Holding Hands; a Malawian Imperative for Friendship

Hey Bloggers,

I hope that if you are reading this, then you are well and enjoying the start of summer.  I believe today is Memorial Day as well.  First of all I want to congratulate my brother Steve for recently graduating high school, we are all very proud of the man he is becoming.

There is no good way to sum up the past 3 months in any sort of brief way, but I’m sitting at an internet cafe paying 5 Kwach per minute so this will have to be economical and maybe not so epic.  I wrote most of this all last night.

Homestay and Pre-Service Training
I was blessed to have maybe the greatest language trainer in all of Peace Corps Malawi, Beatrice; enough said.  And then my technical trainer Lovemore, who inspired my training group and myself  in so many ways, most notably in the endless possibilities that come from the synergy of bamboo shoots and a good machete.  My host mother is the toughest woman in all of south-east Africa, but at the same time gracious and patient.  She sent me off to school each and every morning with a snack and made it her mission that I bathed daily and wore clean pants.  It sounds like what most 8 year olds go through, but I will not complain even for a second, especially after a month of living on my own I miss my host mother sorely.  My host father was really cool, he is a farmer and then a bean speculator on the side, “buying and selling”.  He spoke just enough English to make things work.  I spoke just about enough Chichewa to be competitive with my 2-year-old brother Simion.  Then my host sisters Howa and Tiwane were really great kids to be around.  Even though I was twice the age of Howa she could slice, dice , sing, clean dishes, cut firewood, wrangle goats 100% more effectively then I could in a months time.  Wow I miss them.

Chinthakwa Village
Here at my new home in Chinthakwa Village, I’ve settled in.  I’m working out all of the kinks and wishing for 3-4 more hours in everyday.  There are a lot of new skills to hone in on when you grow up with electricity and indoor plumbing.  People in my village sit back and laugh at all the crazy things I’m doing around the my house.  It is just after the harvest season here so people don’t think I should be working so hard.  It’s all very exciting for me this is my first house.  It’s a clean slate and literally comes with 3 empty rooms.  Some rooms have more bugs than others, but I think I’ve found the best one to sleep in and a nice room for an office.  The fence is finished as of today (yesterday) thanks of course to the teachings of Lovemore and bamboo shoots and a machete, and some good friends.  After a month without, writing/eating meals at a table and sitting in a chair is a pretty special feeling.
I am the first Peace Corps Volunteer in Chinthakwa and so at this stage it is difficult to communicate who and what and why I am your neighbor.  I’m loosely attached to a forestry office in Mwansambo 9 km away and there is a sizeable forest reserve called Nyenje that runs east-west just above the Liutzi River.  One guy came up to me just to point out that I was the first white person his kids had ever seen and I get the impression with lots of other kids as well.  I’ve had a few younger kid cry when they see me, but I think it could be the unkept beard.  Some days I’m on the brink of hyperventilating, but most days I have a lot of fun being the first white person for kids to see!
I have been meeting everyone and his brother, as the expression goes.  Names here are either impossible for me to hear/say/remember or they are biblical, but I do want to highlight one exception to the rule.  He enjoys practicing gymnastics and karate moves at the soccer grounds, he’s commonly  seen wearing a shirt that states, “I’m special”.  You are special… Mr. Bornface Hardware, and yes I had him spell it out.
Language is very frustrating right now.  I’ve maybe plateaued and lost some of my vigor, among other things I’m learning Chichewa from a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet. Resourcefulness! That’s the name of the game here in Malawi.  While packing I though that it would be a cool decoration to bring some old license plates from my truck.  I now use one in my garden as a trowel and the other to cook with.  Hanging up a perfectly good piece of metal on your wall seems like a tragic waste here.
Malawians are great!  Collectively as a people group, I think they easily surpass even Canadians in overall friendliness and hospitality.  It’s the kind of place where everyone greets one another everyday and with no exceptions.  It’s the kind of place where a grown man will take you by the hand and walk you through a crowded market.  Malawi has taught me that real men hold hands…don’t laugh it’s called friendship!!  When you hold another man’s hand you get the sense that he has worked pretty hard with his hands, growing food for the livelihood of his family.  It makes you feel sad and pathetic to hold another man’s hand with yours covered in bandages all the while feeling a little silly that you come from a culture that where people ar playing Farmville on the internet. (Don’t worry, people waste plenty of time here too)  But silliness or obscurity, or whatever you call it becomes a two-way street when you’re trying to have a formal discussion with a village chief who is wearing a leopard print cowboy hat and a White Castle collared shirt.  I like Malawi a lot.  And I think that at this point in my Peace Corps lifespan I can say that with some conviction and a partial notion of what I’m in for.  Although there are some terrible days where you think about America a lot and days were you miss your loved ones back home and all of you find people who have read this far.
It’s a simple life,… and a hard life for the 90% (subsistence farmers) maybe  the romanticized life I thought a lot about in college, an agrarian utopia that sort of resembles the Jeffersonian Model.  A big quilt of agriculture, every man living off his acre.  So right now I’m integrating into my village, people are full of ideas here, which is awesome, all the chiefs are all riled up and ready to work together.  So…zikuyenda (things are moving)

Mark 4: 3-9

Sorry that seemed a little rushed, but I had lots of ground to cover.  Hopefully I’ll fill in more gaps and put some pictures up in future blogs.

Take Care,

Jeff G.


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About jeff G.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Malawi. I work as a forestry advisor near Nyenje Forest Reserve in the district of Nkhotakota. I like reading, chatting with friends,biking, farming, and eating nsima, at least that's all I do anymore.

6 responses to “Holding Hands; a Malawian Imperative for Friendship

  1. Jake L.

    Hey Jeff,

    We are impressed with the work you are doing over there here in the states. Keep up the hard work. You’re in our prayers my friend!

    The Langston

  2. Ditto Langston. Jeff you’re an inspiration to white lazy americans finishing college. It sounds like an epic adventure, and I wish you the very best. You’ll be in my prayers. btw can’t wait to see pictures

  3. Heath R.

    Jeff,

    Love ya man! And miss you a whole bunch! I mean a WHOLE BUNCH!! Anyways glad to hear of your adventures in Malawi. Glad things are going well for you, I will continue to pray for you and I look forward to reading more about your days over there. Tiffany thinks that you write very well:) We will talk/write soon!

  4. Jeff:
    Good to see you putting the people of Malawi on your back and taking them for a ride like they’ve never been on. I can see a village where little kids are making rafts, teenagers are playing ‘wish you were here’ on home-made guitars, and the chiefs are having a warm ‘cold one’ with the greatest chief of all….White Beard. Bless you boy!

    • Hey thanks uncle B. I hope you’re having a great summer. When your in Spain this summer and you get an itch to come south aka Lake Shore Malawi, let me know you have a place to stay!

      • Anonymous

        would you have any time to take some time off and see some sights in Spain? I’m sure Uncle Brian would love to adopt you!!. 🙂 Sent Box #5 today.

        Love you. MOM

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