Malawian Hospitality

27 10 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates:8.16.08- 8.18.08

When we got off the minibus in the village of Ekwendeni, a boy walked over to greet me. I was used to the typical conversation, “Where are you from? Where are you going? How do you like Malawi?” But his first question was, “Are you in the Peace Corps?” This question made me pause and wonder where I was.

“No,” I replied, “I’m here to visit a friend.”

“Oh, you’re here to see Donovan?” my new friend asked. Actually that was exactly why we had stopped here. Either Donovan has a lot of visitors or he is the only white person living in the village. I assumed it was the second option.

About twenty minutes later Donovan, tan and smiling, rode up on his bicycle. He gave us huge hugs. As we started walking toward his house, we shared news about Priory, where we had both taught, and gave him a short summary of our travels. It should take about fifteen minutes to walk from the “trade” (the market) to Donovan’s house, but after almost two years of living in a small village, Donovan seems to know everyone. And everyone seemed to know we were in town. Donovan enthusiastically greeted each person with the Malawian formalities. He asked how they were, where they were coming from, where they were going, and inquired about the health of their family. Instead of the typical western answer of “I’m fine. How are you?” We learned the daily routines of each person and the specific ailments of each family member. Just when I thought my pack was getting heavy, a group of smiling kids walked over and started tugging at our bags. They were the children who lived near Donovan’s house. They wanted to welcome us and carry our bags. One kid wanted to carry my big pack, which was about the size of him. I gave him my day bag instead. Chris had his extrememly heavy camera in his day bag and I saw a five year old girl straniing to carry it, so I tried to discreetly lift it to lighten her load. Another boy was trying to figure out how to balance Chris’ guitar. Our procession arrived at Donovan’s mud hut where we met the mother and the grandmother of the family.

Donovan lives in a traditional African mud hut. Each hut is built with a frame of wooden sticks. Next, rocks are packed in the frame to give more stability. Then the whole structure is covered in clay. They are topped with rooves made either of straw or corrugated metal. Corrugated metal doesn’t leak during the rain season, but the sound of sitting under one of these rooves in the rain is deafening. As you travel through Southern Africa, you see these huts in various states of construction or disrepair. Each cluster of mud huts is called a compound and normally houses an extended family. Donovan has his own hut with a small room, a small sitting room with a straw mat on the floor, and a storage area where he keeps his clothes. We rolled out an extra foam mattress and a sleeping bag.

While we were getting our stuff settled, the children who had carried our bags went over to a bookshelf and started distributing books amoung themselves. Donovan keeps about 10 Dr. Suess books on the top shelf. Even though none of the children speak English, they love to flip through the books and look at the pictures. And, like all children, they really love to be read to. I immediately went into teacher mode and arranged a few of the kids in a semi circle on the porch and started reading The Cat in the Hat. Around the page where the Cat in the Hat leaves a pink ring in the tub while mother is out, I wondered if these kids have ever seen a bathtub. We had been showering with a bucket of water and a cup (which is actually preferable to most of the bathrooms I’ve been in lately). They sat captivated while I read.

I happened to glance over at Chris. I figured he was taking pictures. But I saw him sitting with one of the kids and reading to him. Now this might not seem like a big deal, but in Chris-world this is equivalent to a super nova. The only child I have ever seen Chris hold is Lucy (Don’t worry Lucy, I know you’re almost grown up now). I would have taken a picture, but I had two kids sitting in my lap and didn’t want to spoil the moment.

A few minutes later Chris did bring out his camera and the books were forgotten. Chris has fixed focal lenth lenes (or whatever you call them). This lens required him to stand farther away. The kids, giddy with excitement, kept scooting closer to him while he was backing up to try get them all in the shot. Finally, they stampeded him and used him as a human jungle gym.

The kids decided to show us traditional African dancing, so one of the boys grabbed a plastic bucket and began drumming away while the girls ran around the corner of the house to dance toward us. Chris and I sat on Donovan’s porch and watched the performance. When it started getting dark, the children went to their houses and we ate dinner with Donovan. We had nsima (see previous post for description of nsima), greens, and soya (something that provides protein, but I didn’t ask for specifics.)

The next day, we were invited to lunch at the house of one of the women in the village. Lida is a widow who was able to buy a house after her husband died. She lives with her four children, and maybe six grandchildren, maybe more. She had insisted that we eat nsima in her house, so I was expecting nsima and greens. She served us nsima and greens, but also an egg and eggplant casserole, carrots, beans, chicken, beef. I had not seen beef on a menu in a week and I have no idea what lengths she went to so we could eat that dish. Lida speaks English, so we sat and talked for a few hours. She explained to us how she gets up at 2am every day to start making dough for her scone business. She also cooks for her family. Lida is considered well off by Malawian standards. Her house has furniture. She owns a TV, but is still working on getting electricity to the house. As we were eating she offered us coke to drink. This is a routine request at home. But when you are sitting in a house built of sticks, and mud, it’s quite humbling. At the end of the meal, she had made an African cake for us to take with us. As we walked home, Chris and I were amazed at the hospitality we had recieved.

Donovan works in the education section of Peace Corps. So he teaches at the local high school, and at the local college (in his spare time). One of the main goals of most volunteer work is the idea of sustainability. In his other spare time, Donovan saw a need in the community for small business owners, like Lida. So he started a loan service where people apply for loans to start selling goods such as baked goods, soap, or brooms for example. Then he also started a community store where the people could sell their products in town (seriously I don’t know when he sleeps). The goal of the store is to break even, so they sell goods at cost to give people in town a chance to buy discounted products. I was amazed at how well it worked. The morning we left, Donovan took us to his community store to drink tea. We bought some scones and donuts for the road.

We said goodbye to Donovan and the hospitality of Malawi as we began our journey north to Tanzania.

Click Here to see our pictures of Ekwendeni, Malawi.



One response

16 11 2008

I love how you ‘reported all the news from Priory’ when yall haven’t been here in how long??? 🙂 And, I’m guessing, simply from omission, that yall didn’t run into Taylor….what are the odds that two Jackson, MS ladies would be in Malawie más o menos around the same time? Sounds like all is well – happy trails!

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