September 21, 2013: A Perfect Day in Malawi

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Dancing in the road to the reggae sounds of Malawian gospel music, finding water at most water kiosks, continuing to make new friends with children all over Machinjiri, sharing a meal at Pattie’s house with part of her family and becoming an unexpected guest of honor at a traditional Malawian wedding … I’d say that qualifies for a pretty perfect day!

Just when I thought my immersion in Malawian life was as good as it could get, my friend Pattie made things happen for me that made this Saturday one that I will never forget. The day started like all other ones, enjoying an omelet and bananas while watching the sun rise above the jagged mountains surrounding Blantyre from the lodge’s terrace with tropical birds conversing with one another in the background.

The plan for this Saturday was to start surveying a new low-income area called Machinjiri which is where Pattie lives. Given her flamboyant personality and strong involvement in public life, we couldn’t go 100 meters without her introducing me to someone she knew. Our first stop of the day was a health clinic. With 100+ people jammed in a small, dark waiting room, I felt terrible to take a few minutes of the doctor’s time. She asked a nurse to respond to our survey for her and show us around the clinic so I could inspect the facility’s latrines (my favorite part!). While moving around the clinic, they showed me their “maternity ward,” which consisted of a small room with 2 uncomfortable beds. Apparently many women have to give birth on the hard concrete floor when more than two are in labor at the same time, which apparently happens often since the clinic serves a large area. OK – this part of the day wasn’t exactly perfect but it gets better from here.

When we arrived at one the water kiosks we visited mid-morning a group of young men were washing an old beat up car with Malawian music blasting from the car’s radio. Pattie of course knew a few of the women living close by and next thing I know they are all starting to dance in the road. One of the young men asked me to join them which I did … sorry to report that my rhythm and dancing abilities to African music were not any better.

For the first time we found water flowing at most water points. A few of those points were managed by private companies as opposed to one of the Water Users Associations formed by WFP in recent years. The interesting thing is that all privately operated taps had water, while a number of kiosks built by WFP in early 2013 had no water. At one kiosk we were told that the tap was connected to a pipe that had been dry for 10 years. Now whether this is true of not, isn’t easy to verify. One thing is true however, there seems to be a need to better understand the overall water system delivery limitations, as well as the operating strategies and capital improvement plans of the Blantyre Water Board.

We ended our work day mid-afternoon after visiting a total of 13 water points. From there, Pattie took Chippi (our driver), Joseph (Administrator of Machinjiri’s Water Users Association) and I back to her house for an amazing lunch. First we visited her gardens which are filled with different fruit trees, which included papaya, mango, banana, and peach trees, as well as others with hanging fruits I couldn’t identify. Lunch consisted of nshima (thick corn-based mixture that looks somewhat like polenta), and a number of side dishes which included a few veggie dishes and one with minced beef. I was pretty adventurous and tried them all knowing very well that I may have to pay for it later, which BTW it did but I’ll spare you the details on that. You eat nshima with your hands. You first roll it and then dip the small ball you made in the side dishes. The spices in all those dishes were incredibly flavorful. We ended the meal with a mix of the fruits from Pattie’s backyard.

When we were ready to go, Pattie invited me to join her to a wedding that was taking place close by in her neighborhood. Although I wasn’t at all dressed to go to a wedding reception (the actual church ceremony had already taken place), I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to see a traditional Malawian wedding. As we were approaching the house where the wedding was taking place, you could hear loud festive music and then you could see the overflow of people from the yard where the celebration was taking place. What I didn’t realize is that I would become the guest of honor, finding myself in the wedding line between the groom and the bride standing in front of hundreds of people. Then I was asked to take part in this traditional dance (lucky me given how much I like to dance!) where you throw money in a basket held by the groom and bride while dancing. What an unbelievable experience … I just feel so blessed by all the affection I have received from Malawians … Thank you for a perfect day Pattie.

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