Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Village of Gawaza High in the Hills - Carole's Post

We always quiz our Malawian friends about their villages. Everyone has a village, no matter how many years they have lived in Blantyre.  In that village, they usually have family and land and for the most part, they visit occasionally.  We are not quite sure what determines their village - mother or father? - but they try and get back every so often, sometimes to help with the planting or harvest, to get bags of maize, to attend funerals or burials, or just to reconnect with family. We have noticed that when able, parents in the city will send their children (by bus) to the village during vacation times, to spend time with extended family or experience village life.

President Matale's village of Gawaza is about three hours away by car.  He has been concerned about his 76-year-old mother for some time and was hoping to bring her back to Blantyre for a long visit.  That gave us a reason to go visit and to also take the Clara, his wife, and daughter Flora.
First, we drove north on the paved highway for about an hour.  Then we turned off and began a two hour drive on the dirt road, slowly climbing up into the hills.  Unlike so many of our other dirt road adventures, this was not a dangerous road, but it was not a smooth road either.  Up and down, thrown side to side, I hung on for most of the wild ride.

Our first stop was about an hour and a half on the dirt road, at a maize mill and house right on the road.  I am always fascinated by these important centers of the community. Because there is no electricity in the villages, the maize mills have generators.  Before maize mills, women mortar pounded the maize in the villages, sometimes in tandem keeping up a rhythm till the maize was ground.

The women were kind to let me take their photos and I watched them, with their children,walk home with full bags of maize meal.

What I didn't realize is that we were making the first stop to visit family.  
 This was the home of President Matale's brother-in-law.

We stopped along the way and took photos because we don't often get such grand views.

Both George and I were reminded of the terrain of Tuscany and Umbria.  We explained to President Matale about Italian hilltowns, how they were always built on a high spot with a surrounding wall for defense.  Malawians have never had to defend!  They are such a peace loving people and very proud that they have not had wars with their neighbors.

 Most of the villages we passed through or by had boreholes, but as we got higher up, there were no boreholes or wells.  And what I thought were separate villages on separate hills were actually groupings of homes (probably family compounds) and were all part of the same village, Gawaza.

President Matale explained that the soil up high was much better than down low. His family had moved to this area only about two generations earlier.  Those who didn't want to move so high, stayed lower and settled in another village.

As we drove up the hill, the various children were so excited.  Apparently, a truck comes up about once a week to bring back potatoes, to bring to market.   But a car like ours is a rarity.

When we first arrived, four generations of women of the Matale family were waiting patiently under an avocado tree, 

just enjoying each other's company.  (The photo does not show the matriarch, so it is just three generations.)

Children and babies - the newest members of the Matale clan.

The firstborn, President Matale's oldest sister.

Another sister.

There were numerous nieces and nephews so George and I were at a loss to keep everyone straight, especially since brother, sister, mother, aunt, uncle, niece and nephew are terms that are used in a much broader sense than we are used to.
 And here is the most important person of all.  
With her lastborn, President Matale.

This is her home

and here are other views of the family compound.

The sisters and their families have homes nearby.

This home caught our eye immediately.  One niece is especially artistic!

Not quite sure what this is for, though we saw a goat in one of these.

 The bath.  I stepped into it to see a small area with large smooth stones on the ground, so that the bather will not be standing in mud as they wash themselves.

I wondered if there was some particular reason why many of the buildings and houses were round.  It seemed like they would be more difficult to build. "No reason - just tradition" - Pres. Matale
A dishrack for drying dishes.

We would call this a silo.  It is a round edifice made of wood and sealed with mud.  There are no doors.  The maize is stored by removing a portion of the top and dumping it all in till it is full.  When you need some, you just pull up a ladder, climb up and remove a portion of the thatched roof, and help yourself. By being on stilts, it stays dry.  If the maize is treated with chemicals on the top, it will not be subject to pests, even after the top layer is removed.

An animal pen when it's time to

take in the goats.
President Matale shows us where he is going to build his house, probably in the spring.  Then he and his family will have a place to stay when they come back for visits, and other family members can use it when he isnot there.
In preparation, he has already burned the bricks.  

One of the first things that happens when we visit a village is that the villagers prepare a meal for the guests.  We went to visit in the kitchen because we knew they were making preparations.
The kitchen is a separate newly constructed building behind the house of the mayi (mother).  The small fire/stove sits in the middle of the room.

Looking up to the ceiling.

Nsima is the same as Italian polenta except the Malawian maize is white and the northern Italians use a yellow corn meal.  But Malawians and Italians both have to stir and stir and stir while it cooks to not let it clump or burn and to get it to just the right texture.

And now, the results!
We ate in the living room of the mayi's house.  No one else joined us.  The first thing is to wash our hands and President Matale brought around the basin and poured water over our hands.
 The dishes were kept not by covering them with other dishes.

 We were each given our own bowl.  Sometimes people eat communily without having their own bowl.
 First, the nsima.  It wasn't easy to pick it up when it was hot, so President Matale helped.

In this case, the nsima (in the forefront) was accompanied by a chicken stew.
 The tricky part is pulling off a part of the nsima with my right hand and rolling it into a little ball, all with one hand.  AND it is still hot!  I asked how do they manage when it is so hot and President Matale simply said their hands were  accustomed since they do it every day once or twice.
 Then you make a small thumb indentation so you can scoop up the relish or stew, all with one hand.  You can see that we Westerners are still learning!
Delicious!  (still, I have to remove the bones...)
Then, the basin and water is brought around again to wash your hand.

After dinner, we decided to let the Matales have some time to visit with their family and not have to worry about us.  So off we went for a walk.
 The first thing we did was to head for a small church not too far away from the compound.
 It is a Pentacostal church and is attended by the family.
George is standing by the altar, all made of cement.

All of the pews are made of bricks covered in cement.  
I wonder how long the meetings are!

Emerging from the church, we looked in different directions and could see several collections of houses.

And then there were the fields, either newly planted or ready for the seeds.

 I love this photo since it shows how they cut the trees down periodically in the field.

You can see that almost everything is brown this time of year - the houses are the same color as the soil with patches of green here and there.  
Every so often there is a little pop of color.

When we got back, we could see that the men had been hard at work and were now cleaning up.

They had built a drain around the new kitchen and had surrounded the building with rocks and broken bricks. President Matale is always improving things.

So now it was time for photos - more official photos that is!  First, there were family groupings.
 A mother and her two daughters 

A niece and her son.

Some of the couples started out a little serious or shy, but you can see that they relaxed as we coaxed some smiles out of them.

The men of the family - President Matale with the husbands of three nieces.
I love this photo.  The president had removed his tie and Clara made sure it wasn't going back on!
Flora did not want to be left out!

The first group photo
but we were missing the most important person.

First, a shot with her three children and Clara.
The entire family.

It was getting close to the end of our visit, but we had not yet seen the water source and we were very interested since there was no borehole in the village, so we all took a walk,

going down quite a steep path, single file. At one point, I felt a hand reach out and catch me as I lost my footing, and someone held my hand the rest of the way down.

The water source for the village.

 It was so steep as the bottom that some of us chose to wait at the top of the ridge.
 Heading back up, but she turned around for a photo.
Flora was very insistent that she give it a try.  You are never too young to learn.

With some of the water poured out and a little help from Dad, Flora led the procession up the hill.

 Reaching the top, we knew it was getting close to the time to say good-bye.
By this time, there was quite a group of village children who had gathered to see what was going on.

And as mayi went to gather her things, since she would be coming back with us, I sat on the porch and tried to soak it all in.
Sometimes, I am just amazed that I am really here - in this little village of Gawaza in Malawi!

President Matale told me it was a wonderful day of many memories.

Mayi begins the walk to the car, 

and the family gathers round to say good-bye.
With mayi tucked safely in the back seat between president and Clara, we begin our slow descent down the hill.  We know it will probably be 1 1/2- 2 hours to the main road and it will be windy and bumpy.
However, we don't go very far before we come to another cluster of houses and we have these charmers as a greeting party. These are the uncle's houses, brother to mayi.  We stopped so there could be short visits to these special people.

More nieces.

And the uncle's wife walked down to the car so she could visit with her sister-in-law who was waiting in the back seat.  Two very sweet women.

It's hot so we leave the doors to the car open
and the children are fascinated, looking at everything.
 The visit is over and we head home, waving good-bye to these little friends.  We hoped to make it home before dark and we do, even stopping at the market for mangos, onions and assorted other produce.  President Matale will head back  to Gawaza next week, this time taking a minibus to the dirt road and then hiring a motorbike to take him the rest of the way to the village where he will stay for a few days.  There is much to do and oversee in getting the maize planted because the rains have started.

When I see how much family all live in the village and how each person/new family is given land when they need it, I thought that surely that means that everyone's acreage gets continually reduced.  But with a sweep of his hand, President Matale told us that there is so much land owned by his family that the next couple of generations will never have to worry about that! There is plenty for everyone!