I still can’t believe we’re here and that I’m this far from home and my family. Despite being in another continent, I feel strangely comfortable. I have prepared myself for this trip, so I haven’t felt terribly culture shocked yet. My team is great and they make me feel at ease. The Malawians are very kind people and make us feel right at home.
I got about 11 hours of sleep last night. We needed it. It felt nice to stretch out in a bed versus trying to sleep on a plane.
Most people in the city speak English, so it’s pretty easy to get around here. We almost always have a translator with us, just in case.
Mice are a delicacy here and you can see the children selling them roadside: about 5 mice on a stick, flattened, perfectly whole (fur and all), cooked nice and crispy. I didn’t have the strength to try it, but Michael tells us it’s delicious. This is not my image – I just found one on google so you could have the experience. You’re welcome.
Lilongwe is very flat and very brown. Actually I should say red. The earth is red. It’s about 82 degrees here with no humidity and perfectly clear skies. They’re moving from winter into spring, so I can tell things are starting to bloom. I’m guessing it’s a bit more colorful other times of the year.
There is a ton of open space. Though the city has been industrialized, there’s still plenty of land that remains undeveloped. There are cars in the city, but most people walk or ride their bikes. Some even have makeshift child seats on the back. They don’t wear helmets. There are lots of dirt paths everywhere. They seem to go nowhere, but I’m assuming they are the paths from the villages to the city. I saw one boy with a primitive toy on the side of the road – a wooden hoop and stick like you might find at Old Sturbridge Village. What? No DS?
Today we started the day with a nice breakfast: scrambled eggs and “brown bread.” Brown bread is not wheat bread, it’s toast. If you want it toasted, you ask for it brown. Makes sense.
Our first stop was the Crisis Nursery at the Ministry of Hope (MoH). Here they care for children under the age of 3. They receive babies who are in crisis: either they have been abandoned, their parents have died or don’t have the means to care for them. Once they are healthy and if their family is able to take them back, they are returned to their family and monitored often by the MoH. Often times, if their parents have died, they will go to live with another family member: a grandparent, an aunt or a sibling.
These children were so well cared for. I had the pleasure of meeting all of the wonderful people who cared for them. The lady that cooked the food. The man that drives the van, the lady that does the laundry, the woman who gives them baths and clips their tiny nails. They all have the love of Christ in their hearts and it shines right down onto these children. That would become even more apparent as I head to the villages in the coming days to see such utter poverty.
We headed over to the MoH office where we had a short meeting about the organization and the projects we would be working on. MoH is a Christian NGO already working in Malawi. They support orphans & widows, have feeding & education centers and teach lessons in agriculture and self-sufficiency. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel; we want to work alongside the locals who already know what the needs are and how to meet them. One of the ladies who worked there made beautiful paper beaded necklaces, so we all bought a bunch. She was selling them for 1500-2000 kwache, which is about $4.50-$6. I know that was a fair price considering the work that goes into them, and we were happy to support her business.
We also went to buy supplies for the Buckets of Hope. We have budgeted for 200 buckets that we will distribute to the widows. In each one are supplies such as cooking oil, sugar, salt, tea, laundry soap, body soap & Vaseline. These are all just basic supplies for their home that they could not afford to buy. I learned that they rub the Vaseline all over their body. It’s very dry & dusty here and the Vaseline helps to relieve dry skin.
Daniel is a Malawian who works at the MoH. He helps us navigate the store and find the best deals. Our supplies are at a large super center in the city of Lilongwe.
The streets are full of people. They don’t seem to be working and the children don’t seem to be in school. (I later learned that school didn’t start until September). There’s poverty everywhere. We are advised not to take any pictures because the people in the city want to be paid for their photos. The people are young. I have not seen any elderly people. The average life expectancy is 44. Half the population of Malawi is under the age of 14.
We leave the city and drive 1 1/2 hours on dusty dirt roads to the village of Mponela. The children are joyful and excited to see us. They wave happily as our bus drives by, as if we are mini celebrities. They are adorable children, but they are very dirty. I wonder if they have ever had a bath? Their clothes are indeed tattered and worn and most of them have no shoes. They run through the child center and out through the dirt, their feet tough as leather.
They are thrilled to have their picture taken! They’re mostly excited to see the image back. Of course there wouldn’t be any mirrors here. Have they never seen themselves before? There are no toys to play with here. A few of them are holding plastic water bottles, which I later learned are a hot commodity. They play with them and use them for water or snack containers. Since we were unable to drink the water in Africa, we were constantly storing away our water bottles for these village visits. We were careful not to hand them out while we were working, as it would cause too much chaos. But as we left each one, we would toss our empties out the window of the bus and soon enough there would a gaggle of children chasing after us.
We visited three widows and distributed Buckets of Hope. We called them all “Gogo,” which means “grandmother” and is a sign of respect. They live in tiny one, or two room huts. They were so thankful for the small amount of supplies we were able to give them, bowing and saying “zikomo” (thank you) after receiving each item. They were gracious hosts, laying out their grass mat for their guests to sit on as they sat on the dirt floor. People gathered around as we presented our gifts and prayed with Gogo, giving God all the glory.
At our last home visit, Daniel (our translator) pulls aside one young girl and starts speaking to her in Chichewa. He has noticed she pulled out of school and encourages her to go back. Later he tells us she is 13. Her mother does not see the value of education and does not encourage her to go to school. If she doesn’t go back, she’ll get sucked further into village life. She’ll be married by 16. Have kids. And she won’t have the opportunity to get an education again. And the cycle of poverty continues…