Betty Samelson, 2008 Volunteer

Betty Samelson, 2008 Volunteer

If you aren’t hysterically laughing, I must be back in the States.  I tried to speak the Timbuka language when in the village.  But being a poor linguist, I routinely schmucked up a beautiful language and had the women and children and men rolling on the ground at my attempts.  I noticed I put an Italian inflection on most of my words and pretty much was talking about toilets when I meant to say the goats were cute.   Oh well, at least I tried, and thank goodness, I can laugh at myself, alot, and that the Malawians are a beautiful kind people that love to laugh, a lot.  I learned pepani chomene from the get go which means I’m so sorry; when I broke a bridge, got stuck in feet of sand ( probably more like inches) bumped into a roof support when driving through a village- the list is too long….  Driving in Malawi is a challenge, not the least that it is the left side with a left sided shift but the roads have pot holes with stumps that grab at your tires and most are dirt walking paths that we were driving.   It was empowering and oh so bumpy.

Meg, Penny’s sister, has been my partner in crime for the past 3 1/2 weeks.  She was the best partner I could have ever asked for, we were finishing each others sentences and thoughts after the 1st week.  We literally laughed our way through Malawi when we weren’t scaring ourselves driving or dancing or singing with the different villages.   We did assist in 59 wells by driving  the field and installation officers and the parts of the well to the villages.  Our days would start early, the birds yakking as early as 4:30, breakfast at 6:00 and off to gather the parts, unless we were working with Fiskani, and he would gather the parts and tie them into the back of our truck, and then off to the 1st site, sometimes taking as long as 2 1/2 hours.  When we got out of the truck, we were greeted by the people in the village, lots of handshaking and laughter when we spoke, and at times tears at the Mzungu’s (white people) from the babies.

Betty receiving a chicken as a gift.

Betty receiving a chicken as a gift.

We’d gather our supplies for the installation and were never allowed to carry anything. Little tiny tikes would carry the heavy wrenches or the metal parts to the well and the well site was always at the lowest part of the village sometimes a mile away. While our team would install the well, Meg and I were off with the women and children most often dancing and singing, talking and laughing. We had so much fun and even though the cultures are so very different, there was always the commonality of women who love their children. We would pray at the well and rejoice at the beautiful clean water coming from the pump. The women would uvulate and dance and the head man would talk at what clean water means to their village: no more dysentery, diarrhea, contagious diseases, GI upsets… Some would tell us how we had made their village rich from clean water and all th anked us over and over, blessing us for all our lives for the gift of the well. Then, they would bring us gifts, usually a live chicken, and eggs, bananas, or sugar cane or potatoes and tomatoes. It was very difficult to take from the villages but would have been rude and impossible not to receive them. Lots more handshaking and laughter and then Fiskani saying “Let’s go” and we’d head to the next village. Usually we put in 6 wells a day and always tried to be back before 6pm.

Memories of Malawi: wonderfully kind people who love to laugh, women who work hard and spend 30% of their day gathering water transported on their heads, babies carried on the backs of the women and children, bells clanging at 5am, blue herons, flies, wind blowing, dust, red dirt, fields plowed and watered by hand, fires burning, smoke filled skies, no electricity on Sundays and often at other times and never in the bush, no running water at times in the towns, oxen pulled carts, herders who walk their cows to the market that can take 3 days or more, ties, suits and dresses for Sunday church, singing that rock the rafters and always sung in 4 part harmony, red sunsets, night skies filled with stars and the milky way, red brick homes or mud huts, bright eyed children and rheumy eyed children, men who outwardly show affection to their men friends by holding hands, proud mothers and fathers, children who play by chasing and lau ghing with another, love, gratitude, sharing everything, tattered clothes, head men of the villages, defined hierarchy of men women and children, schools that are teaching English, children who behave and are glad to go to school, 100 students to a classroom, and a feeling of being home when I’m in the villages. Fiskani had an expression that I thought was a good philosphy, “Face the bumps but always choose the shallow ones.” I spent a lot of time talking while we were driving in the bush and everyone in our truck told stories of the extra people in their homes and the children they were supporting in secondary schools because their brother died or their parents had died and they were responsible for their younger siblings. I realized that these Malawians, no matter their age had experienced personally, people they loved that had died. These people are loving, kind, gracious and joyful. I learned so much from them and am so honored to have been part of their lives for a short while.

I’m home but a piece of me remains in Malawi. I was told by one man that I was more Malawian than a US citizen and many invited me back, to stay longer and to consider Malawi home. An amazing experience….