Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Palm Sunday

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Palm Sunday

Madzi atupa ndi a m’njira. ~ The waters become plentiful because of all the side rivers.

~ Chewa proverb

March 24. 2024

Hi Everyone,

It’s Palm Sunday and since I wasn’t at mass last week I didn’t get the memo about today’s extravaganza. I showed up a little early as I wanted a good parking spot. I’d been invited to lunch afterward and didn’t want to get stuck in the exodus. I thought it was odd that there were so few cars, usually the parking lot is packed. I asked the parking attendant if I missed mass? Maybe they had it earlier today? He looked at me blankly, clearly did not speak English. I simplified, “Mass? Eight o’clock?” He smiled and nodded. Ok, strange as I was only fifteen minutes early. Usually the choir is singing, people are saying the rosary, beautifully dressed children are streaming in. There was none of that. I went in and found maybe five people in the whole church. I walked to the front and took a seat and figured I’d spend some introspective time and wait for an hour. If no one else came, I’d leave, though that would make me very early for lunch. The keyboard player started setting up so I knew something was going to happen. A few traditionally dressed women came in holding huge palm branches that looked like they had just cut them off their own trees. From a distance I heard a crowd chanting and singing and I figured there was a procession starting at least a mile away from the sounds of it. The gathering clearly began at some other designated location, which, I’m sure was announced last week, and they were processing to the church. As it got closer I could tell there were many more people than usually attend the English mass. I watched through the open door as at least a thousand, maybe more, danced and sang down the main road waving palm branches. The choir came in first dancing and singing and hoards followed doing the same. It was beautiful. It was well after nine when the mass finally started. It was after ten by the time we got through the passion. It was almost eleven before all the gifts were presented, among them a live chicken. Then I started worrying about being late for lunch. Since they had combined the English and Chichewa mass everything was repeated in both languages. I knew communion was going to be forever and then announcements take at least a half hour. I never do this, but I left after communion. I still had to drive on the worst road in southern Malawi to get to the house for lunch and was nervous about going there alone. I felt sorta guilty for leaving but not guilty enough to stay. When I walked out of the church I saw at least a hundred people standing at the entrance attending mass from there. Either they gave out palms at the beginning of the parade or it was bring your own. At any rate, I left without. 

Friends had invited me to their mountaintop farm outside of Blantyre for lunch and getting there is an adventure. Halfway there I remembered I’d told myself I’d never go there again. It’s beautiful once you arrive, but it is up and down steep rutted dirt roads, across rickety bridges, and through dry riverbeds. They are expats but have lived in Malawi most of their lives. They built this amazing home and farm before the president’s palace was built nearby. There is a lovely road going through the palace grounds but only the owners of this farm are allowed to use it. Visitors must scale the rutted mountain road. I decided if it started raining I was just going to stay there. The first time I went there in 2016 with George we were on bicycle and I thought we’d never be heard from again. In some ways on bicycle is easier, but walking the five miles is the way to go. You’d just have to plan on the entire day. Anyway, I made it and once there it really is lovely. They’d prepared a gorgeous meal from their gardens and gave me a basketful of fresh ginger, turmeric, chili peppers, chard, lemons, and guava. I also took two liters of their fresh milk and peanut oil they’d pressed. Almost worth the drive. Fortunately the wine served at lunch dulled my dread of returning on that “road”. I made it home without a problem. I love my car so much. 

Speaking of my car, I finished paying for it this week when I got some dollars from my friend in Mangochi. Transferring enough money for a car has been a huge challenge. PayPal was taking fees on both ends and I could only pay in small amounts. It ended up easier to exchange dollars for a much better rate and pay in cash. So Friday I needed to get to the foreign exchange office before it closed. It is downtown, the traffic is hellish between four and six and I was worried about being seen leaving that office. I didn’t want to have to walk a long way to the car as I know two people who’ve been mugged here recently. I’d planned to go earlier in the day but learned that morning I was supposed to be in the skills lab all day. So I dashed out with a half hour to spare, drove to town, parked in a gas station two blocks from the office, then got nervous as a guy was following me asking for money. He didn’t come into the office but I told them when I entered I was uncomfortable. Immediately, one of the women in there got up and closed the door. I told them I didn’t know how I’d walk back to my car. She stuck her head out the door and a second later a very well-built man came in and sat down. She turned to me and said, “He’ll escort you.” Well, well. Some things work very well here. He was dressed more like a bouncer than a guard and I felt totally safe with him. He walked with me to the car, I got in, locked the doors, wedged my way into traffic, made it home to hand off the money, and the car is paid for. Whew! 

So the big midwifery ward meeting for Tuesday was postponed when one of the major players had a conflict. I was very disappointed. Since plans are already being discussed for use of the ward I put it out there we really need to meet soon even if everyone can’t make it. This could be delayed indefinitely otherwise and I can’t apply for any grants until we have an actual plan. It’s rescheduled for this Tuesday. Fingers crossed. 

My classes were also a bit frustrating this week as I could see many of the students using their phones during the lecture. I asked several times that they put them away but the class is so huge I can’t really tell. When I broke them into groups to do case studies (a madhouse) I saw lots of them again on phones as I walked from group to group. On Friday I asked the other faculty what they do when they see kids on phones. I was told to take the phone away, put the student’s name on it, and they will get it back at the end of the course. I thought surely I misunderstood. “The end of the course or the end of the class?” I asked. “The end of the course. Fourteen weeks.”, was the answer. Wow. I guess that would be a deterrent. 

Next week is Easter and we have both Friday and Monday off. I am taking a little excursion to Likoma Island, an island in the northern part of the lake on the Mozambique side. There is a boat that transports people and goods up and down the lake making a stop at Likoma. It takes some logistics to get there but I have always wanted to visit that place and I decided to just do it. It’s a four and a half hour drive to the lake where I’ll spend the night on Thursday. Then I’ll get the boat Friday and be overnight to Likoma. It gets there at four Saturday morning and I’ll have the weekend there before boarding it again late Monday night on its way south. 

Love to all,


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