Two of our Malawian neighbors were already sitting on our Khonde (porch) waitingÂ for us when we arrived at our thatched roof cottage at Palm Beach at noon lastÂ Saturday. Â Over the next 6 hours until nightfall, we (mainly Ruth) held court forÂ total of 15 visitors
A blown tire from jumping off the road to miss a truck was the only eventful eventÂ from our trip from Blantyre to our cottage at Palm Beach. Â Before we arrived, weÂ stopped in Mangochi to buy another tire (you never travel without a spare).
Most of our visitors came to greet us on our return and tell of their familyÂ happenings since our last visit. Â Usually it is about the status of their gardens,Â comments about the dry January (which does not bode well for quality of maize thatÂ will be produced) and their familyâs health. Always they ask us about our lifeÂ this past year, inquire about our family and how was our travel. Â Interspersed areÂ the sickness and death stories.
One of our favorite night watchman who had early tea on our khonde every day,Â probably in his fifties, died last October. Â English 28, a coal black, tall,Â striking visitor from the next door village, lost his newborn son two weeks ago.Â Dolores, in her late 20âs, a favorite of Ruthâs , who she found a job for, is inÂ the hospital and not doing well with TB associated with HIV. Â Death is acceptedÂ here as a very real and frequent part of life. Â When Ruth told English how sorryÂ she was about the death of his son. Â His comment was âIt happensâ. Â There is theÂ same sadness, but death is strikingly more a part of daily life here.
And then there was the gossip, complaints about the government, and the requests!Â The gossip is much the same as in the states. Â Who is cheating on their spouses!Â What friendships have fallen apart in the last year and why? Â Who lost their jobsÂ and what they did to lose it. Â As is at home, there sometimes is a kernel of truth,Â but there is always another side.
The government complaints donât come from the villagers (because what theÂ government does or does not do has very little impact on them). Â The complaintsÂ come from what I would describe as the Malawian middle classâworking as civilÂ servants, clinical officers, leaders of non government organizations (NGOâs). Â TheÂ fuel shortages are driving everyone âcrazyâ (it is a foreign exchange issue); theÂ incredibly cumbersome bureaucracy (our friend Henry Kangunga spent three days inÂ queues in Blantyre registering his car). Â There are rotating blackouts of
electricity almost every night because of lack of generating capacity. Â (Our newÂ LED headlamps are very useful). Â For us, it is a great source of stories and humor.Â We are here for a month. Â It you ask a Malawian about how they deal with this, theÂ universal response âIt is terribleâ¦â Â But they have no alternative.
The requests are unique to this part of the world. In the first 24 hours theyÂ included chimanga (maize), tennis shoes, milk powder, school fees, bicycle, tubesÂ and tires for a bicycle, electricity for a house, soap and something for his
daughter âwho had no bloodâ.
Malawians are very polite and these requests are from villagers whom we know. TheÂ requests are genuine. Â The soap and food requests we can usually honor with theÂ extra soap we always bring and the small packets of rice and sugar that Ruth alwaysÂ buys when she arrives. Â For the more substantial requests we let them know thatÂ most all of our extra money goes to the Malawi Childrenâs Village but we will seeÂ how much of our money is left at the âend of the dayâ. Â When we leave, most of ourÂ clothes and especially tennis shoes stay here. Â One year when we left our cottage,Â I drove out in bare feet because I had an extra pair of shoes at the MalawiÂ Childrenâs Office down the road. Â I must admit there is a certain satisfaction inÂ giving your stuff awayâ¦especially to the folks from the village whom you know.
After a few days, it is easy to get into the rhythm of life here, very much set byÂ the sunrise and sunset (almost equal in this part of the world 6 am to 6 pm). Â At 5am (to beat the sun, we are in bed by 8 pm)) on our first morning at Palm Beach, weÂ took off on our morning run up the mile of dirt road to the main highway. Â On ourÂ return, there was this great commotion behind us. Â It was the running club withÂ matching Alaska Pacific University Fun Run Tee shirts who were trying to get ourÂ attention. Â The running group had been established by the 15 faculty and students
on a work/study program from APU a few weeks earlier. Â We had heard rumors thatÂ they existed and might surprise us. Â They did. Â With much fanfare, we struggled toÂ keep up with them back to our cottage. Â We have been running with them everyÂ morning. Â More truthfully, trying to keep up.
Yesterday, I was running ahead with one of the 14 y/o boys, Ruth and the othersÂ were behind us. Â I thought I understood his question, but had to repeat it,âWhereÂ did you find her?â Â I was tempted to say, the local Kandodo store, but realizingÂ that English is a second language for him told him the truth (secondary school).Â His response: Â âshe is a wonderful womanâ. Â It does not get much better than this,Â and I could not agree more.
As I write this it is 7 am at the cottage we are waiting for petrol (gas) toÂ arrive. Â We had a several day respite, and then nothing. Â The rumors are it shouldÂ arrive todayâ¦and we have cell phone connections up and down the highway watchingÂ for the fuel truck. Â We have just enough to make it into Mangochi to refuel,Â perhaps a bit more. Â In the meantime, you change your plans for the day and drinkÂ Chombe Tea. Â As the locals say with a smile, âThis is Malawiâ!!