Rob Pfeiffer Blog 12/24-25/2015 Merry Christmas!
December 24, 2015
Happy Holidays to everyone. It is Christmas Eve everywhere, even here where Santa is a total mystery. On top of that, I just returned from a funeral. There are not many aged folks here in Malawi, but one passed away yesterday. She was born in 1911 which made her 104. She had 216 grandchildren and who knows how many other relatives present at her funeral. I see few older people and when I ask about aging here, most of the replies I receive indicate people do not live to be old or expect to. The average age at death here is in the 40s. So this well loved and respected lady passed away yesterday and a series of rituals started immediately, reinforced by some strict laws. The absolute lack of embalming and/or refrigeration drives some of the flow, but making space for expression of grief and stopping all work as a sign of respect is a big part as well. If you are seen working, you can be fined as much as two goats or as little as one chicken, depending on how flagrantly you are flaunting your independence. So, the whole village gathers and beautiful singing has gone on all morning. Even without understanding the words, I was very moved by the voices and harmony. While the close relatives and friends sit with the body, there is a party digging the grave. When they are finished and the grave is prepared, the diggers sing their way to the house where the body lies. A phrase I heard repeatedly was “Suli Way Cah” or you are not alone. The entire event was so respectful and quiet. The road through the village was marked with branches across and that meant foot traffic only. Even bicyclists are expected to dismount and walk. Christmas Eve has started a bit on the somber side but the tradition of making pies in our family goes on as I head up the hill to the Ntchisi Lodge (http://www.ntchisiforestlodge.com/) where they have running water and a gas stove. Four apple pies should be out of the oven by five o’clock. From the center of all conceivable holiday activity, let me wish you a joyous and safe time to enjoy family. That is some of the news from Malawi.
December 25, 2015
Christmas day has arrived and an eventful day it has been. We live in cottages looking east with a veranda from which the African dawn is spectacular. This morning, the layers of pastel colors varied from bright orange to light pink as the sky was truly ablaze along the horizon. A light breeze and a temperature in the mid-60s made a morning ride a must. I bicycled my usual route adding “Merry Christmas” to the usual exchange of greetings (much to the consternation of most of my fellow early morning activists) and circled back to make final preparations for our Christmas Christening, scheduled for9:00 am. We set up the tree in the new Go!Malawi dorm and brought chairs from all our lodging sites as well as a table for the apple pies. My anxiety proved to be a waste of time as “Malawi Time” is a real factor and we finally convened our 14 guests about 10:00 am. The construction crew was present (with Raymond the 18-month old) as were our friends from the lodge and our staff. We had set a limit of 500 kwacha for gifts, so for the most part, a 500 kwacha note circulated from one person to the next accompanied by great laughter. 500 kwacha amounts to about $1.50. Everyone seemed happy with the exchange which was accompanied by drumming in addition to the laughing and clapping. Then a good slab of apple pie and we were off for the rest of our day.
I mentioned our housing as it plays a pivotal role in the rest of my day. We played musical houses earlier in the week to accommodate three of the students Go!Malawi sponsors. So I have been in a “new” cottage for two nights. The first night I got a bit wet as the roof leaked, so we fixed that. Last night, Christmas Eve, I had the distinct impression that I had visitors — and not jolly elf types. My previous tenant had left two bags of maize in storage in a corner and I thought nothing of it until these noises started. My deductions proved accurate as our Christmas “hunt” turned up two uninvited guests who were quickly dispatched by a very athletic hunting team. Now, we have been invited to the lodge for a Christmas dinner. This has been quite a day! That is some of the news from Malawi.