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Christmas controvers,yNew Year's mud wrestling

MALAWI | Friday, 6 January 2012 | Views [1114]

Life back in Nkhata bay has proved very fulfilling as I expected. The turn of events that has occurred in me with my mental processing of daily life have really acclimated me into the culture here and I have become true friends with some of the locals, I have grown attached to their wellbeing and mine as well. I will explain later about the series of events that have led me into some of the mental confusion.

Back at butterfly I have been working hard at getting several projects up and running. I was originally intimidated by working with the widows sewing group. They have their own African styles and use slightly different skills when working so I did not think I could help properly and assist their tailoring group. However after I noticed how another volunteer was working with them, I decided to take the plunge and begin discussing innovative designs based on the traveller’s needs, travellers being the people who we would target as our consumers. Our first major breakthrough was when we created the utility belt equipped with several pockets for phones, passports, and a few hidden pockets for storing money. It was safe from robbery attempts and has all the needed pockets all in one stylish design with an African flare. They were amazed by what they could make using simple shapes and thus we began an onward path of a program packed full with dedicated sewing ladies. Other items like patchwork belts, aprons, sling bags etc are now being sold in a shop called Mama Malawi.

 I have also luckily been awarded the ability to help the shop/cafe, get up and running. Originally created by a German woman who is on holiday back home, the cafe was not ready for operations and it was nearing holiday season meaning high levels of tourists would be passing through. I worked hard to decorate, paint signs, and buy cafe supplies for the grand opening. Just before Christmas we had our first few customers. I had issues with our faulty equipment and was barely able to serve the pancakes and tea ordered but fortunately we had a successful first order and later some guests came and bought other items from us. Mama Malawi was now a successful non profit shop selling the goods for local Malawian women and giving back the profits to the groups and individuals making them. Yay!

The nice part of being allowed to work in the shop is that my work is also coming with a home to stay in. I have moved from the Butterfly hostel into a house with another woman who is running the bar and restaurant called Kaya Papaya.  The owner of Kaya Papaya is also the owner of Mama Malawi so we have both been commissioned to help with local businesses here which have helped me really feel like a part of the local community. In the house we have our own rooms, a fully stocked kitchen, a real overhead shower and a private yard we only share with two baby kittens we just got called Dzuwa and Dziko (sun and earth). I can walk around in my underwear if I damn well please, which I would do if our kitchen didn’t completely open to the neighbours back yard where they spend most of their time. For the most part it’s relaxing although we have an unwelcome alarm around 5 am where the entire village seems to pass our house greeting one another. With culture here, you cannot pass without a hello, mind you this is done mostly by yelling not simple chatter. A ‘lie in’ is rare and luckily it gets me up before the heat of the day and allows my daily chores to be completed early.

Another amazing feat is that of the water harvest project I have been dreaming of completing. I found a school which would be perfect for constructing the water tank called Chikale Primary. The butterfly space has taken the campus on as a project for sustainable development and permaculture design. It has basically slowly been transformed into a learning sight with terraced slopes of vegetation and swales demonstrating appropriate growing and construction of foundation. Thus a water catchment tank for harvesting water during dry season is the perfect add on for aiding the growth of their crops. We have had major issues getting the builder up and going but now that we have the bricks and other supplies, we have started the building and expect it to be finished within two weeks. The largest challenge at this point comes to down to the largest issues in Malawi, the cost of petrol. Every time we have to hire a vehicle, we pay more and more for transportation, which means that even the cost of our supplies has risen. By the end of the project I will have spent around 300 dollars more than the original estimate which is around 1,200 US dollars. It is well worth it considering it will last a long time and provide a learning demonstration for the community surrounding the school yard.

Christmas time has brought wonderful change to the bay as well. There is a great air of happiness about as children are out of school and play all day with their self made clans, businesses expect high volumes of consuming, and tourist are bound to arrive ready to put money into the community shops and hostels. For me however, it has opened my eyes to some of the hidden issues of the mixed culture tendencies.

The first fun event we held for the holidays was a school fund raiser fair which allowed children to  come pay a small fee to play games where they won a prize, or they could bet on an activity and who ever won could win a master prize. I was in charge of the treasure map where everyone guessed where the treasure was and at the end, I show  them the hidden treasure. The prize was a cell phone which made my game one of the obvious favourites. Another awesome game was guessing how many sweeties are in the jar. The winner was a small lad who immediately sprinted away with the jar for fear of having to share his prize. A smart one he is!

The next Christmas happening was the large eve’s party thrown at the Kaya Papaya. I was hired as a work trader to work in the restaurant serving guests a 3 course meal and later bar tend for the hundreds of partiers who arrived. Dinner was great and the party was fabulous. The DJ played great African hits and guests stayed until am dancing their hearts out. Brain and body exercise, I could barely keep up. My feet hurt like hell and I went to bed in the morning having mathematic calculations of beers and mixed drinks swirling in my mind.

The following day, we joined the crew at Butterfly Space for a Christmas dinner on the shore. We sat atop dugout canoes and ate lush veggies, homemade rolls, skewers, hummus while the others ate a roasted goat. I loved the reaction of a few who refused eating the goat after they had spent 3 nights at the hostel making friends with him. They couldn’t bear eating their new pal thus opted for a veggie meal. I wished at that moment that everyone had to make friends with their animals before they slaughtered them. Can you imagine what our consumption of meat would be like if we were required to kill our own meals? I can only dream. 

Food was tasty, but I unfortunately had a revelation sitting there being served by the staff and having to order from my best friend, the bar man who is a local Malawian man. First of all, they were all there to serve us on Christmas day rather than being with their families. We are self sufficient humans capable of making our own meals and this is when I realized they should have been allowed they day off or at least a shortened shift. The next issue is that, we were all consuming foods these workers would never consume in their lifetime. We decked our plates out with lush well rounded meals while the workers had to watch and even prepare the goat which they never even got a taste of.  I found out later that night that some of them were not even given a meal for dinner. I went to the bar to be in a quiet space for a think on my won but instead had to listen to complaining from the staff who, although they knew it wasn’t my fault, knew that I was one of the crew who they were feeling persecuted by. I felt both sides of this mental struggle. Business is business so the hostel came first, but we are supposed to be more than a hostel. It’s a centre built on the premise of guests and volunteers become a part of the greater community in hopes of sustaining projects of empowerment. I struck a strong point of confusion and disappointment after this xmas celebration.

It is in our tradition as westerners to eat lavish foods and have ceremonial activities that are uncommon to our daily lives so we all felt compelled to create the same scenario while in Africa. But I also felt ashamed to see that we did not invite the locals to also experience this aspect of our culture. I say merry Christmas to the Malawians and they all say “not at all actually”. I felt awkward asking why because I already know, no money, no gifts, a normal day at work etc....

Although I cannot take back my actions and I don’t feel compelled to change the behaviours around me, I still feel a deep seed inside me which will one day attempt to create an equal plane for the community here in the bay. I will hope that if this is going to be my home for some time that I can become acclimated into their culture more deeply and feel their struggles and their joys as they will hopefully do the same with mine.

The following week has been one of my best in the bay. We are all anxious for the New Year to arrive. Party on because this year could be our last right?.......no but really I think I partied like it was my last for a long time. At butterfly space, they played New Years around the globe. Every two hours or so there was a different way to celebrate, Australian barbe q, Japanese Sake shots and sushi, Thai bucket beers etc. I did a hula hoop performance for the crew and quickly raced down to the Kaya Papaya bar where I was once again serving drinks and entertaining for New Year’s festivities. I spent the week prior making hand drawn signs advertising for the event and preparing confetti and other wonderful party favours.

When the rain came at 10 we knew we were in trouble as making it down the muddy hill was  sure-fire party stopper...we all rejoiced when we saw the stars in the distance and knew the storm was passing us. By 10:30pm we had our party crew which soon doubled and then tripled in size and we were now on track for nonstop beer serving for the next 10 hours. I could barely keep up. 3ladies behind the bar, 2 guys delivering one crate after another, and another doing crowd control. We nearly missed the new year  but luckily I put my customers on hold for 5min to check the time just before the clock struck midnight. I hopped on the bar with the mic while Prince’s ‘party like its 1999’ rung in the background. Confetti flew everywhere, poppers set off on all sides and the new year had arrived.

All customers continued dancing for the next 3 hours until the musical amp broke for 30 min and most people were over the wait and went home. Luckily it gave me a breath of air as beer sales reduced with only 40 or so customers remaining. I was able to sneak out every few hours to dance and by sunrise the 20 person party crew was still outside dancing. By 5am the village was passing us by with goods atop their heads, produce in their bags, and wonder on their faces they were ready to begin their typical Sunday market routine. I climbed atop a chair and we sung together Bob Marley’s one love, which truly encompassed the feeling of unity as locals and tourists joined in the experience even a security guard, a police officer, and a soldier hopped on the deck. As the hours wore on we lacked no energy and the town just thought us crazier and crazier.

When the rains came, we didn’t faulter but rather rejoiced its bath and even partook in the soily experience of mud wrestling. I started the event but was completely beat out when my roommate tackled me into the soggy leaves and smeared my entire face. Children sat around not knowing if they could laugh or worry for our sanity. In the end we reached a stalemate and I couldn’t speak to her without laughing at her muddy face not knowing until later how bad I looked. I tried to leave around 9pm but was quickly chased down for another hour of dancing and singing. Unfortunately a crew went off to town for more partying while I had to walk home alone with no partner to share my muddy embarrassment. Everyone passing stopped and sounded concerned thinking I had been beaten or worse. I just kept a smile on my face and after washing my hair for an hour and not reaching successful leaf extraction, I gave up and got a good 3 sleep.

This week I have gotten more supplies for the water tank which we will hope is ready for use within two weeks hopefully catching the end of the raining season and I will be finishing most of my teaching methods for tailoring in the next two weeks and the women can sustain their project without aid. Luckily a new volunteer has arrived with excellent knitting skills and the women can vary their crafty hand and become a fused creative operation.

Earlier in the month I put out a call for support for my friend (Kwame Falo Phiri) who is attempting to flee Malawi for a job opportunity up north near Kilimanjaro. I have paid for his passport with a double the price bribe attached and I requested help with his transport and start up cost which has come in quickly from my friends and family. People have really been great about sharing a few dollars here and there and my wonderful mother gave her 100dollar Christmas check to donate to his travels. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful family and friends. As soon as Kwame  receives his passport we will be able to take off for Tanzania where he will stay and work while I will stay for one week near Kilimanjaro and then head north to Kenya to join my Congolese refugee group for a wonderful reunion.

I will send an update as soon as I progress and regrettably leave my Malawian home. I will be back however cash willing by September to participate in the Lake of Stars festival again and do more work at Butterfly Space. Anyone wanting a little African adventure in the beautiful shore lined beach style life in Malawi, let me know, we’ll make a party out of it. See you all in 2012!!

Tags: christmas, kaya papaya, malawi, mud wrestling

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