Quiet Times


PictureA skink at Nkwichi - one of the most common animals here. Unlike many animals, the female has the yellow head and bright blue tail; males are dull brown.
JULY 6: Since I came back early from the previously scheduled trip, I have had some time to help other volunteers with their own projects.  I have spent some terrific, peaceful time at the farm cutting dried lemongrass to package for lemongrass tea to sell at the lodge and at other lodges in the area.  The farm project is working hard to become self-sustaining, and these sorts of value-added projects will help a great deal if visitors to the area buy them.

Another project I have been assisting with is English teaching.  The newest arrival, Trish, has actually been coming to Nkwichi for many years now, teaching the staff English.  Because people are at varying levels of proficiency, she usually gives private sessions, which means a lot of walking from lodge to farm (a little over a mile) and back again, being careful to schedule lessons in out-of-the-way places when guests are present so as not to disturb them.  My task is to help her with comprehension tests.  The materials she has brought from England include dialogs to help assist her most advanced students in their listening comprehension.  The only problem is, many of the dialogs are discussing things that would be completely outside the realm of people’s experiences here.  One dialog has two friends going through photographs of a holiday in Spain, where they visit museums and castles, and record lectures on a cassette recorder (!).  Another involves a sports centre (what we would call a “gym”), with a discussion of what bus to take, what clothing one needs to bring and whether you can buy sandwiches there or not (people do not eat sandwiches here.  Needless to say, it is difficult to know how much of the comprehension gap is linguistic and how much is cultural.  It is as if I were getting a comprehension test in Nyanja in which two people building a house were discussing the relative merits of ten different types of grasses for thatching a hut, or a dialogue in which a man was negotiating a dowry with the uncle of a potential second wife.  I wonder how I would do, and admire how the students press gamely on.  “What is this ‘casa telly’?” [castle] they want to know.

Three villages had mentioned that they might like to have me come back for a second training session: Uchesse, Chigoma and Mbueca.  Since they are among my favorite villages (though I have to admit, nearly all the villages are my favorite villages), I have been hoping to go back.  Still, all these villages being on the lakeshore, Mr. Joe has been able to contact the northern villages via Skype phone from the lodge.  Of course living in Mbueca he can speak directly to members of the choir.  In these calls and visits, it turns out that the three groups feel good about the training they have already received and are content.  Mr. Richard has returned to Uchesse on his time off to work with his home choir, which is much better than me going and doing it anyway.  Still, it is a little sad to see this part of my time here coming to an end.  My last village to visit and work with will be Mala on the 13th.  Mala is the village closest to the lodge – only a forty-minute walk – so it will be a one-day affair.  No more camping out, no more long hikes – at least, barring the unforeseen, which is not insignificant here.  No, our focus now turns to preparations for the festival and the choirmaster training sessions at the end of the month.

Lily, Joe and I have a meeting making checklists to prepare for the festival: Where will we get the flour for the nsima?  How many greens did we buy and where did they come from?  Will we have goat or chicken this year?  How will we get the big generator from Metangula; and since the starter on it has been broken for years, who can we hire who knows how to make it operate anyway? - On and on the details go until my head is spinning.  I need to write the script for the master of ceremonies, Mr. Patson, so that Joe can translate it into Nyanja.  I will also make the certificates of participation and achievement, which will also then need to be translated.  The handouts for the two-day choirmaster training festival must be ready for the next trip to Lichinga, whenever that will be, so that they can be printed.  I won’t be lacking for things to do!  It will just be a different experience than I have gotten used to.

For this evening’s dinner, Doctor Peg comes.  She is preparing for a trip to England to visit friends and family and is very much looking forward to her time there.  We have dinner on the platform built into rocks that jut out into the lake.  It is one of my favorite settings here, although it can get a little chilly this time of year.  Before dinner, I am once again asked to tell my story of my big day a few days before.  Then Doctor Peg tells her own story of her one time experience with a police chapa.  She was carrying a blood sample for analysis in Lichinga.  This blood came from someone who was potentially HIV positive among other problems.  She had it bundled carefully, but almost just out of Cobué, the police took the corner so fast that the bottle came out of her hands and shattered, spilling on her.  She wiped it as quickly as she could, but she noticed that her own hand had a cut on it.  She hoped it had been from a day or two before and was already healed enough to prevent any potential transmission, but she couldn’t be sure.  When she arrived in Lichinga, she was so busy with her work and the needs of people there that she actually forgot to take the prophylactic medicine, which she admitted was not good.  At a later time, she was demonstrating for some trainees at a clinic how to take a blood sample and read an HIV test.  She told them of what had happened and said she would use her own blood because she really needed to know.  Step by step, she showed them the process and then they all crowded around in silence waiting for the results to show.  Negative.  Can you imagine?  Unbelievable.

It is time for my final visa run to Likoma.  I will leave on the 9th.  Unlike the last trip, this visit will only be one day.  I wonder if I will have any trouble at the immigration office based on my little episode this week….    


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    May 2013