Sunday, December 2, 2007

Update Four

It is raining like crazy here. I'm happy to be sitting inside avoiding the torrent.

A couple of weeks ago, I got on a mini-bus (our only source of public transportation) to go home from downtown Blantyre. I live in a little town called Chinyonga. It is sandwiched between Blantyre and Limbe--both sizable cities. We get squished into these busses. There are four to a row, and usually 5 rows not counting the front seats. I helped a woman getting on the bus by taking her umbrella for her so that she could more easily maneuver towards the empty seat beside me in the back of the bus. She smiled. I smiled. The bus started rolling down the slight hill and the driver popped the clutch and kicked it into gear. She asked me if I go to church. "Are you a believer?" I expressed that I am, but that there is a certain ambiguity to my belief system. We had a lovely conversation and she ended up riding to the first bus-stop past her own, so that she could give me a visual image of her church, and invite me back to the service the following day. She insisted on paying the 55 Kwacha fare for my ride, "Take that money and get on a bus to come back here tomorrow for church," is what she said. Her name is Kays.

When the morning came, I slept in. The next week I slept in as well. But this week, even though I slept in, I managed to get out of bed to go to "Winner's Chapel" for the 2nd half of their passionate service. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was in for something altogether new to me. There were two preachers. One preached in English and the other followed line by line in Chichewa. They both had microphones and their voices vibrated through digitally distorting speakers. They were loud enough that my ears were ringing when I left. Two things that stick out the most from the church: when he prayed, the pastor would seem to be at the end of the prayer, "I pray all of this in the name of..." and then he would speed up his rhythm and start into another cycle of slow, yearning praise, to seem again to be about to close with an "Amen," only to speed up one more time. The second thing I recall is a statement to this effect of: "All we need from God is the spark of imagination." I really like that! I didn't see Kays.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. We pick-up trucked it up north through Lunzu and on to Ndeka. The whole drive was probably over an hour. The rains came and went and the day was hot. Ndeka is known for being one of the hotter parts of Malawi. The sun beat down, and quite a few HIV/AIDS-focused organizations represented themselves during fesitivities on a big dirt field. I sang in the choir with the Field Officers of my organization. Mouthing the Chichewa lyrics that I hadn't completely memorized. I bought a bag of frozen Baobab juice. Super tasty and not too sweet. Towards the middle of the afternoon--after the march, and the singing, and laughing and dancing, I realized my neck had begun to burn, so I got into the bed of the pick-up truck, lay back and relaxed in the shade of a lovely tree with yellow flowers. Kids started to gather around the truck. They just hung out and didn't say much. Once in a while I'd make eye contact with one of them and they'd would give me a shy, curious smile. I ended up taking a bunch of pictures and then teaching them how to take pictures. We passed two lovely hours in just this way.

We had a water crisis last week. One of the executives from the Blantyre Water Board was fired. An indispensable part of the water treatment process broke and they had to order the replacement part from somewhere in Europe. Then it had to be shipped... and so and so forth. We went without running water for something like 6 days. We loaded buckets of water from the neighboring community where our offices are and transported the sloshing shower goods back home. I did laundry by hand this weekend in the bathroom with the gratifying tap water filling my bucket on full blast. I used this stuff called Omo. It fizzes, and after a light hand wash with a regular bar of laundry soap, I pour the Omo into a big bucket and proceed to stomp my feet on the clothes until (with repeated rinses) the water goes from dirt brown to clear. It only takes a half hour to an hour and the clothes smell so fresh. Not to mention that my feet get cleaned in the process, too.

I played billiards under a plastic cover in the out-door Limbe market yesterday. They usually bet, but one of the old-timers played a "no-bet" game with me. It is a tricky table, but he ended up losing, to the laughter of a crowd of gathered Malawians. He was very good-natured about the whole thing. He introduced himself as "Tae Kwon Do Korea," and after the game told me his real nickname is "Black Hyena." I said that if he's "Black Hyena," then my new name is "White Leopard." ...discovering new stomping grounds.

Later last night, I had my first African avocado--purchased at the market for 10 Kwacha (7, 8 cents). It was so good. Then I went across the street to the neighbors house. Blessings is 14. Michelle is 12. Johns is 8. 2 brothers and one sister. They were watching that Charlize Theron movie: Aeon Flux. Their uncle Dixon is 25 and wants to learn more english. The three kids have perfect english from a very good education.
(Mom, you should be receiving an email from their Mom, who wants to correspond with you)

Their Mom fed me nsima, (a solid, boiled mass of cornmeal and water), with greens and beef cubes. Sooooo good! We might have to move to a new house for more space, but I hope we don't, because these neighbors are my adoptive family in Malawi and I am growing very fond of them.

And just like that, the rain is gone. It seems as though there is always a patch of blue sky somewhere on the horizon, even when it is raining the hardest.

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