Sunday Morning ~ Chilembwe Day
Choipa ndi mnyanga ya njobvu. ~ Bad things stick out like the tusk of an elephant.
~ Chewa proverb
January 15, 2024
Today the U.S. is celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malawi is celebrating John Chilembwe. Both men had similar character, courage, and vision. Both men were Baptist ministers. John Chilembwe, born in 1871, was sent to the U.S. by a Scottish missionary to study at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the ominous-sounding town of Lynchburg. He was ordained and returned to Malawi at the turn of the century. He opposed colonial rule and advocated for enslaved people working on the tea, tobacco, and sugar plantations here. He preached egalitarian ideology in the churches he organized and built. This philosophy was (predictably I assume) considered dangerous by Scottish missionaries and the colonial government. When the first world war broke out, Chilembwe spoke out against Africans working as porters for the British army fighting against the German colony, Tanzania, to the north. On January 23, 1915 Chilembwe’s followers launched an uprising against one of the most brutal plantations killing it’s violent manager. It didn’t go well; Chilembwe was shot as he tried to flee to Mozambique two weeks later. King and Chilembwe were both murdered. Chilmbwe’s uprising inspired anti-colonial efforts but it took thirty-nine more years for Nyasaland to become an independent Malawi. He is a national hero here and today is a holiday in his honor.
I was supposed to start work today but the holiday gives me a day to write. I was at the Majete Game reserve over the weekend and was too tired last night when we got back to compose anything coherent. I took a shower, read some, and slept soundly in the reasonable temperature at this elevation. Majete is in the Shire Valley and very hot. My tent was like a sweat lodge which was probably good for my pores but terrible for sleeping.
It was a productive week!
I decided to move into the humble apartment across the street from where I was staying, not knowing how long it would take to find a house where I felt comfortable. The lodge was fine, but expensive. A week in this apartment cost less than one night at the lodge. It’s adequate. If I had to spend the year here I could, but there is little privacy and no place I’m comfortable sitting outside without being on display. I won’t even use my laptop out there. I don’t want to show that off. But it is clean enough and security seems to be solid. I paid the landlady (who lives on the property behind this set of apartments) for a month so I wouldn’t feel pressured to take something I wasn’t happy with and we left it that I could extend if I wanted. After one night here I knew I wasn’t extending. She didn’t put up the mosquito net I’d asked for, with the excuse that the power was out and they couldn’t drill holes in the bed frame for the net. Ok, that excuse was a little weak. I’ve never seen a Malawian need a power drill. But there are screens on some of the windows so I just waited. A huge tree on her property fell on the power lines and it was two days with the electric company and the Blantyre City workers here with chain saws and machetes clearing it away. So, at least twenty guys were looking in the windows randomly. I’d bought some fabric for a curtain and my first morning here I went to fill a bucket in the kitchen sink to wash it. I put the bucket under the faucet and it ripped the entire faucet off the wall. Water came shooting out all over the place. I ran outside calling to one of the workers to shut off the water. He then yelled for the guard who did not shut off the water, but came into the now flooded kitchen and shoved a rag and a plastic bag into the pipe, which, astoundingly, worked. Well, there was a steady drip but the firehose effect was minimized. I moved any stuff I had off the floor which by then had several inches of water on it. A couple of hours later a plumber arrived and attached a new faucet without shutting off the water. When he removed the plug and the water started shooting out again, he put his hand over it, shoved the pipe in and started screwing it on until the water stopped shooting out from all sides. I wanted to ask if it wouldn’t be easier to shut off the water first? But decided to just keep quiet and watch. In the meantime five guys were in here scooping the water off the floor and sweeping it out the door. The landlady came by to look at it. I told her I really didn’t use a lot of force putting the bucket there and I felt badly it broke off the wall. She said not to worry about it so I decided not to complain about the mosquito net. That was all before noon on my first day in the apartment.
That afternoon I went to look at a house for rent attached to a large estate. It was tiny, and I could have made do, but I didn’t love it. It was way out of town (the owner picked me up and drove me there) and incredibly isolated. Also, there was no where associated with the house that would have been my private garden space outside. It didn’t feel good. And the road there was terrible. I told her I was still looking and would let her know. It was a good little mother-in-law apartment and if I were their mother-in-law I could have seen it working, but I’m not. I would have had to use their outside space. And the kitchen was smaller than my bathroom.
The next day I met up with the guy I’m buying a car from. We took it for a spin; I was nervous driving here again, not used to driving on the left in the middle of the city where chaos rules the road. At least you can’t go fast and the other traffic reminds me which side to drive on. Whew. I passed that test and agreed to meet the next day at a shopping center where I would drive him home and take the car while he was in South Africa for two weeks. Then if I still want it I can buy it from him. It’s a 2004 Nissan X Trail, the same car I drove when we were here before. It has 54,000 miles on it and is in great shape from what I can see. At least I know the owner and know it wasn’t stolen. That way I can resell it when I leave. And it will be good for camping. George and I took ours on our great camping adventure through Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana and it was the perfect car. So that’s good.
After that I went over to the college to meet up with my colleagues. That was fun. Even though I don’t start until tomorrow I wanted to go say hello. I got a lovely warm reception and we talked a little about where things stand with the midwifery ward. We’ll sit down this week and make some goals and figure out what I’ll be doing. It’s about an hour walk from where I’m staying now, but it’s not like I have anything else to do and walking is good. I just bought an umbrella, a very useful tool in the rainy season. Cloud bursts are common and come in from nowhere.
On Thursday I walked the hour to the Ginnery Corner Chipiku grocery store, which has quadrupled in size since I was here last and has a huge parking lot. I met up with my friend, took a deep breath, and drove him to Limbe. Limbe is a sister city to Blantyre, less developed and utterly chaotic. It takes some guts to drive through there at certain times of the day. Mid-morning wasn’t bad and we got to the other side and his gorgeous house. I stayed to visit for awhile, getting all the instructions and manuals, etc., and then set off to go back to Blantyre, through Limbe at noon. That was trial by fire. Honestly, if you go more than five miles an hour you could kill dozens of people just going through town. Happy I made it through there and back to my abode, then walked back to town to shop for the camping trip the next day. I was in charge of two breakfasts and a lunch, so needed some fruits and vegetables, as well as some containers and bread. There is no way I would drive a car and park it in the city. Much easier to walk and carry thousands of pounds on your back. I don’t care how hot or how hard it’s raining. I’ll walk.
That afternoon I had another appointment to see a house, which was also out of town but in a more convenient direction. It is between the two nursing campuses so might work out well. I did have to drive there, so after dropping groceries and supplies at my place, I set out back through town around three pm. Not bad. In fact, it was pretty easy. I navigated the roundabouts while constantly repeating to myself, “give way to the right, give way to the right” and found the house with little problem. The road was a left hand turn off the main road, so that was easy. Nice road, I thought, as I drove toward the house––– quiet, lots of green, paved. The hosts met me just inside the gate and gave me the tour. I liked the place instantly. It’s a large old colonial house with three smaller houses attached. One of the smaller houses is pretty good sized and the owner’s daughter lives there. Then there is a medium sized house rented to a guy who was away on holiday. They tell me they love him. The third is the one available, and it is the smallest, a one bedroom with combined kitchen living area, but the best part is the two double doors opening onto a covered veranda and a private garden. I love it. I totally love it. It’s way smaller than where we lived before, but it’s just me, and I can sleep on the couch when friends visit. I sat with the owners for a long time talking and they assured me I could be as private or as social as I want. I told them I’d take it and will move in next Saturday, the 20th. Yay! A car and a house! I’m feeling pretty good!
Leaving there was a different story at 5 pm. I had to turn right onto the main road, which, took about fifteen minutes. Getting through town again at that hour was a miserable nightmare. Note to self: plan travel time accordingly. I think I could walk to work in an hour or so from there. Maybe an hour fifteen. That might be the dry season plan. Turning left to the Kameza campus will be easy, so when I teach there I’ll be fine.
That evening was strange. I parked my car outside my little apartment where there is a space for it, prepped some food for the weekend, and went to bed at 8 pm. I was reading when I heard a knock on the door and the landlady calling my name. I got up and looked through the peephole, and it was her, so opened the door. She breezed in past me in my boxer shorts and tank top with no bra, and sat at the table telling me she was writing a receipt for the rent I paid her three days before. Then she asked if they put up the mosquito net and before I could answer she went into the bedroom to look. Stunned, I answered “No they did not.” It was so bizarre her breezing through here like that. She handed me the receipt and was about to write up some long term contract when I told her not to do that as I’d found another house and would be moving out in a week. I just wanted to go back to bed, not have some real estate meeting in my pajamas. “Oh!” she said, “Ok, well we won’t need this.” and she breezed back out into the night telling me to sleep well. I went back to bed and thought that was weird. I never see her during the day and 8:30 pm is pretty late around here. Pondering it the next morning I realized what she was doing. I think she saw the car and thought I had someone here. So, like a jealous boyfriend doing a bed check, she made a ruse to look in the bedroom. She hadn’t cared all week I had no net, but at 8:30 pm it was suddenly an issue? It does say in the house rules no overnight guests, but surprise inspections? As if the guards looking in the windows isn’t enough?
Friday was Majete adventure! I packed up my camping stuff, food, and water and drove over to the secondary school where I was meeting up with two teachers, one I knew from when I was here last. I’m so glad to re-connect with her! We loaded into her 4×4 Toyota beast and set off in time to arrive for some game viewing before sunset. I love that place. It’s not terribly far, about an hour and a half drive from Blantyre, straight down into the valley on a steep escarpment with gorgeous views of the valley. Her brakes were in good order and it was a pleasant ride. If your brakes ever went on that road it would be the end. I’ve only stayed in the lodge there; I haven’t camped before, but it was great. Cheap and comfortable, except for the heat. My companions rented one of the big canvas tents they provide with mattresses and linens, but I just used my backpacking tent and put it next to theirs, close enough to look like an appendage not a small, weak, vulnerable snack. There is a common area with a huge thatched roof and shared kitchen. The bathrooms are nice with showers. It’s great. The campground was full so lots of people were sharing the kitchen, many were families with kids. Lots of kids. The lodge is really lux with a big water hole where you can sip your gin and tonic and watch the animals come to you, but this was an inexpensive alternative. I could see switching off if I go a lot. We saw loads of animals. They’ve introduced wild dogs and giraffes since I was here last and they are all thriving. They’ve instituted strict consequences for poaching and that is greatly reduced. The lions were very new when I was here last and they are reproducing and doing well. I hear the rhino are also doing ok, though we didn’t see any this time. We also didn’t see any leopard or cheetah. In the rainy season it is thick, lush vegetation and more difficult to spot some of the game but it’s so cool to see them in their natural habitat. I just love it. I love the park and the guides. I can’t wait to take my guests there and support sustainable tourism. It’s a great little weekend getaway and my tent held up well in the rain. I was totally dry whereas occupants of the big canvas tents complained of leakage around doors and windows. I worried my little tent would get swamped but she held up well. I was a happy camper.
Ok, I’ll have to go across the street and order a drink to use their internet to send this. More next week!
Love to all,