Sunday, July 6, 2008

Frank & Enellece's Wedding

Yesterday was Frank and Enellece’s wedding – Frank is my housemate and Enellece is my friend from Machinga so it was like a colliding of my two worlds in a wonderful day full of celebration and joy! When Malawians are partying, there is no hiding it! The day was full of dancing and singing and of course, the traditional throwing of money. We had a full house which was a bit overwhelming and at times I didn’t know where to put myself. But everyone was welcoming and happy to have me as part of the festivities.

I awoke the day of the wedding at 4AM to the wonderful sound of women singing happily outside as they sat around the fire in the darkness preparing water for the multitudes of people waiting to bathe and prepare for the ceremony. The wedding ceremony was at the church at 7:30AM so there’s was much to get ready – bathe, eat, dress the children, shine shoes, don hats and colourful head scarves, suits and beautiful dresses. Cars showed up decked out with ribbons and balloons to carry the parents of the bride and groom to the church. In many ways, the ceremony itself was very much like those at home, complete with reciting of vows, exchanging of rings but minus the big kiss at the end. There was none of the seriousness, however, of Bach symphonies and organ music. Instead, there was clapping, dancing, hooting and hollering, women ululating and cheering. Even the priest had the place laughing, his one-liners punctuated with a keyboard that served almost as the drum and symbol combination delivered at the end of a punch line of a good joke.

After the ceremony, there were a few hours of downtime, while people ate lunch and prepared for the reception. Once everyone was gathered together again at the reception hall, the wedding party made their grand entrance complete with choreographed dance for the children, the bridesmaids and groomsman and the bride and groom themselves, again to hosts of clapping, dancing, whistling and singing. At times I was laughing out loud, just to be part of such a rambunctious and rowdy gathering! I was asked by Frank to be a cashier and was honoured to play a special role at the wedding. A role which was a lot harder than I thought! Throughout the reception, groups of people are asked to come up and “greet” the bride and groom. Groups are called including friends of the bride, friends of the groom, coworkers or churchmates of the bride and/or groom, couples who are married, singles who aren’t, etc. Each time a group is called, they dance to the front and throw money, sometimes into a basket that the bride or groom is holding but more often than not they are too busy dancing to be bothered to aim and the money just gets tossed into the air accompanied by some killer dance moves until the floor becomes littered with bills. As cashiers, the six of us were responsible to collect all the money from the basket and the floor and count it after each dance. In addition, we make change for the wedding guests to cash in their big bills for lots of smaller bills so more enjoyment of chucking the money but without spending a fortune. Simple enough but it comes in fast and furious and it’s hard to keep up! It truly was an occasion that I was so happy to be a part of. It was like joy and happiness was oozing out from the tent…
That evening we headed back to the house, happy and exhausted from a day of celebration. There was a bit of confusion where I was going to stay because the previous night I had stayed with a neighbour but her relatives had come so there was no space for me there. It was finally decided that I would stay in my room, but it had been taken over by all the female relatives of the bride and groom – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and children – my presence in their midst caused a bit of discomfort and upheaval amongst this group of women from villages of Machinga. There was one single bed which would sleep 2 and the rest of the 10 or so women were huddled on the floor, chatting and preparing cloth and blankets to form make-shift beds. I insisted on giving the bed to one of the grandmothers to share with one of the bridesmaids who was not feeling well and take my place on the floor, however, that caused great upset. “You’re a muzungu (white person), you must have the bed” I heard through translation. “I know I am a muzungu but I’ll take the floor. You take the bed” I said to Frank’s grandmother, a wizened old woman with a wonderful toothless smile as I started settling my own chitenge and blanket and nuzzling down. Amazed, but happy, his grandmother smiled and picked her way across the floor littered with bodies and lay down on the edge of the bed. “Zikomo kwambiri. Ndatokoza. (Thank you very much. I appreciate that.)” she said. I lay down my head and smiled, my hip bone sore on the hard floor but happy to be squashed amongst the women and children after a wonderful day.

My roommates

In total, the equivalent of approximately $1,600 was raised at the wedding. While it seems a lot, especially in Malawian terms, it was not enough to make back what they spent on hosting the wedding itself, to pay back debts and loans they have incurred through the wedding planning process. Unfortunately, however, to family and friends, they hear this amount of money and many set out to find ways in which they can share in the fortune. I remember one of my earliest conversations with Frank when I moved into the house early this year. Although he has a very good job and we stay in a nice house provided by his employer, a great proportion of his income is sent home to Machinga to support his family. As the only one in the family with a higher education and steady employment, it is his responsibility to provide money for the daily needs of his family and even extended family back home. This is a significant drain on his financial resources and as a result, money for needs here in Lilongwe, like food, electricity, water and transport is often stretched. Of all his expenses, paying school fees for Grace and her brother is his number one priority. The only way he can reduce this financial burden is to ensure that these two cousins also make their way to higher education and successful employment so they can share this responsibility to the family. Unfortunately, however, it’s sad to see the repercussions. There are bitter rumblings amongst the family that he and Enellece have left for the lake for a few days of a honeymoon, complaining it’s a waste of money and waiting for the money they believe they are owed. There is a common misconception that the family here in Lilongwe are living the “high life” while those at home in the village are struggling. Instead of parents being happy for their children, with the hanging around and side comments, it almost appears that they are jealous. It is a dynamic that I am not familiar with, coming from a family where I was supported by my parents and do not have to worry about financial obligations to family at such a young age. It’s interesting that many here do not see the value of an education, even with the promise of a good job and increased income. For a youngster who works hard and manages to get a good job, it is a huge burden to bear and for some, may even be a disincentive.

All families have their dynamics I guess, across culture or financial status. Despite this struggle, I am very happy for my friends, Frank and Enellece, two people that have accepted me into their lives with open arms, providing for my every need, from food and shelter to love and support. They are true friends I am very lucky to know. Noria, our neighbour said to me after meeting the Kachifumbus, who were here for the wedding, “You are surrounded with wonderful people everywhere you go”. I am. “It starts with you”, she said. “When you are open and friendly with people, they will return those feelings upon you.” I wish Frank and Enellece, two of my wonderful people, every happiness in their lives together and am very happy to share this brief time with them.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Feeling like I finally fit...

Last Saturday was one of those days that’s just made up of a whole bunch of random events, that makes you shake your head and laugh. But at the same time there were some very small moments that just made my heart happy so I thought you’d get a kick out of it…

I was at an EWB conference for most of the day but eager to get home because Enellece’s was coming to town to work on wedding planning. I was really looking forward to it because I haven’t seen her for many months. I arrive home around 6 and before I get my second foot through the door she’s yelling my name and comes tearing around the corner arms out ready to throw around me in a big hug. Never underestimate the joy of a big hug! They are just on their way to the tailor as she has bought some material and wants to get a skirt and blouse and a matching shirt made for Frank for their upcoming engagement party. It’s dark so safety in numbers, Frank, Enellece, Grace and I head out to walk over to the tailor’s. After perusing some bridal magazines and getting an idea of styles for the wedding, the woman (who I assume to be the tailor) piles us all into her van and I think she’s going to drive us home. But we take the first turn in the wrong direction and then the second, so I whisper to Grace beside me “Where are we going?”. I’m pretty accustomed to not knowing what’s going on around me and just going with the flow. People are often talking and things are often happening around me and I have no idea what’s going on but don’t seem to question much anymore. Everything seems to work itself out even if I don’t have any idea what’s going on or why. Anyways, so Grace says, we’re going to get the tailor. In my mind, I’m asking so… where were we before? but instead, nod knowingly and look out the window. We are driving into a very low income area of town. There are small decrepit grocery stalls lit by low-burning candles, fires are burning with the makings of the evening meal, children run through the headlight beams, and eerie figures seem to lurk in the shadows, chatting at the corner of run down structures, or peering out from dimly lit doorways. We stop and the woman’s houseboy, who has come along for the ride, jumps out to go and get the tailor. We wait in the van for a little while and then all decide to file out onto the road. This area is clearly not accustomed to a lot of evening traffic and we’re already gathering a bit of an audience just by being stopped on the side of the road in a pretty nice looking vehicle, so imagine the surprise of the neighbourhood as one by one we start filing out of this van and the last, out pops this random white girl! Not something that happens everyday. Needless to say, I cause quite the ruckus! Kids are running around, laughing and giddy, the brave ones darting in to touch my leg and then run away. Adults are coming to gather round and see what all the noise is about. Frank then starts a bit of a math competition to pass the time and diffuse some attention. He’s calling out addition problems and children are yelling out answers to whoops of applause. We quite happily pass the time on arithmetic quizzes until the tailor arrives and then starts to take Frank and Enellece’s measurements in the light from the headlights and is leaning on the hood of the van to write them down on a little scrap of paper. Once the measurements are taken and a few more math problems are successfully solved, we all pile back into the van, and slowly bump our way back over the potholes to the main road, followed by a mass of waving children.

We arrive home and have some dinner and then Enellece asks Grace to try on a sample dress that she has chosen for the women in the wedding party. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I get dressed up in my national wear that I had made. Essentially a skirt and top made of the same material that is often worn here on special occasions. So we are all parading around the house dolled up in our fancy wear, snapping photos, twirling around and feeling quite girly. Frank, meanwhile is lying on the couch reading the newspaper, only glancing up once in a while to smile and roll his eyes! Enellece has also brought a sample dress for Florence, our 8 year old neighbour who will be one of the flower girls in the wedding. Grace takes her into our room and starts getting her into the dress so she can come out and enjoy the fun. But our expectations are somewhat jarred when we hear screaming from the bedroom. Grace has managed to get the dress over Florence’s head and under her arms but can’t pull it down, or get it back off. Florence is essentially stuck in the dress and is screaming that by yanking it up or down we are hurting her. So all the adults now are standing around her and trying to figure out our next plan of action, kind of stifling laughter in the process because we can’t believe we got this kid stuck in a dress! The laughter though is only making things worse for poor Florence! Cream! That’ll do it… we’ll lube her up and slip the dress over her head! So we gather various creams in the house and are trying to shove hands up underneath the dress and down from the top but the dress is pulled so tightly that it’s digging into her skin. Needless to say it was too tight to get a hand in there as well so that plan was aborted. After a bit more yanking in various directions and her screaming, we decide to get a razor blade and cut her out of the dress. But again the seams are pulled so tight that we’re afraid to cut her skin. So after two failed problem solving attempts, we go back to the tried and true… just yank the thing. Sure enough with 3 grown women working at it and her yelling (we had to bring her outside because she was so loud it was echoing off the walls and we couldn’t think), we finally manage to finagle her out of it. Florence goes to bed exhausted and angry at all of us, and we all giggle and start looking around for a needle to repair the tears in the dress.

Strutting the catwalk (or hallway) in our fancy clothes

Florence also posing for the camera, before the fiasco...

The next morning, Enellece is headed back to Machinga so we all accompany her to the bus depot around 6am, still rubbing the sleep from our eyes. The bus depot is a bustling place pretty much at any time of the day or night. We get out of the car and immediately people are approaching me asking where I’m headed. I point at Enellece, “she’s the one, not me”. People are surprised that she has such an entourage to see her off. I maybe cannot explain this very well but for the first time in a long time, based on the events of the last 24 hours, on the sleepy morning fog, on the reactions of the people in the depot, everything just came together. I felt like a real true friend, not anyone different, not anyone who should stand out, just one of the group come to see off a good friend. We managed to pick an almost full bus and get Enellece safely packed in. We turn to walk away, Grace pokes me in the stomach and smiles. I throw my arm around her and we walk back to the car on our way home. Something inside me is content and happy. I finally feel I “fit”, I belong, I’m happy…

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's been a long time...

It’s been so long since I’ve written now that it’s hard to even know where to begin. The rains have dried up and it’s getting cooler, the maize is ripe and ready for grinding, life in the city is becoming normal and I’m another year older! Work has been incredibly busy lately and to be honest I have struggled to get used to my “office job”. I miss the daily gratification of field work, of interacting with beneficiaries and getting my hands dirty and seeing the results of our efforts first hand. But after some growing pains, I’m adjusting to my new role and have found the silver lining which gives me the drive to keep at it, despite the delayed or slow pace of change.

My role has changed drastically from what I was doing in Machinga. I was a sunburnt country bumpkin but I’ve turned high-rolling “big” city girl! I now am working primarily in the head office in Lilongwe and working on sector coordination and planning at both the district and national levels. At district level, we are supporting the district assemblies in the preparation of district wide sector strategy and investment plans. These plans aim to localize the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the people without access to safe water and sanitation by 2015. This is a lofty and abstract goal without determining what it means in terms of actual water points/latrines and serviced population on the ground. By analyzing existing information, we are hoping to assess how many water points/latrines are required and where in the district to ensure increased and equitable service provision across the jurisdiction. In many cases, service coverage along major routes (or in the home villages of politicians!) are already very high, but are often still the target of new boreholes or system expansions. Remote areas or those without strong traditional leaders may be struggling in relative silence. It is hoped that by looking at the whole district, we can aim to ensure more equitable distribution of services for both water and sanitation. In addition, the plans take into consideration the identification of the human, material and financial resources necessary to ensure the infrastructure is established and the communities are properly supported to provide effective management and operation. Many of the districts do not have sufficient numbers or properly trained staff required to undertake their responsibilities. They may not even have an office or computers. This plan will look holistically at what is required and set out an investment plan determining how much it is going to cost to achieve. Once the plan is costed, it provides a type of “shopping list” that can be taken to donors to request funds.

At national level, similar plans and coordination mechanisms are in the works. The national ministry for water development is embarking on the development of a Sector Wide Approach (SWAp). This is a total revamp of the current method of “doing business” in which donors and government undertake various projects in an ad hoc and disjointed manner. The result is very inequitable development with a lot of gaps in some areas and duplication in others, often with conflicting approaches used that undermine project successes. The SWAp aims to develop a holistic sector strategy, identifying priority areas and agreeing on common implementation approaches that apply to all sector players. The objective is that sector development will progress more effectively with all stakeholders working towards a shared common vision. Having an overall sector strategy will attract more funding and the money, whether it be from government or donors, will be better spent. It is important for sustainability that this process be domestically owned and led rather than imposed from donors. Malawi has taken some great steps so far to lead the SWAp process, however, it is a huge and complicated task that will take years to implement.

The SWAp process is fraught with many challenges. Reaching consensus on sector priorities and approaches amongst all stakeholders (government, donors, NGOs, etc.) is an expensive undertaking often without guaranteed results. Fostering trust between stakeholders, primarily between government and donors, is difficult. It requires that donors release some of their control on funding and allow that government systems will ensure it is used honestly and for the purposes for which it was intended. Governments have to be willing to be open and transparent in their reporting and financial management. The tasks are daunting. But the potential benefits are also great if it can be implemented successfully.

So that’s the quick and dirty update on what I’ve been doing at work. On a personal level I have struggled a bit with adjusting to this “higher level” development work. Arguably, however, the impact will be greater and I am happy and excited to have the opportunity to learn more about how the government and donors function in development. I have been working… a lot… and haven’t had much opportunity for down time or to go out exploring. I did however take off over Easter weekend to Likoma and Chizimulu, two gorgeous little islands in Lake Malawi. It was absolutely wonderful to get a change of scenery, clear my head and get a bit of colour back! By looking at me, no one would believe me back home if I said I’d been working in Africa for almost a year! The down side of a desk job!

Things at home are going well. Frank is busy preparing for his wedding in July. He will marry my friend Enellece from Machinga which will be fabulous – a collision of my two worlds in one big party! Grace is a studying machine getting ready for her business administration exams in June and we have played host to a number of guests in the last few months as they pass through town. Speaking of guests, my parents will arrive in just over a month so I am really looking forward to that. It will be a busy visit but good to show them some of my work and life here, introduce them to friends and family, and explore some of the areas of the country I haven’t yet had time to visit. I even have them lined up to do some volunteering at a medical clinic near Machinga! They are excited and looking forward to the new experiences.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Village girl in the big city

I am slowly getting settled here in Lilongwe. I have moved here for a few weeks, or maybe months (we’ll see), to work out of the head office while I start on some new projects. While it’s good to be back in a bigger city and a treat to take advantage of all the comforts the city provides - regular access to email, a variety of food options, more consistent power, etc. – however, I am also very, very much missing my family in Machinga and the comfort and support that I had there. It’s amazing how much these others things (email, food options and power, for example) don’t mean as much as family and support. Moving and having to adjust to a new city, new projects at work and a new home has been a bit overwhelming but slowly as I settle into a new routine it is getting easier.

I am living with the fiancĂ© of Enellece, a Malawian friend of mine from Machinga. Frank is a tobacco breeder, who works for an agricultural research trust, experimenting with different tobacco strains, trying to breed varieties that are higher yielding, more resistant to pest attacks or certain climate conditions. Tobacco, or “green gold” as it is called here, is Malawi’s biggest export crop. I would’ve thought “green gold” would be maize as it is grown everywhere but apparently it is grown predominantly for local consumption and does not bring in much, if any, export money. Tobacco, therefore, is a very important crop and a lot of money and effort is spent on ensuring its successful production.

We also live with, and I share a room with, Frank’s cousin Grace. She is a 23 year old who is doing a diploma at a local college in business administration. She is quite sweet and has become something like a little sister. She likes to do my hair up in curlers and then get it all styled so I look “quite smart”. I think it just looks big! We play cards in the evening or I teach her some basic computer skills. I was quite worried when I moved in that I had invaded her room, and with all my stuff, it’s not like my presence can go unnoticed! But despite the invasion, she seems happy to have another girl in the house to do things with and I am very happy for the company as well.

So there have been many changes recently but as things settle down I’m becoming more comfortable again. The small town girl is getting used to the big city! I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into my new projects at work. They all seem a bit overwhelming at the moment but hopefully, as I work away at them, they will become more manageable.

Stay warm and I’ll try to stay dry! The rain is becoming almost daily now!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I'm Simple...

One of the most emotional times over the holidays was a few hours spent with one of my Chichewa teachers in Machinga. Chrissy, a kindergarten teacher and Albert, a high school English teacher, were a perfect pick for my language lessons. Good teachers with lots of energy, this couple was always willing to spend a few hours pouring over my notebook and small language text as I tried to learn. Chrissy would prepare popcorn or roasted peanuts and we would munch away, laughing at my mistakes until my brain was fried. Afterwards we would sit and play cards or checkers, bouncing their son Domenic on our laps, usually talking about Canada as they were very curious about everything from the politics to sports, from the weather to employment.

More than my teachers, though, this couple became some of my very good friends. Over Christmas, Marc and I gave them a book on Canada, with pictures and descriptions of the country and its vast and varied environment and landscape. We spent one afternoon for a few hours sitting with Chrissy and talking about Canada. Laughing as she asked questions about the ice on the rivers or the changing colours of the trees. “I would never survive” she said as she gasped at the snowy landscape.

As we were leaving her house and I was saying good bye as I was leaving Machinga for a few months to spend some time working in the head office in Lilongwe and do some research in another district, she said some things that made me think. In thanking me, she got very quiet and serious. She not only thanked me for the gift but for my friendship. “When I see you in town and I’m with my friends, they ask me about you. She’s different, I tell them. She’s simple. She’s like us”. You are not like others, she said. You are simple and humble. When you first came and were living here in Machinga, we all worried how you would be, living in these conditions coming from a country that is so different and more advanced. But you have no problems. You eat what we eat. You treat us no differently. You treat us as equals, we have good talks and we are friends.

I was extremely moved by her words but also saddened. Why should she expect me to treat her or anyone else differently? Why should they worry about how I will live in “these conditions” when they do so everyday? Why should she be surprised by my actions and thank me? But the sad part is that in rural areas, the vast majority of Malawians are surprised when they are treated as equals by foreigners. They are surprised that we can survive without flush toilets and stoves, creature comforts and knives and forks. But there must be a reason why they are surprised. They must have not been treated with respect enough times in the past that when they are, it seems “different” or “surprising”. It makes me more eager and determined to break down these stereotypes at every opportunity. Everyone has prejudices. But we are all human beings and need to work to remove these prejudgements, good or bad, about others because of where they come from or the colour of their skin.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Christmas in Machinga

Happy New Year! I hope everyone is settling well into 2008 and had a safe and happy holiday season!

My Christmas holiday this year was spectacular! I had a wonderful few weeks traveling around the country with Marc, my boyfriend who came to visit from Ottawa. It was wonderful to be able to share some of my experiences with him, for him to meet all of my friends and family and as well, to explore some new and exciting places together.

Before Marc’s arrival, the days leading up to Christmas were fairly uneventful. But when Marc arrived, it was like Santa Claus stepped off a plane! He arrived with an enormous bag of gifts, not just for me but for the Kachifumbu’s in Machinga. I was truly overwhelmed and humbled by the thoughtfulness of friends and family back home. The meaningful words in Christmas cards, the CD of Christmas carols, the pictures and all the gifts were very special, stirring up a lot of emotions – missing everyone at home, being proud of what I’m doing here but most of all, feeling very truly blessed and lucky to have so many special people who support me. I thank each and every one of you for your thoughts and wishes. You cannot begin to know how much it means…

We spent Christmas with the Kachifumbu family in Machinga, and it truly was a wonderful day. Florence and I spent Christmas Eve preparing a Christmas cake while Marriot and Marc went off to church. When I say “Christmas “cake it was actually a white cake complete with dried cranberries from Canada, icing and sprinkles – a special treat as Florence had requested a “Canadian” cake for Christmas. That night, Marc and I stayed up late and played Santa Claus. It was so fun! After everyone went to bed, we snuck into the sitting room and decorated a Christmas tree we bought, put up photos we had developed and laid out all of the goodies for the family under the tree.

After Santa's visit

Sleeping that night was difficult with all the excitement and anticipation but all tired thoughts were forgotten as we listened to the gasps, the giggles and whispers at the discovery on Christmas morning. We spent about 2 hours opening presents, one person at a time, relishing every moment – dinky cars and dolls, clothes and soaps – all the while laughing with excitement and enthusiasm with the unwrapping of each item. It was also very emotional – both for me and them. It was so nice to see this family – my family – who has given me so much, taken me into their home and their family as if I belong, never making me feel different or strange, they have taught me so much, they have loved and supported me, talked with me and comforted me – it was so nice to see them so happy and overwhelmed. To be in some small way, if only for a few hours, a part of creating so much joy. To see them so overwhelmed by the gifts themselves but also because they had been remembered in the thoughts of total strangers in Canada. For all of you who sent something, please know that you have been a part of a very special Christmas for a very lucky couple from Canada and an extremely special family from Machinga.

The morning was spent playing with new presents and chatting under the mango tree with friends as they stopped by. The kids were looking very snazzy in their new clothes – although Nixon and Catherine refused to wear anything else for a few days afterwards! The soccer ball was kicked around much to the delight of the neighbouring kids. Catherine’s new doll never left her side even when she was sleeping. It was dragged around by the hand or strapped to her back like a real African baby. We enjoyed pop and even wine at dinner as a special treat that Marc and I brought. It was the first time that they had had wine! That afternoon Marriot, Florence, Marc and I set off on a walk. And on our way home as dusk was falling on a perfect day, we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow arching over the vast green farms that surround the village. It was a day full of joy and laughter, the smiles of children and the love of family and friends – everything that a perfect Christmas day should be.

All of us in our new Christmas clothes

So although it was without snow, without carols and without the total gluttony of food and thousands of gifts, it was a Christmas that will not soon be forgotten. My aunt wrote in her Christmas card to me “your adventure has been the source of not just entertainment, but a reawakening of the knowledge of what is important in the world”. I hope in some small way, that you all feel like that. That would be a great Christmas present for me…

Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I hear that the snow has been falling, I’m sure that the carols are playing, the lights are up and the malls are crazy right now. In Machinga, however, it’s hard to believe that Christmas is right around the corner. There’s no snow… but rain (but the good news on that is, the maize is getting bigger and greener each day!), no power… so no Christmas music or lights and no television or radio to be bombarded with Christmas commercials. I am missing the usual excitement that always surrounds this holiday season and I will definitely be missing being with family and friends this year.

Despite the lack of fuss and fanfare, Christmas is celebrated here but it is not the massive event that it is at home. I’m not even sure that Nixon and Catherine know that the big day is next week! Here, the holiday is more focused around the religious meaning rather than presents and Santa Claus. Although I will not be at home this year, I am really looking forward to seeing how the holiday is celebrated here in Malawi. True to the family nature of the holiday, I will be spending Christmas with my “family” in Machinga, accompanied by my boyfriend from Canada who arrives in 2 days (not that I’m counting!). From what I hear there will be a big party at church on Christmas Eve, where we stay up late, singing and dancing. On the big day, we will be making some traditional Malawian dishes and sharing them with family friends who’ll drop by. Although the kids aren’t excited just yet, I can only imagine the running around and laughter with the string of visitors. It will definitely be a different holiday this year but I am very excited nonetheless.

I don’t have any physical presents to share but to give you a little picture of life here I wanted to just share part of a list I have going in my journal. It’s a list entitled, very simply, “Things to be happy about…”, and who’s not happy at Christmas? Every so often a small gesture or little thing catches me off guard and makes me smile so I try to write them down. Here’s just a few. Hard to picture maybe but I hope they make you smile…
  • Florence singing
  • Fireflies
  • Nixon singing and dancing in the morning
  • The full moon so bright you can see shadows
  • Kids starting to join me on my runs in the morning
  • Nixon and Catherine yelling "Auntie!" and running to give me hugs when I get home from work
  • The smell of eucalyptus
  • Little plumber butts peaking out from the back of ripped dresses
  • The sight and sound of crackling bush fires on the hills of Machinga at night
  • The way everyone calls me “madam”
  • The sound of kids playing and babies crying as it carries over the valley
  • Kids walking with their arms around each other
  • Hearing the thump of mangoes falling off the tree at night
  • The way the clouds and sun in the hills make them look different every morning
  • The view over Chagwa from the Machinga hill

My heart and thoughts are with all of you this holiday season. Have a safe and happy holiday. All the best for a wonderful start to 2008!