Rob Pfeiffer Blog 11/27/2015
Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone!
Thanksgiving week was pretty uneventful as no one here has seen or heard of a turkey or pie so I did a bit of explaining and everyone was fascinated that the origins of our big feast day are rooted in Native Peoples of color saving the colonists from starvation and freezing by sharing the bounty of their harvest in late November. There is an aura of invulnerability that goes with being a white American from the Malawian perspective. We are all rich and could never ever have been in danger of starvation. So, we had moments of pause and readjustment of attitudes as we talked about Thanksgiving. Then, we got down to the serious business of eating. Our centerpiece was boiled, then roasted goat. We also had mashed potatoes and spinach. If I were cooking goat, I would use this recipe: place the goat meat and a rock in a pot of water. Boil until the rock is tender, then eat the rock and throw the goat away. Tough!!!
Then today dawned with fog in the air. This is a good sign as the weather is changing and there is more moisture in the air. But, we still are without water so I trudged down the hill to the village water station. Some of the Moms were already there so I parked my wheelbarrow (a new acquisition) and unloaded my three five gallon jugs. When it was my turn to fill, I stooped to support my jug with one hand and realized that there was a cute toddler nearby. I reached my free hand out and he locked eyes with me. Then, his little hand found its way into mine and we stayed that way for the whole time the water was trickling into my jug — a good ten minutes of connecting on what felt like a deep level with a curious little soul. His Mom was watching all this carefully.
After the watering was as complete as I could make it while rationing, it was off to the village for a big event. Since I have been here, there has been a clinic under construction in the main village where the school is located. Our hilltop compound is surrounded by three villages which all feed the school in the main village. They really know how to celebrate here and the opening of a new health center gave plenty of reason to whoop it up. To my great surprise, one of the chiefs came to pick me up on his motorbike. Horrifying!!! Give me my bicycle anytime. We did make it and were suddenly in the middle of a crush of three or four hundred people swarming the main street. This number was swollen by the school kids who were released (as they seem to be regularly for no apparent reason) and were frolicking all about. The milling around continued and the excitement rose. Then, a column of white vehicles arrived with dignitaries from as far away as Stuttgart, Germany. Then more milling around as it was obvious that the tent was inadequate to accommodate the crowd so chairs were moved to a shady spot across the street. The crowd followed dutifully and a hush came over the assembled throng as the chiefs took there places and the speeches began. The attention paid to each of ten speakers was incredible because it was hot, most people were sitting on the ground (where ants will eat you alive) and, half the audience was under ten. The speeches went on for about one hour much to my dismay as I could only catch a stray word here or there, followed by a joyous procession back across the road for the presentation of the keys and all the photo opportunities. The chanting, singing, and general euphoria of the two hundred yard trip was truly uplifting.
After a few more speeches. I was invited for refreshments to a nearby house. When I arrived, I was surprised to find myself in a ten by twelve living room with seven chiefs- very humbling. There were two overstuffed couches and an overstuffed chair and thankfully a wooden chair in the corner where I settled in to watch. This was the inner sanctum with admission not granted frivolously and I did not want to miss a thing. Everyone was exultingly happy. Then, the refreshments arrived and the happiness rose another notch or two as this was a three course meal. My excitement was only moderate however as the main course was goat, sima (maize flour mixed with water) and spinach. Then, a man appeared with the second course; a case of Coke and Fanta. More excitement as a bottle opener was procured as these are classic glass bottles. Finally, the lady of the house appeared with a loaf of white bread. I declined as gracefully as I could and watched as everyone else consumed one or two slices of plain white bread.
We eventually rejoined the festivities in the street where chanting and singing have been going on for several hours. The opening comes at a serendipitous time as it puts a focus on health and tomorrow we meet with the chiefs to try to limit the grazing of cows to certain lowlands. Presently, they are on the mountain daily and contaminating the water sources there. I have witnessed cows standing in the catchment basins doing what cows do while the water is flowing into the pipe to be delivered to the villages below. Then, I have seen exhausted women and children who have been on the mountain collecting firewood and fruit, come directly to the spigot in the village and drink. Very sad. There is a big need for the clinic because of the water situation. People die here from diarrhea.