An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Portland, Police, and Prisoners

The more you travel, the smaller the world gets. Flashback to Portland, Oregon the day before flying to Africa. I sat with a friend downtown passing the time until my flight that evening. Sitting outside, enjoying a cold drink on a warm, welcoming spring day, when an acquaintance of my friend strolls by and says hello. After a short greeting I go back to sipping and soaking as they converse.

“Blah, blah, blah… Africa…blah, blah”  (“Blah” by the way is refers to the level of my attention, not the importance in things being said. That is until “Africa” perked my ears.) “Africa? Were you in Africa?? I’m leaving for Africa today!” I interjected. As it turns out my friend’s acquaintance had traveled through some of the places I was going. I explained to her my interest in humanitarian causes and she told me about a guy in Malawi who was working with prisoners. We exchanged info, and that was that.

Fast forward to David and the preschool. Somehow in conversation I brought up this acquaintance of a friend, who had met a man that worked with prisoners somewhere in Malawi. “Oh Nick?” Answered David, “ Nick’s a good friend of mine.”  And just like that a couple of phone calls later we had scheduled an appointment with “prison-guy” Nick, who agreed to meet and show us around the prison.

But before we can get to the prison, we must get through the police. After a asking a few people for directions we found the smelly little van headed to the “market”. We paid our fair and climbed in. There sat mazungus Derek and Mandi, and a van full of Africans chatting in local tongues, when suddenly the van slows to a near stop. We look around and see a police car had pulled next to the van. The van hesitates then proceeds.

Moments later the van stops completely. This time the police car comes quicker and closer. The officer gets out and through a stern brow says no more than a few words to the driver. The driver says even less. Gets out of his van and into the back of the police car, which drives off into the distance. Keys still swinging in the van’s ignition, I dart my head around to the guy next to me. He shrugs. I shrug. We all look around at each other and then he says to me, “Come. We go now.”

Everyone gets out and extend hands to the man who had taken our fare (different than the driver, of course). Each hand was issued a refund, when another van pulls up. Not quite as savvy as the locals, we were the last to reach the new van, which consequently had reached its capacity. Doors shut. Van drives off into the distance. Fortunately, there was another man standing nearby who noticed our situation and pointed us in the right direction. Eventually, we made it to the small coffee shop where we met Nick.

Nick is soft-spoken British man, a little rough around the edges, between his cigarettes and slightly shifty eyes. He’s also a gentle man, and though not quite understanding why, obliged to my video taping him.  He explained his start. One man, wanting to do something to better this world, he sort of happened upon this prison. The prison was built shortly before the British left, to accommodate (too flattering a term) less than half the number of inmates it now did.

Though drastically overcrowded, the inmates were highly forgotten. Malnourished. Uneducated. Many serving severely for modest crimes. There was a small percentage of women, several with babies, who were reportedly treated worse than the men. Nick sparked with pride as he described his helping one child get admitted to an orphanage for care while the mother served her time. It was his goal to do the same with the remaining children.

There are many needs, most of which Nick had a goal to address. It began with education and providing study books and supplies. Then with health and providing seeds for growing crops. Unfortunately, there are deeper problems, less obvious problems. We talked shortly of corrupt governments, injustice, and the many inconsistencies within the “justice” system. “I trust the prisoners, more than most of the guards…” he said reflectively and we left for the prison.

We walked around to the back of the market/coffee shop and within five minutes we were in another world. Nick spoke with the guards and escorted us back. Suspicious guards watched as we walked toward the women’s ward. In a small room, one older woman taught younger women basic English from a small notebook. All were there voluntarily working from supplies Nick had provided. Close by a young girl, no more than two years frowned crossly, threatening to strike any of us who approached besides her mother. After slipping one lady a couple cigarettes we continued.

Next we entered the men’s ward. Ducking through the steel doorway, there was a certain air. A crowd of inmates sat and stood closely in the room we entered. I shook the cold calloused hands of a couple men. Some appeared nervous, others hard, still others joked. We had come on the wrong day. A guard pulled Nick aside to explain it was the day of a prison transfer and might not be the best day for us to be there. Nick honored the request. With a slight nod, I bid farewell to the desperate eyes that watched us leave. Eyes mine would never meet again.

I followed Nick back along the dusty path we had entered from, tracing his prints with mine. We were on different paths. For me, it was a short walk from another world. For Nick, a long road to a dark reality. One paved with countless challenges. However, at any moment you could look back and know that one man who had come a long way, and would go even further.

* With money donated by yourselves, I helped purchase supplies for the prisoners. Please see the “Charity” tab for details or information on how to help more.  Thanks for your giving. You are making a difference.


1 Kjetil Sivertsen { 07.01.08 at 7:40 am }

I’ve been working with Nick in Chichiri Prison on several occasions, we actaully went together there when he started it.

This is a project which is done by one man and he’s made a huge difference. But as everything else – he needs funding!

I’ve been visiting several projects in Malawi, but I most tell that this is the most successful project I’ve seen. He also set up and works with a several pre-schools and do various community projects.

Help keep him working in Malawi!!!


Kjetil from Norway

2 Branjo Poprac { 08.10.08 at 10:54 am }

I have met Nick first time in Denmark in the school where are volunteers preparing to work in some of the projects in southern Africa. We were at the same project in Malawi where he started to involve himself with work in the Chichiri prison. I liked when he offered me to go see that place. It was tiring to see it from the beginning as conditions were bad and could see there are people in need. Bottom of the society, people who will be walking in the streets one day. They need a chance to become better. Nick work very hard to motivate prisoners. Those who were educated could teach the others. The other need is to supply them with materials for teaching. Nick’s interest is much wider as he visits places, meet and talk to people and see what is needed. Not so many people has courage and ability to be on their own in African country and work with local people.
You can help him with his work!!
Branjo from Slovakia

3 kate gibbons { 11.18.08 at 12:51 am }

I met nick 7 months ago now and no words can do justice to the work that man has done… he opened my eyes to the real malawi and how to really help the people that need it out there and for that i will be forever in his debt… In cant describe the importance of his work or the impact he had on my life but what i can say is LOVE/MISS YOU NICK…. HAVE ANOTHER DRINK SON XXX

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