Monday, March 23, 2009

Mama Carr comes to Malawi

It finally happened... somebody from my family finally managed to make it to Malawi. My Mom touched down in Lilongwe March 5th. Though she was only here for two weeks, I think we did a pretty good job of making an all inclusive whirlwind tour of the warm heart of Africa for next to nothing. My Mom's so sweet she didn't even want to kill me after bouncing matolas, sketchy stick bridges over flooding rivers, or the hundredth mini-bus ride.

After a couple days of rest in Lilongwe we high-tailed it all the way up to Mwazisi so we could spend my Mom's 60th birthday with my friends in Mwazisi. It was a hell of a long day of busing, but Mom took it all in stride and just laughed as she was stuffed in a minibus with 20 other sweaty passengers "This is such an adventure", she said to my relief. I had organized for my friends to greet her as she arrived on the Matola with happy birthday signs and dancing, but a couple days after I left to pick her up a friend of mine was struck by lightning, and his funeral was the day we arrived, so thankfully my friends had the good taste to cancel the celebrations. Instead we had a smaller low key celebration inside my house with some of my best friends Nya Nfuni, Nya Mbowe, Mr. Kaiyera, Nya Matika, Nya Nchese, Mr. Zgambo, and Mr. Gondwe. Those names mean nothing to most of you, but anybody who has been to my village knows that's a pretty good mixed bag of Mwazisians. We ate two chickens, a bucket of Nsima, and plenty of good Malawian delecacies. It was a birthday she certainly won't soon forget. Nya Matika's grandchildren read her a poem about motherhood, and we all sang to her which brought her to tears of joy. It was great!

The next couple of days I took her around and showed her all my projects, and introduced her to enough people to make her head spin. The highlights were finding that my fish pond managed to get stocked with fingerlings (baby fish) while I was away picking her up in Lilongwe, planting trees with my wildlife club, and Mom teaching nya Nfuni how to cook eggplant parmigiana, minus the parmigiana. From Mwazisi we went to Vwaza game reserve. We decided to hire one of the local matolas so that we could bring along some of my best friends, and because I'm a cheap skate, and the truck was so big we invited anybody else who wanted to join in if they paid 200 kwatcha, which attracted about 60 people. It turned out to be another great trip to the Game reserve. We only saw a few animals (hippos impala, and kudu), but everybody really seemed to enjoy themselves. The guys played a football match against the park staff, while the ladies played netball with the wives of the park staff, and everybody got their pictures taken in front of Lake Kazuni, and the hippos. Everybody else went back on the Matola while my Mom and I got to stay in one of the park's huts for free since I have been working with the game reserve. It was surreal falling asleep to the groans of hippos on the full moon night.

The next stop was Tukombo on the lake shore, which is my friend Wiz's site. I really wanted her to see the lake, but am too cheap to stay at a lodge, so Wiz was the logical choice. He hosted us great and fed us full. Mom got to swim, and we lounged on the beach for an afternoon which was really nice.

The next day we had an epic day of Malawian transport (we'll just say it was an adventure) to get to Mua Mission, a Catholic Mission in Dedza. The Mission has been transformed into a cultural Museum by Father Paul Boudreux a French Canadian priest who really believes in the Vatican II philosophy of embracing the worlds cultures, and adapting the liturgy to each culture. He has been here for twenty five plus years now, and is an authority in Chewa and Ngoni culture. He is particularly focused on guli wankulu dancing which is sort of a secret society in chewa culture. People talk about the guli dancers in hushed tones, and tell stories about them meeting in the woods, snatching children, and generally partaking in witchcraft, but they have many improtant ceremonial dances for rites of passage, funerals, and such. One of the best things about Mua is the art, the father is an artist, so he has made the mission into a carving and sculpting center. It seemed like everybody living there was a carver, and the mission is filled with beautiful and bizarre statues around every corner.

From Mua we went down to Zomba to stay with my friend Mark who works for USAID and booked the US Ambassadors cabin on Zomba Plateau for the weekend. The cabin was great, and the plateau is incredible, we could see all the way to Mulange on the way up. There are f pine trees that were planted on top, so with the cool weather and lakes, I felt like I was back in Colorado. We just chilled out at the cabin with Mark and some other friends; Bright and Cathrine two other environment volunteers, Tim who's working for the Clinton foundation, and Justin a South African anthropologist. We barbecued rabbit and chicken, got our fill of wine and beer, and deserted on the plateau's array of strange berries. It was great to just chill out with my Mom and friends.

I had one last bash with my Mom and friends at Mufasa's bar before putting her on the plane with a headache. I think she had a great time the whole time she was here, and it was really great for me to have her. I needed a vacation, and it was great spending it with my Mom. Most of all it was just great sharing my world here with a loved one. Now she at least has perspective as to what the past two years of my life have been all about. Sharing it with her, reminded me of how lucky I have been to be where I am, doing what I'm doing. Also her amiability was an inspiration, she must be the most low maintenance person on Earth. Her ever-posative attitude was infectious, and I hope that some of her overflowing kindness wore off on me as I go into my third and final year here.