The truck bounced out of Nkhamenya and into the Malawian countryside with a fixed purpose. Meanwhile, conversation inside the cab bounced aimlessly. Three of us sat shoulder to shoulder: I drove and my Field Officer and Supervisor shared the oversized passenger seat to my left. Despite our sitting so closely together, communication was difficult as only two of us at a time could share a comfortable common language. Being the only American, I happily relegated myself to driving and listening to their rapid Tumbuka. I understood nothing. Only their laughter was remotely familiar to me until they suddenly pronounced my name, “Mac Marteen.”
At this point, it seems my Field Officer (Mr. Nyondo) began to tell our Supervisor (Mr. Mhango) what he had learned earlier that morning about me. The truck bounced on and Mhango responded cordially to the facts until he suddenly answered Nyondo with a great “Ahhhhhhhhh!” and a hard look to his right. He then said to me, “You are from Marion. The town. I did not know that Marion was a town.”
Where I’m from, the word “Marion” is a just a town – it’s my home and it might be the hub of the universe. Inside the influence of Marion Medical Mission, however, “Marion” becomes a much more powerful term, tied to the organization it names and the people it represents. Within the sphere of this program, both stateside and all over Africa, “Marion” means shallow water wells for all people; it means water which is life; it means uchindami kwa chiuta, “Glory to God”; it includes a community of hundreds that works to bring safe drinking water to thousands of Malawians, Zambians, and Tanzanians; it’s a synonym for sustainability and quality and reliability, for compassion and selflessness and Good Work. “Marion” means those things and more than those, as every year Marion Medical Mission brings safe drinking water – like a Juggernaut and by some impossible miracle – to greater numbers of Africans in more remote regions of Africa. They do so with the same passion that they had for their first well more than 25 years ago. To the volunteers, employees, and beneficiaries of MMM, “Marion” is not a town at all but a concept, a very active force in central Africa doing God’s Good Work for God’s People.
So, keeping my eye on this bouncy dirt road and the first well of the day, I responded to my friend, “Oh yeah, I am from Marion. The town.” I’ve never been so proud to say so.