Friday, January 4, 2008

New Year's

I can't believe it has been almost 3 weeks since I wrote a blog update. Time has begun to reach warp-speed. Next Friday will mark 2 months that I've been living here in Blantyre. Today, I'm going to tell you about my New Years celebration. Christmas was alright. Pretty lonely and homesick, but survivable. I've got my roommate here, and we can be homesick together when it gets to be that time. But New Years... New Years was awesome....
Jong Soh and I went to Mulanje Mountain. We left on Sunday, the 30th. We caught a bus in Limbe and rode for a short hour and a half to get there. Just as we were driving into town, I asked one of the other passengers where we should get off to get to the pizza parlor. He told us to get off with him.
We did. He escorted us to his office. Turns out that this guy is one of the professional guides for the mountain. Mulanje is arranged with many separate plateaus, and has a circumference of over 400 km. I had heard before that this was a famously beautiful place to visit, but not until I was sitting in his office, looking over his maps, did I get just how expansive the experience of Mulanje could be. He gave us the breakdown on the different ascent points, and recommended that we catch a ride to Likhubula and start from there. He explained the differences between the accomodations offered by the Malawian Forestry (he works with them) and the CCAP (Presbyterians). There are lodges available to rent at the base of the paths, and huts available on the plateaus. You can hire guides and porters to carry your bags for you. His strongest nods were towards the Lichenya Hut and it's surrounding areas. He talked about a crater, a stunning view south to Mozambique, and a couple of phenomenal rock pools, along secluded rivers.
I asked him about the Mulanje legends. Some say that you can find fully cooked meals along the paths. That there will not be a sign of preparation. Not even a footprint. These storytellers tell that the food is left by spirits. That you must excercise extreme care lest you literally get sucked into a river or disappear forever in some other way. There are documented disappearances. To all of this, Patrick laughed, and gave his expert opinion about the most recent disappearance of a Dutch woman who was a volunteer at the Mulanje Mission. She had 2 boyfriends while she was there. One was a native, and the other was a fellow volunteer at the Mission. After a going-away party for the volunteer boyfriend heading back to Europe, she went for a day hike up the mountain. Patrick outlined the distance she could have made during that time. It was not a large distance. He says that the locals have always suspected foul play, but that nothing could be proven, and that the native boyfriend is kind of a big deal around Mulanje, so they let that sleeping dog lie. 12 hours after her disappearance there was a heavy rain, and by the time the helicopters came out to look, there was not even a trace. This story along with the legends really piqued my interest in this foggy, vast, mystical place. Patrick volunteered his time and really educated us about where to go, where not to go (the rainy season isn't the right time to tackle the Boma Path, or Sapitwa--which translates roughly to: "No Go Zone" or "Don't go there").
I walked into the Pizza Place ready to ditch the friends we were meeting for the holiday. I wanted to go catch an hour ride to Likhubula and start up with a guide first-thing in the morning. But instead we stayed and met our friends. Well, really we met my one friend and three strangers. Simone used to volunteer for our organization before returning to Switzerland. She has been back in Malawi for 2 years working with a primary school that she has run with a very small group of people in a remote village. Her friend Erica is with CrisisCorps (a shorter term PeaceCorps experience--working with HIV/AIDS testing and counselling). Erica found a free house to crash at over the holiday. I didn't know what to expect from any of them, but I was pleasently surprised by a great mix of people. Jako is from South Africa and came up to Malawi for a job managing the affairs of a plastics manufacturing company. He donated his pick-up truck in exchange for the holiday accomodations. Salma is Jako's partner. She is from Mozambique. They have been in Malawi for the last 6 months.
It was a breath of fresh air talking to Erica. She is adopted. I'm adopted. We are both non-practicing Jews from birth. We both come from a school and a love for campy, queer, feminist theory. We instantly hit it off. Our dialogue reached a point of completely shutting out the others (one Swiss, one Korean, one Mozambican, and one South African), when we started talking about "The Aristocrats," and burst out with a version of "Happy Birthday Mr. President," at the same time. We ate really good pizza, and I pulled out a package of Oreo's (sent from Mo in Ellicott City--thanks Mo!!!). Jako took care of the bill which none of rest of us could do anything but pretend to be able to afford, and we all piled into his truck and drove to a lovely house with mango and papaya trees, aloe plants, and a lovely front porch. There were enough mattresses to go around and we stayed up way too late (putting together a glow-in-the-dark puzzle of a dragon) to be able to get up and go hiking the following morning.
We took one short hike up to Likhubula Falls. We swam in a deep rock pool at the base of a waterfall. I swam as close to the falls as I could get, but the current wouldn't let me get closer than 20 yards. What made this whole experience so wonderful, was that each of these people heard my concern about my first New Years as a newly sober person, and even as Jako drank beer, and other refreshments were partaken of, I was fully supported and acknowledged for my commitment and convictions. I was afforded the opportunity to be a part of a great community, and I didn't have to sell myself out to do it. At around 11:00 on New Year's Eve, we sat in a circle and took turns voicing things from the year we were letting go of, hopes and goals for the coming year, and acknowledgements of each other. Jako took on giving up alcohol. This is big for him. 6 months ago he quit some other drugs which have been haunting him for nearly 20 years. He will turn 40 next year. I now have a chance to support him as I have been supported during this first year of my sobriety. It brightens me up the way people show up in our lives exactly when they should, and not a moment before.
Now I'm back in Blantyre.
Planning my next trip to Mulanje.
Care to join me?
Happy New Year, Beautiful People!!!


Anonymous said...

Good Night Ben,

I liked much of the information that saw about you and about your work in the Malawi my name is Marcelo and I am of the promotion here of Massachussets in the IICD, you have MSN like to converse more with you about the your program ah in the Malawi the my one email and msn and

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was an amazing night, wasn't's funny how you get from there to here and it's almost a year since that time...wierd

Anonymous said...

Hello Ben,
I actually came by this by accident but im so glad i did. Im actually from Blantyre myself living in Canada now. Malawi can not thank you enough for all the wonderful work the Americans have been doing. Funny, you come here and there is hardly anything mentioned. Chichewa is my first language and im having a hard time putting words together because its so overwhelming.

Did you meet the American volunteer doctors in the kids section of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital? That biggest hospital in Blantyre? They are just incredible. I saw one give his blood to a very sick toddler to save his life. Thank God he was a match. Not many doctors would do that.

Dont want to bore you with my stories.

I saw all the pics you have on your blog. They are beautiful.

Aids is really a killer in Malawi.
Thanks for helping out.
May God bless you always.


Rumble said...

Loved reading about your experiences in Malawi. We spent a some time in the Luchenza area producing a film about girls and their chances of an education.
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