Saturday, December 8, 2007

Update Five

Yesterday, I went out on a field visit north of Lunzu. It was a part of a new initiative to recognize the efforts of the volunteers ("Passionates") that work side by side with the Filed Officers in the field. We will collect information about each Passionate, and then print up laminated I.D. cards for them to have with them as they advocate for their communities. I went to Innocent's field and we walked for a mile or two to arrive in the heart of Malanga. Malanga is one of three villages that make up his field. There, he had mobilized over 20 of his Passionates to be in attendance. I introduced myself and took a picture of each of them. One of the participants served us a bowl of raw peanuts still in the shell. At first, they tasted like dry earth, but then I began to notice a subtle moisture and wholeness to them, and I quickly became a fan of raw Malawian peanuts. One of the Passionates is named Peter. He joined the ministry of health in 1964 when Dr. Banda took presidential control of the first independent Malawian government. Peter remained at his post for over 32 years. Banda remained at his post for around 31 years. I asked Peter what it was like to work in the administration of a man who is now remembered as a dictator--a leader who arrested and tortured any person who spoke critically of the style of his operations. He once outlawed a song because the lyrics reminded him of a heartbreak that he was currently struggling to cope with. Which song? I don't remember. Something comparable to the western sound and time period of the BeeGees. Peter told me that he was like a god to the people of Malawi. Nobody had ever seen a Black man in power stand up and shout at the White people. They were enthralled and intimidated by his empowerment as an educated equal member of the world society. Peter didn't get to spend any time with Banda during his career (neither did he want to, for it didn't take long for Banda to show his tendencies towards cruelty). Nowadays, he asserts that the people of Malawi don't fully grasp the concept of Democracy. That they still think that a person can do whatever they want as long as they have money and power. That is the structure that is slowly dissipating as education becomes more and more available to more and more of the younger citizens. Peter was a joy to speak with. The only one present besides the Field Officers who had confidence around his ability to communicate fully in English. My Chichewa is growing fast, but it has yet to cross the threshold from formality to dialogue.

There are different groups of Passionates. Some focus on Home-Based Care: this is exactly what it sounds like, a group of villagers who stand for the care and well-being of the sick where the sick live. Some focus on condom distribution. Others focus on youth clubs: places where kids can go and learn and play and participate in safe, constructive activities to better themselves and the world around them. Still others contribute to the effectiveness and compassion that goes into post-test counselling. Each of these groups had different requests for me as their ally here for the year. The HBC-focused group wants donations of basic medicines. The youth clubs want soccer balls and radio players. The list goes on... I thought when I joined this project that I would be participating in endeavours to take the information to the people, to paricipate in testing campaigns, and to care for the sick. It seems that my niche is going to be in fundraising, and spreading a buzz about what these Field Officers are doing. For those of you who know me well, you will say that this is a perfect task for me. I agree. Although, I must say that I am intimidated by so many individuals with so many good causes and worthy needs. I will be emailing Adidas to crack the golden egg. I will be going door-to-door to locate 200 kgs of free cement so that the Village Headman of Lunzu can continue to use the bricks at his disposal to build a primary/preschool that is presently half-built and will be damaged by the rains of the rainy season unless the building-process can begin again and be completed in a timely fashion. I have resentments towards the costs of my project's administrative b.s. and the fundraising I did to get here, but I am taking a deep breath as I write this, to calm my nerves, and to make peace with the way things are, and how they are just so, and that that is just that. I have no idea how I will produce the results I am committed to producing, but I know that results bigger than those which I can imagine are completely and utterly possible, and, did I mention that I'm taking a deep breath?

After we finished talking with the group of Passionates, we walked (Innocent, myself, and Akidu--a Field Officer of Innocents neighboring field) to visit another Passionate. This guy is known professionally as "The Prophet Morteu." He is a traditional healer. I knew we were at the border of his property when I saw white flags waving from 30-foot high poles, marking the perimeter of his land. We approached an open section of the fence. A drive-way of sorts. It was marked with a white, thick, chalky line. Innocent told me to remove my hat. We could not enter until he came down and saw us and invited us in. If we did enter without permission, we would be chased out by the screaming receptionist and other workers inside. The receptionist (it turns out that this plot of land which is a traditional healing center, also exists as a hospital) was cooking food over an open fire with her baby on her back just up the hill from the entrance. The Prophet looked at us from up near a covered gazebo, took a moment to think it over, and then waved us to enter. As soon as I crossed that white line, my feet and my legs felt contact with holy ground. There was a crispness to the air, and a loving, healing energy that got right into my lungs. It was my imagination that gave it shape. But this energy exists without me needing to validate it's existence by walking and feeling and perceiving it. I had been told that if we were not in partnership with him, we would have needed to remove all metal from our persons and leave it outside the entrance to the grounds. That he must protect his ward from witches, warlocks and evil spirits. Walking up to meet with him, I felt so moved, and all I could do to make a difference in that moment was to pray for the ground, it's patients, and it's caregivers to receive blessings, and to be blessed. I asked if I could take his picture. He said yes. I took his picture and I asked him how he had received the calling to do what he does. He said that he had a dream where God told him which herbs to use as which remedies. Upon having this dream he sought out the path of traditional healing. I want to find out what resources he uses for what, and then cross-reference with herbal-medicine practitioners in the U.S. and see how the methodologies compare.

We had to leave hastily, so that I could catch my 3-leg, 1.5--2 hour bus ride back home. The day's light was already fading. While walking away from the white flags, I heard a group of children call out, "Mzungu!!! Mzungu!!! ...bye! ...bye!" Mzungu is the name for a white person. It is not nasty. It is just what I am, here in Malawi. I turned around and could see where the sound was coming from between the trees, but I could not see the source. I called out, "Bye!" And they laughed and screamed out happily, again, "Mzungu!!! ...bye!" Innocent and Adiku were chatting as we crested a hill and began to turn a corner, slowly pulling us away from the voices behind us. They kept calling out. I kept calling out. I pictured their voices ringing across the ocean, guiding me home in ten months, and calling me back to this place for the rest of my life. I wondered what their voices would sound like if they called out forever in that state of curious newness and excitement. I never saw them while at the gazebo. I never saw them through the trees. But I heard them with the birds long after the last white flag had disappeared from view.

Today, I went to Lunzu for a meeting with one of the groups of Field Officers. I had had a great meeting last week with the heads of a very popular FM radio station here in Malawi. And just this morning I finalized approval from the staff of my organization to accept an invitation from "FM 101 Power" to bring 3 Field Officers to the station this coming Monday to be interviewed for a health program. I had the pleasure of sharing these results at the meeting this morning. The Field Officers are also very excited. This could be the beginning of a very beneficial relationship with FM 101.

After the meeting this morning, we walked to meet the Village Headman of Lunzu. And then on to Ernest's house a few hundred meters beyond. I climbed mango trees around a fish pond close to the place where he, his wife, his child, his mother, his grandmother, and his extended family all live. He, I, Blessings, and Charles all worked together to get a plastic grocery bag full of ripe mangoes off the branches and back to the shade of the tree outside his home. There, we washed mangoes in a basin of water, and peeled mangoes with our teeth. We ate mangoes and then ate some more. We sucked mango sweetness from the fibers growing like hairs off of the seed. I learned some more Chichewa and felt drunk off of the juice of fruit freshly picked. A happy substitute for alcohol and drugs.

Thinking of all of you,


p.s. if you all wanna call, but find yourself on a tight budget, check out skype. if you've got a microphone on your pc as well as headphones, it is really, really cheap. like 2 hours for $10 cheap. check it out.

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