Village Life (Posted for August 17th)
So I jumped right in to work, and for the past week I have spent a lot of time with my co-workers, learning a lot about their personalities and the SAFE organization itself. Everyone is a lot of fun, and I get along with the group really well. They are all so friendly, helpful, and welcoming…especially Ben, who always goes out of his way to explain things to me or provide “fun facts” about the area or people we are visiting. It is a tremendous help in understanding the way things work here. It was nice to spend some time with the Malawians to see things from their perspective. Of course the trip was filled with some interesting moments…from mice kabobs and fish being sold on the side of the road to the truck accidents on the mountain pass where we were forced to pay a “fee” to the locals (who supposedly cleared the path for us) in order to proceed. There’s never a dull moment here in Malawi!
The goal of the trip was for Kathy and Phillip to teach several training sessions to the teachers in the Northern Region, and for Mary and Ben to distribute blankets to the grandmothers (Go-go’s) and children’s Bibles (in Chichewa – the local language) to the schools in several of the villages. I accompanied Mary and Ben up to the Nkhata Bay/Mzuzu area to help with the distributions. That was where I got my first taste of village life. The first village we went to was down an almost impassable dirt road (we got stuck several times) through the rubber plantations around Nkhata Bay. When we finally arrived, we were greeted by over 100 men, women, and children surrounding the car with songs. In my mind we were just going there to drop off a few things, little did I know it would actually be a huge celebration. After putting on my chitenje (a piece of fabric wrapped around the waist of the women in the village – worn out of respect), I got out of the car and proceeded to the front of the audience where they had placed chairs next to the chiefs for Mary, Ben and I. They had introductions and asked me to say a few words about who I was and why I was there. Luckily Ben was there to translate everything from Chichewa to English for me. We distributed the blankets and bibles and everyone was so grateful. The kids were all very intrigued by me, with constant staring, shy hellos, and the whispering of “azungu” (white person). I broke the ice by pulling out my camera and taking a picture of some of the kids. I would then show them the result on the screen of my camera, and they would laugh and want me to take more. This lasted a while, including the concept of a “selfie”, where most of them would run around to the other side of the camera thinking that the picture is always taken from the other side. It took a few times, but most of them were able to figure out what I was doing. I had a lot of fun with them, and I think they enjoyed it to!
In all of the villages we visited, we were always given a lunchtime meal, as a way of saying “thank-you”. This was a little strange for me at first, growing up with the impression that lots of people are starving in Africa, and it didn’t feel right to take their food. However, I think they would take offense if you didn’t enjoy the meal they prepared. All of the villages had similar meals, including nsima, a stiff flour based-porridge that most Malawians enjoy daily. I think the meal that stood out the most to me was the one where I walked into the room, and to my right there was a live chicken lying in the corner, and chairs and a table filled with covered dishes for us. It honestly made me a little nervous each time, wondering what was in store for me under the lids. But everything tasted better than expected, except for the nsima, which I haven’t developed a taste for. It is very bland and the texture is strange to me. At one point I turned to Ben and asked, “So, do you feel bad eating chicken in front of the chicken?”, and he just laughed as the hen squawked. The trip was definitely filled with a lot of fun and interesting moments, and I was able to learn a lot about the Malawian culture and way of living. I’m looking forward to more learning opportunities in the future!