Going out to the “field”- Visiting the village of Chisamba

Wednesday was a wild day!! I spent the morning working on my advocacy overview report for COWLHA and refining my final report for WUSC. Daphne and Victoria had left me alone in the office to go and run errands. They would be back, with the driver, in time for us to go to the village by 1:00 p.m. Agnes would be joining us.

In the late morning, Agnes arrived in the office. I closed up my computer and just spent time talking with her. She is such a terrific person…so bright and full of positive energy. She told me about her life as a teacher, her mother who lives in Selima and her two daughters….one of whom wants to study mechanics in Canada.

Around 2:00 p.m. Daphne and Victoria returned. There had been problems with some of the financial transactions needed to get all the pieces in place for the visit to the “field” ….to the village to visit with a Chief. So, we gathered ourselves together, got into cab of the 4-wheel-drive truck – driven by Steven – and headed off for….??? I had no idea!! We grabbed some lunch – chicken and chips – to eat on the way.

Daphne passed me a chitenje….as I would need to wear one over my dress when we arrived at the village.

Off we went. At first we drove on paved roads. We stopped at one point to pick up 3 cases of bottled pop and some other provisions. Then our drive continued. Here the land was much flatter than I saw on the way to Selima. The horizon was dotted with unexpected hills or small mountains. They appeared randomly on the skyline as surprises for the eye. As we drove, we got closer to several but, oddly, they always seemed just out of distance.

As our travels progressed, the roads became more and more rough until they were not much more than wide, dirt pathways. We saw people, goats, donkeys, bikes, more people…..all along the way. The roads are busy, but not always with vehicles.

Eventually Daphne yelled out to stop. Two women in matching head scarves and chitenje jumped into the back of the truck. As we went along we picked up others. As their numbers grew, they started to sing…..and then we approached the village, and their voices were joined by others who ran towards the truck. We got out and were welcomed by the women thronging around us, singing and dancing. They were so very happy to see Daphne and Victoria. I was a quirky little bonus….a “mazoonga”….a white person. The women hugged me and the children came up to get a closer look at me. It was a totally unexpected and somewhat overwhelming experience!!

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We walked and danced and sang our way over to a space under a grove of trees. All the village was gathered there. Under a reed canopy punctuated with bouquets of hanging flowers sat the chief and the other leaders of the community…all men.

Daphne, Agnes, Victoria and I were directed to sit at the front under the canopy with the Chief. The women who had been dancing, I learned, were all “positive’ and they sat together on a reed mat in front of the Chief. As we approached the Chief to sit in the chairs beside him, I followed Daphne’s lead. We each got down on our knees and shook hands with the Chief and then scuttled along on our knees to shake the hands of the other leaders sitting beside him.

After we were seated there was more singing and dancing – and a prayer. We were expected to stand and dance & sing along with the women….which we did. I think it must have been quite a sight to see me in my chitenje trying to move with this African women’s dance moves. Believe me, I didn’t even try to sing in Chichewa!!!

There was a poem read by a young man in Chichewa; I understand it was a call for people to help those with HIV/AIDS. There was a drama done by the youth about the importance of getting tested for HIV/AIDS and of having safe sex, etc. Then Daphne gave a rousing talk and the Chief responded. At the end, there was more singing and dancing and a closing prayer. The whole proceedings were in Chichewa. As she could, Victoria would lean in and whisper in my ear about the general gist of what was happening.

As I listened to all that was going on, I did my best to drink in the whole surroundings. The children were all there sitting and listening…very well behaved in light of the topic that was under discussion – which must have been a bit boring for them. I enjoyed looking at them and exchanging ‘eyes’ with some of those who would bravely respond to my smile or discreet wave.

At one point, one of the toddlers – being carried by an older sibling – came up close to me. The look of my white face caused him to burst into frantic tears! I fear he had nightmares from seeing me!!

After the ceremony was over we were walked – accompanied by more dancing and singing by the women – over to a mud building where Daphne and I were invited to sit with the Chief and the other leaders. I think we were in the Chief’s house….it was very nice as compared to the others in the village and appointed with upholstered furniture.

The pop was brought in and served to us. Then a loaf of bread was opened and we were invited to take some. Everyone drank and ate heartily. There was some further conversation in Chichewa and some business was transacted. The Chief spoke to me in English and made me feel very welcome.

Afterwards, I took a picture of the Chief and other leaders with Daphne, Victoria and Agnes. I also took a picture of a group of children gathered to watch — which very nearly created bedlam beyond all imagining!!!! Many of the women who had been singing and dancing got into the back of the truck so that they could get a ride back to their part of the village. (It is very widely spread out and they have to walk quite a distance to get to the place where the ceremony was held.) I got a photo of the women in the back of the truck and then we started the journey home. Dark was beginning to come upon us as we left.

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The women in the truck sang all the way along our route, with the volume only decreasing slightly as we dropped one or another off at the place where they lived. It was an experience like any other I have had, watching the sun set on the Malawian horizon – dotted by the unusual ‘mountains’ – with the sound of these wonderful voices coming from behind me as we made our way along the dirt road.

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I think we left shortly before 6 pm. We stopped just as the light was fading so Daphne and Victoria could by some pork; they saw a man with a freshly butchered pig at the side of the road. Later, in the deep dark as we made our way over the very rough dirt ‘roads’, we stopped again because we were about to pass two young men with their bikes loaded high with firewood. It is much cheaper to buy the wood from them (for cooking fires) than to buy it in the city. So, Daphne and Victoria negotiated a price with them for one of the bike loads of wood. They put the wood in the back of the truck and we continued on our way.

I was laughing and teasing Daphne that I never dreamed we could end up on a shopping spree in the middle of rural Malawi, in the pitch dark on this small dirt road! We also stopped on the way home to return the pop bottles and the other ladies I was with took the chance to pick up a few groceries. Of course….as is common in the way of random Malawian things….the power went out while they were in the store. No big deal if you are Malawian….just get out the candles and take your time to get everything sorted through!

The driver took each person home – I got a peek (in the pitch dark!!) of where Victoria, Daphne and Agnes lived. I got to have a quick introduction to both of Agnes’ daughters and to see Daphne’s daughter, Tamara, again. I got home around 8:00 p.m. I was so tired from all the day’s excitement and the stimulation of my brain by so many different things. I fell asleep only moments after my head hit the pillow.

One Comment

  1. Kate says:

    Vicki!

    What a scene – what an experience! The singing as they piled into the truck would have had me crying my eyes out. I don’t know what to say – it sounds incredibly moving…