Monday, October 26, 2015

Thousands upon Thousands of Acts of Kindness--George's Post

A.   Thousands Upon Thousands of Acts of Kindness

1.    General Comments

Thus far, the primary focus has been upon our efforts to do “good” in Malawi—what we have tried to do, how the Malawians have responded, and whether we are making any progress.    The focus has been upon us, and not upon the Malawians, as the ones giving aid, and as a consequence, our remarks may have created the misleading impression that Malawi should be viewed as this enormous sponge, constantly soaking up from others outside of Malawi[1] whatever aid, charity, assistance, and help it can get to address Malawi’s difficult social problems.   No doubt Malawi does look for external aid, recognizing it cannot solve its problems alone.   But this misses the fundamental truth that far and away the greatest source of the daily help and aid comes from the Malawians themselves.  In our experience Malawians, both great and small, have enormous hearts and are constantly helping one another, often in ways almost incomprehensible to us.  They give service and, if they have it, share of their material goods to help others.    They do this through thousands upon thousands of acts of kindness, shown every day, benefitting not only close family members but also others, sometimes people they barely know.   These acts of generosity, kindness, and patience are a constant inspiration to us, and rekindle our desire to do good and to follow their examples.   The paradigm at stake is not that of the well-intended Westerner coming to Malawi to help poor, misguided, woebegone Malawians, who are incapable of helping themselves.   Indeed, the opposite is the case—Malawians show great examples of generosity, and we hope the lessons learned from them we can take back with us when returning home.   Before talking about some of the specific ways in which Malawians are especially generous, let me point out a few random acts of kindness witnessed just this past week or so, and you can judge for yourself the quality of their spirit.    
Yesterday Davey, our security guard/gardener approached us about getting an advance against the modest amount we pay him for helping out--washing the truck, occasionally polishing shoes, disposing of trash, watering Carole’s herbs, and tending to the ornamental plants on the enclosed patio off the kitchen.[2]   Davey is unbelievably good natured and couldn’t be a better handyman.   He is well-known for his huge grin—he has as big a smile as I have ever seen—it is as though his face is transformed into all teeth;  one has to be very “grumpy” indeed not to be gladden by Davey’s greetings.  Davey has been taking care of senior missionaries for over eight years, the longevity itself evidence of the esteem with which he is held.   Davey’s mother lives in a small village in the Thyolo District, roughly an hour and a half mini-bus drive out of Blantyre.   She, like others in the village, is close to running out of food, and somehow has to make ends meet until late March and early April of 2016 (about five months from now), when the next maize harvest will occur.   The oldest son in the family, Davey wanted to buy some bags of maize for his mother, to tide her over until the upcoming harvest, and to purchase for her some dried fish, which she could then peddle to her neighbors to earn a little spare money.   On top of this, two weeks ago, Davey took in his 12 year old nephew, so that he could attend the Catholic secondary school located at the CI (“Catholic Institute”) corner.   Davey lives in tight “boy quarters,” behind one of the flats where the Sunnyside elders live, so there is not much space for squeezing in another border.
Enita, a single mother with two children, joined the Church about nine months ago.   Angellah, her 12-year ago daughter, is a tuberculosis victim, who was treated, and ostensibly cured, a year ago, but who has been in and out of the hospital several times over the last four months—first with shortness of breath but later with diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and now an extreme case of malnutrition.   Angellah’s hospital stays have ranged from several days to several weeks, long enough to get several nasty bed sores, serious enough to require separate surgical treatment.   Each time Enita remains in the hospital with Angellah, acting as her designated guardian (meaning “caregiver”) providing food when Angellah is not on a special prescribed diet, wishing her clothes, taking her to the bathroom, and generally doubling as a nurse.   She sleeps over in the ward, either on the concrete floor next to Angellah’s bed or sometimes next to Angellah in the narrow hospital bed.   Rarely does she get much of a break, though Angellah’s paternal grandmother is also often at the hospital.  Of course, Enita is Angellah’s mother and mothers have an enormous capacity for nurturing and protecting their children.   Patients rarely get the medication they need.   Ibuprofen and Tylenol are the most commonly prescribed medicines, just something to helped patients cope with pain and inflammation.   Many nursing functions are relegated to the patients’ untrained guardians, so the needed care is erratic at best.     
Two weeks ago, Brother Tchongwe was called to be the new branch president in the Blantyre 2nd Branch.   He is a wonderful Church member—committed, hardworking, studious, well-intended.  He is a student of the scriptures, blessed with keen insights into bible passages.  But complicating his calling is the fact that he recently started working for a Japanese-owned company, selling some kind of equipment, which has stationed him in Zomba, the former capital, almost an hour and a half out of Blantyre by mini-bus.   To do the job, Brother Tchongwe needs to leave Blantyre late Sunday afternoon, returning home either Thursday or Friday night.   Hard to get the branch up and running with that schedule, especially given that he has yet to get two counselors.   Yet immediately after being called, Brother Tchongwe was thrown into the proverbial fire.  The second Sunday, after the three hour block, and a couple of additional hours in the office, he accompanied Davey to his wife’s home village, Chunga, off the Blantyre-Chikwawa Road, about an hour by car out of Blantyre.  For almost two hours, he mediated between husband and wife, looking for common ground.   At the end, both Davey and Chrissy appeared very relieved, with Davey saying the next day that he was extremely happy and Brother Tchongwe was a “very good man.”   Too late to catch a late Sunday evening mini-bus to Zomba, Brother Tchongwe stayed over until Monday.   But, even before he could get out of town the next day, he was swept up, this time working with President Matale, a counselor in the District Presidency, to help coordinate with some families from the District, participating  in Nu Skin’s special 9-month agricultural training program, called the “SAFI” or the School of Agriculture for Family Independence, administered in a small village an hour north of Lilongwe.   On Wednesday, Brother Tchongwe caught an early bus from Blantyre for the 5-hour trip to Lilongwe, where he was scheduled to meet up with one of the program's participants.   He did not return to Blantyre, until close to midnight on Wednesday night, after over 17 hours in transit.   Too late to call someone for a ride, and too late to be comfortable walking home alone in the dark, he slept (or tried to sleep) on the bus until 6:00 when he finally hiked home.     So the week ended up being shot, Brother Tchongwe never getting to Zomba for his day job.  
Lucy Tembo was confirmed a member of the Church the first Sunday we attended the Blantyre 2nd Branch, which was sometime in middle March 2015.   She and her good friend, Ruth Juma, were baptized the week before and confirmed on the same Sunday.   Lucy lives in a nice small home in Kampala, just off the main market street running through the township’s center.   Her husband, whom we have only met once, is a plumber, and has his own business, by all appearances he stays very busy and provides a good living for the family.   On our first visit with Lucy we discovered that her parents lived in Chilobwe, not far from the center of that township.   Lucy is one of 11 children and has a twin sister, many of the siblings also living in Chilobwe close to the family home.   A week or so after visiting with Lucy we picked her up so that we could meet the family—Chilobwe is one of the main townships in the Zingwangwa Branch, so we already knew it well.   It is home to the Makawas, the Ambalis, Louis Likusa, Brother Chimaliro, the Nkhomas, the Magombos, and the Chikapas (before they moved into them new home in Chimwankhunda).   We had a nice visit with the family, meeting lots of siblings, spouses, and grandchildren, taking pictures.
Several of the last Sundays Lucy was not at Church.     We were concerned about her, knowing how faithful she had been in coming every week, since becoming a member.   Each Sunday she would arrive about the same time, a few minutes after the service had begun, quietly sliding into one of the pews at the back of the chapel.   The reason for her absence, we found, was because she was serving as the guardian[3] for her older brother, Jacob, the father of three children, who had been hospitalized for a tumor at Queen’s Hospital in Blantyre.   Three weeks ago after visiting with Enita and Angellah in Queens, we found the ward where Jacob was being treated and went by in the hopes of seeing Lucy, Jacob and some of the family.   Lucy was not present, but we did visit briefly with Jacob, his father, and a few family members.   Jacob, sitting upright on his bed, was in obvious discomfort, his father next to him rubbing his back.   A week or so later, Carole and I, together with Sister Kandiano and her daughter, Alfonsina, attend Jacob’s funeral in the family home in Chilobwe to show our support for Lucy and the family.  
Most of the week after the funeral Lucy stays in Chilobwe, as the family tries to sort out Jacob’s affairs, including the custody of his three children.   Different tribes have different customs, but it appears quite common for children to be parceled out to other family members, frequently grandparents, aunts, and uncles, to raise after the death of a parent, even if the other parent is alive.[4]   So we were not shocked to find, when visiting with Lucy two weeks after the funeral, that she had taken in Kevin, Jacob’s 11 year old son.  Kevin will be attending Standard 3 at the CI Catholic School, only a 15 to 20 minute walk from Lucy’s home.   Lucy and his husband do not have children of their own in the home.

[1] Such outsiders include churches, foreign governments, NGOs of every stripe and kind, expats, and foreign missionaries, such as ourselves.
[3] Queens is not staffed with full-time nurses to handle the daily care of its patients.   Instead, patients are required to have “guardians,” who minister to their care while hospitalized.   The guardians provide meals (purchased at family expense), wash clothes, helping them with bathing and getting to the toilet.   Since the guardian-role is full-time, guardians sleep at the hospital.   Usually, this means they sleep on the concrete floor next to the patient’s bed.