Mountains, Mud, and Tea Parties

Friday, February 10, 2017
Dedza, Central Region, Malawi
Sometimes it's difficult for whole families to always make their way to services. The end of the month comes around and choices have to be made financially. It seems it's the same all over the world. I'm used to hearing about people struggling to drive an hour or two to services every week. Here, where the roads aren't always navigable by any vehicle, even getting across town can be a struggle. Especially with the entire family traveling together. The minibuses don't usually leave until they fill up. Sometimes a few more cram into the already cramped van and off they go, stopping at every single stop along the way.

To help out on occasion, we have a nice little minibus that we can use to pick people up or take them home . On the Sabbath we had planned to drive the Elia clan (all 6 of them) home after services. The fun didn't stop there. We packed all we could in there including two Kachali sisters (Miracle and Lancy) plus Miracle's son and their niece. Then we grabbed Mrs. Phiri, Wordsworth, Jeremiah, and Francis who got dropped off at various bus stops and town centers along the way. It was quite a ride over and along places not designed for the Bongo to go.

Miracle and Lancy Kachali invited us in for tea at their place once we were safely parked in front of the house. They were the last stop and we had nowhere else to be so we took them up on their offer. We had a chance to play with Miracle's son Asher and their niece Triphonia. It was really nice to sit and talk for a while, especially after driving on all the lumpy roads.

The next morning, Lena and I decided to carry on with our typical morning routine of walking through the neighborhood . It turned out to be a rainy walk. We've had rain nearly every night and sometimes during the day as well. We each had an umbrella since someone had left theirs in the van the day before. I ended up holding an umbrella for a girl we met along the way. She was walking to buy bread in one of the small neighborhood shops that you can find in nearly every neighborhood. She had no coat or hat and it just seemed like the right thing to do. As we stopped at the second shop we came to (the first one was out of bread already) we saw a man get out of his car holding a half finished bottle of beer. It was 9:30 in the morning. A lady got in the passenger seat. He bought a second bottle from the little shop and got back in the car to drive off. Lena and I were both in shock at what we saw. No one else said anything either. It was almost as if it were normal. Next time I might have to speak up.

After getting ready for the day and coordinating with Juliana, we headed off to a tea party to celebrate Lancy's birthday. Lancy spent some time in the UK in school. She happened to work in a place that served delicious coffee while she was there. She too appreciates a good cup of coffee, so we had something in common. I made French press coffee from fresh ground Malawian beans. It went well with Lancy's homemade cookies and Lena's custard pie. We met Miracle's husband Aaron at the party. He joined us in playing all sorts of card games for a few hours . We had to leave a little early to meet with our friend Stella over video chat. She checks our mail and helped us out immensely by going through it with us from a distance.

There were a few days this week that went slower. We don't just go go go every day. It's nice to have some slower days to help us relax before more stressful ones. Monday was one of those days for me. I got some things done around the house and managed to go for a longer walk. It's always sort of an adventure just taking a walk. Usually we head out on the streets in our neighborhood and circle back around two or three times before heading home. Sometimes we wander through the maize fields behind the house near the river and walk along the edge of the golf course where there are trees and shade. This week I ventured on a walk part way into town, past the nearest bus station, and down a side street that dead ends into education offices. I managed to find my way back home by cutting through the golf course.

On Tuesday we had no power for most of the day . Actually to say we had no power might be an exaggeration. It was more of a brownout than a blackout. The power would come back on at a lower voltage. High enough to turn on a few indicator lights on some electronic devices, but too low to actually power anything. We decided to head into the LifeNets office to see if anything was needed of us and to see if there was any progress on the church building. There still isn't really a place for us to sit and work there so it is difficult to spend much time at the office without feeling like we are in the way. Progress on the building is slow right now, but should pick up in the coming weeks.

While the power was out we took the time to run a few errands as usual, heading to the grocery store for a few items, and even trying to locate some solar power suppliers to see if they might have a small solar generator. We are told that the rainy season is the peak of electricity supply in the country since more water flow in the rivers means more electricity generated . Currently we lose power at least a few times a week. Most people always lose power at least multiple times a week for several hours. We consider ourselves to be blessed to at least have power every day so far. No luck finding a solar supplier while we were out, but we did find an Ethiopian restaurant with power, and some interesting foods we hadn't tried before.

In the evening we had scheduled a video call with David and Denise Dobson. Thankfully at least one of the two major cellphone networks usually works for us and I was able to charge my phone before our call. The power did come back on long enough for the Dobsons to see our faces towards the end of our call. It was great catching up with them and hearing about how folks are doing back in Alabama. Afterwards we fought mosquitoes during an online meeting with the Good Works team. The meeting went well, but more bugs bugged us into the morning. Sometimes it's a continual battle with tiny enemies. I can't imagine what some people have to go through in their homes to feel safe from such pests .

Wednesday morning we were very pleasantly reminded how beautiful Malawi is on our drive to visit Dedza. Chifundo and Kettie Njewa from the Lilongwe congregation live in the highest town in Malawi. The mountains in and around the area are amazing! The air is a little bit cooler there even during warmer months. On our way to visit the Njewas, we stopped at the Dedza Handmade Art Gallery to see how they make their own stationery out of recycled paper. The owner showed us around in the back of the shop so we could see how the process works. Lena was overjoyed at the chance to see the process itself as she had been wanting to make her own stationery since we haven't been able to find quite what she had been looking for. The paper they made was simple, but very lovely. And the prices for stationery and post cards was lower than what we had paid the guys who sell them on the street corners in Lilongwe. This was quite a find.

Just up the rough dirt road from the art gallery was the famous Dedza Pottery and Lodge. The pottery produces all sorts of ceramic pieces from teapots and mugs to bricks and electric insulators. The work is high quality and inexpensive. The pottery also includes a lodge, a café, and beautiful views of Dedza Mountain and a few other surrounding hills. Since Lena bought paper at the last place, I bought a new coffee mug at this one. We sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee and a Coke (Lena still doesn't like coffee) before heading into the town of Dedza to meet Chifundo .

Dedza is a small town with lots of shops much like many of the villages and trading centers we've passed before while driving in the highways between cities in Malawi. The rain makes everything a little more muddy as people walk and bike or drive across town. There are lots of small shops where you can find almost anything you might need. Chifundo is a mechanic, a job that is definitely not considered to be glamorous here in Malawi. But he is passionate about working on vehicles and understanding how their engines work in such a beautifully engineered way.

Chifundo met us in town and we drove through the muddy and sandy streets of the village to get to the house that he and his wife Kettie are currently renting. Their electricity will hopefully be hooked up soon. The young couple have been married for nearly five months now. We sat and listened to Chifundo tell us more about their little family while Kettie cooked a typical Malawian meal for us . While the food cooked, we let Chifundo charge his phone and laptop in the van. He showed us pictures and videos from their wedding. It looked like a beautiful ceremony, and it seemed like everyone who attended had a wonderful time. For lunch we ate nsima and goat with a spicy, very flavorful sauce for dipping nsima into. The meal was very delicious and very filling. Malawians, like in many other parts of the world, usually eat without cutlery. The idea is to grab a small piece of nsima, roll it in your palm, then dip it in the sauce on your plate. Oh, and only use your right hand. After our lunch, the landlady and her children came to meet us. They showed us around their property including their pigs, chickens, and ducks. Before we left, Chifundo took us for a walk into town along a muddy uphill path. We saw schools, homes, markets, shops, crops, and lots of people along the way.

We managed to leave Dedza just as the rain started up again. Thankfully we were on firm tarmac before it started raining more heavily . The drive home was wet, but uneventful. No matter how hard it rains we always see people walking or running or biking to where they need to be. Sometimes they just move a little bit faster.

Today I spent the majority of my day at the LifeNets office. Joseph was out so I used his office space. His chair is a lot more comfortable than mine. It was interesting to see a little more of the day to day operations in the office, although today was pretty slow. At noon I bought a milk/maize beverage from the shop and sat out front to entertain the small group of children who had gathered there. Some seemed to understand a little of what I said. They all seemed to enjoy the photos I showed them on my phone. The longer I sat there the more children gathered around me. Most of them either live in the area or attend the primary school just on the other side of the houses across from the office. Most are poor and it shows in their clothes and the condition of their homework . But they still smiled at one point or another. Children can still be children no matter where they live if they are allowed to be; if they aren't forced to grow up too soon.

In the afternoon I finalized some paperwork, did some research into accommodations for future visitors (Vic and Bev), and had a nice chat with Juliana while Isaac continued tech support for the office. We talked about future projects for both LifeNets and the congregation in Lilongwe. We talked about what a blessing it is to have our own building to take care of. We talked about the place her parents live in the northern part of Malawi, Mzuzu. She mentioned that they have very few mosquitoes, plenty of trees and hills, lots of stars at night, but you have to trade the mosquitoes for poisonous snakes. I was almost sold on it until I heard about the snakes. I'll still go and visit.

Today we heard there are several areas around the city that have had flooding. Even if it doesn't rain all day, the heavy rains from the night before are sometimes enough to continue to cause damage. The sandy dirt roads easily wash away. The banks of the rivers rise and parts of the shore wash further downstream. More rain means healthier crops and more electricity, but there's a fine balance between too much and not enough. Every day is different. God brings rain down on the just and the unjust. Ultimately He calls the shots. He directs the weather. We can pray and ask Him for protection and trust that He will give us what we need and when we need it. God can keep us safe wherever we are from whatever may harm us.

Next week should be an interesting one. Highlights may include:
- spending a lot of time at the LifeNets office
- picking up Brennan and Michala Hilgen from the airport
- visiting Lake Malawi
- preparing for a trip to Blantyre
- preparing for a trip to Mzuzu
- preparing for a trip to Zambia
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Wanda Morgan

I love the blog. It was very informative. I'm glad your having a good time and working with such good people. Both of you look very nice and healthy. God bless you both. I'll watch for more news from you. (my E-mail mail doesn't work right now,)

Kelly Irvin

Wonderful, Lewis! You are a good writer... and photographer. Great picture of Lena in grocery store.

Rachel Kenady

Thank you Lewis for sharing your adventure with us! I love hearing your stories. God bless you both!


thanks for writing this. you make me feel like i'm right there with you guys.

David Beal

Lewis & Lena Wow what an adventure!! I admire your dedication...You have 2 truly love GOD and HIS creation 2 b where u r .. You are learning life skills that I believe will be very helpful in many ways in the yrs. I know GOD is blessing you!!!