Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre
February 4, 2018
Ukaipa nkhope, dziwa nyimbo ~ If you get an ugly face, learn how to sing.
~ Chewa Proverb
We’ve had four classes now for this women’s group and I am impressed with them! They’ve made some cool jewelry and are learning some more complicated techniques for woven bracelets. These are good because they can get the materials locally, they are lightweight, and easy to sell because people––both men and women–– wear several of them at a time. They still need practice and refining, but I am happy to see their determination. Eneless spent time on Friday teaching entrepreneurial skills and they were attentively taking notes. She taught them how to open a bank account and how to figure out how to price things in order to make a profit. It made me see the other side to bargaining for a better price when I’m in a craft market. It was pretty basic, but a start, and I’ve shown some of their creations to my friends and colleagues to promote the craft fair we are going to have at the graduation. I’m pretty sure we can make enough money to buy them some supplies to do this on their own. We might need another eight weeks to refine their skills if we are to send the stuff to free trade markets outside this country, but we’ll see. I’m pleasantly shocked at how fast they are learning. Chimwemwe, the gardener, sat in on Friday’s class. He was making bracelets like mad and was helping the women who were struggling with the knots. He said he would love to sell these but doesn’t think he could make enough money to feed his family. I asked him why it was that mostly men made the crafts here? Most of the tailors are men, all the jewelry makers are men, and there are so few tourists that the market is very small to make a living out of it. The only way women without education can make a living, and a meager one at that, is to be a maid. And to do that she has to leave her children alone, with the older ones taking care of the younger ones. That means the girls can’t go to school. So if the women could learn to do these crafts, they can do it at home and they don’t have to leave the young children. That means the school aged girls can attend school. He listened. He said he had never thought of it that way. I told him I was happy for him to sit in on the class, but my goal here is to help the women learn a way to support themselves. “Yes, yes!” he agreed, but I had a little sense that there was some jealousy there. It’s a struggle for everyone, I know.
Sunday mornings I write before church then come home and finish what I started. St Pious is the church I go to, a half hour walk into a rather poor section of Blantyre. It’d be a blue collar neighborhood if they were identified by collar colors. It’s a simple church; the pews have no backs and the windows are plain louvers with rebar for security. The parishioners are segregated, women on one side, men on the other. The walk there is hazardous in some spots as the dirt path on the side of the road is washed away and the road is very narrow and minibuses take up all the space. But I like the church. I love the setting once you get inside the wall, a sprawling area with several school buildings and community hall in addition to the church. Soche Mountain looms up in the background. I like the music. There is something spiritually comforting there. The sermons are similar to ones I hear in other churches but the setting is what I like. My biggest complaint there is that the primitive paintings on the church walls all depict a white Jesus and apostles. Mary is pretty pale as well. I go to the English mass at eight o’clock and the sermons are understandable but take some effort. Their accent is difficult sometimes. But the people are welcoming and I feel comfortable there. There is no social time afterward, everyone leaves right after mass, though it takes some time getting out of the church, it’s usually that crowded. People talk as they are leaving. The youth groups sometimes sell things outside to raise money; last week it was pineapples. I got four of them for about $1.50.
I go almost every week when we’re home and I don’t think we’ve had the same priest two weeks in a row. I’m not sure if they are all stationed there or if they have a lot of visiting priests, but last week was memorable. First of all the priest was quite tall, much taller than average Malawians. He was strikingly handsome with wire rimmed glasses and chiseled features. His voice was beautiful, a deep bass that would have been easy to listen to if he were reading a telephone book. His English was perfect and the accent very easy to understand. I immediately assumed he was educated in some English speaking country. I can’t decide if his sermon was really exceptional, if it was just what I wanted to hear, or if it was just his voice or his looks, but it was riveting. The sermon was about how not to lose hope. I guess that’s poignant in these times but there was something about the way he delivered this message that was striking. He made hanging in there sound like it was a fun thing not a chore. Again, I could have just been looking for someone to say this to me in a certain way, but it went right to my marrow. I’d been getting discouraged with the lack of progress with the model ward, not sure what the outcome of this women’s class would be, and worrying so much about the type of country my grandchildren will inherit, I wanted someone to tell me it’s all going to be alright. In a way I could believe it. I was attentive to hearing about the suffering people have endured and where they found the strength to get through it without giving up. I listened to every word instead of thinking about what I needed to do during the week. It’s rare for me to be focused on a sermon like that. When he was finished, he stood silently at the lectern, in what I thought was a moment of reflection, and then started singing in the most beautiful clear low voice, “This little light of mine…” and when he finished that line he stopped and waited and the congregation sang back, “I’m gonna let it shine…” then they were silent. He waited, then repeated, “This little light of mine…” they sang back, “I’m gonna let it shine..” and we went through the whole song that way. I was covered in goosebumps, which was refreshing since it was a million degrees in there, and thought, “Aha! So this is how a cult works.” Really. I felt like I would have followed him anywhere. It was inspiring.
So maybe it was the positive attitude I gleaned from that, not sure, but the hospital director FINALLY met with us on Monday and was positive about our idea of the model ward. He said he didn’t see any problems with it but still needed to talk with a few others like the deputy director (who is a nurse and sympathetic to us), so we are hopeful this will get a lift off the ground now. I’m finishing writing a grant to get some seed money for it. It’s given me a little injection of energy and vision for the project again. So, thank you Fr. Handsome with the beautiful voice.
Today at the end of mass we sang Kumbaya, a song I hadn’t heard at mass since 1975. At first I chuckled, since the only time I have heard that word in the past several decades is for people to use it to mock “touchy feely” gatherings and I guess I’ve sort of bought into the negative connotation. I wondered what the word actually meant, so looked it up when I got home. Come by here. It’s a pretty song. I like it.
Love to all,