By Dale Perks
Singing, dancing, chanting, and clapping….this is how the villagers of Makupo greeted us as we arrived in the village and stepped off the bus. Although we were complete strangers to each other, a certain “magic” was transforming at that very moment, with a feeling as though we’d known each other for a lifetime. As we awkwardly attempted to speak Chichewa, such as “moni” and “muli bwanji” (which is hello; how are you) the villagers reciprocated with warm hand shakes, hugs, and smiles. It’s hard to put these feelings into words, but perhaps it could be humbly described as “heart-warming.”
Despite all of the preparation that occurred before departing on this trip, I do not think one could ever be fully prepared for the cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that one experiences in such a place. It’s been a struggle for me about deciding on what to write in this blog, as I have had so many enriching experiences already. So, instead of recounting every event, I’ve decided to focus on writing about some of the feelings that I’ve experienced in relation to some of the special moments in hope that it will give others a sense of this amazing project and the incredible journey I am on, thus far.
One of the prominent feelings I have felt so far has been joy, which has been elicited at varying moments, such as when I’ve woken up to the sounds of the women singing as they go about doing their chores; when I’ve watched children playing soccer and interacting with the students; when I’ve gazed at the beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the African sky; when I’ve observed the interesting insects that wander about including the varieties of spiders, praying mantis and colourful butterflies; and when we participated in a large community meeting with neighboring villages whereby the senior village chief spoke to all the leaders, welcomed us and expressed his enthusiasm and support for the Praxis Malawi project. It brought tears to my eyes to see the expressions on the faces of the men and woman who listened so attentively and expressed a desire to collaborate as a community with all of us in our goal of moving forward with all of the various projects.
Perhaps the strongest feeling that I have experienced so far has been a sense that my heart has been “warmed” by the people of Malawi. For example, during one of the visits to a neighboring school, I was overwhelmed by the reception we received. I must say, being surrounded by hundreds of children all at once, who wanted to hold my hands, touch my white skin and give me hugs, was exceptionally heart-warming. I will particularly cherish the moments when I danced and sang with some of the children from a secondary school. Another exceptional moment was when we climbed Mount Kasungu, which was quite a challenge. As we finally reached the top of the mountain we gathered in celebration by joining hands with some of the villagers that had guided us up the mountain and we did a group “high five”. There was no distinction of color or race….just feelings of unity and warmth. Another special moment that stands out in my mind is when we visited the district hospital in Kasungu. At one point during the village I stopped to say hello to a woman who was bedridden on one of the wards. We held hands and when I asked her how she was feeling, she smiled looking deeply in my eyes and replied with a hopeful expression “ I am trying to be well.”
I have also experienced feelings of uncertainty and fear at various points since we’ve first arrived in Makupo. For example, the first time I encountered a “sausage bug” in the house I’m staying in, I was a little startled. Luckily Professor Stonebanks came to my rescue, explained how these insects are harmless and he gently scooped it up in his hands and released it the wild. I’ve since become an expert at catching and releasing these critters that seem to make their way into my house in the evening. I also had a close encounter with a six inch worm-like creature (it was actually a millipede) that was hiding behind the wipes that I reached for in the outhouse. It scared the ‘begeegees’ out of me! I ran out of the outhouse in a panic and went looking for Dr. Stonebanks. Thankfully it turned out to be the harmless type, unlike its distant relative which apparently has fangs and bites. I mustered up the courage to hold it in my hands and then set it free. Most recently, I discovered a spider spinning a web between two posts outside my house. At first it was thought to be a harmless spider despite it’s scary looking legs, but it was later confirmed by the Chief that in fact it was a poisonous spider and had and had to be killed. Another scary moment for me was during one evening, shortly after we arrived in the village, when I was walking from my house to the student lodge in the pitch dark. Unfortunately,I took the wrong path and realized I had no clue where I was. At the very moment I was feeling stressed one of the security guards who figured out that I was going the wrong way escorted me to the lodge.
Finally, I’ve also experienced feelings of intrigue in relation to the many new things I have witnessed and experienced. For example, it was interesting to eat goat and nsima for the first time, as well as bathe (and wash my hair) with a simple bucket of water in an outside bath house. I’ve been intrigued by how the village woman cook over a fire and make the most delicious meals and how they carry water in buckets on their heads without ever spilling a drop, and how bricks are made with water and sand and laid out in the sun to dry.
It’s been an interesting and wonderful experience so far, and I hope to continue to share with all of you some of my experiences, as we move forward with this brilliant project and continue on this very special journey.