Sunday, February 1, 2009

Adjusting to Africa

Happy inauguration day! Okay, so this will likely be sent out some time after the inauguration, but everyone was quite excited about the event in Malawi. Several teachers and I caught a ride to a local resort to watch the inauguration on CNN. I always wonder how organizers decide when to hold large events. I know that most of the popular sports at the Olympics were held at obscure hours in Beijing so that they could be broadcast live for prime time in America. If America was considered the target audience for the Olympics, then Africa must have been the target audience for the inauguration; in Malawi we enjoyed live coverage at 6pm. With good reason, I suspect that Barack Obama is far more popular here than he is in America. All you hear is Obama this and Obama that. When people hear that I voted for Obama they get really excited. I get the distinct feeling that most people think that American politics impacts their lives about as much as Malawian politics, and alas they get only one vote. Oddly enough, I may get two votes. The election is around the corner in Malawi and people keep asking me if I am going to vote. I figured that voting would be out of the question since I am not a citizen; however, when I raise this point to Malawians, they shrug it off as if to say, “more questionable things have happened.”

            Jes and I stick out around here like a sore thumb, so people are quickly realizing and adjusting to our presence. Many people now know our names and we see many friends on the road now. Many students live within a mile or two of the school and upon the frequent roadside meeting I feel at an inherent disadvantage. If I am lucky they will say, “Sir, Sir,” at least informing me that they are a student. If they are in my classes I also have a chance, but most of time my standard greeting is met with, “I go to Gracious (the school), I am in Form X, we met during the X event, do you remember?” Most of the time, in an effort to be polite I say, “oh, I remember now,” but in reality if the student is not in one of my classes the odds of me remembering a face out of hundreds is on par with me passing on an opportunity to buy mangos.

We usually go into town on weekends to buy supplies we can’t get from local farmers. We travel the 10km trek in a matola, a form of public transport which involves as many people as possible cramming into the back of a compact pickup truck. I counted 23 in the back this weekend and I imagine there were several more in the front. We got stopped at a police checkpoint because the drivers hadn’t paid to update their permit. Apparently all you need to carry a dangerous number of people in your dilapidated pickup is a permit. The police could have cared less that the truck was packed to the breaking point, since I am pretty sure I saw one or two people approach the truck, haggle a fare, and board, all while the drivers were arguing with the police. After a lot of shouting between the police and the drivers, and a lot of laughing by everyone in the truck (the riders seemed to think it was pretty funny), we were allowed to go on our way. On the return trip someone was trying to rip us off, but thankfully a friend from MCV happened to be on the truck and yelled at the person that we were volunteering at MCV and to leave us alone.

            Jes and I attended the local church today. One of the men who works security at MCV is the chairman and invited us to visit. The sermon was in the native language, but all in all it was pretty fun because the singing was so phenomenal. Malawians sure know how to sing, I don’t think I have met anyone yet who can’t keep a tune and sing harmony. The congregation was as good as any church choir in the United States, at times singing in several parts, all in perfect harmony. It is interesting how Christianity has been intermixed with local culture. Most prayers and speaking parts are sung in a call and response manor; quite a fun way of doing things. Jes and I have a church invite for next week too, but the church is some distance away and I am skeptical whether we can make it.

            The religious situation here seems peculiar from an outsider’s perspective, but the locals manage it just fine. Malawi was and is the land of missionaries and there is so much religious variety here it seems almost crowded. After classes the other day students were meeting in their religious clubs and I saw a frazzled teacher running down the halls grabbing students and asking, “what religion are you?” At the school’s opening ceremony this Saturday each religion was given a chance to sing and it took three hours. I must admit it was quite fun, whether it be Islam or Christianity, everyone is given a voice and each voice is given a Malawian twist.

            I apologize for the lack of pictures this week. I keep trying to bring a camera with me but I always forget. If my resolution improves, hopefully next post will have pictures from Monkey Bay. It is a resort destination about an hour away where Jes and I have been trying to visit to try the famous freshwater snorkeling.

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