Monday, April 10, 2017

Welcome to Malawi!

The day finally arrived for the team to board our flight to Lilongwe, Malawi!

Without really knowing what to expect, I had a great sense of excitement and expectation within me. One thing that I was certain of, was that I would return blessed and a little changed.

Before our departure we were briefed on what to pack. The women may only wear skirts and tops that covered our shoulders in the refugee camp, we had to take torches as there wasn't always electricity and we were to be prepared to bath in a bucket as there was also not always running water. Sounded like fun!

Our team consisted of Wikus, the YWAM Potch leader, Andrea, his daughter, Riette, a pre-school teacher and Steven, a Congolese man who had lived inside the refugee camp for 6 years. Steven had done his Discipleship Training through YWAM Potch and he was now a free man, with a vision to minister to refugees and assist in getting them to be free as well. He was also to be our guide and translator inside the camp.

Our team was to meet up with a DTS group who were on their final week of their DTS outreach phase - in Malawi. They'd already been there for a week when we joined them. The group consisted of five amazing young people who's eyes shone with the love of Jesus. As I got to know each of them during that week I felt a bit jealous that I had made such abysmal life-choices instead of living a life fully committed to serving our King.

Before going to our "guesthouse" we were taken to the Dzaleka Refugee camp just to greet our correspondent there. Tresor, a young man - also from the Congo, and who had also done the DTS program in Malawi - came to meet us on his bicycle. Tresor was excited to meet us and we were shown around the camp with much enthusiasm and a very warm welcome. We took a short rest at a Somalian "restaurant" to have a cold drink. The restaurant was simply a small building with a few plastic chairs and a few tables set out on the concrete floor. It offered a choice of soft drinks, tea or coffee and a few basic meals, such as rice or "pap" with chicken or beef in sauce. What caught my attention is that even though it was very basic and very "township-like", it was extremely neat and clean. The Somalian owner could speak to us in English and served us with great warmth.

Once our drinks were done we headed back to our car and continued to our guest house which was situated in the small village of Dowa, about a 15 minute drive from Dzaleka.

The vegetation in Malawi is beautiful, very green and lush - a lot like the Eastern Transvaal in South Africa. Entering Dowa we drove through the main street which is a broken tar road with a market place on either side of the road. There the local people sell whatever they can - some of them sell goods which are delivered by truck such as plastic shoes, plastic containers and other odds and ends. Some of them sell fresh produce which they can grow in their own backyards like tomatoes, bananas, avos, onions, beans and guavas. To my surprise they also had plenty of plastic containers with samoosa's and "vetkoek" for sale - something which I didn't expect to find anywhere but home. Maize grows in abundance in Malawi so there are also mats with maize for sale. There are also some stands where they make fried potato chips which they drown in salt when you buy a packet - my kind of snack!

As it was already late afternoon we stopped at the market to have some dinner. Again we went to a "restaurant" which offered pretty much the same as in the refugee camp. I ordered a chicken and rice dish which was not bad but a little dodgy as there were a lot bits which felt like glass as I chewed. When mentioning this one of the students explained that seeing as the people don't have the correct tools to slaughter the animals they make use of whatever they have - like a machete - to chop the animals up and the bones often shatter, which explains the bits in the food. I had to make the decision to not let that put me off and tried my best to enjoy the meal.

Walking through the market-place I was extremely fascinated at how neat and beautifully arranged every stall was - tomatoes are stacked in little formations and beans and maize are placed in baskets. It appeared that these people took great pride in what they do. I also noticed that were no ugly smells, only aromatic smells of food and wood fire.

From the main street we turned right to go down a small dirt road towards our guesthouse. On the corner of the street there is signboard which indicates that under the trees is the local taxi service center. The taxi's are old motorbikes which are used to transport people around the village and to the airport etc. I actually spotted one or two with up to three people and a bag of luggage on it! Some of the bikes are so old that they looked as though they are held together with duct tape.

The moment eventually arrived when we parked at our guesthouse - Dowa Inn, owned by an elderly, pitch black Malawian man with a snow white smile called Elisha. Again we were extremely warmly welcomed and shown around our home for the week. There is a building with single rooms along a long passage - the rooms are big enough for a single bed and a small space beside the bed to put your bag and feet when stepping out of the room:-)  At the end of the long passage there is a communal "bathroom". This is an open-air room with a few toilets (real toilets that can flush, in their own cubicle thank goodness!) and a few large drums filled with water. Seeing as the running water only works at random times, they fill the drums so that there is always water available to wash with. In the mornings Elisha's managers make a fire and cook a massive pot of water so that we can ad some warm water to our bucket bath. There is also a shower but then you'd have to be ok with taking a cool shower as the running taps don't ever have hot water.

Andrea and then decided to opt for sharing a double room. These were much bigger with their own bathroom on-suite. Elisha was gracious enough to let us pay what we would have paid for the single room. 
That first night we didn't have electricity, but the DTS team were already so used to the African ways of life that they quickly whipped up some coffee with their gas stove. So the day wound down as we all sat around on the stairs in the dark with a nice hot cup of coffee, chatting about the days' events. 

I went to sleep that night feeling exhausted, content and excited about our week of ministry ahead.