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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Village visit

The Squares are a family that has become very dear to me.  Not only have they shared with me their lives, but also they have welcomed me into their home multiple times, including Christmas.  I have learned so much from them about Malawian culture and I’ve experienced love that has made me feel like I am with family.  Nellie has family out in a village about an hour and fifteen minutes away.  She has crops there and she takes trips to go plant and cultivate the land.  She asked if I would like to take a day trip to meet her family and see her crops.  I told her I would be honored to join her and would love to meet her family. 

We set off Saturday morning around 7:30.  We took local transportation, which are mainly mini-buses.  We stood on the side of the road outside of the ABC campus waiting for a bus to take us from campus into town.  These are basically big vans that look as if they are falling apart.  They have about 4 rows of seats in them and they are crammed full of people.  Once you get on, you pay a man who is sitting by the sliding door to let people on and off.  You then let him know when you want off and the bus pulls over on the side of the road.  When there is room, if there are people on the side of the road, the bus will pull over and let them on.  As we waited, about 6 full mini-buses passed us.  It was 40 minutes before one stopped.  I have no idea how we fit since it looked absolutely full to me, but I crammed in next to 4 others on my bench.  Once in town, we walked through the market to a spot where there were lots of mini-buses parked.  Each had a sign in the front window stating the destination.  The drivers were trying to get people to take their bus so they rushed at people, asking where they were headed and trying to convince you to take their bus.  Once we found a bus for our location, we paid the driver and were given a receipt.  We took a spot on the back of the bus.  The waiting then began, as the bus doesn’t leave until it is full.  I was hopeful, as there seemed to be quite a few people already on.  However; the man I was sitting next to told me there are “cheats” on the bus.  These are people that sit on the bus to make it look full in order to attract more passengers that believe it will be departing shortly.  Then once seats are purchased and passengers are boarded, the cheats get off the bus.   We waited on the bus for an hour and forty minutes before it was full and ready to go.  Once we were on our way, I enjoyed the scenery and felt great about the trip other than when we were stopped by the police because our mini-bus was over capacity.  The driver had to get out and talk with them for about 10 minutes and he ended up paying a fine that was equivalent to three passengers’ bus fare.  Once we unloaded the bus, we then had to walk to a dirt road off the main road.  We then took motorbikes to Nellie’s mother’s house, as it is about 4 miles down a rather rocky dirt road.  I held on tight to the back of the motorbike.  I’ve been on motorcycles before, but nothing this small.  I didn’t want to fall off the back! 
Nellie's mom with some of the children in the village.  Many of these are grandkids.  

At Nellie’s house, her mother was busy preparing food.  She served us pumpkin that had been boiled. The pumpkins here taste rather different than those in the states. They were very soft and there’s a transparent skin to peel off the outside and then the rest of the pumpkin is eaten.  After eating pumpkin, we were served Irish potatoes.  These are picked up and eaten with your hands just as the pumpkins were.  I was very full after our meal.  We sat and talked for a bit with Nellie translating between Chichewa and English.  After eating, we walked about 3 miles down the road to visit the village where the rest of Nellie’s family lives.  They were expecting us so they were all sitting outside.  They laid a mat out for Nellie and myself that was facing them.  Something I appreciate about visits in the village is the greeting that takes place.  They are so genuine and respectful and they take time to greet each person individually.  Each of Nellie’s Aunts and Uncles came one at a time and first kneeled in the dirt to shake my hand (this is a sign of respect) and then when they shook my hand and greeted me in Chichewa they held the arm that they were shaking my hand with.  This as well is a sign of respect.  The kids all gathered around, watching me carefully.  I was told by one of the elders that they were honored to have me.  Nellie explained to the young ones in Chichewa that because her parents’ valued education, she was able to learn English and that is how she can be friends with someone like myself.  She encouraged them to go to school and work hard.  After visiting, we walked out to the fields to see the crops.  Day in and day out these people till the soil, working in the hot sun.  They are not given immediate results and in some cases, the crops were not very successful.  It broke my heart to see some of the land where the maize was not very tall and where it had all dried up.  Fortunately Nellie’s crop has done very well this year.  Harvesting is what sustains these families.  They eat what they have grown and sell what extra they have.  I could see the pride on their faces as they showed me their fields.  The kids ran out with us, turning around to see if I was taking pictures. 
Nellie (in the blue and green dress) with some of her relatives.  

We stopped by the well on the way back.  This is everyone’s source of water and I was amazed at the moss that was growing inside.  The water was clearly dirty and the kids were raising the bucket and drinking.  Oh the things I take for granted!  If I were to drink that water, I would most surely get sick.  Even here in Africa, I have access to filtered water.  I know there are parasites in the water and not only that, but this water has to be hauled back to homes to be used for drinking, cooking, and washing. 

Once we had visited, it was time to say goodbye and start the walk back.  I knew we had quite a way to go, as we had to walk the long dirt road back to the main road where we would catch the mini-bus.  I didn’t realize we were being given multiple things to take back with us.  We had 5 big bags filled with potatoes, tomatoes, and beans, all grown right there in the village.  Nellie would be able to take them back to sell here in town and then the profit would be taken back to the village.  We clearly couldn’t carry everything back on our backs and so Nellie’s mother and two of her Aunts loaded bags on their heads to walk with us.  Nellie told me they would’ve walked with us even if we didn’t need help carrying things because that is what you do when people come to visit.  Although I’ve seen this kind of hospitality and genuine appreciation for relationships multiple times in Malawi, it still amazes me.  The walk is about 5 miles in one direction, meaning they would end up walking over 10 miles. 

During the walk, Nellie started to worry that we would run out of daylight and possibly have a more difficult time catching a mini-bus.  We hadn’t seen any motorbikes yet and so she asked one of the people on a bicycle to ask two motorbikes to come out and meet us to take us back to the main road.  Within about 15 minutes, one rather small motorbike pulled up.  I laughed because I was figuring one of us would have to stay and wait for the motorbike to take the other to the main road and come back.  I knew this too would take time.  I laughed even harder when I realized the driver was planning on taking BOTH of us on the motorbike plus our 5 bags, all at once!  He bungee corded four of our bags onto the back of the bike and then took my backpack and put it on the front of him (the wrong way) then he positioned himself so he was pretty much sitting on the handle bars.  He had me get on behind him and then Nellie behind me and between the bags.  This all took about ten minutes.  Once we were on, I had to reach my legs back to place on top of Nellie’s feet.  It took a few tries for him to actually start the bike since he had to reach so far back with his foot, but he was finally successful and we were off.  Needless to say, it was a rather slow ride as he maneuvered around bumps and holes in the road.  There were times he came to a steep part and I didn’t think the bike would make it over.  He really had to put on the gas and then we’re just roll over.  I laughed throughout the ride, especially when those in the village would stop what they were doing to watch us ride by.  I also laughed when the driver explained in Chichewa to Nellie that I needed to move a bit to the right.  I asked Nellie how exactly I was going to do this, as I didn’t see any possible way for me to move.  She said I just needed to move my hips a bit to the right.  I did my best to move although I didn’t feel like I moved at all! 

Once on the main road, the situation for getting a mini-bus was completely different.  There were two there that were both ready to go.  Since there was a demand for passengers, they charged half of what we paid on our wait out.  We had no wait time and the ride back was uneventful.  We managed to carry all our bags through town and caught our second mini-bus back to campus.  We arrived home at 6:45 PM.  It was a rather long day, but an extremely fun adventure.  Even as I write, I’m struck with the reality that to me, this was a rare day filled with many firsts and many lasts.  For many Malawians however; this is everyday life. 

Some of the kids walking out to see the crops with us. 

Nellie's mother and her cousin standing by their tomato plants.  
Maize tastes much like corn, but not as sweet.  It is eaten like this, but much
of it is dried out and then turned into a type of flower used to make nsima.
Here is the well in the village.  

One of the children pulling up the jug for a drink. 

The kids were thirsty from the heat and our walk.
They each took turns drinking straight from the jug.
A typical home in the village. The word for home in Chichewa is "kunyumba"

This is a kitchen in the village.  

Nellie's Uncle.  He was amazed when I showed him his picture on my camera.
This concept of seeing a picture that was just taken,
causes young and old alike to laugh and point in amazement.

After the women bring beans from the fields, everyone gathers
around to help prepare the meal.  


  1. Oh Christy - so great to get back to reading your blog. I'm 2 weeks out from leaving for Uganda and these photos (and stories) are absolutely warming my heart as I prepare for being in similar surroundings. I know you are being blessed beyond measure. What a joy to relive your experience with you through your pictures and stories. LOVE IT!

  2. Christy, oh how I wish I could have seen a video of you on the motorbike!