Then I began to panic! In the following two weeks, I made sure I got out for some brisk early morning walks to build up endurance. I didn't want them to wonder why they invited us as we lagged behind!
So yesterday, we were all to gather at the church at 8 AM. It actually began Malawian time 9:45 AM when enough people had arrived. We distributed some snacks and drinks among the hikers and headed off for Soche, about a 45 minute walk to the base.
We were quite strung out as we walked along. I couldn't quite tell, but it looked like we picked up some people along the way. One thing is for sure, people stop to greet one another and chat all the time!
I was happy to run into Sister Phiri who lives lowdown on Soche. She just had a baby boy, who is nestled in the chitenge strapped on her back, one month ago! Fortunately, I just just learned the protocol for greeting new mothers! You can't ask the name of the baby or any questions or hold the infant until you give a gift. The Relief Society was going to visit her the next day, bearing gifts and good will but I had other obligations. So this week I will make a point of visiting Sister Phiri with a gift because I want to hold that baby!
There was definitely a variety of clothing for the hike. Steve, a very new returned missionary, was decked out in the colors of Malawi (and Christmas).
Even more fascinating was the variety of footwear!
My favorite! Rosalia's feet just looked happy - or at least they made the rest of us happy! She had just moved here from Lilongwe and said she hadn't brought many shoes with her.
By the time we got to the base, we numbered about 23 people. Then we headed up.
One of the things we noticed when George and I first arrived in Blantyre was how many religious groups climb high on the hills and mountains to worship and sing. The sound carries for long distances. Soche is very popular for this and we passed about six groups off to the right or left. One man was dramatically preaching to about three woman. Others were mostly singing.
Blantyre got smaller and smaller as we headed up.
I have read so much about the deforestation of Malawi. Several people have said that not too long ago, Soche was covered by a fairly dense forest. But people need firewood and the trees all slowly disappeared. In spite of the government's efforts and the ban on using charcoal, people still travel farther and farther to cut down trees and gather wood for themselves or to sell. Everyday we see people either carrying loads of wood on their heads or on bicycles.
A small stream allowed people to refresh themselves and fill their water bottles. Steve said he might die but he was going to drink the water! I told him I was going to document it in case we had to take him to the doctor.
I was told that the group would be providing water. I was envisioning small individual plastic bottles of water, but this is the "water boy", bringing up our water.
At the top! Memory, on the top, is awaiting her mission call. She knows she will receive it on Friday after a two month wait.
Nancy, a new convert sits below her.
It doesn't take long before the cell phones come out. After all, these are young, single adults! - and they like selfies!
After we had arrived at the top, Elders Sagers and Allred appeared. They had a few couple of hours and so ran up to join us!
Jonathan was really happy! He had planned a very fun activity and eventually,everyone had made it to the top.
We ate snacks and drank Fanta. We sang "High on the Mountaintop" and George shared some thoughts on the theme he had been given, "Come, Follow Me".
Louis had a brain teaser game about books of the Bible that kept us all guessing - and frustrated!
I was just happy that I made it - and was trying to stay out of the sun at the top. However, I couldn't be too proud of myself because Brother Magombo had decided to come along too and was one of the first up. He effortlessly climbed the mountain, never having to hold on to trees or rocks for balance like I did.
He found a quiet spot at the top to just read his scriptures.
Brother Magombo is 77 years old!