This post was written May 11:

My stay at Nkwichi has been brief; I am going out to the villages for the first time tomorrow. In my one full day at the lodge, I can say that I have met many people on the staff, moved into my hut, seen my first vervet monkeys (which seem cute to me now but apparently can be quite the pests), skinks, geckos, bee-eaters ( a beautiful bird that looks a little like a giant hummingbird but builds its nest in the ground), African cockroaches (which are HUGE) and some type of giant flat spider with orange and black legs that was crawling inside my mosquito net until I coaxed it out with a piece of paper. I have heard bush babies crying in the night but have not seen any yet. They are small nocturnal lemur-like creatures whose eyes glow yellow when light shines on them in the dark. The staff has assured me that any eyes I see like that at night are most likely bush babies and not leopards, which are also around and whose eyes also glow yellow at night. I plan to stay away from trees at night as much as possible, just to be sure.

Today (May 11) was spent preparing for my first journey out. I will be going to four villages in eight days. Tomorrow will be a travel day, with a four-hour boat ride and a three-hour hike with all our supplies including food for a week. The next day I am working with the choir in the village of Ngofi. The following day we hike to Uchesse, where I will work with the choir the next day, and so on. It sounds a little grueling, considering I hadn't even left for Africa five days ago; but that's what I came here for, and I wouldn't miss out for the world! I've come too far for that....
My spacious hut in Volunteer Village at Nkwichi Lodge
I used much of my time today getting the songs ready that I will be teaching the choirs. I brought music for several pieces, but after listening to a lot of radio online from Malawi, I have settled on two pieces.

The first is a canon that I learned from a Burundian man. He said they used it in the refugee camps there to help mollify conflicts among various factions. The text is adapted from John 14:27. It simply says "Let not your heart be troubled; I bring you my peace." I love everything about this round, so I translated it into Chichewa when I was still in the States.

The second piece I settled on is a song from the Caribbean: "Balia di Sehu," by Eduard Toppenberg.  The piece has rhythms characteristic of Caribbean music, a type of music that is much favored here (especially Reggae).  I bought a bible while in Lilongwe, and thumbing through it I got the idea of fitting parts of the 23rd Psalm to this piece.

I used much of my time today to make sure my songs were properly arranged and that the text had correct stresses, so I entered them into the computer and printed them out. Next I ran them by one of the skilled singers who works at the lodge at other jobs.  He corrected my grammar in a couple of spots and my spelling in another, so I feel much more confident that the pieces are acceptable at the textual level.  Now it is a question of the choirs liking them and wanting to do them together.  That is of course entirely up to them.    
Incidentally, the meals here at the lodge are truly unbelievable.  The breakfast for staff and volunteers is a roll and coffee or tea at 6:30 (!), but the lunch today (noon) was two kinds of quiche, a bulky bread, pasta and citrus ice cream (a combination of lemon and orange made into ice cream in the kitchen here).  Last night’s dinner (dinner is at 7) was a local fish steamed in a husk of some sort and wrapped with a local grass to hold it together, along with potatoes, carrots, green beans and some sort of cheesecakey dessert.  Tonight was a chicken in a gingered cream sauce along with fresh guacamole, bread, fried pumpkin sticks, green beans and cake for dessert.  Most of the produce is locally grown as part of the Manda Wilderness project.  I don’t think meals will be that luxurious while we are on the trail.  I hope not anyway, since we will have to carry it all!

There is so much to learn here, and it seems very odd to think that I will have been here for nine days and only spent one of them in my hut!  Onward…!    

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013