Rob Pfeiffer 12/6/2015
Christmas came early in Malawi. A package arrived yesterday from Lilongwe and I was told it was books. We were just finishing a four hour meeting with the chiefs so I did not open it until this morning when, what to my wondering eyes was there, but a part for my bicycle and a beautiful new picture of my granddaughter. I had an unfortunate incident when I first arrived and my bike has been out of commission for six weeks of prime riding time. So, jubilation reigned as I tore off the old part and replaced it and the excitement grew further as I tightened and then checked everything twice, as you might expect. When I finally hopped on and took a spin, it was sheer joy. The freedom of movement: the wind in my hair, and the sense of getting somewhere after six weeks of walking. My uninterrupted bliss was short lived however, as I was soon accompanied by eight 8-year-olds shrieking with joy as they sprinted beside me. (I realized I had drawn them out as I was whistling loudly.) This heightened my joy as their excitement is extremely contagious. I took a quick check it out ride and came back to find the water was on so that I could complete my round of watering the young trees.
Go! Malawi (http://go-malawi.org/), the organization I am volunteering with here, has a very simple tidy campus with six small buildings and a new one nearly complete which will house volunteers from abroad who want to help out. We are situated high on a ridge overlooking more miles of rolling hills all cultivated to the maximum. We collect water through a gravity-fed system which sporadically provides us with a modicum of liquid. So the trees have been on a rationing diet and with the sun and wind the way it has been, they get pretty droopy. Today, they all had a good drink! So, you see how the Christmas spirit was spreading?
Then, the courier brought a new drum which I had commissioned from a local craftsman and the fun really ratcheted up a notch. With me drumming, all six of us here broke into a dance which we call a raindance all to a tune faintly resembling jingle bells. Next we planned to transplant some small overcrowded live tropical trees into the kitchen and each add some sort of decoration. Finally, we scheduled our first Christmas caroling rehearsal for tonight after dinner. If the spirit isn’t rolling there in Midcoast Maine by now, look way to the East and you may pick up a vibe.
Then I made a run to the water station with the wheelbarrow and empty jugs. The children gathered as I arrived and wanted so much to help fill the bottles that I had to referee. The final touch to this Christmas story I’d like to add is that an 8-year-old boy, who was doing handsprings off the wheelbarrow while the filling was going on, took off up the hill with the full load. He was so proud when he relinquished the load almost halfway up the hill. You see, the Christmas spirit is an everyday occurrence here in Malawi. People greet each other with hearty roars and big grins. Another example occurred two days ago when I was just up in the early predawn darkness. I became aware of some sort of commotion in the center of campus. I came up over the top of the hill to find almost an entire village carrying sand on their heads in buckets and bags. They had been cheerfully digging and filling since 3 o’clock and were running up and down the hill to have 300 buckets of fine sand ready for the masons at 6 o’clock to start laying bricks on the new dormitory. Everyone was happy to have something to do that would pay a little. No sourpusses grouchy without their coffee. Just genuine happiness. They do seem to appreciate the presence of Go! Malawi in their midst, helping the children.
A full measure of that respect and appreciation came yesterday as, for the second straight Saturday afternoon, we convened a meeting of the chiefs over the preservation of the mountain and the water supply. This time, the owners of cattle were invited and came. We talked a bit about contamination of the water supply, children’s health, and destruction of young trees. Then the chiefs took over and laid down the law — a new one in fact, which they had created since we met last week. The park is now a cow-free-zone with the cows restricted to the flat ground and a penalty of one goat if someone transgresses. The body language told it all: the chiefs were erect and powerful and the cow owners dejected and downcast. Six weeks ago, the mountain was on fire as a result of arson and the chiefs laid down the law and we’ve had no fires in five weeks. Now the cows are out. We still have loggers in there occasionally and need to address that, but we are almost ready to start planting, assuming at least one of you will share a little rain with us in this parched corner of the world.
So, Merry Christmas everyone, a bit early I know, but please know the spirit is building here. Does Santa know where Malawi is?