On Malawi Vacation

Bounce around in the back of the truck, wind blowing through your hair. Pause the truck to let the baboons cross the street (why did the monkeys cross the road?), more like a tiny dirt road. Pick up some people, drop some off. Stop for a hitchhiker: a forty-five minute ride can take three hours.

Malawi is beautiful. Small hills covered in big rock faces and newly green trees. Gardens and farms line the road, soil prepped and ready for the rainy season to come in full force to grow the maize. White sand beach, small islands popping up in the middle of the lake which looks like an ocean. Clear blue water lapping the edges, the amaamas washing the clothes and the dishes in the lake, little naked kids diving in and out of the water.

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Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.
Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.

Its dry here still, like in much of south eastern Zambia, where the rains are still just starting, a month later than they should have. You can see it in the trees and the fields and in the rivers thirsting for water. You can feel it in the heat, which constantly needs a good rain to break it up into something more bearable. Something less heavy feeling. The hot season has gone on way too long here.

Of course, being from Northwest, I am not used to the heat. Our rainy season has been going for at least a month or two now, and I worry more about the hole in my roof than about my neighbors’ farms not being able to grow food. I worry about the snakes that might come in through the forest of ferns that grows up around my house before I ask someone to come and slash my yard. Dry is a foreign concept at home when I cant get my clothes to dry, when I am in bed in my sweatpants and a sweater.

Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi
Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi

But, then again, this is our beach vacation, and what is a beach vacation without too much heat and sunburns and skipping over the burning sand into the cool water to cool down?

And here we are: in Malawi. On the lake, the crystal clear lake that is so big it seems like an ocean. We lie on the beach and read our books and drink our beers and life on vacation is good. We wait while the morning clouds clear out, we catch a ride into town to get money from the atm. The breeze in the truck bed cuts the heat for the moment, and is a nice break from the rest of the day.

And we return to the beach. We watch the boats in the water, multiplied at night while they shine their lights and go fishing. We watch the amaamas go down to the edge of the water and wash the clothes and the dishes and themselves. The little boys run down to the edge of the water, strip their clothes off on the way and dive into the waves. We count the chickens running around in the sand with the kids, and it is so much like home, like the village, but with sand instead of dirt and lakes instead of streams. It is vacation.

Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.
Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.
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To the Rain

On rainy days we don’t go anywhere. We don’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere to go. Sit in the corner, watch the water fall, the whole world is in my head. Listen to the sound of the drops on the thatch. Listen to the sound of the drops coming in through the holes, land in the bowls and the pots and the pans lining the floor to catch the strays as they come into the hut. Block everything else in the world out and just listen.

On rainy days the ground is happy, the heat slinks away. The dust finally settles and the green returns to the earth. The ferns start to unfold and rise slowly up, up towards the sky. The dry earth turns to puddles, the paths turn to mud. The stream levels rise, the banks slink away.

On rainy days we watch the storms come in. We look up at the clear blue skies and spot the dark cloud moving towards us and guess about whether it will hit us soon or pass us by. We go for walks. We wash our clothes. We fetch water and take a shower and get caught in the storm as it comes in. We head back inside. The clothes get slowly damper on the lines as the storm washes off those bits of soap that never come off while bucket washing my laundry.

We walk slowly inside, enjoying the drops, we dry off and bundle up and leave the door to the hut wide open to allow the breeze to cool the inside of the room. We move the candles out of the way of the wind, we sweep the dust from the corners where it continually collects. The wind blows it back inside and we finally get the larger pieces out the door or into the puddle on the stoop. We move back inside. We dry off our hands.

On rainy days we take the brazier inside to cook on, we let the fumes fill the room with smoke. We pile on extra small pieces of charcoal so that the fire will catch without needing to be swung. We wait for it to heat up, we let it warm the room. We make soup or stew and sit on the bed eating and watching a movie. We make popcorn with the extra hot coals. We put on music, we take turns putting on songs. We find the perfect songs. We stop taking turns and listen to the perfect songs one right after another. We sit on the concrete floor, hands around our knees. We sit on the floor and listen to the music and the glow of the candles lights the hut with long shadows and soft hisses. We turn off the sound. We listen to the rain.

The rain stops and we wish for it to keep going. We wish for the soothing soundtrack to the day. The excuse to be as slow as possible. The calm way in which everything stops in deference. We fall asleep and it starts raining again.

The rain continues through the night, and slows to a stop sometime in the early morning. The storm has come and gone, come and gone again, and it is dry. The leaves shake off the drops and drops of dew and it is a new day, bright and blue skies once more.

The rain has stopped and the sun has returned and we go outside, blinking into the sun, the clouds burning off again, the world returning to what it was before. The sky turns from dark to grey to blue and we wait. We wait for the rains to return. We wait for the rains to return to the skies once more.

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The storm cloud coming in towards Samuteba, blue skies on the ridge in Mundwidji.

 

Thanksgiving Day

The turkey is running around in the yard, the warthog is frozen in the freezer downstairs. We have sign ups for who is going to help with the various food items, all the ones that we know from home. And we know who is going to end up doing the majority of the cooking, the volunteers who will spend the next two days in the kitchen taking charge and making sure that the food all gets cooked in time. That it all gets done in time for the meal.

The turkey’s name is Hilary, the warthog’s name was Bill. The turkey was bought from a farm run by a white missionary in one of the districts, the warthog was killed from a game reserve nearby. This is Thanksgiving in a new country.

There are nearly forty people in my province, who will be at the main Peace Corps house for the holiday. This is Thanksgiving in a new country. This is Thanksgiving with new friends.

We buy tickets on turkey roulette, where an area has been divided into squares, and you can bet on which square the turkey will poop on. The two winners split the fifty kwacha pot, getting enough to buy some fried chicken and chips from the fast food place across from the grocery store.

We take turns trying to Skype home, Skype parents and friends, and by the end of the night and the next day you see various people in the yard trying to get in touch with parents with siblings with boyfriends and girlfriends back home. The days here are dry and hot and long. Rainy season hasn’t hit Solwezi with full force yet and the heat has been building on itself for the past few days that we have been here. It is hot, so hot, and the sweat pours into the corners of everything possible.

We spend Thanksgiving morning sitting around and watching movies, getting over being sick and getting ready to eat heavily in the afternoon. And by the afternoon, while food is being cooked, and the electricity is going in and out, we sit outside sweating in the sun, watching the rain cloud approaching, the rain finally come in.

We play outside, we make water balloons, we sit in the rain filling balloons while the rain drenches us to the bone. We wait until the rain stops before arranging a game of capture the flag, four people on each team and two buckets of water balloons in the middle for pelting at anyone carrying the flag.

We win two out of three games before throwing the rest of the balloons before heading inside to finish drinks, shower, and gather for dinner.

Before dinner we circle up as an entire provincial family. We read out loud things that we are thankful for before heading in for dinner. And immediately the power goes out.

But that is what happens, that is sometimes what happens when you are in a city with spotty power. So we sit around the porch, on couches and benches and the floor, eating food piled on our plates in the dark, with candles or flashlights to see our food. And we complain that eating in the village has made us less able to eat as much as we usually would. And we go back at midnight for seconds or thirds or fourths.

And in the morning we don’t have any bread to make traditional Thanksgiving sandwiches, but I pile food into a mug and make a Thanksgiving sundae instead.

And finally Thanksgiving is over, and the people slowly leak out of the house. Bags are packed and food is removed from the refrigerator. You go to your bus or your lodge to stay another night in the city. Or stay around and continue watching movies and reading on the porch and waiting for it all to calm down. And Thanksgiving is over, the first holiday in country is over and done with.

The province all gathered on the porch for Thanksgiving!
The province all gathered on the porch for Thanksgiving!
Some of the kids dancing at the Independence Day celebration in October
Some of the kids dancing at the Independence Day celebration in October