January 9, 2013
Yesterday we arrived in Mchezi Village. We were greeted by smiling faces and, as always, lots of children! I swear I have never seen as many children in one place as I have in Malawi.
Children of Mchezi
When we arrived at Mchezi we were shown around the village and the Community Based Organization that is in Mchezi. The CBO has three income generating activities: a chicken coop, a tailoring program, and a youth group. One of our goals during our time in Mchezi, is to do a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threats) analysis for the different income generating activities and basically act as consultants for the CBO. I chose to work with the chicken coop. Chris, who runs the CBO, showed us around and introduced us to Johovo who runs the chicken coop. (Ironically, I will be staying with Johovo’s family tonight.) They explained to us that they raise chickens and then sell them to restaurants and vendors in Lilongwe. I was impressed by their bookkeeping. On the wall of the chicken coop was a taped up piece of paper where they recorded chick mortality and the number of chickens they have at any given time to sell. Their bookkeeping seemed accurate and thorough. I was very impressed that 25% of the chicken coop’s net profit goes into savings. (Like Suze Orman says, if you have an emergency fund, you never have emergencies!) Of the remaining 75% of their net profit, 70% goes back to the community to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC’s), and the remaining 30% goes to operations. I love that the CBO is run by the village people, who have assessed their community’s needs and are helping to provide answers themselves rather than waiting for handouts.
After we spoke with Johovo about the chicken coop and asked enough questions to make his head spin, we sat down in one of the rooms in the CBO for a lunch of nsima and greens that some of the ladies in the village cooked. (Nsima is a substance made of corn that is sort of like hard grits in a patty form, and Malawian’s eat it at every. single. meal.) We ate with our hands and were thankful for the food the women prepared for us. After eating, we went back to the chicken coop and asked some more questions and started to think about the different aspects that we wanted to include in the SWOT analysis.
Soon after, I learned that I would be staying with Johovo’s family for the night. Johovo’s house didn’t have quite enough room to house me, so I would be staying next door at his son, Martin’s, house. We made the short walk to Johovo’s house from the chicken coop with my sleeping bag and back pack in tow. When we arrived to Johovo’s house we saw that it was a small mud hut with no electricity or running water. The sun was setting so the inside of his home was rather dark, but I could see his wife sitting on a tattered couch, and his daughter, Naomi, leaning over a pot with smoke rising out of it. They lit a candle when we arrived to provide some light inside their home. I asked Naomi if I could help her cook, and she was happy for the help, even if I probably ended up making more of a mess than anything. She showed me how to make (wait for it……..) nsima! What else? First she showed me how to sift the ground up corn so that it was very fine powder. We added boiling water and stirred into a thick, grits-like substance. Then we scooped some of the nsima out of one pot into another pot of water where it formed into nsima patties. While we cooked, chickens and a cat ran in and out of the house and over the plates that our food was being cooked on. My germophobic nature was really being tested. Naomi had also prepared eggs and some greens to us to eat with our nsima. Quite a feast! The house was so smoky from the cooking that my eyes were burning and the smell of maize is stuck in my nose.
Naomi & Jehovo Outside of Martin’s House
The Gang Inside Jehovo’s House
Before Naomi served the food, Johovo prayed and then Naomi came around with a cup of warm water to wash our hands with. I found it interesting that they were interested in cleanliness and wanted us to wash our hands, but there was no soap. I know soap is a very expensive, luxury item, and I really wish I had brought them some as a gift. As terrible as I felt, I couldn’t eat very much of the food. My stomach was already still trying to handle the nsima from lunch today. A combination of an already upset stomach with the smoke in the room did not do much for my appetite. We ate with our hands and I tried to scoop up as much nsima at a time as I could or at least push it around my plate some. People in Africa literally starve to death, so wasting food in the home of a Malawian was not something I wanted to do.
Naomi, Me, Jehovo
During dinner Johovo did most of the talking, while his wife and Naomi were almost silent. He is very wise and claims to be the oldest person in the village. He told us that he never wanted to take another wife and that he “tried to always be faithful to his wife.” I’m not sure if that means he was unfaithful or not. After dinner we “washed” our hands again and then we were shown to Martin’s house where we would be sleeping. Martin’s home is made of concrete and has a tin roof. This is definitely a step up from a mud hut with a thatched roof, and I have to say I was thankful for it since it was raining outside. Martin showed one of the girls I was traveling with and I to our room. The room was a small space just big enough for two people to lie down in and had a sheet as a make-shift door. We laid out our sleeping bags down and brushed our teeth. Before long Martin came back and I heard him say “Maaaryy.” (They called me Mary because it is Jesus’ mother’s name.) “Mary, there are some ants along this wall of the room so…put your head on this side,” I heard Martin say. He said he didn’t want anything to happen while I was at his house. So I switched the direction I was laying at Martin’s advice. I had brought along a fitted sheet to put over me during the night in case there were no mosquito nets. So I pulled my sheet over my head and tried to sleep.
Fast forward about two hours.
I wake up hearing a little squeaky sound. It was like little squeaky tiny people talking to each other. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I tried to ignore it. Then I started to feel something crawling on my face. Then I felt a little, tiny something crawling on my back. And in my ear. And in my hair. Now at this point, generally I would start to panic. Scream. Cry like a baby. But at this moment I was oddly calm. I found my glasses and my flashlight. When I turned my flashlight on I was pretty horrified to find that my entire sheet and traveler’s pillow were covered in tiny, black ants. I looked at my body and found them crawling on me as well. I took off my clothes and shook them out and tried to assess the situation. Here I am, in the middle of a Malawian village, at midnight, in the dark, covered in ants. I pretty much just sat there trying to flick ants off of me as they came and tried to keep them from crawling onto my sleeping bag. It was kind of like a raft in the middle of a sea of ants. I checked my roommate and she was ant-free, so I didn’t wake her up. I had my devotional with me and did some reading in that. It wasn’t long before my roommate woke up because she too had felt ants on her. We moved our sheets into the living room and sat on nearly demolished couches for the remainder of the night. Needless to say, that was probably one of the longest nights of my life. Hearing a rooster crow at 5:00AM has never sounded so good!
When Martin woke up and came out of his room a little after 5:00, he said “Mary, why you not in your bed?” I told him I just like to wake up early, and he told me that I was “a good woman.”
I followed him outside where we walked over to Jehovo’s house and Martin started chopping wood. I asked him if he does this every day, and he replied that yes, he does this every day to help the women with some of “their” work. I thought this was kind of funny. By the time I had walked next door, Naomi and her daughter had already gone to fetch water and been back. I helped Naomi’s daughter wash the dishes from the night before. We used one bucket of water to soap and clean the food off of the plates and cups, and the other bucket to rinse them. It took quite some time and by the end my back was aching from leaning over so long. Then I walked around to the front of the house to help Naomi cook the rice that we would eat for breakfast. Again, just crouching down in front of the pot made my legs and back ache. These women are so strong. Naomi laughed at me when I told her my legs were hurting. Eventually we all sat down in Jehovo’s house to a breakfast of rice. At breakfast someone asked him what he thought of Joyce Banda, the president of Malawi. He replied, “Her husband was a lawyer, so I think she might do a good job.” Again, I wanted to laugh at these comments about women being inferior. So often we take for granted that in America, women can truly be anything. We have just as many rights as men and a world of opportunity open to us. It is so easy to forget that in many places, women are looked down upon and discriminated against simply for being a woman.
After we ate, I asked Naomi about her schooling. She had been to some high school it seemed, but had not graduated. Her daughter’s father was a policeman in Lilongwe, but Naomi said he was not a good man. I didn’t ask for details. She told me she was going to school at night, and wanted to be a mechanic. My heart broke for Naomi. How easy would it be in the United States for Naomi to become a mechanic? She could take online classes from her living room and achieve this goal with relative ease. With all of the odds against her, I hope Naomi succeeds in her goal of pursuing her education. I know that after meeting her I will appreciate my education and all of the opportunities I have been given more than ever.
My Friend, Naomi
After last night I have never been so thankful for my home and my family. I consider myself a fairly adventurous person, but being awake all night with ants crawling through my hair truly tested my strength. In Martin’s house there is a plaque that reads, “We cry out to the Lord for mercy.” At first I thought it was kind of an interesting thing to have up in your home. Not joy. Not peace. Mercy. I think after last night I understand only a little better what it is like to live in an African village. And keep in mind Martin’s house is considered extremely nice in Malawi! My strength was tested, and I believe I came out of this experience a more compassionate person. …With a much higher tolerance of creepy crawlers than I had previously thought.