I was put in a bad mood first thing this morning when I walked out of my house and found that my biggest and healthiest Chamwamba tree was destroyed by one of the kids who live next door. Since I started out planting trees around my house when the rains started I’ve lost count of how many trees the kids have destroyed. “What’s the point” I muttered to myself as I tried to splint the broken trunk, “She’ll just destroy it again in a week.”
As I walked over to talk to her parents I was told that Nya Nfuni (the women who cooks for me when I teach at the secondary school, and one of my closest friends in the village) was sick and went to the clinic in the middle of the night. I went straight to the clinic from there, and found her looking weak and scared, quite a contrast from the bright eyed super women that I call my Malawian Mama. She explained matimba chimbira yichoko, yichoko (My heart is running slow.)
The frightened look on her face really had me worried, and was heavy on my mind as I walked to Mr. Semi the Agriculture extension worker’s house to fulfill our agreement to plant some of his Vetiver grass around our newly dug future fishpond to try and prevent soil erosion and silting. When I got there he complained that it was too late to start work, “the sun’s too high to go to the field now.” His lame excuss to put off the job really annoyed me because it wasn’t even 7:30 am yet and still nice and cool out, but since I asked him to show me the best way to plant vetiver and it was going to come from his garden I was at his mercy.
I was really annoyed as I walked back home because my whole morning was planned around my agreement to meet Mr. Semi. It was then that I noticed a women that I recognized but didn’t really know looking at me and laughing. When I asked her what she was laughing at she said “Mukunyamula Jembe”- “You’re carrying a hoe.” My mood went from bad to furious… The common Malawian belief that all Americans and Europeans are completely incapable of doing any manual labor absolutely infuriates me. I gave a sarcastic response that I’m sure she didn’t understand but could read the meaning behind my tone. I decided I better get out of Mwazisi before I snap on somebody.
I decided to take a bike ride, I had a good excuse to escape since I was already planning to go to Berludgi where I had heard about a man who had extra pvc pipes sitting around that I was interested in using for a rainwater harvesting tank. So I decided to take the long bike ride and visit some friends along the way mostly just to get out of Mwazisi for a day and have a little adventure.
I was already feeling better as I rode out of town; I just needed the excitement of a change of scene to change my mood. I stopped to talk to a man carrying a baby in a bundle on his back the way women do. I told him I’d never seen a man carrying his children, and that it was good to see a man taking care of the children for a change. He laughed and turned around to show off the smiling bundle on his back. I made a quick stop to remind the women from our beekeeping group about an upcoming meeting. I turned off the main road to go over the pass that leads to Pangara; a small village between Mankhali Hill and the mountains on the border of Vwaza Game Reserve. At the foot of the pass you go through a set of boulders that people call the elephants feet, they seem like a gate to the more untouched wilderness behind the mountains where the effect of people living on the land hasn’t taken it’s destructive toll yet. I love going down this road because I always feel like I’m really heading into the bush. There are much more trees on the surrounding mountains and I always seem to have the rocky neglected road to myself, so all I can hear is the breeze in the trees, and the array of Malawian bird songs.
My friend Bwana Nfuni is one of the reasons that Pangara’s surrounding wilderness is better preserved. He is my favorite village headman, because while many of the other village headman are drunks and over inflated egomaniacs, he is a true naturalist. His house is surrounded by trees of all sorts; fruit, palm, and nitrogen rich deciduous trees to improve the soil. Not only does he plant a lot of trees at his home, and chase people from cutting trees on the hills, but his more than thirty bee-hives hanging from the branches of trees is an assured protection of the trees it hangs between. He’s the best bee-keeper anywhere near Mwazisi and has been an indispensable asset for our beekeeping group sharing his knowledge of honey and wax production, and offering advice on how to go about harvesting the hives. I’m really glad to have a village headman like him so close to Mwazisi, he is the rare positive social deviant needed to set an example for everybody else to follow.
I stopped by his house for a visit but found that he was away teaching at the Primary school which he continues to do despite long having been retired. So I headed on to my destination of Beraludgi, and found my man with the PVC pipes. His name was Mr. Boti, and I found him sitting under a shade weaving a basket. He turned out to be about the handiest person I have encountered in Malawi. Aside from being a basketweaver, he is also a carpenter, metalworker, and welder. The man actually converted old bike parts into a grinder, and welding equipment. I was amazed to say the least, and I was equally impressed by his modesty. As I Marveled at his makeshift workshop he just smiled and remained under his shade continuing his work, never saying more than a couple words.
When I asked about the pipes he sent his sons behind the house and they emerged with three 20 centimeters in diameter pipes, which was exactly what I was looking for. He offered them to me free of charge when I know the same pipes would sell for more than 500 kwatcha a piece in Mzuzu. I insisted on paying him a little for them, and also promised to come back sometime with a whole bunch of Vegetable seeds. A promise he seemed to appreciate.
As I left his place my fortune turned from good to downright miraculous, way out there in the bush where Mr. Boti lives I saw a truck I recognized passing on the narrow path. I waved it down and was happy to see that it turned out to be one of my neighbors brother who is running for MP in 2009 who is driving out to every back road outpost trying to garner up early support for his campaign. He recognized me from his brother’s swearing in as a chief, and agreed to carry the pipes back to my house on his way back to Mwazisi. When I left this morning I didn’t even know if I would find any pipes. Not only did I find exactly what I was looking for but got them for next to nothing and got free transport from way out in Berludgi. The gods must have decided to make up for my crap morning.
From Berludgi Mr. Boti pointed me in the direction of a back road to Kapenda, where the nearest Peace Corps volunteer to me is placed. So I decided to drop in and visit him. Unfortunately when I got there I found that he was away as well in Mzuzu, but it was a sunny day and worth the ride just to see another road. When I got to Kapenda a Thunderhead rolled in, the sun was blocked out and the downpour started. I took shelter and chatted with some entertaining guys drunk on homemade wine from tea leaves. They enjoyed helping me to improve my Chitumbuka, and we shared a lot of laughs. The cloudburst ended as suddenly as it had blown in. I took advantage of the clearing, and started heading for home.
I made one more stop at an ant-hill where I was told I could get a bit of cell-phone network. From there I sent my Mom a birthday greeting via text message, and got her to call me back so we could talk longer. When I heard her groggy voice I remembered that it was 5: 00am in Colorado. I sang happy birthday, which brought a sleepy laugh. We had a long and good conversation. I’m always happy to be transported back to Colorado by my mother’s voice every now and then.
I got back to Mwazisi just after dark and went straight to the hospital to see Nya Nfuni. She still looked weak, but was clearly much better. I sat with her and chatted for a while, and told her in terrible Chitumbuka that “I was worried about my Malawian mother all day.” The smile that spread on her face warmed my heart, and made me feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, a huge change from this morning when I was feeling so out of place.
As I walked back to my house I heard drums starting up in the trading center. I went to see what was going on and found the village women starting a dance circle. Across the road, I could see some drunken men half dancing, half stumbling in the candlelight in BBC’s bar, which seemed very cave like and sad compared to the beauty of the deliberate and fluid movements of the women under a clear beaming African starry night. I sat on the front steps of Chipesa’s shop with my neighbor’s children and watched the women’s hips gyrate and smiles glow in the dim lantern light. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, “African women sure are beautiful!”