Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Village Life

The village of Chikandwe is a typical Malawian village of 16 families and has been my home for the past several weeks. About 5 km from the IITA office and the main road, I feel like I have a pretty good balance between office work and rural living. I sleep on a reed mat in a mud brick house without electricity or running water and then jog to work in the mornings to internet access and colleagues who specialize in food security.
This past weekend, Malawi celebrated its 44th year as a country and I celebrated with a three day weekend at home with my host family, the Bandas.

My host father, Bauleni, his wife Fonase, and their five children are wonderful people and, though they only speak Chichewa, have really made me feel at home in the village. This has strongly motivated me to learn the language and, through the help of frantic gesturing and lots of laughter, I feel my Chichewa skills are really coming along. (Although, the other day, I accidentally said: If I find the chief on the path we will stop and love one another” instead of “greet one another.” Fortunately, only my family was present.)

I participated many different aspects of village life over the weekend. One of the highlights was the “Gule Wamkulu” that I wrote about in a separate blog. With time off of work, I did my best to help out with chores of the household and errand running. The following are a few stories of different chores:

Farming – The village is situated next to a marsh and, immediately next to this, Bauleni tends fields of maize, rice, leafy greens, and small potatoes. With the rice now harvested, we set out in the morning, hoes in hand, to till the soil in preparation for planting potatoes. It felt good to be working outside in the cool morning next to the marsh. Although my 13 year-old brother Pemphero clearly out-classed me in both pace and skill, I still feel I contributed and incredulous passers-by all assured me that I was doing great.

Farming is hard work. As I look at my hands now, I count 11 blisters, blisters that I continued to try and hide from my family as I assured them of my ability to help. For the remainder of the weekend I was not allowed to wield the hoe but was given the task of planting potatoes instead. Working in the fields was hard but relaxing in the shade afterwards while eating sugar cane completed the experience and made it deeply satisfying.

Cooking – The staple dish in Malawi, as in much of Southern Africa, is nsima. Nsima is cooked from maize flour, boiled in water to produce a thick, doughy porridge that is then eaten with a relish of vegetables, beans, fish, or meat to name a few. I had repeated asked my mother Fonase to teach me how to cook it and she agreed to teach me one afternoon.

Cooking nsima is not so much complicated as it is difficult. Physically I mean. Once enough flour is added and the food begins to thicken, stirring becomes quite the workout and Fonase had to step in a few times to help out when my arms started to fail me. Embarassing though it may seem, I would challenge any tough guy to take on the weakest looking woman in the village. She would mop the floor with him.

Lunch was a smashing success but, since I am fairly physically incapable of cooking nsima, I’ve decided to stick to helping prepare relishes.

Charging the Battery – In the main house there is a wireless radio powered by a car battery and over the weekend we traveled to a nearby town to charge it. A bicycle is the chief mode of transport for just about everything here. From stacks of firewood higher than a person, to 50kg sacs of maize, to live pigs and goats, a steel reinforced bicycle carrier handles it all and the car battery was no exception. Handling a one-speed bike with a car battery attached through the dusty trails to the town about 8 km away was no easy task but, following Bauleni’s lead, we arrived safely at the town of Four Ways. The next day, with the battery charged, Malawian gospel music once again sounded from our house and the children gathered around to listen and dance.

My life in the village is vastly different from my one in Canada in so many ways yet is beginning to feel very much like a home. In the evenings, if I run home quickly enough I can jump in on the evening soccer match the kids play in the village centre. I’m pretty much the worst player on the field but we have a great time nevertheless. There should be more pick-up soccer matches in my life back in the “developed world.”

1 comment:

Rumble said...

Read your blog and am sure you (and your readers) would be interested in the short video we made when we were in Malawi. You may have to copy the link into your browser: