I’m writing this post on February 14th, even though I probably won’t have a chance to upload it to the internet for a few days, but I thought a holiday would be a good excuse for a blog entry. I normally don’t celebrate Valentines Day; the pink and white and red plastered all over commercial properties in the
Today I had the privilege to visit a village near Ruth and Tom Nighswander’s house. Ruth needed to pay a house call to the grandmother of a man Musa who they knew and she invited me along to see the village. We drove into the village along a dirt path that Musa assured us was the main road. We stopped in front of one of the nicer huts and got out to greet Musa’s grandmother. She received us graciously into her home and we entered followed by a swarm of all of the village’s children. Her hut was made of mud brick with thatched roof. There were no windows, so it was very dark inside, but I could still see the bits of colorful advertisements and a few photos that she had decorated the walls with. One of the prized decorations was a photograph the Ruth had taken a few years earlier of her and Musa with another volunteer from
Before departing we asked if we could see the back yard where the grandmother cooked. She obviously thought this was a silly request, but it was quite interesting for me to see the rest of a village home. Her back yard was fenced in with bound dried-grass wall and the ground was clean swept dirt. It was quite private in back, a quality I had not expected and I saw several structures which I could not put a function to, but would guess were for storing food or other provisions. Most interesting to see was the night’s ndiwo simmering in a pot balanced on three bricks with a piece of sugar cane slowly smoldering to provided the fire (Ndiwo is a relish to eat with nsima to give the corn mush flavor, ndiwo can be made from beans or vegetables and the grandmother was making hers with fish). The use of fire wood is a large ecological problem in
The thing that I noticed the most while in the village was the astounding number of children. I only saw two adults while I was there, but I saw at least forty children. Maybe more adults would return later in the day, but judging by the ratio of adults to children that I see every day; I imagine that most of those children rely on a small number of adults for their care. Sometimes I feel as if I am living in a nation of children and that all of the adults are missing. And yet, the country functions so I know that there are enough adults.
The freedom given to children is also astonishing to me, having grown up in a much different environment. Young children no more than 8 years old do so many things by themselves, without any apparent supervision by adults. They walk down the side of the road, easily looking both ways for traffic and moving away from speeding cars. They carry siblings in cloth slings on their backs, and water in large pots on their heads. They walk with their friends to the lake or to neighboring villages. They say hello to Jesse and I when we walk by on the road, sometimes holding out their hands demanding “give me money” or “ndalama”, depending on the state of their English education. Sometimes a group of children will start following us talking to us in Chichewa. I’m never sure whether they want something or whether they just want something to do so I usually let them follow for a few hundred meters before I turn around all of a sudden and with my hands on my hips pretend to chase them back. This is of course met with gleeful squeals, but does nothing to keep them from following and I have to end the game by waving my hand and carefully saying “Goodbye” or “You go back” (accompanied by a pointed finger). I finally learned this week how to ask “what do you want?”, but after using it a few times, I realized that the ability to understand the answer is a necessary prerequisite to asking the question.
Usually Jesse and I are not followed by packs of children when we go walking; however, our presence always draws some form of attention. The very young children (less than 5 years of age) never fail to call out to us when we pass on the road “azungu!” (meaning white person). I’m not sure whether they mean it as a declaration that foreigners are passing by or to catch our attention so that we will wave, but I’ve started yelling back “mwana” (meaning child) and the reaction to this is usually a startled look followed by a big grin. I think the largest motivation that I have to learn Chichewa is to be able to speak to the children.
Daily life here passes quickly; quickly, but not hastily or frantically. It is more a realization that the sun it setting on yet another day and I have already been here for 7 weeks. It is the end of another week and I not sure of the details of all of the events that have happened. However, the most meaningful experience that I have had so far is the experience that has been built by so many repeated small observations and occurrences, rather than the daily journal of my life. I do not keep a notebook. I do not document what I have done each day. Instead, what I have thought each day gradually collects into recurring ideas, which finally become cohesive and tangible when I write these entries. As you read these entries, please forgive the absence of a linear progression from one event to another. I hope you are instead able to take some meaning and enjoyment as I create a different sort of memento of