Malawi has a rainy season a dry season but right now it is the wedding season. Families come days early to help prepare. I went one of day to help with food prep which is done all done by hand in the traditional style. There were some 150 women there from all over the village and there were stations for each of the process for turning corn into flour. Taking the corn of the cob, pounding, winnowing the hauls off, soaking, pounding again, spreading flour on mats to dry. The most interesting step was the pounding of the corn with mortar and pestle to get the haul off. There were some 15 mortars and the popcorn effect of the pestles had the same popcorn effect as that kids fishing game where the mouths of the fish would open and snap shut. With some of the bigger mortars (3 gallons perhaps) people went at it double like the pistons in a V-shaped engine. If they had filled it too full they would wrap a piece of bright cloth (I don’t think you could fine dull color cloth here if you tried) around the top to keep it from spilling. I tried and I just couldn’t get enough power behind my stroke and when came close corn flew everywhere. I can’t accurately convey how physically strong these women are, they can dead lift a 10 gallon basin of water onto their heads and not slosh it a bit.
(Myself, I got tired long ago of paying for rice that I had to haul by bike and hour so I asked my chief to give me some corn. I was not allowed to buy corn because people would think that mphezi’s family is going hungry and there is no greater insult, due to the laziness or selfishness this implies. So now I take my corn to the maize mill just like everybody else. It is such a basic part of lives people here that doing this simple act has on some underlying level given me great insight or at least I feel more real to them.)
The whole day we drank something called Tobwa, it’s one step away from beer and is made from corn, I’m still not clear on the whole of the process, but it is thick like Metamucil and a bit sour and if made well you can obligingly drink a cup or so. At the end of the day the women circled up and started to dance and sing. There were three circles and of course they put my in the middle one. Everyone was delighted the same I’m I would be if they came to America and tried contra dancing. The singing was a kind of call and answer and because this was the older women’s circle the steps were small, simple and conservative. After a bit I went over to the dance circle where all the young mothers (these are the people my age) were. The circle was packed so tight and the dust being thrown up was so thick you couldn’t see the people in the center. You know how much I love African dance, I was flipping my shit. As soon as I went over they parted the crowd and put me in the center. I did my best, busting out every dance move I had and shaking my money for all I was worth. By the time I had gotten around to the ‘running in place butt shake’ we were laughing so hard that we couldn’t dance let alone sing. This may have been my best day in Africa yet.
I was able to track down a Mormon church here in Malawi. Turns out there are actually two, one in Lilongwe that has been there for two years and one in Blantyre which has been there for 5 years. I was deathly curious so I worked some magic and got a ride with some members, actually the only members with a car. They are working here as NGO doctors and are from Bountiful. The branch consists of some 15-30 people given the day; 6 are missionaries who are always there and then there are some 5 people from America the rest are Malawian. It’s an absolutely, endearingly, shocking contrast to the mormon epicenter, which everyone one was excited to hear that I am from.
They literally are building everything from the ground up; from the baptismal-font being a fenced frame lined with a trap so it will hold water to eliminating the awkwardness in coordinating the hand positions when ordaining because they have only done it a handful of times. As you can imagine new members are given what I traditionally consider to be really big callings, but in a smaller setting they seem more manageable. For example Dawn of the Relief Society Mafia seems less threatening when you only have 4 sisters that stay for after sacrament meeting. They are fervent for any insight or help they can get.
I have to admit that was really good to be there and I have made a point to go whenever I am in town on Sundays. It is something familiar when most everything else around me is not. To know how and when things happen, being able to put the brain on a form of auto-pilot, is a rare treat. I miss the sense of community, but more than anything I miss the songs. There is a keyboard but are you kidding me nobody here know how to play that thing, so songs are sung without it with varying levels of success as few know the songs.
For the fall equinox I went to The Lake (meaning Lake Malawi, said in the same way that people from New York say The City and mean New York City). A girl in our group has her site there along the lakeshore and the minute you stepped off the bus you could even smell that this place was nothing short of a tropical freaking paradise. A 2 minute walk from her bungalow is a beach with clean white sand accented by black wave lines. She has a pair of snorkels left there by the previous volunteer and you can only imagine the sunburn my back sustained when I discovered that at the climbing boulders a little ways off shore there were endemic ciclydes to be found. Swimming in that water gave you the sensation of being in an aquarium the same way that standing next to castle, if it had a plug coming out of it, or and giant cigarette would make you feel as though you had shrunk. Piles of smooth amber and white stones amongst the occasional half buried slick black boulder where overflowed with glacier blue water that glittered with eroded fleck stone and granite. I couldn’t help but giggling for the joy of it and like my grandma fill my pockets to budging with stones that caught my eye; though I have no idea what I’ll do with them or how long it will take for those rocks to grow back.
In the evening I would swim to where the lake filled my vision and the liquid mercury and the cotton sky could only be told apart by a thin line. It was campfires, good folk, and undiluted stars. It was evening breezes of perfect temperatures and a sudo-far shore consisting of the lamp that swung from the bows and sterns of the dug out canoes of local fishermen. In the morning the intense orange red, but still heatless sun, would turned the so many unrealized pastel shades of blue, that the water the water and sky were, to so many unrealized pastel shades of pink and purple. I discovered that Malawi means flames in Chichewa and with the rising sun’s reflection pointing at me along the waters surface, the same way the eyes of some portraits do, always following, I would have to say the name is well chosen.
I came and went to ‘In Service Training’ at the end of August. I learned to make soap, jam, oil, peanut butter, graft fruit trees, ect. On arriving back home I was literally welcomed with open arms. These were first hugs I have received while being here though I think it is more because they see people do it in movies or me with my friends than meaning anything to them, but it meant a lot to me. And ever since I got back from that I have hit the ground running. In fact there is so much going on now I’m really only around my village about 4 days out of the week. This is partially due to the fact that things have to be done the long way around, but has none the less resulted in the sliding of other parts of my life such as warm bucket baths have turned into refreshingly cold ones and the way clothes smell rather than look are what qualifies them for laundry. I’ve been holding village meets to better explain what I’m there to do, now that I feel I can explain it well, and I’ve been really pleased with there effect. I’m working on the logistical and material details of teaching to make soap, putting a peanut sheller in the local mill, getting some textbook for the local school, and I have also been to a number of meeting with the Land ‘O Lakes people about the possibility of doing some kind of milk goat project in the village. There is a lot of framework that would need to be set up for this. So myself and another girl, who is stationed on the west side of Kasungu and received her masters degree in goats, would be undertaking this pilot as we are the closest environment volunteers to Lilongwe. I have to wear nice clothes to these meetings and I tell you nylons make my leg hair look funny.
Other last tibits include that I finally asked my chief for some land to farm. He gave me a half acre and I’ve made a point to go dig in it for at least 1.5 hours every morning. I wouldn’t call what I’m doing making ridges so much education appreciation or taking a bit ol’ bite of pride pie as I realize that something as basic as honestly growing your own food is something that I have no idea how to do and am physically too soft to do. My hands are really blistered and because I’ve not seen a pair of gloves to be bought anywhere I’ve taken to wrapping my hands in handkerchiefs. I’ve plateaued with my language so am taking lessons from a family whose company I really enjoy. Had to half my Malaria meds, the dose was messing with my head. I put my neighbors month old on my back for the first time and she peed on me. I've started playing netball (which is actually a professional sport) with the women every saturday. I paid my neighbor girl to water my garden while I was away and I asked her what she was going to do with the 100K or .75$ I gave her. I’m thinking candy, but no she wanted to buy pens for school…I’m so freaking rich. I made myself a hammock which has exponentially improved lounging in Africa pleasure. I’ve found that early morning cook fires remind me of campfires back home, perhaps some day campfire with remind me of Africa.