I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore

By Elise Brown-Dussault

District church

District church

The scene opens in Makupo village. The date is Tuesday, June 11th, and the time is 8 am. The three explorers, their eyes bleary with sleep and sun, leave behind the community’s thatched houses and boisterous roosters and trudge across the road with their heavy equipment. It’s a short walk to the Reverend’s house. The two Canadian girls have seen it before—daunted by its incredible size and by the three satellite dishes decorating the roof—but they’ve never been inside. The Reverend, a young man of surprisingly short stature, leads them inside. The three adventurers are quickly swallowed up by the house’s colossal frame.

I don’t know where to look. I know I’m supposed to feel impressed, but I can’t help but think that the several stereo systems and 24-inch TV screen in the living room serve primarily as a means to intimidate rather than to entertain. Considering that a large majority of Malawians live without electricity or running water, it strikes me as largely excessive.

Whether or not to interview the local Reverend has called for a few days of debate. While we don’t want to display any kind of religious bias, we also want to show the region in its most natural context. As religion plays an important role for the greater part of the population, we are left with little choice but to concur that omitting the Reverend would leave a significant dearth in our footage.

After customary greetings and introductions, we get right down to business. The Reverend’s English is excellent, so Lonjezo can circumvent his usual tedious translation job and slips behind the camera. Roxy and I stand behind him, questions in hand, battle stance on.

His answers are concise and interesting, but I find it difficult to concentrate. My eyes shift from the tennis trophies to the crocheted covers on the couches. There are four of us, and six couches. I feel as if a whirlwind has carried us right out of Malawi and left us in the parlor of some ornery old American grandmother. It’s difficult for me not to think about the world we’ve just left behind—I’d gladly trade the Reverend’s luxuries for a single smile from the village toddlers, even if their toothy grins suggest that they’ve been eating dirt in their spare time.

“What life lessons do you wish to pass on to your children?” The interview is almost over, and this question has proven to be effective as a wrap-up. Lonjezo zooms onto his face, and a short pause hangs in the air.

“I want to teach them to fear God,” he finally answers, looking straight into the lens. “Children these days are severely lacking in direction—they have too much freedom, and they’re all over the place.”

A chill navigates through the room, and all of a sudden I wish I’d brought a sweater. Roxy and I meet eyes, but we don’t need words to assert that we’re thinking the same thing. Based on his country’s current situation, it was the last thing I had expected to hear.

The three adventurers are quiet as they walk out of the house into the balmy sunshine. They stand around and blink a bit, as whirlwind survivors are wont to do, but they recover quickly. The scene fades as they pick up their equipment and lug it back to the village, where genteel faces and modest houses feel most welcome.

1 thought on “I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore

  1. Susan van Gelder

    Sometimes only a few steps carry you a long distance, from poverty to plenty. It is interesting to see all sides of life in Malawi. And never forget – fear is a great way to control people!

    Reply

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