Molly in Africa

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nkhupulika Yayi

     Yesterday morning, a woman came to my house looking for me, looking for help, looking for money.  This woman looked similar to so many that I have met over the past four months.  The creases on her face are physical marks of the fatigue she feels from her daily responsibilities.  The chitenje wrapped around her waist is tattered and dirty because she probably can't afford to buy a new one and washing it only keeps it clean for a moment when you live in a grass-thatched hut with mud floors.

     She sat on our veranda (her sign of respect to me) and greeted me in Nkhonde.  I greeted her back and she began to tell me what was wrong.  I responded with, "Nkhupulika yayi" (I don't understand).  In this particular moment, I simply meant, "I don't understand what you're saying because I don't really know Nkhonde."  But I could have meant, "I don't understand how to help you back on your feet." Or it could have meant, "I don't understand how there can be so many people facing these similar problems." Or it even could have meant, "I don't understand why these women are coming me, a young 22 year old with little knowledge of their experiences, for help."

     I walked inside and asked Vicki, one of our cooks, if she would be willing to help translate for me.  With her help, I learned that this woman is caring for her orphaned grandchildren after her daughter passed away.  She was looking for some money to start business and so I explained (through Vicki) about our Women's Empowerment Program and how it works.  It was clear she was unhappy that she couldn't receive help now and I tried to explain that I recognized that she was in a challenging position but all the women (over 150 groups) on our waiting list are also in that challenging position and it wouldn't be fair to help her first.

    Wouldn't be fair.  What about this situation IS fair?  Is it fair that because this woman's daughter died, she now has to go begging help of other people in order to find means to adequately provide for her family's needs?  Is it fair that I live in a huge house that clearly has the amenities I need (AND want) and she is simply asking for help with her NEEDS?  Is it fair that I stay within the "system" that exists here in order to help instead of acknowledging that I personally could afford to give her the little sugar she asked for at the end of her visit with me?

     Nkhupulika yayi. 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thanksgiving- Malawi style :)

Some of you know this already, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It's always been marked with the richness of Hogan traditions and family fun.  I had been homesick the week before Thanksgiving and I figured Thanksgiving very well may push me back into homesickness since I won't have family around or the traditions I'm used to.  Luckily, we had an amazing celebration here in Karonga- a true testament to Thanksgiving's ability to gather people of different cultures together in the spirit of community building and appreciation.

We invited some of the most supportive people of our community to share in th
is American holiday with us.  At the top of that list are our two cooks (Alick and Vicki), our friend and helper in the garden (Frank) and our night watchman (Mr. Hara).  So we invited all of them and their families.  Then we also invited the Brothers' community next door, their cooks and night watchman and their families.  Finally we also invited these two Australian couples who are about my parents' age.  We ended up with 35-40 people at our house and it definitely felt full which was great!

When people entered they were adorned with a headband/hat so that they 
could be either a Pilgrim or an Indian.  As people gathered, there was corn hole played out front, pin the gobbler on the turkey, Bawo (a Malawian game that's similar to Mancala) and lots of small conversations among different people.  Before dinner, the six volunteers put on a little skit about the first Thanksgiving.  It was hilarious- I had found it online earlier that day and I'm pretty sure it was for second graders!
[Pictured Above: I am sitting in between our cook Vicki & Frank's mom.]
We each only had one or two lines and we had one of the Brothers' cooks translate it as we acted so that everyone present could understand.  Then we had a Bible reading (in English and a summary in Chitumbuka) with a prayer from Andy in English.  To close up the prayer we went around the long table and asked everyone to say a little prayer to God for something they were thankful for.  Each person said it in their own language and it was by far my favorite moment of the night.  Getting to hear every person's voice at the table made it clear that each person was welcome and supposed to be there.  Even though people were speaking in different languages and I couldn't understand everyone, it was humbling to hear the gratitude in people's voices and realize that we really do have a lot to be grateful for.

The rest of the night was filled with LOTS of food and fun conversations.  We ended the night with dancing (typical in Malawi), driving our guests home and coming home to wash all the dishes.  I got a chance to talk to a lot of my Hogan relatives which was really fun- just to hear their voices and get the chance to be somewhat present at their celebration as well.

Overall, a great day and something that gives me hope for the future of my community... Maybe we really can find ways to invite, gather and share with the people here instead of perpetuating the barriers that naturally exist between whites and Malawians here.  I'll keep you all posted on that.