Home

I’ve had a hard week. The kind where you keep thinking that things have to take a turn for the better soon and then take a turn for the worst, the kind where you are tired beyond needing sleep, the kind that makes you want to go home. I wanted to go home this week – what I didn’t realize at the time was that home did not have to mean Canada.

I returned to Mbenderana Village after a harrowing week away and had no true expectations other than that I would be making my family here happy with my return. As usual, I take the last bus from Blantyre to Chikwawa that arrives safely in Chikwawa before dark. The view down the winding road that leads from Blantyre is normally breathtaking but this night with the vibrant orange sunset setting over the hills it is particularly beautiful.

After dropping from the minibus, I hail a bike taxi, the most common form of transportation in Chikwawa Boma where I live. Bike taxis are regular bikes (generally of the quality you would find in a dumpster in Canada) outfitted with a cushioned seat on a wire rack behind the rider. Young boys and men offer rides on bike taxis at extremely low rates to make money either as their main profession or to support their schooling or other jobs. The ride from where the minibus drops me to the market in my village is about 4 km and costs a miniscule 30 MK (about $0.22 CAN). I am not cheap; this is the price that all the bike taxis gratefully accept with a smile for this distance.  I love to strike up conversations with the taxis riders; learn where they are from, if they go to school and generally practice my Chichewa on someone who might laugh for a bit but I will likely not see again.

The taxi rider drops me at the market just as dusk turned to night. I need some smaller change to pay the fee so I zipped over to my favourite grocery;

“Ah madam, good evening. Where have you been?”

I stop by this grocery most every day to buy units, the prepaid call time you load your phone with, or peanut butter and I imagine they were quite confused by my long absence. After paying the rider, I turn the corner at the market to follow the dirt path home. I pass the shop which is alternatively a charging stop, a barber or a general store depending on the day and greet the barber. As I pass the market and approach the video house, where films (generally Kung Fu advertisements line the outsides but I have never been in to watch a film yet) are shown, little boys greet me;

“Laureene, bo”

“Laureene, sharp”

I continue walking, a smile starting to creep up my face. The night is cool and pleasant here in Chikwawa after being in cooler Lilongwe and Blantyre all week. I pass the slaughter house which is actually a concrete gazebo where they hang goats by the hooves to slaughter and strip meat each morning. The smell of blood and fat lingers in the surrounding dirt.

I turn the narrow path past the slaughter house to where children play soccer (mpira) in the afternoons. A small boy politely greets me;

“Maswera bwanji Laureene”

And another small group of children greets me as they too cross the ‘field’;

“Laureene, bo”

“When do you come from?”

They meant where; I was proud of them for trying their English on me so politely. There is a difference to the greetings tonight, almost tentativeness; I can tell that everyone has noticed that I have been away.

I pass the house leading to the taps where women and girls congregate to fetch water in the mornings.  A little boy just old enough to walk greets me every morning without pants but his hand turned into a thumbs up at this house but tonight it is the woman who greets me.

“Laureene, bo. Muchokera kuti? Nchito?” (Where do you come from, work?)

I stop to say hello and tell her family about my week. As if from nowhere, other women crowd around and welcome me back, with a firm “Tionana, mowa” (see you tomorrow) we part ways. I might be imagining things but I feel there was a bit of a command in that tone, “we WILL see you tomorrow.” They are right, tomorrow I will see them, probably many times as I walk to and from the market and around the village.

A man and child join me as I continue walking. The man briskly greets me;

“Muli bwanji”

He is wearing a ski jacket and a scarf; I am beginning to sweat in my light hoodie. The child is more tentative, I hadn’t noticed but it was the first boy who greeted me and he has been following close behind since then. The man tells me the boy wants to walk “timodzi” (together with me). I ask the boy if he would like to walk with me and he shyly nods his head yes.

The man is a bit of a funny sort; he walks about 1 m in front of me but carries on a conversation about my learning Chichewa. My phone rings; I am about 6 minutes later than I said I would be – this is the second flash (call and then hang up so the receiver calls you back on their units) from father, Mr. Banda.

The dust path widens as we approach some houses. I can see my house at the end with
Mr Banda Shop” painted in fading black on the concrete wall that shelters the back yard cooking area.

Mr. Banda Shop, painted on the wall to the kitchen area. I see this every day as I come home just before Nduzani runs to meet me.

The man and I part ways just as I hear kids screaming. I look over it, is Lusanne (real spelling Nduzani) and Zoene running to greet me.

Everything is gone, no tension, no stress from the week only a big smile as I pick Lusanne up and hug Zoene with my other arm. I might not be screaming but I cannot express how happy I am to see them. I enter the house and see Alinafe bent over our dishes serving dinner in the dark. Her back is billboard straight so her body forms a perfect ‘V’  – this is the stance all Malawian women come to perfect from sweeping using brooms without handles, washing and generally working from the ground. She looks up and she too runs to give me a big hug. I barely drop my bag in time to give her a proper hug then turn to hear my neighbor, Mrs. Mafuta, bursting into the house. She emerges from the house, pushing Zoene and Lusanne out of the way to give me a big hug. I notice before she hugs me that she is in just her Chitenge – she was about to bath but ran over to greet me.

Nduzani (not Lusanne as I originally thought), Mr. Banda, Zoene, Alinafe. How can you not smile?

I am so happy to see my family I continue to give them hugs as they tug on my unfamiliar clothes and bag. Happy, my host brother comes in to greet me and without hesitating, I give him a hug that leaves him a little bewildered. I take my bag back into the house and find Mr. Banda, he sticks out his hand for a handshake and before we talk about my journey I give him a hug. He too was bewildered by my hug with a fatherly;

“Okay, okay”

He sticks out his hand for a real greeting – a handshake. A single candle is lit for us to eat by. With the light from the candle I can see some small changes around the house. There is a new table where the old one sat – the other must have been sold or taken apart as part of Mr. Banda’s carpeting business. My motor bike helmet is hanging on the wall; Mr. Banda must have been to the field recently and borrowed it instead of his Tupperware of a motor bike helmet. Despite these and other little changes only I would notice the house is the same.

The girls bring in our dinner in dishes – Mr.  Banda and I first in our special tupperwares and the others’ in their bowls. Alinafe holds out the washing water to Mr. Banda and then passes it to me. We open our dishes. It is chicken and rape as a relish today – they have made a special meal for my return. I smile and dig into my nsima.

The night proceeds as usual. We are quiet at first but then start talking more. I find out Zoene has moved on to the next grade but Lusanne and Happy have both been held back. I ask why, what subjects they failed, what happens now. The girls get tired and stretch out on the reed mat beside me. Whenever I am home the girls will lie almost like a blanket alongside my legs.  Looking around the candle light room, wind blowing the cloth covering the windows  causing the candle to flicker, Lusanne yawning loudly, Happy resting against the wall and Mr. Banda in his chair, I realize I am home.

I am not yet in Canada, and I yearn to see my Canadian family and friends again. I can’t wait to give them hugs and not have to deal with many of the challenges of living here in Malawi. That family will never be replaced – but neither will my Malawian family. I needed home and family more than I knew this week and thought that meant leaving Malawi, but I forgot that I have a home and a family that loves me here. There is no lesson in this post, no takeaway on development that you can apply to your life, I won’t leave you with the clichéd ‘Home is where the heart is’, I just wanted to share a bit about the people who make me feel at home here in Malawi.

Thanks for reading,

Lauren

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Alex on August 10, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    What a beautiful post Lauren.

    I can’t wait to see you and hope you sort everything out in time to make it to the cottage Olympics!

    Love you.

    Alex

    Reply

  2. Posted by Allison Langille on August 11, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    This post moved me Lauren. Thank you.

    See you soon,

    Allison

    Reply

  3. Posted by Carlie on August 12, 2010 at 2:19 am

    Yes, thank you very much Lauren for this post. It was so nice to read such intricate details into your life in Malawi. It was very moving.
    Can’t wait to read and hear more!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Min on August 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    What a beautiful post, Lauren! Excited to see you back in Canada soon! Enjoy the last few days in Malawi 🙂

    Min

    Reply

  5. Posted by Cheryl Hockin on August 14, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Lauren I am so glad that you felt loved and welcomed home by your African family after what must have been an incredibly stressful week. I am not sure how you are going to be able to say goodbye. I know you will keep in touch with them but it will never by the same for you.
    Thanks for sharing. (I write this as the tears run down my cheeks) Mom

    Reply

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