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Wednesday, January 11, 2012


As Christmas was approaching, I was amazed at the number of people who extended an invitation for me to join them on Christmas day.  It’s hard to be this far away from family over the holidays and I was so thankful to have so many who thought of me and who would have warmly welcomed me in.  I was surprised however; when I received two invitations from two of my closest Malawian friends.  I had figured I would end up staying on campus and going to another missionary’s house, but when I was invited, I knew this is where I wanted to spend my Christmas.  I feel so blessed whenever I get the privilege to experience the culture here and I counted it a real honor to be invited to join these two families. 

Grace has become a dear friend and she is one of the college students.  She is about my age and I have found that we have a lot in common and agree on many things.  She is easy to talk to and I have really enjoyed getting to know her.  She goes to the crisis nursery with me every Thursday as her outreach program and she’s wonderful with the babies there.  It was one Thursday when we were there that she invited me to join her family for their Christmas celebration.  She told me I could go to church with them and then come back to their house to eat.  She asked if there was anything specific I’d want to eat on Christmas and I told her I would eat whatever it was that they would be having. 

On Christmas morning, I met up with Grace and we headed to her church.  The church service started at 7 AM and it was all in Chichewa.  I was the only American in the room and when visitors were asked to stand up, I was addressed specifically and then the pastor said everyone should clap in order to make me feel welcome.  I loved listening to the choirs sing and being together made me think of all the Christmases I’ve attended church with my family.  In all, the service lasted about two and a half hours.  Although I could not understand most of the service, Grace translated for me when she could without being a distraction to those sitting nearby. 

When we arrived at Grace’s house, her family went right to work in the kitchen.  Christmas here in Malawi is spent cooking and eating with loved ones.  I was told that they had purchased two chickens.  One was a local chicken and the other was not.  The first thought that came to my mind was whether or not I would be expected to help in the killing of the chickens.  I asked Grace and she said Deborah, one of her family members, had already killed them that morning.  While Grace’s family spent most of the morning in the kitchen, Grace and I sat and talked in the living room.  We then sat down to eat breakfast together.  This meal started with hot oatmeal and was followed up with a salad, fried eggs, and chips (these are much like French fries in the U.S.).  After that we ate grilled bologna sandwiches and drank coffee. 

Everyone then went back in the kitchen and continued cooking.  I asked if I could help, but being the guest, they wanted to cook for me.  I was amazed by the hospitality I was shown.  I was expecting to be welcomed in to join a family as they celebrated Christmas and instead, I found myself honored as a guest and shown such hospitality that it completely amazed and humbled me.  During our second meal together, we started off with a soup that was then followed up with chicken prepared two different ways:  one was fried and one was roasted in a broth.  We also had nsima and rice as well as cooked cabbage and greens.  Everything was delicious and I loved the way we sat around and talked while we ate.  We discussed cultural differences and shared memories of growing up.  We sat around the table for a long time and I loved that so much time was devoted to being together. It also made me so happy to see that Grace’s brother, Adziwa enjoyed cooking and spent so much time in the kitchen because that is how my brother is as well.   

After eating, we moved over to the couches and talked some more.  Then we had a snack of popcorn before having tea and coffee around 5.  At this time, we had homemade chocolate cake as well as biscuits.  I was feeling so incredibly full by this point and was ready for either a nap or a walk.  I knew I had to be leaving soon in order to make it over to the Square’s house for dinner at 7, so Grace and I went for a walk before I said my goodbyes.  As everyone walked me out to my car, they thanked me for making their Christmas so special.  I told them that I had done nothing and that instead, they were the ones that had made my Christmas one I will never forget.  I was shown so much love and I could feel a bond that had been made with Grace’s family.  As I was leaving, they invited me to join them for a cookout the following day.  I gladly accepted their invitation, as I knew it would give me more time to spend with them.  As we were saying our goodbyes, they each gave me a hug, even though this is not part of Malawian culture.  This gesture meant so much to me as it was a reflection of how they made me feel the entire day.  They truly made me feel at home and they honored me greatly by showing me such love and hospitality.  Their company was better than any gift I could’ve ever wished for. 

Here we all are after eating and spending the day together.  
The girls-taken by Adziwa, which is why it isn't crooked!  
As if this wasn’t enough, I quickly came home to grab another crate of drinks, a bag of rice, a gallon of oil, and a frozen chicken to take to the Squares house.  This is the traditional gift to give at Christmas time if you are invited to join a family to celebrate and I had given one to Grace’s family and had also bought one to take to the Square’s house for Christmas dinner.  This family has quickly become very close to my heart as Lifton Square is a college student and he is also our gardener.  I have spent many afternoons talking with him outside as he is majoring in education and so we have a lot in common.  His family lives on campus with him in married housing and his wife Nellie has had me over to cook with her.  They have three beautiful children and they are starting to warm up to me. 

When I arrived at their home, the power was out.  They had dinner prepared and we ate by candlelight.  We had rice with a wonderful broth served over it that had vegetables in it.  We also ate chicken and chimanga, which is a lot like corn on the cob, but it is maize that it cooked over coals. At the end of dinner, we talked and then I colored in a coloring book with the kids.  They had dessert, but I was just too full to eat it!  I feel very at home when I am with their family and they asked me if I was missing my family and what they would be doing on this day.  It was so nice to talk about my family and our Christmas traditions. As we talked, I could see the kids were getting tired.  I said goodnight and thanked them for welcoming me in as part of their family.  I left their home feeling as though I had spent the entire day with loved ones.  I didn’t feel at all like I spent Christmas in a different culture, worlds away from the familiar.  That saying, home is where the heart is, felt true in a different kind of way.  I could see the hearts of those who welcomed me in.  They were kind and sincere and so loving.  I felt so at home with my friends and I was so incredibly thankful for such a wonderful Christmas in Malawi.  

Lifton and Nellie Square.  They just celebrated their 9th wedding anniversary as well.  

Nalisa, Joshua, and Leah Square.  Doesn't get much cuter than that!  


  1. Hi Ms. Herbst, this is Misha not Shari. I like reading your stories! I miss you and can't wait for you to come back! There's a new boy in my class named Gerdo and he's from South Africa. I'm working really hard on my topographer report and I'm going to use some of the information you wrote on your blog for my report. I'll try to finish it by Sunday so that I can share it with you before I do my presentation for the class on Tuesday. Happy New Year too! Love, Misha

  2. Misha! I'm so happy to hear that you're reading my blog and that you're doing a report on Malawi! It is an absolutely wonderful place and I cannot wait to see you and tell you more about it in person! That is so neat that you have a student in your class from South Africa. I hope you are enjoying researching Malawi and I cannot wait to hear your report! I miss you and wish you a Happy new Year! Love, Ms. Herbst