Friday, December 25, 2015

Malawi Christmas 2015--George's Post

Over the last several months, Carole has been  in a quandary about what we should do to wish Merry Christmas to our new friends in both the Zingwangwa and Blantyre 2nd Branches.    Knowing this would be our last Christmas in Malawi, she wanted to do something special, as a symbol of our friendship, but knew it was important to keep it from being over-the-top.   If it were too extravagant, it could be awkward for the members, and might set a bad precedent for subsequent senior couples.   Finally, she settled on getting a year’s subscription to the Liahona, the Church’s magazine, for all of the families in the two branches.   Even though the subscription cost is heavily subsidized by the Church—since the Church charges only roughly a dollar per year—many families have yet to subscribe for the Church magazines, primarily for cost reasons.    Receiving such a subscription may sound deadly dull for Westerners; yet you would be surprised how much interest the Malawians have in reading the Liahona.   This past week when visiting families, we have come across both Tennyson Mpamba and Albert Kunje studying their Liahonas in the middle of the day, and frequently we find Davey, our security guard, looking at his copy while at his guard station.     Carole did not claim any originality for the idea, since the Merrills did the same thing for the Ndirande Branch before leaving Malawi to go home.  
In addition, Carole wanted to come up a small gift from us that was more personal and represented a bit of her.    Ever the cook, she decided to make small loaves of banana bread for the families in the two branches.   So for the last two weeks before Christmas, Carole has toiled tirelessly in our narrow kitchen, in the middle of the day, and late at night, and working around the daily power outages, producing loaves for the families,  the plan being to distribute the modest gifts to Zingwangwa before and shortly after Christmas and to Blantyre 2nd shortly after the New Year, in total over 80 loaves of banana bread.
Starting on Monday, December 21st, we began distributing the bread in Zingwangwa and, as of this morning, Thursday, December 24th, had managed to hand deliver 35 loaves, visiting with members in Chilobwe, Chimwankhunda, Zingwangwa, Soche, Quarry, and Chiwembe.  
What follows are some of the pictures we took as we distributed the loaves over the four-day span before Christmas.
Driving in Malawi can be treacherous.   One needs to be careful not to slide in a ditch.   More to this story later.

Janet, Enita and More Family.  Enita and Carole are visiting teaching companions.   Enita lost her 12-year old daughter Angellah about two months ago, one of the toughest challenges we have had to face during our mission.

Brother Kunje was one of the first members we met in Zingwangwa.   He works as a guard/gardener at the Zingwangwa Chapel.   Enita and Carole visit teach his wife, who is a newly-baptized member of the Church.

Natasya Tembo with Carole.   Chrissie Caetano, Nastasya and Sandra's mother, has gone to the village and will not be back until after Christmas.   We have found that it is not uncommon for family to be away during the holidays.  The other day Natasya told Carole that she is thinking about going on a mission.

A week ago, driving back down the hill from where we park when visiting the Chikapas, I managed to turn the corner too sharply and ended up in this ditch.   With the help of 12 kids, and a contribution of 3,000 MKW (or $6 USD), the kids lifted the truck back on the road.  Fortunately, the only lasting damage was to my pride; I am hesitant to pass this along, knowing how it will shame me in front of my children and their spouses, all of whom are good drivers.

When walking in the townships, Carole and I always attract a crowd of kids, with their customary chants of "azungu" and "how are you's."   With their enthusiasm, they always bring out the best in us.    We never get tired of greeting them.

On the way to the Tsegulas, we encountered these three enterprising young men, collecting sand/dirt, for sale.  At this time of year, one finds piles of sifted dirt virtually everywhere; it is one of the local cottage industries.

Here is an aspiring artist, who consented to having his photo taken.

His creation close up.  

Brother James Tsegula and I are fast friends, often joking we must have known one another in the pre-existence.   He is always working when we drop by, now turning the fields to plant the year's maize crop.  What is surprising about this photo is that he is not working with the traditional Malawian hoe, called a "khasu."

The Tsegulas live in a family compound, consisting of roughly 7 living dwellings, for  the grandparents, children, spouses, grandchildren and even one or two great grandchildren.   We have never had a word of complaint from the Tsegulas; yet we know life is not always easy for them and their children.   A week ago, Gladwell, one of the Tsegula boys (a returned missionary from the South Africa Durban Mission) and his wife Mary lost the roof to their home with  a sudden gust of wind.   They have started re-roofing the home and in the interim have squeezed in with one of the other families.

This is Sister Mapunde, a new member of the Zingwangwa Branch.   She and her husband joined the Church several months ago, after being introduced to the Church by the Tsegulas.   This marks our first visit to their home.   Brother Mapunde is off in the village, but is expected back before Christmas.   They have several cute kids.

The Tsegulas were kind in leading us to find the Mapunde's home.   For the most part, we know where everyone in the Zingwangwa Branch lives ("stays" in Malawian speak), but occasionally we need directions.   There are no street addresses in the townships, so having a guide is essential to finding folks.

Sister Tsegula wearing a beautiful "chitenge," the local wrap.   Carole is anxious to get enough "chitenges" for all of the girls in the family before we return back home.  Worn over dresses, skirts, or pants, chitenges are amazing versatile; you can sit on the ground without soiling the undergarments, can keep warm when it gets chilly, and can convert it into a head wrap when it rains. 

Young and old girls alike love fancy party dresses, the shinier the better, which are worn as everyday wear in Blantyre.   Though not apparent from this picture, the  two were standing under a mango tree, waiting for their compatriot, who was high up in the branches, to shake down the fruit.

After visiting the Tsegulas and Mapundes, Carole and I climbed up to the James' home, and on the way crossed this small creek, though not at the spot shown in this photo.   Where we ford the stream, one drops into a rather steep and rocky ravine, crossing by stepping from rock to rock, then scrambling up the other side.   It wouldn't be so bad, but not all of the rocks are flat, especially the large pyramid shaped boulder in mid-stream.   Invariably Carole gets quite anxious with the crossing, and unfortunately, it is hard for me to help.  Our first crossing, on the way to the James, was successful, but on the way back, Carole slipped and twisted her ankle.   A trooper, she didn't complain much and we were constantly on the go for the next three hours.   Only when we were back home in the evening did it become apparent how bad her sprain was.  

This is one of Sister James' sisters or sisters-in-law, we never got the story quite straight.   She kindly let me snap this photo of her new hairstyle.   This photo would be better without the little fellow peeking from the background.

Sister James in her new home, just some fifty paces from where they "stayed" last year.

Quite the handsome little tike.

Another little one, visiting Sister James, when we dropped by.  It is not uncommon to find a crowd in almost any household--friends, neighbors, and family.
Sister Banda and other friends, members of her community bank, had just finished their holiday party, all in an exceptionally festive mood.
Carole and Brother Sangala.   It has been months since Brother Sangala has been to Church, though he was one of the most faithful in the Zingwangwa Branch when we first arrived.   He is now working as a security guard, and doesn't get Sunday off.  Apparently, he has also spent the last 3 or 4 months staying back in the village.   He has an incredibly sweet disposition, and it is a terrible shame he can't make it to Church.
This little fellow followed us down the hill after we visited with Brother Sangala and Brother Besser Petro. 
Our Soche Mountain fan club.   They assembled quickly and giggled uncontrollably when viewing their photos on the small camera screen.
This photo does not do justice to the steepness of the path up to the Banda's home.  For you, this may look like a walk in the park.   But the path is rocky, steep, and after the rain, very slick.  The photo is looking downhill, the Banda's home behind us.   Two days ago, Carole and I slipped our way down the path, after a nasty wet storm.
Chisomo and Amos Monjeza, two of our favorite people.  Chisomo returned from her mission to Kenya about 10 months ago, and Amos from his mission in Zimbabwe several years ago.   They went to Jo-burg to be sealed in the temple a month ago, but, when travelling on the bus, got held up at the border between Botswana and South Africa, and only managed to get into South Africa when the Church helped them get back to Harare and then on to flight from Harare to Jo-burg.   It made for a memorable temple trip.   
Banana bread loaves fresh from the oven.
More banana bread.
Arriving at the Mpamba household, we were met by Brother Tennyson's 80 plus year old mother.   Carole gave her the loaf, trying to explain in simple English that it was a Christmas gift for the entire family.  Clutching the loaf close to her bosom, Tennyson's mother disappeared, never to be seen again.   We hope Tennyson got at least a nibble.   I can imagine my mother doing precisely the same thing in her later years.
Carole and I wanted to visit with the Nthendas.   Brother Nthenda walks about 2 hours each way on Sunday to get to and from Church in Zingwangwa.   He is very faithful, but the walk is a challenge for his wife, so we don't see her as much.   The Nthendas used to live closer to Church, but theirs was one of the homes destroyed last winter in the terrible rains.   They now live in a family compound next to Sister Nthenda's mother, in a township close to Limbe.   Brother Nthenda is out of town and won't get back until Christmas or the day after.   Sister Nthenda was not at home, so we left the banana bread with a younger sister.
As we were walking back to the truck (parked about 20 minutes away), we fortunately bumped into Sister Nthenda.   Carole worked closely with Sister Nthenda a year ago, helping her to understand what it meant to be a new primary teacher.   Much to our surprise, away from their homes, we found seven members, largely by chance, as we were trying to distribute our modest Christmas gifts, any of whom we easily could have missed: Sister Phiri, Sister Nthenda, Brother James, Jonathan Nkhoma, Funny Monjeza, Sister Makawa, and Thoko Mzunga.
This is one of the two bridges we crossed to get to the Nthenda home.   You can see why we don't try to drive to the Nthenda's home.
Carole wears plastic flats she purchased in Malawi when the weather is rainy.   They hold up better in the wet and muddy conditions.
The second of the two bridges to the Nthendas.   A couple of young men, after watching us snap pictures of the bridge, wondered if we planned on repairing the bridge for the community.
Crossing the bridge is dangerous enough when the weather is good.   You can imagine the challenges on a wet and stormy day.
The community paths take a terrible beating in the seasonal rains, as the gushing water carves huge ruts in the roads.
Again, on the way back to the truck from the Nthendas, we came across this beautifully colored local mosque.  I think this is the first time we have seen it.   It doesn't rival St. Pauls, Notre Dame or Westminister Abbey, but it certainly has its own charm.
In Chilobwe, up the hill  on our way to visit the Magombos, who live about as high up the slope as you can get, we tackled this steep road.   It was bad enough to slip off the road in Chimwankhunda; it would be worse here.
We came across this gaggle of kids on the way to the Magombos.
Not yet to the Magombos, but getting closer.   Though I didn't know it at the time, Carole's ankle is getting worse.   It was sore and inflamed by the time we got home several hours later.
It is unusual to find such a nicely stone sculpted draining ditch in Blantyre, sturdy enough to stand up to the rain when it comes down in buckets.   Close to the Magombos, but not there yet.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of Sister Magombo, but we did finally find her place.   We found this small group playing hop scotch or some variant of the game, shortly after leaving the Magombos.  We stayed high up on the mountain, weaving our way back to the east through homes, now headed to the Makawas, who live directly above Chilobwe market..
We came across this church mid-way between the Magombos and Makawas.   It is likely that most of its parishioners come from the immediate neighborhood, but Malawians often are prepared to walk long distances for Sunday services.   Most of our members walk at least 30 minutes each way to church.
The Makawa's home was locked tight, so the long walk to their place seemed like a waste, but just as we were leaving Sister Makawa emerged over the top of the ridge.   She had been at the Chikapa's home recharging her phone.
I looked bemused by this assembly of kids, who quickly gathered as we left the Makawas, on the way down the hill to George Watiki's home and back to the truck at the Chilobwe center.   The home highest up the slope may be the Makawa's place; in any event, it's close to where they live.   It is steep climb up to their home, explaining why Carole is quite flushed in the earlier photo with Sister Makawa.
We have taken literally dozens of similar photos of maize fields, tucked in wherever they can find a little extra space, especially this close to town where space is at a premium.   The annual maize crop is critical to the survival of many Malawians.  
The long haul down the hill back to the truck, parked close to where Lucy Tembo's family lives in Chilobwe.  Within minutes of this photo, Jonathan Nkhoma and Funny Monjeza, both returned missionaries, magically appear around the corner.   We had planned to visit the Monjeza's home in Zingwangwa as one of the last two stops of the day, but had given up on Jonathan's, because we have not sure if we can find his home again.   We had only visited with him, and his younger brother Brighton, and sister and uncle (you get the idea) once and it is in a pretty remote location, not close to other members.
I call this a trumpet tree for obvious reasons, but don't know its real name.  It is found at the entrance to the Mwale's home.
The day before we had left the Mwales their banana bread.   But having missed Thoko (who lives just down the long block) we left her loaf with the Mwales, asking that one of their grandkids make the delivery later in the evening, when Thoko is off work.   By chance I see Thoko the next afternoon (Christmas Eve) when making the last shopping trip to a packed Chipiku.
On Christmas Eve, Sister Chikapa comes by our home, needing the key to the Blantyre building.   When she finishes up at church, she swings by again, wearing this wonderful handmade cap (fashioned out of a grocery bag).   It rains on and off on Christmas Eve afternoon, and my last drive of the day, before the missionaries assemble for a Christmas Eve program, is to give Sister Chikapa a ride back to Chimwandkunda.

[This photo and the next one are out of place.   Both were taken between the Tsegulas and Malungas.]   Brother James was not home when we dropped by, but he caught up with us just as we were getting back to where we had parked the truck.  He was on his way to a small public meeting, to be held at the Malungas, discussing the poor and unkempt condition of the local graveyard.  We gave him a ride because the Malungas, Phiris, and Bandas were the next scheduled stops.  I was not feeling as bad as I look, but squinting too much into the western sky.

Annie, Sister Tella and Amulek.   Neither Carole nor I can coax a smile out of Amulek; usually he starts bawling when he sees us, likely terrified by our pale skin.   You can see how cautiously he eyes me in this photo.