Though I didn’t spend thanksgiving with family, I did spend it with friends and spent it cooking insane amounts of food at the ambassador’s house in his industrial sized kitchen. It was very satisfying to be reminded that though I have a hard time, making cassava leaves tasty, I do know how to cream butter and sugar and use a kitchen aide to make an applesauce cake.
We cooked such ridiculous amounts of food we were contemplating the serious options of mashing the potatoes in a washbasin with our feet and all this while the US ambassador tried to get his breakfast out of the toaster amid the chaos. We didn’t have turkey but we did have two roasted pigs complete with the token apple in the mouth. And though the boys were inwardly disappointed that there was no big screen football, the mail worn cans of cranberry sauce, in my mind, more than made up for it.
The ambassador’s house it full of beautiful treasures, each accompanied by a wonderful story; attained from his various placements. (They have priceless antiques from all over the world but I laughed when I saw a small cross stitch that read “home is where the state department posts you.”) Not to mention 4 couch sets that after dinner were filled with sleeping food induced comma volunteers. The rest of us were swimming in the pool. I didn’t know what to expect when I meet my first ambassador but I want you to know that your US ambassador for Malawi is Peter Bodde and he the most down to earth, generous, chill person and does much to renew my respect for those in political positions. He is a gracious host that exudes nothing but the genuine and an up most respect as he seems to be able to spare a piece of his individual attention for all. He was last stationed in Islamabad so Malawi is a seeming vacation for him.
My latest adventure, other than being an unsuspecting foreigner that almost bought tree leaves from some young kids that were just playing at selling real greens; is getting all my stuff stolen and then returned in a week. This may be the fastest thing that has ever happened to me in Malawi, but even so it is a long story.
I left to meet with one of my groups and to run some errands around 11am. I came back about 3pm to find my bedroom window open. This window had been a problem for sometime not shutting well and as I investigated I found that anything with a cord or that was shiny was gone. Ipod, camera, 10,000mk, my glasses, chargers, phones and the list goes on. I spent the rest of that afternoon sitting on my porch waiting for local chiefs to show up and calling Peace Corps security officers; though even now I’m not sure what I expected them to do. All my neighbors were super supportive saying they couldn’t believe anyone could have such shame and they more or less sat with me all afternoon just so I didn’t have to be alone. Defiantly a cultural difference but I really appreciated it.
Mphezi (recently learned this means thunder in chewa) even accompanied me the next day to the local police which reminded me a bit of group therapy because as you waited outside people would ask why you were there and upon telling your story they would sympathize shaking their heads. A good community forum to discuss common problems perhaps? It was also here that someone suggested that I go to a very powerful witchdoctor (a women) that lived in a village not 4km away. It was explained by my Presbyterian church attending mphezi, in all sincerity, that if I told her my story to her by the time I returned home the person who had stole my things would be dead. I than admitted that I didn’t want this individual dead as much as I just wanted my things back and killing this person would less likely result in the return of my things and more likely result in the making of orphans and a widow. Though I have to admit I can understand the function/usefulness of this belief/tradition in that it really did appeal to my ego. I would never see those things or this thief again and to think that he had received punished for his crimes and would not be benefiting from my stuff was very tempting. I was even just curious in seeing the processes but the last thing I want to do in get caught up in rumors of witchcraft as it is not taken lightly here.
At any rate I hadn’t been sleeping very well at night, feeling discouraged and questioning as to why I was even here. Disgruntled over losing over a $1,000 worth of stuff (I can only imagine how a farmer feels upon getting his life savings stolen from the shoe under his bed from the men who broke in with panga knifes. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.), worrying it had been one of my neighbors and then I was waking at every bug that walked over a plastic bag. It was 8am two days after all the stuff got stolen and I was laying in bed still rolling over and napping in the soft light of the suns early morning and I heard a noise. Upon looking I see a pair of legs coming up and over my bedroom wall, passing through that foot gap between my wall and roof. All I could think to myself is “You have got…to be shitting me!” I decided I was going to catch this guy. I had actually spent a lot of time thinking of how this would go down and now was my chance. But he heard me and started to scramble down and I took off after him. This is when I need you to start using your imagination. It is awful hot at night so here I am in a red pair of underwear and a scandalous tank top with no bra chasing this kid through my compound laying on my peace corps issued bullhorn screaming profanities such as “GET BACK HERE YOU FUCKER!!!!!!”
As you could imagine there was no way I was going to catch him with no shoes. I let him go kicking myself for missing my chance. I didn’t even get so far as to see his face. I ran, got dressed and found mphezi’s wife frantic in explaining. At her call the hired hands came running. I gave a brief description and a directional indication and they were off. I didn’t follow, I’m not sure why, supposed I didn’t think I would be of much help. Not a minute had gone by and I heard shouts of “PANI, PANI, PANI” meaning “HERE, HERE, HERE!!!!” He was in the tall grass putting his shoes back on and the chase ensued! I could here their voices getting futher away. My surrogate mother yelled "Thief!" as she ran and the people they passed in the fields would drop their hoe and take up chase even if they had a baby on their backs. This guy had a trail of some 15 people after him.
And you know what…they caught him. I still can’t believe it. It turned out to be a 16 year old kid that had worked for Mphezi herding cattle a couple months before and instead of going home he moved a little ways away and with no family around. He had also at night been stealing milk from the cows and selling it at a market not to far away. When they caught him he was wearing my watch, had my camera in hand and far too much money in his pockets. It was a bit hard to watch as they brought him into the compound. Mphezi’s wife was having to pulling mphezi off the boy yelling at him to stop hitting him. They tied him up and all the men came one by one and hit him either once good or a couple of times and chewed him out. He eventually ended up on the ground but I think it was mostly becuase he had lost his will to stand out of depression. The women were gathered to one the side jeering saying things like ‘he is just a little boy or he’d be married by now’, ‘he’ll never be able to get a job after this’ It almost seemed the men were the bringers of ‘justice’ (It’s not the right word but it is the first that comes to mind.) for the women. I’m sure they were surprised at my calm reaction of just looking at him.
The police came and walked the boy to his house where they recovered most of my stuff; camera, ipod, ect. The stuff they couldn’t find; glasses, money, ect, will be replaced by peace corps. The police had to take all the evidence to there office and it was a bit heart braking to get it all back only to have to turn it back over for an undetermined amount of time.
Next the boy pleaded not guilty so I had to go to court. ~Melissa rolls her eyes~ Of course the first time I ever have to testify in court it had to be in a foreign country. It was pretty wild, the court room was a crazy run down hole. Huge cracks in the walls, bare lights and wires, water stains, caving in roof; very much a closet like feel. There was a judge, translator, police officer, witness, the accused and myself. At one point the boy and I were left in the room by ourselves…awkward, uncomfortable, creepy, pick an adjective. The judge let me sign the register and take my stuff and the boy will either be sent to a juvenile detention center or sent home on a heavy probation.
While this was all happening I called my mom and talked to her for some 2 hours and, even before we'd caught the boy, I came to terms with all that I was feeling. As such I’m actually really glad that I had to go through this whole processes as I learned a lot and have to say I am pretty proud of my resolve and rather happy that I got all my shit back.