October 9, 2016
zina ukaona kamba anga mwala (a tortoise looks like a stone) ~ Malawian proverb
I love these proverbs. There are hundreds of them. I’m trying to learn a new one every week. I originally thought I would learn one a day; there are certainly enough of them to last the year, however I’m finding one a week is ambitious enough. Malawians fling these proverbs around all the time, weaving them seamlessly into casual conversation. I find it quite amusing. This one, of course, means things aren’t always as they seem or you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Since books were introduced here long after this was relevant, they used local materials for their proverbs. I found this one in the dictionary when I looked up kamba. Monday, I was walking back from the local market with two bags over my shoulders and a man fell into step beside me asking me where I had come from, commenting that the bags looked very heavy. They weren’t really, and I asked him if he wasn’t used to seeing mzungus carrying bags? He laughed. He asked which market I’d come from and I pointed, not knowing the market had a name. He said, “Ah, Kamba Market. It means tortoise.” I couldn’t understand his accent when he said “tortoise” and I had to ask him to repeat it several times. He finally said, “ Tortoise, the animal that pulls it’s head in and looks like a stone.” By the time I got home I had already forgotten the word kamba so looked up tortoise in the dictionary and found that proverb. In case I run in to him again I want to be able to recall the word and I thought it’d be very catchy if I tossed out the proverb as well. That’ll make him laugh. They get so impressed if you even say one word in Chichewa, it’s fun to use it. They crack up. On an outreach trip this week the driver said in English to the guy in the front seat “It’s getting very hot” and from the back seat I said, “Nditu, nditu.” Which means, “sure sure”; they say that all the time. The whole car started laughing as if I spouted off an entire speech in Chichewa. “Oh! We’ll have to be careful what we say! She can understand us!” Which, I might add, is a good motivator for getting better at the language. What are they saying about me anyway?
Tuesday morning Catharine was at the kitchen window calling my name before six o’clock. I was still in bed, peacefully sipping on my tea, chatting with George. I decided not to answer her right away because I didn’t feel like getting up yet. She often sees me in the kitchen at that hour, so she probably figured I was up, but it often feels like an invasion, which, by our standards, it is, but not by theirs. There is absolutely no privacy around here. None. Every once in awhile, I just want her to leave me alone in the morning. So I got up a half hour later and she was pacing outside the kitchen window looking in, waiting for me. She said, “Linda! Joseph ali ku nyumba!” Or something close to that. Telling me Joesph was at the house. My house? Her house? He didn’t go to school? What? I opened the door. Joseph was sitting there in his school uniform looking at the ground. I said, “Good morning, Joseph. Why are you not at school?” He pointed to his feet. He was wearing flip flops. “I need shoes” he said. Ignoring that comment for a minute, I asked, “You are attending school, right?” And he said, “Yes. But they told me I can’t come without shoes.” This irritated me. The day I went with him and we walked up one mountain and down another, he did that in flip flops, and so did I! On the long list of requirements, it said nothing about shoes, just the school uniform, which, I’d paid for. I figured he didn’t get this mandate that morning, because he didn’t go to the school, get turned away, and get all the way over to our house before six. And, I had just paid Catharine for cleaning on Friday and I gave her some extra, which, she was very happy about. She was on her way to bail her brother out of jail. That may not be completely accurate. There was something about brother and jail and not being back until Monday so I figured she was paying something for him. People get locked up all the time for not paying some fine or other when they have no means to pay. And I was in a generous mood. On Monday, however, she showed up with a new wig and cell phone and I wondered about her financial decisions. And now, on Tuesday Joseph is here asking for money for shoes? No. Didn’t sit well with me. I said to Joseph, “I paid your mother on Friday, and I gave her extra. She can give you some of that money to buy shoes if you need them. I paid your school fees and paid for your uniform. You can find a way to get some shoes. I will go to the school next week to talk to the headmaster about how you are doing.” Catharine was anxiously waiting for him to translate what I said. Neither seemed upset. They both said, “Ohh, ok.” and he left. Then I felt guilty all day but when I got home and saw the wig and cell phone again, I thought, screw that, she could get some shoes. We didn’t agree to adopt Joesph. Shoes cost nothing at the market.
This morning Catharine was at the window at six but didn’t call me. I was getting tea, already up and writing when I saw her. I said good morning to her and she asked me to open the door. I got the key and opened it and the sweetest little girl was standing with her. “My youngest”, she proudly told me. I gushed over her, she came to me for a hug, and then Catharine pushed her in the house. I said, “What are you doing?” She said, “She wants to see Linda.” Oh my God, does this woman have boundary issues?! I said, “Catharine, I am working, and George is sick, and I am going to church. She can’t stay here.” Again, her reply was, “Oh. ok.” and she and the child (I think her name is Katarina) went off to sit at the end of the driveway. On the way Catharine picked a few guava off the tree by the porch and gave them to her to eat. This is so awkward. I really don’t want to adopt more kids.
Yesterday we walked to the big market in downtown Blantyre a few miles away. We shopped and walked back and it was really hot and we were in the sun the whole way. George didn’t feel well when we got home and we figured it was the heat and dehydration. But later in the day he got a high fever and was really washed out. We were supposed to have dinner with visiting psychiatrists from Scotland, but he didn’t feel he’d be able to make it through dinner. When he backed out of that I knew he really didn’t feel well. He got in bed and I went out to the dinner. He’s better this morning but I’m glad this didn’t happen up on Mulanje. He never would have gotten down. I was about to rule out malaria when he started feeling better this morning. Not sure what it is, but it seems to be passing. He just drank a sprite and ate a scone with jam, so I think he’ll survive it. It’s the first mystery illness for the year. Colds and diarrhea don’t worry me but mystery fevers are unsettling.
This week I will be going to Lilongwe for a few days to proctor exams for the fourth year midwifery students who just finished their community midwifery rotation. We have two campuses, one here and one in Lilongwe and students from both campuses must take the exams together. They take exams very seriously around here. I’ll be there Tuesday until Friday and am not quite sure what I’m supposed to do but am told I can learn in five minutes. All I know is I’m supposed to be there in uniform. So I’ll show up appropriately attired and await instructions.
Next Monday is a national holiday, Mother’s Day, so we have a three day weekend. We are going to one of the game reserves about two hours from here and will stay at the bush camp. I’ll go directly from Lilongwe and meet George there Friday afternoon. It’ll be a nice little mini vacation before I start classes on Tuesday…or Wednesday…or Thursday. I’m still not exactly sure about that since the academic calendar STILL isn’t out yet. I have been assigned a course to teach but don’t know when it starts, or what days it’s on, or how much time I have for the lectures. Loving the flexibility lessons here. In the meantime, George has been exceedingly busy since his classes are just finishing up. This past week my major job was to take care of him so he could take care of his students. It made me feel a little bit useful. I also started planning our trip to South Africa in December. We do know we both have Christmas and New Year week off, so we’re going to fly to Johannesburg and rent a car and do a loop through Cape Town where his niece and sister live. I had never looked in depth at traveling in South Africa, but now that I’m reading about it, I’m getting very excited. Nothing like having an adventure within an adventure!
Ok, time to go check on the patient…
Love to all,
PS. We’ve heard snippets of news from home and I am continually amazed that it can keep getting worse. Where on earth is rock bottom? I’ve got to check out where we can go to watch election results and then a place to watch the inauguration. That’ll be a job for the week. We’ve voted and the ballots arrived in the states. That’s a relief. I can’t wait to see what voter turnout is like.