Sunday Morning ~ Neighbors~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Our Neighbors ~ Blantyre

Njala ya mnzako ndi yako yomwe. ~ The hunger of your neighbor is also yours.

~ Chewa proverb

February 25, 2024

Hi Everyone,

Last year a friend from Belgium was visiting me in Maine and I told her I wanted her to meet my neighbors. We walked to the end of my road, a mile long, and started down their driveway. She looked at me and asked, “You call this your neighbor?” I laughed. I told her I do. The definition of neighbor reads “a person living next door or very near” but it seems like a good time to broaden that concept.

The past week seemed a month long. Every day was a week. The heat had a lot to do with that; it is so disturbing. The hot months here are normally October and November. When the rains come in December the humidity breaks, the clouds are always present, and the evening rains keep the air cool. At least that’s how it has been for the past several centuries. When the rains stop in April or May the air gets very cool, even cold at night, until September when the air starts to build with humidity, breaking again with the first rain in December. Malawians build their lives around this weather cycle. Most people here are still subsistence farmers and they depend on the rain for their maize crop. It is their entire income and food source. When the rains are unpredictable the crop is a disaster. Maize is planted when rain is expected. If the rain comes, the seeds germinate and start to grow. If the rain then stops, those young plants die. Irrigation is not an option. And since the seasons of rainy and dry are so distinct, it’s not possible to replant and have enough time for the crop to mature before the dry six months without any precipitation. This year rain has been unpredictable. The rain was fairly steady during December and January and the crops looked good (I thought). But just as the maize was ripening, February turned very dry and hot. It feels like November. It’s very humid with scorching sun and few clouds. It’s tiring just to get through the day. I have to force myself to do anything and could fall asleep in broad daylight. If there is no crop there is widespread hunger and starvation. Crime goes up when people are desperate. The lot of the poor is good for no one. People everywhere here are talking of climate change. The priest at mass talks about it. The faculty talks about it. It’s so unfair that those who contribute the least to this crisis are the ones who suffer the most. But in the end we will all pay. “The hunger of your neighbor is also yours.” That wasn’t written yesterday.

The students are back on campus and classes started this week. I’ll be teaching two groups: first year students newly graduated from secondary school, and second year students in midwifery. The first years are nursing and midwifery combined. That class is frightening. Two hundred and fifty six students, new to university, and English isn’t their first language. It’s going to take me most of the class just to take attendance! Last Monday was the introduction class, there are four of us sharing the topics, and we all went to introduce ourselves and give an overview of the class. I was overwhelmed and all I had to do was introduce myself. I couldn’t even see the back of the room. There is no way those students in the back will be able to see the slides. I don’t know how this is going to go. We will have use of a microphone, so that’s good, though, I’m told it often doesn’t work. If it were an amphitheater it could work, but in the flat classroom, I don’t know. My first lecture is this Wednesday and if it is raining on that metal roof no one will hear anything. I’ll have to be creative so I’ve got some planning to do. The other class is only fifty students, still double what I had before, but seems a breeze comparatively. I’m looking forward to that one. The students are wide eyed, attentive, and seemed receptive. They clearly survived their first year with its mob of a class size so I guess teaching two hundred and fifty is possible. The resilience never ceases to amaze me. It’s humbling.

Yesterday I went back to Zomba to hike. It’s cooler up on the plateau but it was still hot. I went with the midwife who is working here with Seed, the organization I worked with before. While we were on the plateau we looked out at a huge bank of clouds coming toward us. We could see over to Mt. Mulanje engulfed in clouds and clearly raining. I even thought it looked like a tornado touching down in the distance. Aubrey, our guide, told us we should walk steadily down before the rain reached us as that would make the descent very slippery. I also didn’t want to drive down that escarpment, with it’s tight hairpin turns and steep drop off, in the rain. It’s interesting how the rain can be so welcome and so scary. We rushed the final half hour back to the car, bought some raspberries and blackberries from locals, and headed down the steep road reaching the town before the rain started. It didn’t take long to drive out of it and the trip back to Blantyre was easy. I could see the rain had passed through and the air was more clear. It’s such a relief. I arrived home to learn a cousin of mine has died of Covid. He was the best of men, devoted to his wife and family, and kindness personified. It’s hard to be far away at times like this, wanting to be together with family to grieve. And then I think of all of those separated in Gaza or Ukraine–– all our neighbors and all hungry and grieving. 

This morning I walked the three miles to church and on the way back the clouds started gathering again, so hopefully we are getting back into a normal pattern for this season. When I got home my landlord said he was worried about me since my car was there, knowing I usually go to church. I told him I’d walked. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know whether I should admire you or be afraid of you.” I laughed. 

Love to all,


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