The pre-dawn call to prayer got the local dogs howling just now. Not too many such blasts from mosques to incite the dogs where I’m headed.
“Last day in Africa” is something you wish wouldn’t happen but also look forward to. Eager to get back home, but hate to leave such an interesting place. Every visit I’ve made to Africa was unique, but this one had qualities I’ve never seen before.
- Food on this trip was the best, especially since I didn’t have to eat nsima (boiled corn flour paste) even once. Rural people in much of Africa eat this stiff corn flour concoction at almost every meal. It’s prepared by mixing corn flour with water and then boiling it. That’s how we made homemade paste when I was growing up and paste is what is tastes like. It’s called sadza in Zimbabwe and does taste a little like suds, too. Soap suds. So many great dishes are made with corn flour (such as gomi, the thick corn mash of the Republic of Georgia); I don’t understand why nsime is so popular here.
- Hot shower every day. I so assume cold showers in Africa that on one trip to Kenya, I didn’t even ask if they had a switch for hot water until the last day. So I went 10 days with cold showers when hot water was just a toggle switch away. The most interesting African technology for generating hot water is an electric heater which fits over the shower head and heats the water as it comes out. It also can give you a nice electric shock while you are standing in water.
- I got American quality steak not once but twice in two weeks. Beef steak in Africa usually comes from tough old cows who might qualify as hamburger in the US. The Cluny Lodge knows how to do steak.
- Never got hot enough to make me sweat. Heat and sweat have always been my companion in Africa. On this trip, on the edge of winter in the highlands, no day was warm enough to cause a sweat.
- Never had to rely on an interpreter to get my work done. I’ve always needed interpreters in the past, but here in Malawi, everyone spoke English. Interpreters can kill you. When your job is to teach, you are totally dependent on your interpreter. I’ve seen trainers whose students thought they were incompetent because of a bad interpreter. The worst interpreters are those who don’t understand the concepts you’re using, but would rather fake it than ask what a term means.
- No overcrowding. In contrast to every other Africa capital, Lilongwe is an oasis. Most of it looks like a series of parks. If New York City were Lilongwe, it would be Central Park multiplied by 25.
Some things about trips to Africa are always the same. I miss my garden, greenhouse, the open spaces around the Delta outpost, the pristine wilderness of Meadowcreek and driving my truck. The luxury of having a driver take me everywhere quickly becomes the burden of not being independent.
A universal constant of my Africa trips has been the personal resilience of the people. On the Mozambique border near Dedza, I met an older farmer hobbling on homemade crutches. Thieves had broken his leg. His daughter and nephew showed us all the peaches they had grafted and the corn planted on every square inch not occupied by fruit trees. Since the patriarch couldn’t get around much, his wife and daughters were managing the farm. They had dressed in their Sunday best for our visit, but that didn’t stop them from hiking to their back orchard to pick a couple of bags of ripe guavas for us.
I’m not sure how they keep on keeping on, but they do. They epitomize the qualities of personal resilience we discuss in chapter 7.
Adaptability, good relations with family and friends, accepting change, taking action, looking for opportunities, keeping things in perspective, hope, sense of humor, taking time to relax.
I’ll miss these folks. I just wish they weren’t plagued by governmental systems which undermine all attempts at creating a better world. Resilient families, dysfunctional government—the underlying constant here.