Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Malawi's Rainy Season--George's Post

Having lived in Seattle for over 30 years, Carole and I know something of rain.   Most people do not know that Seattle has less annual rainfall than Washington, D.C., Atlanta or Houston, cities in the United States not known for rain.  What makes Seattle so distinctive is not how much it rains, but how it rains.   From mid-October through June, Seattle has few sunny days.  Most of the time it is gray and misty from dawn until just before dusk, when finally the weak fall and winter sun burns off the last of the low-hung clouds and makes a brief, almost apologetic, appearance.  Of course, Seattle has its share of nasty winter storms, bringing days of lashing rain and high winds, flooding streams, sloughs and rivers, and dumping feet of snow, often heavy and wet, in the Cascades and Olympics.



Like much of southeast Africa, Malawi is each year characterized by a typical dry-wet season pattern.  The wet season runs from December through  March, during which the country gets most of its rainfall.   The balance of the year is dry and sunny.   Malawians count on the rainfall of the wet season to grow their crops, especially maize,  that are critical to sustaining life, both in the villages and the cities.  Malawi's weather is much closer to that of Houston or Atlanta than that of Seattle.  For when it rains here, the rain is heavy.   Storms come in  sudden bursts, are tense, and, when over, the skies clear up quickly.   And while the days can be humid and muggy,  they are not misty and damp like Seattle. 
The skies over Blantyre are big and wide, no towering trees to hedge one in and block views, and horizon to horizon views are common place.   Often we see the storm clouds gathering and piling up, usually in the late afternoons as the winds pick up.  The rain is frequently accompanied by claps of thunder and spectacular lightning.   When it finally rains, the heavens open wide, and the blessed rain comes in sheets.   
Throughout Blantyre, along the sides of most roads, even minor ones, deep storm ditches have been dug to drain off the rainfall.    Even so, the rain, when heavy, washes red sandy topsoil across the low spots and swales, leaving the roads like channels of red soil.   Though water is precious, we have not seen catch basins or retaining ponds or irrigation ditches to capture and harness the rainfall.
A week ago, when going to the downtown market in the late morning, Carole and I got caught in our first rain storm.   Foolishly we had left the umbrellas behind in the truck's backseat.  We should have known better, because all morning the weather had been threatening.   Almost as soon as we got to the heart of the market, the rain came in buckets, prompting vendors, customers, and those milling around (including the young boys peddling plastic shopping bags) to scurry to find whatever shelter they could--shop canopies, plastic sheets, the roof of the permanent marketplace.  Carole found herself stranded, together with several other women, under the narrow canopy of a favorite fruit vendor, who sells pineapples, mangos, bananas, and guavas.

 Not yet wet, and early in our morning's ordeal, Carole is, as you can see, in good humor.   Over the next 40 minutes or so, she will make a few new friends.
The conversation however flags as time goes by and everyone is getting wetter.  Gradually there is not much to do, but to hope for  the storm to run its course or at least  for a short break in the weather to permit a quick sprint to the truck.
Had the rain subsided quickly, Carole could have kept dry, but no such luck--soon the heavy rain and whipping wind  soak her shoes and leave her  hair and clothes damp. 
After waiting close to an hour, we gradually begin working our way across the marketplace, slipping from one shop to another, whenever there is the slightest abatement in the storm.  But in the end, we had no choice but to bolt for the truck, without the benefit of cover, for several hundred yards.  It reminded me of the time I got soaked when biking, in a late winter storm in northern Germany,  from the chapel in Bremerhaven to our apartment when I was a young missionary.  We recognize, however, that we are victims of our Western upbringing and culture.   We are impatient, while the Malawians are not.
 Most Malawians are content to wait out the storm, safe under cover,  often occupied in idle conversation with friends or newly-made acquaintances.  They are not in a hurry and do not feel compelled to forego the comforts of their temporary shelter.  Whatever they are doing can wait, and nothing is so important that it can not be set aside for awhile.  It will stop raining soon enough and then there will be time to finish up their chores, to complete whatever business  they have at hand and to get back to their homes and families before dusk. 

 Some Malawians just ignore the rain, going about their business as though it were not raining.  Once wet, they can not get wetter, so what does it matter.   Watching them, you would not think it was raining.    Carole and I are not so brave or so foolhardy.




Saturday, December 27, 2014

The best Christmas pageant ever! - Carole's Post

It was only during the second week in Blantyre that President Chipaka of the Zingwangwa Branch asked me to assist in Primary.  Believe me, my experience there merits a blog all its own, but I wanted to share one activity that was probably similar to what other wards and branches of the church were doing all over the world - the reenactment of the Nativity.
Our branch had a  Christmas activity/party on the afternoon of the 24th and the Primary was asked a week earlier to provide something for the "show". 

Angela and Time were chosen to play Mary and Joseph.

Sister Nora Banda read the Christmas story from the New Testament while carols played in the background.

The perfect costume for girls or boys - the "chitenge" or
 2-meter piece of cloth that a Malawian woman wraps around her body.
The baby Jesus is represented by a rag doll that the branch president keeps in his office and is wrapped in a blue towel, lying in a "manger".

Okay, shepherds and angels, "are you ready?"

We had many, many shepherds, some even holding babies.

An angel

Note the shepherd's staff (the meetinghouse broom).

 The star is getting ready for her debut!

 Isn't she a perfect star!

It's a good thing I brought two scarves with me to Malawi. And throw in a dish towel!

The Wise Men
The gifts on the floor:  hand sanitizer, perfume, and a few kwacha coins

Most of the young children under nine do not speak English but I think everyone understood the very special story we were telling that day.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where, oh where, shall I go for my hair? - Carole's Post

When we received our missionary call to Africa,  we had several concerns, many of them legitimate and some of them peculiar.  Those who know me probably remember me saying "WHAT am I going to do about my hair?"  Call it vain, call it quirky, call it frivolous, but it was a real worry to me.  And I know it drove George crazy!  I toted some hair products here which took a portion of our luggage allotment.    We hadn't been many days in Malawi before my eyes started searching for a salon but I didn't have to look far.  Every neighborhood and even surrounding village has a multitude to choose from. They are tucked among all the other shops such as the ones below.

There don't appear appear to be any trademark infringement laws in place here!
Are you beginning to see a theme emerging here?

Of course one of the best ways for any woman to find a good hairdresser is to ask around.  A few weeks ago we visited with Memory...

...and when I saw her a few days later, she had an entirely different look!

She looked lovely and since I could tell it was a little more complicated than normal, I asked her where she went and how long it took.  "Oh, two days" she said!  TWO DAYS?!?  She assured me that some hairdressers were fast and they could do it in one!

I remembered that there was another option!  The first month we were here we lived by Sister Komiha, a missionary from Zimbabwe.  The first week she looked like this (which is a very popular look here in Malawi)...

...and on Preparation Day she looked like this!

For the first week she had been wearing A WIG!  I loved both looks!  In fact, I loved her third look the following week when she had another short-haired wig (sorry, no photo).   It did make me realize this was why I had a difficult time recognizing some of the sisters in the branch, however.  I could not use hair style as a distinguishing characteristic because it drastically changed week to week. Obviously a wig wouldn't work for me either because where would I find a wig with my hair color?

The search continued...
I wasn't sure about the "dress your self" comment.

Ah, here was another option.  Several shop signs were written out as "saloon" but this was simple and straightforward.

This seemed to have a feminine touch.

We park by these shops every time we go to church.  This seemed practical because George and I could go at the same time! 

This was my favorite for quite some time.  It seemed to have real possibilities and had a hopeful name.

One day we were driving and we passed a shop whose motto was "Beauty has no boundary" and I told George to quick, turn around and take me back there but alas, we didn't have time.

My VERY favorite was a shop that I haven't been able to find again. I have tried and tried to go back (so I could take a photo for this blog) but I remember the name distinctly:


So what did I do when I finally had to get a trim?  I was referred by the nicest hotel in town to Impact Salon, in the western-style strip mall.  When I made my appointment, a stylist named Joan assured me that they could do "white hair" though there was no evidence of that.   At her suggestion, I made an appointment for 8:00 am the next morning (though she never looked at an appointment book or wrote anything down).
 The next morning we arrived and waited till 9:00 am for the owner to get there and open it up.  Both the hairdressers and customers were milling around outside for an hour and no one but us seemed at all impatient.  Joan "did" my hair and I had to guide her all the way but let's just say, she didn't do it as I hoped.  Then she got really nervous about cutting it so she went and got the barber next door who agreed to do it so I trotted next door to the barber.   This was the same barber who cut George's hair. Anyway, he kept lifting it up and letting it fall over and over and he seemed very uneasy and puzzled, but he chopped just a little off and I was just grateful to get out of there without any catastrophes. Even George agreed that maybe he should try it next time.  So I am getting shaggier and shaggier. Sorry...no photos!

Oh....and there was one customer who sat in a chair with three stylists working on her hair for the two hours I was there.  I was told that she would be there all day...

The Bandas--Part III--Faith, Hope and Charity--George's Blog

My two earlier blogs about the Banda family were intended to set the stage for this last blog.  However, since Carole and I have each posted intervening blogs, I doubt the earlier messages will have the intended effect.   In any event, I would like to share some of what transpired during our first visit with the Bandas and a few of my impressions.   Theirs was the first home I visited; Carole had already been in several homes during earlier compassionate sister visits.  Our visit was in the mid-afternoon, but the room was dark, the only light coming through the front door, left slightly ajar for ventilation, and a small wood framed window.   Like most homes in the townships flanking Mount Soche, the Bandas’ home was humble, small rooms, a cement floor, minimal furniture, no indoor water or plumbing.  It was not cozy or quaint, no fireplace, handcrafted wood furniture, pewter platters, pitchers, and everyday plates,  nothing like the vintage New England cottages of the 1700s and 1800s.   Instead, it was barren and dusty.   Yet for the Bandas, it was home--their place of refuge from the world, however modest it might be. 


Early in the conversation, we asked the Bandas about their experiences with the Church.  They have been members for just three years.  I asked if they felt the Church had been good for them.  Given that they are stalwarts in the Zingwangwa Branch, I expected them to be positive.  But I wasn’t really prepared for Brother Banda’s response.    He said that his testimony of the Church had given him great hope   Before joining the Church, he felt despondent.  But after becoming a member, he had hope of a better world, not just for the world after this, but also for the here and now.  


Perhaps, given the setting, I found his remarks to be extremely moving.  Even now it is hard to me to capture the power of the moment.  Here I was, sitting in a home more humble than any I had ever visited, talking to a wonderful, but poor family, who face, almost daily, challenges unlike any that either I or Carole or any of our immediate family had ever faced, wondering how they manage to keep up their spirits.  And yet that is not how they respond.  They do not harbor in their hearts resentment, or bitterness, or complaints.  But instead, they go forth with a spirit of hope.   They find the gospel empowering.


Not surprisingly, this event brought immediately to mind some of the well-known scriptural passages dealing with “faith, hope and charity.”   Faith, being the first principle of the gospel, is the bedrock for both hope and charity, for without faith there is neither hope nor charity (at least not charity as it is defined in the scriptures).  “Wherefore, if a man have faith: he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.  And again behold, I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.”  Moroni 7:42-43.  And those who are meek and lowly of heart are those who have charity, the pure love of Christ.  And what precisely is the hope that grows out of faith.   It is the hope of every good thing that flows from the promises of the Lord—the hope of a better world here; of receiving the blessings that come from obedience; --the hope of being cleansed of our sins through the atonement of Jesus Christ and of enjoying the blessings of eternal life; --the hope of a better world in the world to come—where there is no more death neither sorrow neither crying neither pain, for all these former things will have passed away.  And the hope of being reunited with loved ones  when we die.  


There was nothing abstract or academic or dry about Brother Banda’s belief and hope or that of his family.  Here is a family whose life has been radically changed as a result of joining the Church.  Now they go  forth with a new vision of their potential.  They believe they are sons and daughters of God and He cares for them.  Their lives are full of meaning.  They have spiritual gifts and talents that they can and should develop.  The Lord promises to bless them as they are faithful and endure to the end.  These are the beliefs  that change individuals, and families from the inside—certainly not aid programs or narrow humanitarian efforts.  The Bandas are a wonderful family today, but I know they will continue to be transformed, little by little, as they nurture the faith they now have.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Quintessential African Experience--George's Post

For most Americans, Africa is synonymous with wild animals—lions, wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, monkeys, warthogs, zebras—and with majestic natural wonders—the Serengeti, the Rift Valley, Victoria Falls, the great Zambesi.  To name a few, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania boast world-famous parks, overflowing with gigantic herds of hooved beasts, teeming with great flocks of migratory birds, and having under foot every creeping thing.   Most African countries, including Zambia and Malawi, advertise game parks and safaris, frequently featuring Africa’s great five--lions, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, elephants, and leopards—in an effort to capture some of the Western tourist monies flowing into the continent. 
Yet Malawi, unlike some of its neighbors, is not known for offering great safari experiences.   In the recent past, it has tried to remedy this problem by reserving large tracts of wilderness for game parks, in an effort to create reserves teeming with those large game animals for which much of the sub-Saharan Africa is famous.     Counterbalancing this effort, however, has been an ongoing, and largely unresolved, tension between the villages and the poachers, on one hand, and the environmentalists and tourist industry, on the other hand, as relates to the growth of national parks and the stocking of them with large predators and animals of prey.  Little over 30 years ago, few large animals, including the great cats, were still found in significant numbers in Malawi.  The villagers had hunted these large beasts into extinction—in part to preserve their herds of domesticated animals--cattle, goats and sheep--from attack by the big cats and in part to provide meat for their families.  Poachers had virtually decimated the elephant herds in their lust for the exceptionally valuable tusks.    The parks, together with their animal herds, have made a slow but steady, comeback over the last several decades, both in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa, as the conservationist movement has gained momentum and as government support for the fledgling tourist industry has taken root. 
Carole and I thought we would get a chance to see some local parks before our mission’s end.  We were, however, surprised to have an opportunity to visit one of the local parks, Majete Wildlife Reserve, within the first two weeks of our arriving in Blantyre.  The sister missionaries (i.e., the three pairs in Blantyre) planned the outing and asked us, and the Reynolds, one of the other senior missionary couples, to provide the transportation.   There are some advantages in having access to one of the few trucks the Church owns in Blantyre.
Majete is found in the lower Shire Valley, a section of Africa’s Great Rift Valley.  Its vegetation ranges from moist woodlands to dry savannahs to the dense thickets along the riverbanks of the Shire River.   It is located in the Chikwawa District, one of the 28 districts in Malawi, roughly an hour and a half by car from Blantyre.  Majete does not have the huge herds of other parks, but it does feature a number of different species.  Resident animals include the kudu, reedbuck, duiker and bushbuck, and in the last decade, park management has reintroduced at least 12 new species, including elephants, black rhinos, buffalo, elands, sable, waterbucks, zebras, nyalas, hartebeests, and warthogs. 
We toured the park without using a local guide, nice to control the pace of our own visit, but at the expense of learning much about the local species.  Neither Carole nor I can distinguish a kudu from an eland, nor a reedbuck from a bushbuck.  Our knowledge of African game is pretty much limited to what we learned from reading children’s books in our youth.  Most of our grandchildren will be better informed about the different animal species than either of us.
In any event, the following are photos taken during our one-day tour of Majete, proof for our grandchildren, at least, that we are actually in Africa:







No big animals are left in Blantyre.  Years ago they were hunted to extinction.  Occasionally, we will see monkeys in the trees outside of our compound--skittish, elusive creatures, quickly disappearing into the bush and up into the upper tree limbs at the slightest disturbance. Earlier this week we understood better their hyperactive nerves, when we came across three young boys, spears and loops in hand, stalking quietly several monkeys still on the ground.