something broadcasting over Canadian radio and television every day. Before that, "All for one" by Bryan Adams was playing. Haha! Anyways… We have heard all sorts of music throughout our stay in Blantyre. From Bing Crosby cover songs played by the piano player in the bar, to traditional folk Malawian tunes being blasted from the minibuses (amidst honking horns and yelling drivers) driving around the city, I've experienced a lot of different music genres thus far.

Paul and I had a funny experience yesterday. We drove around in the rain with Henock (the Sunbird SACCO manager) yesterday, trying to take in some of the tourist attractions Blantyre has to offer. We found out yesterday that Henock really enjoys Christian music, and he showed us the various tapes that he likes to play in his car. In particular, he showed us two Jimmie Swaggart tapes. One was a full length album (10 songs) and the other was a single (1 song). He popped the single into his tape deck, and we listened to the same Jimmie Swaggart song over and over again for about 45 minutes. Henock switched up the tunage throughout our trips yesterday, but every time he put that Jimmie Swaggart single into the tape deck, he cranked the volume from 10 to 11! Classic!

Henock took us to see St. Michaels and All Angels Church yesterday – the First Presbyterian Church established in Malawi, established by Dr. Livingstone in 1888 (I hope I have that right… someone please correct me if I'm wrong!!). It is a huge building, a historical landmark and church services are still held in the church to this day! Check out the pictures! I also took a picture of this ridiculously large tree on the grounds, and had Paul and Henock stand in front of it for emphasis.

Henock picked us up this morning (Saturday) and we travelled to see the tea plantations near Tholyo (prounounced "cho-roh"). It was incredible to see the vast tea orchards. I took some photos, but the battery in my camera died half way through the trip, so I missed out on some.

With the rain, we have decided to spend the weekend in Blantyre instead of travelling anywhere. There is no point in packing everything up and driving for hours, only to be greeted with more rain and spend the weekend in our hotel rooms… We will start with MBC SACCO on Monday morning. Henock took us to the MBC SACCO yesterday, so that we would know where to walk on Monday morning. MBC SACCO, FINCOOP and MUSCCO all share the same building in Blantyre. As such, I was able to meet with Tereza, from MUSCCO. She had travelled to Canada in 2009 through the Canadian Cooperative Association Women's Mentorship Program, and stayed with her host Randy Tate in Okotoks, Alberta. Randy told me about her stay, and Sarah and I drove up to Okotoks to visit with her. Tereza remembered me from her visit, and we had a quick chat before we had to leave. The CCA's Women Mentorship Program is really great, and we have heard from a couple of previous participants that they had really enjoyed their time in Canada.

Ok… Time to put this novel to rest… It's supper time! Thanks for reading!

Robert Christiansen


 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Click on the pictures!

Hey guys!

Feel free to click on any of the pictures to make them bigger!

Thanks!

Robert Christiansen

The Bad News, the Good News and the Children!





The Bad News:

It has been pouring rain here for the entire day today, which has made travelling around difficult. We went to the conference room at the hotel today to attend a Rotary Club (Blantyre) meeting, and no one was there. We checked at the front desk to see if the location had changed. She told us that the Rotary Club changed locations two weeks ago and that she did not know where. She made a handful of phone calls to find out where the meetings were, but she was unsuccessful. Foiled! I really wanted to attend a meeting. I'm going to ask around and see if anyone else knows, and try to attend next Thursday.

The Good News:

Paul and I finished our report this evening! We're all ready to present our findings with the Chairman of the Board tomorrow.

The Children:

Henock took us to Chifundo Centre 2 Orphanage today. It was in the Dilonde region of Blantyre. According to Henock, the Dilonde region is a very poor area of town. It was raining like crazy this afternoon and many of the roads had been washed out near the orphanage. We had to park blocks away, and walk through the water to get there; but we got there safe and sound! This particular orphanage is supported by the Presbyterian Church. It is run by one paid staff and many volunteers, and currently hosts about 25 children. We were told that the orphans' parents had either passed away or abandoned them. The children used to receive two meals a day (porridge in the morning and n'sima in the afternoon), however they had to cut the meals back to one meal a day because of financial constraints. The orphanage has not received financial support from the Government in the past, but we were told that this year, they would receive some financial assistance, which is very encouraging! Paul had brought toys, footballs, glasses, and various other things. We presented these small gifts, along with footballs (or soccer balls) to the children. We also made a financial contribution to the orphanage earlier in the day by making a deposit into the orphanage's bank account at Standard Bank. We presented the receipt to the coordinator of the orphanage and she thanked us. The children couldn't wait to play with the toys and soccer balls! They were running around, kicking and throwing the balls with each other, laughing and playing. Man, it was really cool to see the little guys so happy! Our financial donation will undoubtedly go a long way with this orphanage. The leader stated they the money will likely be used to reinstate their 2 meal/day program. Hope you like the pics!

Blog ya later!

Bobby

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sunbird Tourism SACCO – Days 1 & 2



Hello!

Paul and I are currently working at the Sunbird Tourism SACCO main branch in Blantyre, Malawi. The SACCO Manager is Mr. Henock Chakhaza. He has three employees, one accountant (Getrude Chiomba) and two clerks. The two employees Paul and I primarily deal with are Henock and Getrude.

The Sunbird Tourism SACCO is a closed-bond SACCO, meaning that there are limitations as to which members of the community can join the SACCO. As the name would suggest, this SACCO is open to employees of the Sunbird Hotel chain. They have two branches: One in the Sunbird Capital Hotel in Lilongwe, and the one we are working at, which is in a tiny office, located in the basement of the Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre. There are seven (7) Sunbird Hotels in Malawi, which makes Sunbird one of the largest hotel chains in the country. All of the employees working at any and all of these hotel locations are able to bank with the Sunbird Tourism SACCO. The hotels have a courier system between their hotel branches, which the members and the SACCO staff are able to use to send documentation (new account, loan, deposit, etc.) and money (for loan payments, loan advances, deposits). So how does this all work? Good question…

So, for example, let's say Paul Innes, an employee of the Sunbird Hotel Mzuzu, works and lives in the Northern region. If he wants a loan, he simply fills out the loan application, sends it in the courier bag from Mzuzu to Blantyre, and waits for Mr. Chakhaza and the Sunbird Tourism SACCO credit committee to review the application and either advance or decline the loan. If the loan is advanced, a cheque will be sent through the courier system from Blantyre to Mzuzu, and Paul will be able to cash the cheque and make his purchase.

Loan payments are made directly off of the staff's pay cheques. So if an employee had 1,250MWK owed to her at the end of the month, and her loan payment was 250MWK/month, she would receive net pay of 1,000MWK. This practice has kept the SACCOs delinquency and loan default rates very low, which is great! Paul and I are in the processes of piecing together our recommendations, as we will be presenting to the board on Friday!

Henock will be showing us around Blantyre tomorrow. The highlight should include the following:


  • Orphanage – where Paul and I will be donating soccer balls, among other items!
  • Presbyterian Church – apparently it is very large and Blantyre is known for this huge church!
  • Anglican Church – Paul is Anglican, so this will be really cool for him!
  • Tour de Blantyre – This isn't a location… rather, a reference that we'll get to drive around and explore this city.
Another highlight – I'll be attending the Blantyre Rotary Club meeting tomorrow at 12:30pm. I forgot everything that associates me with the Rotary club at home (idiot!!!!!) so I hope they take my word for it that I'm a Rotarian!

I have included two photos with this entry.  The first is the view outside of my hotel room!  Beautiful!  The second is a picture of Getrude and the two other clerks we are working with.  Getrude is on the right!
Okay! Back to work!
Later,

Robert Christiansen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bvumbwe SACCO goes online!

Heyo! I found another awesome SACCO-related-article in the local Daily Times today.


 

Bvumbwe SACCO goes online
By Sylvester Namiwa

Bvumbwe community SACCO has finally connected all its 4,300 members in Thyolo, Mulanje and Mwanza, thanks to the K54 million investment by the Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperative (MUSCCO) towards a bankers' realm software. Speaking in an interview this week, Bvumbwe Community SACCO manager Joseph Mayenda said as a result, the association was now offering faster and effective services. Mayenda said, amoung other things, that the SACCO would be offering Point of Sale (POS) automated and internet banking services.

"I am glad to tell the general public that Bvumbwe community SACCO becomes the first in the country to offer computerized services just like those that are offered by commercial banks. Engineers from a Kenyan firm called Craft Silicon have finished installation of SACCO Bankers Realm software," Mayenda said. The manager said that the new software installation marks the beginning of SACCO movement transformation in the country. "This, I believe, marks the beginning of the transformation of the SACCO movement in Malawi," he said. Currently, the Bvumbwe SACCO has a total of 43,000 members ranging from farmers to civil servants.


 

This is terrific (both the SACCO getting public exposure in the Daily Times and news that a successful conversion has taken place!!!)!!!

Robert Christiansen

Monday, February 22, 2010

The need for affordable banking

The following article is from a Malawian business-oriented magazine entitled "The Business Mail" that was left in my room. I found a great article that explains, in general terms, Malawi's banking system, and discusses the need for affordable banking.


 

Malawi's Banking Boom
By Kisu Simwaka and Elliott Muchena

With so many commercial banks in town, why are there so few of them in rural areas? And why do most Malawians have no bank accounts?

The banking sector in Malawi has witnessed significant growth over the last few years. One of the factors that opened the floodgates of the banks was the revision of the Banking Act of 1989. The Act provides mandate to the reserve Bank of Malawi, RBM, to supervise banks and financial institutions in what the RBM calls "a robust and offsite and onsite supervisory process" under its mandate set by the ministry of finance, to ensure a safe, sound and stable financial system in Malawi. As a result, the number of banking institutions operating in the country increased from five in 1995 to 15 in 2009. The sector now comprises of eleven commercial banks.

Despite this, Malawi's banking industry is small and concentrated, in comparison to those of neighboring countries. According to some interesting statistics of the World Bank (2008):

  1. Two of the banks account for 75% of market share
  2. Five are foreign-owned, mostly by other banks in Africa
  3. The banks are not heavily exposed to sophisticated foreign financial instruments
  4. They hold considerable volumes of Letters of Credit (LCs)

In addition to this, the banking sector is characterized by low levels of foreign direct and portfolio investment. In terms of annual percentage growth rate, the Government's annual economic report of 2009 says the financial and insurance sector came second after information nand communication. In 2008, the sector achieved a growth rate of 11.7% due to an increase in new products in the financial sector and an upsurge in premiums in the insurance industry thtat was driven mainly by an influx of used cars.

This growth raises important questions regarding the implications of such a 'banking boom' on a relatively small economy. This is because the expansion in the banking sector has the potential to improve access to banking services and enhance competition and efficiency in the financial sector. In other words, this is supposed to improve financial services delivery to the people of Malawi and to bring more of the unbanked population to the banks. But is this happening? If not, why not and what needs to be done?

Service Delivery
What also needs to be noted is that the majority of Malawians cannot afford the current banking charges. They are effectively shut out of the financial system. According to the FinScope survey, 44% of respondents said that they had insufficient funds after their expenses for a bank account. This highlights the need for banks and non-banking financial institutions to consider the majority of Malawians – potential customers at that – when determining the pricing of their products and services. One of the common complaints, judging from samplings taken off the streets of Lilongwe and Blantyre, is that banks need to consider reviewing their charges and explore ways of enhancing efficiency in service delivery. More affordable banking services would surely also draw in a larger number of Malawians to the financial system. This in turn would be beneficial to the development of both the banks and the economy.

Judging from published reports, business in the banks continues to grow from strength to strength. The growth is both in deposits and market share. This point underlines the fact that Malawi has so far remained relatively insulated from the contagion effects of the global financial crisis, thanks to its limited integration with the global financial system. This is comforting thought for those in businesses as well as for potential new investors. But while the rise in the number of banks plays an important part in expanding access, it would be important for the banks to complement this with branch expansion and increased product innovation. The ability to offer a broad range of (affordable) banking products and services is the hallmark of financial sector deepening, as different types of products appeal to a wider range of clients, leading to enhanced access to financial services.


 

Interesting article, hey? The traditional banking model does not work in Malawi, given the fact that the average Malawian can not afford to operate a bank account. There is a need for affordable banking services, and SACCOs are filling that need for the majority of Malawians.

Off to MUSCCO! Blog ya later!

Thanks for reading!

Robert Christiansen

Blantyre, Malawi









We met briefly this morning at the MUSCCO office for a quick briefing with Dickson on MUSCCOs well-being over the past year and our placements. The Credit Union movement in Malawi is alive and well! Credit Union members have increased from 70,000 to 100,000 in February, 2009 and February, 2010 respectively. The SACCOs affiliated with MUSCCO are currently amidst transferring over to a new banking system from Kenya. Last year at this time, MUSCCO was still evaluating the banking system and had not purchased it. The new system is able to support Debit Cards, Point of Sale transactions, ATM transactions and will even have an add-on for internet banking! By the end of next year, Dickson mentioned that he expects almost all of the MUSCCO affiliated SACCOs to be on the new banking system. Awesome!

Paul and I will be working with two SACCOs, based out of Blantyre: the Sunbird Tourism SACCO and the MBC SACCO. We travelled the 4 hour, 311 Km highway car ride from Lilongwe to Blantyre around noon today, and made it to our hotel (Sunbird – Mount Soche) safe and sound. This Sunbird hotel is very nice, and has a beautiful view of Mount Soche out the back side of the hotel. I arrived too late to take a photo (the sun sets really early here!) but I'll post one tomorrow – it's worth a look! Paul and I both had Chambo this evening! Chambo is this delicious, white-meat fish, unique to Malawi. MMMmmMMMmMmmmMMM!!!

Another cool thing about The Sunbird Mount Soche hotel is that it houses Blantyre Rotary Club Meetings every Thursday afternoon. I joined the Lethbridge Urban Spirits Rotary Club this year and really wanted to make an effort to attend one or two Rotary meetings while I'm in Malawi. Looks like I will be able to attend! Rotarians, stay posted for updates and pictures!

Today's drive went by relatively quickly. Driving in Malawi is a little chaotic; not unlike the driving in London! Today was an abnormally rainy and FOGGY day and, as you can imagine, it made for a more challenging drive for our driver (Henry). I tried to post a video clip of what we were up against (MAJOR FOG IN THE MOUNTAINS), but it's taking far too long to load, so I won't be able to post it.  Foiled!  Fog, added to potholes, people riding or walking on the side of the road, livestock (cows, goats, chickens, etc.) roaming freely near the road, and driving on the "wrong" side of the road was enough action to keep me over-stimulated and awake for most of the trip! Henry did a tremendous job driving and we arrived safely at our hotel early this afternoon.

The countryside in the south is beautiful! It is filled with rolling hills, lush green grass and trees, and some fairly significantly sized mountains. Here – check it out! Some of the photos might be a little blurry – it's tricky taking photos at 120Km/hr.

Tomorrow, things start early! At 7:30am, we will travel to the MUSCCO Regional office, which is a few blocks from our hotel, meet briefly with some of the MUSCCO staff, and then travel back to our hotel, where our first SACCO is housed. I understand that the Sunbird Tourism SACCO is in the basement of our hotel, but Paul and I couldn't find where to access it tonight. Oh well – we'll find it tomorrow!

Hope you like the pictures and video!

Robert Christiansen

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Singin’ in the rain…

Hello!

Quick entry before I head to MUSCCO for a meeting and presentation this morning. I woke up to the sound of a waterfall outside of my window late last night. When it rains in Malawi, IT RAINS! The power flickered on and off a couple of different times last night – a by-product of the Malawian rainy season. I was told last year that most of Malawi's power is generated by a couple of large river dams. During the rainy season (January – March/April) there is so much rain that trees and other debris get washed into the rivers, and clog up the dams.

The main streets in the area we are staying have huge rain gutters on both sides of them. They range from about 1 – 2 feet wide, and 1 – 6 feet deep, and the run the length of the road. When it rains in Malawi, it rains a lot; usually in a short period of time. Without these gutters, the rain would likely wash out all of the roads, and flooding would likely occur. I'll try to get a photo of these gutters on my walk over to MUSCCO this morning.

Ok! Off to work I go! Blog ya later,

Robert Christiansen

London --> Johannesburg --> Lilongwe --> SLEEP!

Last night was a rough one… We flew from London to Johannesburg (South Africa), which took 11 hours; and were held up in the Johannesburg airport for 3 hours waiting for our connecting flight to Malawi. Why was this "rough"? … I wasn't able to sleep a wink on either flight… The Johannesburg airport was cool! There had been some major renovations since the last time I had been in the airport – likely because South Africa is hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup in June 2010!

We arrived into Malawi's capital city, Lilongwe, early this afternoon. Innocent and Henry from MUSCCO (Malawian Union Savings of Credit Cooperatives - the host organization involved with the CCA Coaching Program I'm involved with), were waiting at the airport for us when we arrived. I remembered both of these MUSCCO employees from my time here last year! It was actually nice to see a familiar face in a place so far from home. Innocent and Henry drove us to the Lilongwe Sunbird Hotel and once again, I recognized familiar faces! Paul and I ended up spending over a week in Lilongwe last year. We stayed at the Lilongwe Sunbird Hotel during this time, ate most of our meals here and ended up meeting and dialoging a lot with the hotel staff. It was cool to bump into people we had met last year and catch up on things with each other. We walked to an Italian restaurant called "Mama Mia" for dinner. It was really good!

Tomorrow's game plan:

  • Wake up
  • Go to MUSCCO for a quick briefing with Sylvester and Dickson
  • Paul and I will catch a coach tomorrow afternoon and travel from Malawi's capital city (Lilongwe) to Malawi's largest city, and business hub (Blantyre)
  • We start work with our first SACCO on Tuesday morning

I don't have any pictures worth sharing at this point… sorry!

Catcha later,

Robert Christiansen

Friday, February 19, 2010

London!

Hello, Hello!


Day 1:

We made it to London! Despite El Nino throwing a massive wrench into things (Freezing Fog, Snow, etc. causing Bruce’s flight to be cancelled, and my flight delayed almost two hours!) we made it!

London is really cool! Rainy, but really cool! I navigated my way through the Underground alone, and successfully made it to the hotel! Brad, Bruce and I took the Underground various times throughout the day today and, after riding it a couple of times, I think I have the hang of it. Riding the Underground got me thinking… I’ve used the public transit systems in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Toronto and Vancouver, and can confidently say that London’s public transportation system is far beyond that of Canadian cities. Frankly, it should be! London is a huge city – both in area and population; far larger than any of the aforementioned Canadian cities. London needs (and has!) an efficient public transportation system.
We checked out Buckingham Palace today! It’s huge! Much bigger (and cooler!) than I thought it would be. We didn’t see the changing of the guard though – meh, maybe some other time. We went for dinner at a great Italian restaurant and all crashed pretty hard. Jet lag sucks!

Day 2:

We bought a tour ticket today, and toured around on big red busses (yes… like in the movies…). We saw a variety of the amazing tourist sites London has to offer (Tower of London, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, British Museum, Big Ben, the Parliament Buildings, to name a few) and rode on the London Eye! That was unreal! Here’s a couple of shots of the pods and what it looks like! It’s like a gigantic Ferris Wheel, although we were corrected a couple of different times for referring to it as such (apparently, structurally, it is DRASTICALLY different than a Ferris Wheel… meh…). It was cool checking out the city of London from hundreds of meters above ground level!

Internet! Oh sweet, sweet internet access! I now realize how dependent I really am on internet access. It’s frightening, actually! Our hotel’s internet a) sucks b) is very expensive c) “didn’t work” yesterday and d) sucks! It’s like dial-up, but worse… because dial-up works most of the time; and this… well… it doesn’t! I digress…

The other cool thing I’m really enjoying about London is the lifestyle. Using public transportation is a challenge, but incredibly efficient. There must have been 80 – 100 people in one of the Underground train cars we rode back from Picadilly Circus. The clothing everyone wears is classic too! I felt like the only male in London not wearing a suit, million dollar dress shoes and/or cool messenger bags! Even those that aren’t wearing suits or fancy dresses are dressed far fancier than we were. The way people interact with friends and family in London is drastically different than what I’m used to. Going for lunch, for example, is near impossible, unless you’re looking for a restaurant or pub at an odd hour. Every pub or restaurant we passed by was PACKED with people, dressed in suits or business attire, and all leaving 1 or 2 hours later to go back to work after having enjoyed a meal, a couple of pints and some out-of-office, social interaction with co-workers. That’s one of many examples I’ve come across. It’s cool though! People are connected with the city - they travel through the city's roots, use the city’s payphones to communicate and actually spend time with friends, family and complete strangers at local establishments.  I'm not explaining this as well as I have it made out in my head - perhaps a sign I really do need some sleep! 
All in all, I’ve had a really great time in London and will definitely be visiting again some time!

Tomorrow’s game plan: Wake up early. Tour around London some more. Take a cab to Heathrow Airport and fly to Malawi!

Thanks for reading!

Robert Christiansen

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Snow! Fog! Cancelled Flights… ugh!


El Niño has struck again!

Bruce dropped me an email this morning letting me know that his flights have been cancelled (Regina) and he will be re-routed through to Toronto. Foiled! I was looking forward to catching up with Bruce on the flight over to London. Blasted El Niño-Southern Oscillation! Here's a picture of Bruce making his way to the airport……………………..



Ok… so that's not really Bruce. But I hear Saskatchewan winters can be pretty awful! My flights look unaffected right now. Cross your fingers!

On a more positive note: How about that hockey game last night!?!?! Great game! … except for the "Boos" for Luongo. Or should I say the "Lous" for Luongo! I couldn't figure out why Canada was boo'ing our goaltender, but now I totally understand. Boo'ing and Lou'ing are two drastically different things!

Thanks for reading!

Robert


 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

To Those That Donated...


To those that donated to my "Netting Funds for Malawi" fundraiser:
THANK YOU!!! 

To my branch staff, whom created a display that, in 2 short weeks, has raised $865.00:
THANK YOU!!!  



THANK YOU!!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

'Netting' Funds for Malawi

My branch staff have to be the brightest bunch of people I know!  When faced with the challenge of raising funds for soccer balls and mosquito nets, I was at a loss...  until my staff suggested that we set up a larger-than-life display in the foyer of the branch featuring a mosquito net, soccer balls, and a photo album displaying photos of my trip to Malawi from last year.  This visual aid has prompted over $500 in donations last week alone!  

Check it out!  

Robert Christiansen