Sunday Morning ~ Almost Home
June 30, 2019
Wafulumiza kumeza kutafuna kukadakoma. ~ You were too fast in swallowing while the chewing was still good.
~ Chewa Proverb
I’m one short flight away from Boston, then a five hour drive home. Not sure if I’ll be up for that. It’s going on 35 hours since I left Malawi yesterday and though I got some sleep on the plane, I feel myself starting to fade. I may just curl up with the grands tonight and head to Maine in the morning.
I knew the month would fly even though I spent a good part of it waiting. Waiting is so much a part of African life. Don’t go there if you are not willing to wait. I did get four books read during that time though and reduced the bedside table pile considerably. I finished knitting a sock, wrote diligently in my journal, shopped a bit for stuff I love like macadamia nuts and Malawian tea. I also bought some cool stuff some women’s groups made at the farmers market in Lilongwe yesterday. My carry on bag, which contains a pottery sink for Jordan, is over the weight limit by about a ton, but fortunately no one weighed it. I tried to look nonchalant when I hoisted it into the over head bin then waited to see if the bin sagged at all. It didn’t, so it’s all good.
My women’s group! I am so excited to report they are alive and well and thriving! I told them when I saw them in February that if they improved the quality I would buy three hundred pieces from them, but only if it was real quality, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sell it at home. I’d sold quite a bit of the stuff they’d made and took that money to reinvest in them, but wasn’t sure what I would find. I’d been so busy with the ward stuff I hadn’t figured out how to meet up with them, but this week I got a call from Irene, the leader, who asked me to come talk. I went to her house and asked how they were doing. She told me they were still meeting, had made all the jewelry I’d asked for and wanted me to meet with them. I said, “Really? You’ve all made three hundred pieces?” She smiled and said, “Yes. All done.” I asked if the quality was good, quickly calculating how many times I’d have to go to the ATM to get enough cash to pay them for all of it. She said, “You can come and check and only take what you think is good.” I thought that relayed a good amount of confidence so we made a plan to meet the next morning at nine and take a minibus to the village. Before I left to go to campus she said, “Wait. I want to measure you. The women want to make you a dress.” So I stood with my arms out while she measured my waist and hips and bust. Asked how long I wanted the sleeves and how long I wanted the skirt and made those measurements as well. She wrote them all in a little notebook and said, “Ok. See you tomorrow!” The next morning when I was deciding what to wear I factored in the minibus ride as it’s not good to wear anything that exposes your flesh. The seats are all broken and filthy and people are sitting on top of each other. So I chose a cotton ankle length skirt a tank top and cardigan. It’s still cold in the mornings. I went to the office first to drop my laptop and thermos of tea then headed over to Irene’s. When I got there, she handed me the dress and said, “Here, you can go put it on in my bedroom.” She had already made the dress! I thought it would be something I took home with me, but I was to wear it to the village. If I had known that I think I would have asked for a longer skirt, but I went into the bedroom, took off my clothes, shoved them in my bag, and put on the dress. It’s cute! I love the fabric and it fits me perfectly! I can’t believe it; I wouldn’t have chosen this fabric for me as I don’t wear prints much, but it was a great color and I love the pattern. She beamed when I came out of the bedroom and said, “Ok. Let’s go.”
When traveling by minibus it is so much easier to go with a Malawian. The busses are so confusing and go in all different directions and I have gotten on a bus thought to be heading where I wanted to go and ended up hours longer than I needed to be. That happened Monday evening on the way to dinner with friends and I didn’t think I’d get out of it alive. It was a luxury to be with Irene to explain in Chichewa where we wanted to go. The only problem for me was the skirt didn’t cover the backs of my legs when I sat so the trip had an unsanitary feel to it, to say the least. But the reaction of the women when we arrived in the village was so worth it! They were gathered under a tree, sitting on old pieces of tarpaulin, working on some beading when we got there. They all cheered when they saw me, yakking away in Chichewa about the dress. It was great. They gathered up all the stuff and we moved into one of the houses, I think because they feel it is more formal for a guest, but it’s really nicer under the tree. But in we went. They unloaded piles and piles of jewelry they’d made and I was blown away! It is really good! They all beamed at my reaction as I went over each piece and remarked on the different beading patterns they’ve come up with. I kept saying, “I am so proud of you!” I counted out two hundred necklaces, a hundred each of two different types, and then started looking at the bracelets. They were also very good, but they’d left the dangling parts too long. I told them that these would get caught on things and needed to be shortened. I figured I would collect them a day or two later, but no, they started at once, dividing them up into piles and setting about making them exactly as I wanted them. It took about an hour for them to fix them all, lighted candles fixed to the arms of the chairs to melt the twine that holds the beads. They worked and chatted with each other, not paying any attention to me. I loved it. When they were all done, I packed it all away and told them we needed to discuss money. There were 318 pieces and I would pay them 1,000 kwacha each. That’s 318,000 kwacha! They broke into applause, shaking each other’s hands. (This was going to be at least four trips to the ATM) I asked what they wanted me to do with the money? Without a single pause or discussion, they said, “Give it to Irene.” I asked then what? They said she would keep it and use it for more supplies and for emergencies. I didn’t get into what emergencies, but I’ve decided to stay out of this part of it. They can develop a system that works for them and I will leave them to it. I was tempted to suggest it pay for some school fees for some girls, but backed off from that and just reveled in the fact that they still meet, are improving tremendously, and are making future plans. We had photos together, farewells until we meet agains, and then Irene took me to visit Chimwemwe who lives near there. He must have gotten word I was coming because he was expecting me and presented me with a pair of earrings he’d made for me. I was so excited to see he’d improved to the point of being able to do that! He said his sight and balance was getting better, still not perfect but he sees improvement. He was happy I’d come and so was I. He called his mother to come greet me, and said, “I am happy today because Linda has come.” I told him I wasn’t sure when I’d be back, but will keep him in my prayers along with his growing family. His wife gave birth to a son four months ago. Chimemwe named him Chimemwe, and he’s fat and happy and thriving. I left them with some money and Irene and I headed off.
It was a good day.
Irene and I took the bus ride back to the campus and I asked her to accompany me to the ATM. I’d taken out some of the cash the day before, but there’s a limit to how much you can withdraw so it can’t all be done in one day. I managed, with three transactions, to get enough cash to pay them and we walked to my office as I didn’t want to hand over that much in broad daylight on a crowded street. I asked her if she would consider opening a bank account and she agreed it was time to do that. This is too much cash to leave around and they still have some from the original sale we had. Irene is capable of managing this and I’ll leave her to it. If I find more markets for them and it gets much bigger we’re going to have to formalize our transactions a bit more I think. I might need a receipt or something! For now this is very much seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurship for dummies, but it’s working. I’m sure a business person would die at my methods here, but it still seems small enough I’m ok. When filling out the customs form on arrival in the states, though, I realized if it gets much bigger I’m going to need advice.
So we made progress on lots of fronts this visit. I’ll have a discussion next week in Boston with the SEED people about how my skills fit into the future of the project. I met with a contractor to get an estimate for renovations for the ward and will work some on that when I’m stateside. I know I’ll go back, just not sure in what capacity or when it will be. Staying open.
Ok, still an hour before boarding so I think I’ll go walk off some of my swollen feet.
Love to all,