Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Language. Oh what fun it’s been to learn the Malawian language. Except that in honesty, by no means am I even remotely close to having the privilege to say I’ve learned it or can even say that I kind of know it. I have very limited speaking abilities but I am known for my craziness, diligence, and refusal to give up. Therefore the students or working staff at the school are constantly talking to me in Chichewa, rattling off words so quickly…..it’s like they’ve forgotten that I actually DON’T know the language. I guess it is helping me daily though as we go through the “teach Michelle Chichewa process”. This process is very long but simple. They say something in Chichewa. I look at them with an odd blank stare…which is actually what’s in my head. Blank. Then I have them repeat it while I try my best to catch words or sounds that are familiar. Again, blank. Then I have them repeat it again….because maybe this time I’ll understand. See resilience! But again, blank. And then I give up and say, “Okay just tell me. What are you saying?” They then smile, chuckle, and tell me what they were saying, I repeat it two or three times, walk away, engage in another conversation and, poof….it’s gone! Blank again! Dang. Unless those same words and phrases are repeated over and over through the period of a week or month there’s no hope for me! And even then sometimes I struggle as many times I get words like beans, cow, and home mixed up. Sometimes I say I’m going home. Sometimes I say I’m going beans. Ha. This week however I had a breakthrough when I learned how to say I want to go to the bathroom and some of the words that go with bathroom…for some reason that one stuck. I found my new words very helpful however when one of my kids decided that she wanted the nickname Bibi. At first I thought okay. Then I remembered that bibi in Chichewa was poop! So I secretly pulled her aside and informed her of this great knowledge, asking her if she really wanted to be called bibi? She got a cute little grin on her face and decided not. Smart kid and yay to Tina for teaching me the word poop! I’m making progress!!

I will say that learning the language has been interesting as many of the college students have taken advantage of me and my lack of knowledge in their instruction. I know this because the response to many of my phrases are a laugh, an “Eee” (remember this means “goodness” or “good grief” with disapproval), and a “Michelleoh! Who taught you that?” At which point I give a ridiculously large grin of satisfaction and rat out the person who abused their privilege of teaching me. Shame. Although in all honesty I do egg it all on and enjoy learning the random phrases just for the shock value! For instance the first phrase I learned was “Sia Ndi Kuswa”, which means “Stop I’m going to beat you up!” I found this very handy with my volleyball players in a practice or with any of the boys on campus really. I’m sure some may wonder if I’ve developed Chichewa Turrets. I’ve also learned how to say “Your mom!” and “That’s how I roll.” I can shout out “IWE”, “YOU” across campus and command the attention of all and I love to yell “TEMANGA, TEMANGA, NSANGA, NSANGA” at the top of my lungs at every volleyball practice and watch the boys play along in that I’ve actually intimidated them enough to run. This means “RUN, RUN, HUSTLE, HUSTLE.” I have learned a very important song about “You’re going down. That one there”. To the best of my knowledge this would translate into “We Will Rock You”. Singing this on campus actually made me famous for a while as everyone was amazed at the fact that I could sing it, even though I butchered it, and every time someone would see me on campus they would sing it. It was like I had my very own theme song that would follow me wherever I would go. “Wa gwa nyo, wa gwa nyo, aminio”!! I can apologize, say I love you, let’s eat, let’s pray, sit down, come here, you’re looking nice and a few other important phrases. It’s my goal each week to learn something new.

I do have to say that as I’ve taken from the language I’ve also given back. I have been an instrumental part of the Chichewa language development and Malawi should hire me to fill in the gaps in their language. This last November when it was one of my dear friend Titu’s birthday I asked my aide Catherine how to say happy birthday in Chichewa. It was my hope to remember it long enough to actually say it to him and dazzle him with my knowledge. However, to my bewilderment I found that there were actually NO words for happy birthday! Can you believe it? Eeee! So I invented some. Which oddly enough I, the founder of happy birthday in Chichewa, even forget and have to ask sometimes how to sing happy birthday in my own Chichewa words! Ha! But regardless my “Moolee Weewa” has spread around the campus and my hope is that it will continue to spread, bringing cheer and joy to all villages and homes across Malawi. You’re welcome Chichewa language. You’re kwambiri (very) welcome.

So anyway I’ve continued to find the heartbreaking gaps in Chichewa as I’ve gone along and I’ve found that I have a lot of work before me. The other day I discovered that they have no words for certain colors. Everything in Chichewa is green or blue. Eee again. Goodness, this explains a lot! These people need some color names in their lives! Now this process of coming up with a name for every color in a box of Crayola Coloring Crayons will take a very long time but I think I have a plan. You see many times in the Chichewa language they simply take an English word and add an –oh (as in oh my) or an –ee (as in bumblebee) at the end to make it Chichewa. For instance when I go to the village and I introduce myself as Michelle, inevitably by the end of the day I’ve turned into Michelleoh. So now that’s what they call me here! Or a number. Take the number nine. Nine in Chichewa is Nineee! Ten? Tenee. Six? Sixee. Easy right? So my plan is that I will just add a few vowel letters to the end of color names and this should fix most of the problem. Yellowee, Brownoh, Orangeoh, Purpleee, Aquaoh, Neonee Pinkoh…well it’s a good start for now.

I must admit there have been a few setbacks in my work however. For instance I was told that my word for birthday (weewa) actually means pee. Not so good. Just recently I also attempted to find a word for you’re welcome just to find that the word meant bile. Again, not so good. In Chichewa they say thank you and then thank you again for you’re welcome. However, now I know more words so I guess it wasn’t a complete failure.

So my mission now has broadened. I am a teacher of small children, a volleyball coach to a bunch of crazy boys, I have been called to love on college students and eat their unsettling food a couple times of week in order to connect and see them, and now I am on a mission to be the first Chichewa Linguist Gap Filler Upper. “Filling the potholes of Chichewa, one word at a time.” That will be the slogan on my t-shirts and bumper stickers! I love it. Praise Jesus for his work through the crazy at heart and slightly off-their-rocker missionaries! God is good.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bunda! Bunda! Bunda!

So I went hiking for the first time since being in Malawi. Kinda sad that it’s taken this long but I’m pretty sure I made up for it when I not only hiked up and down this incredibly steep, what seemed greater than 90 degree angle, rocks, rocks and more rocks mountain once…..but three times. Crazy you say? I would have to agree.
A dear friend of mine Lisa who is a fabulous teacher and inspiration is training with her good friend Jessica to hike Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain (volcano) in Africa, and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. It will be a seven day hike with five days up and two days down. The amount of hiking ranges from three hours to a whopping nineteen hour hike where they not only summit but descend on the same day. Kili is an inactive volcano in the north-eastern part of Tanzania and is 15,092 feet in height. While hiking Kili Lisa and friends will pass through five different ranges of ecological zones and once reaching the top of the mountain they will freeze their butts off at a wonderful 0 to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point not only their hind quarters will be frozen but also their water supply and any kind of chocolate candy bar they have brought to celebrate their victory of reaching the top. They will summit and in their frozenness, admire and awe at God’s amazing creation of Africa…. hopefully there are no clouds, because they will be above them, and then descend back down the mountain with hopes to make it with both knees still attached to the rest of their body. I’m starting to think I should have signed up for this trip. So in great preparation for their wonderful adventure they’ve decided to train. Training includes swimming in the morning, running after school, and hiking ridiculously steep mountains not only once but three times.
Although I will not be joining them on their expedition I have stumbled into their training program from time to time after training with the volleyball boys or for moral support in swimming with Lisa in the mornings. This last training, a hike up Bunda, was a doozey!! Hiking is always fun for me as I love the mountains. Our family has been blessed to have a cabin that we ventured up to each summer to spend time together in God’s beautiful creation. My most favorite memories have happened up at Dinky, climbing rocks with my dad, going on hikes to random swimming holes, and jumping into freakishly freezing water so that my mom could justify not taking a bath!! She liked to rough it in the mountains and was never a stinky person anyway. We all did the same. So when Lisa said she was going on a hike I thought, “Oh how fun, I’d love to go!” So I invited myself and Saturday morning packed my bag, our lunch of P&J’s, and we were off.
Bunda. Bunda, pronounced boo-n-da. Is a little mountain right outside of town only about 20 minutes away. Like most of the “mountains” close to Lilongwe, it’s out in the middle of nowhere and is like a lone earth tumor just sticking out of the ground with no other hills or mountains attached to it. The thing is stinkin steep and majority of it is granite, or the African form of granite, and in the direction of straight up. The most interesting part about Bunda is what you find at the top. Lots of praying people. Bunda is known for its praying people that gather into different groups to pray, sing, maybe speak in tongues…. It’s a little different feel when you finally reach the top of a mountain just looking forward to the serenity and quiet majestic view of the valley below to have the sound of loud shouting prayers, singing, and repetitive noises. It makes me wonder why and what…mostly what. But Jesus would pray on the top of mountains, and I personally find mountains to be one of my favorite places to meet with God, so I guess it makes sense.
The hike itself was wonderfully exhausting but beautiful as well. On arrival, once out of the car, there were a group of children and family members of the neighboring small village who came to greet us and ask to watch the car. That happens a lot when going to the market, or I guess in this case Bunda Mountain. In order to make money the kids say, “Madam. Watchman?” Which means, will you pay me to keep your car safe? These little boys were cute and instead of saying “watchman?” They said “bodyguard?” I had to smile when I pictured them bodyguarding our car, but later I realized what they meant. As we started up the steep incline they walked with us….sometimes they even skipped or ran, which seemed rather cruel as the three of us were huffing and puffing with our backpacks and hiking gear. But these little boys were barefoot and carefree, just content as to be walking along guiding us up the right paths and every now and then asking us in Chichewa if we were tired! They were cute. They were also our flower coordinators as at one point one of the boys, Gift, picked us some beautiful purple flowers and smiled proudly to give them to us. I accepted mine with a big ZIKOMO (thank you) and pushed the stem into my ponytail. As we continued our hike we were adorned with more and more flowers, each one of them going into my ponytail, and with a big ZIKOMO. By the time we had hiked up and down the mountain twice I had an entire bouquet of purple and orange beautiful flowers in my hair and a very stylish flower sword, which I later found could also be worn as a flower belt. Let’s just say we were the prettiest three hikers on the mountain and I now have an idea for a cute hairstyle the day prince charming decides to ride up on his horse and marry me.
By the end of the day we were pooped. Hurting knees and slightly sunburned we decided at the end of two that if we could climb it a third time we definitely deserved some ice cream. So, on our third round we stood at the top of the mountain, one last time admiring God’s beauty. We could see the flat land of fields ready and planted for the maize, I’m sure with hopes that the rains would grow a decent crop this year. There were a few mountains that sprouted up here and there and mountain ranges on both sides in the far distance. You could see smoke stacks from people burning and past the group of trees there were little village settlements all scattered throughout the valley. It was truly beautiful and it was a clear day which made it even more spectacular. Eventually the clouds started to loom, and the thunder could be heard in the distance. We decided it was time to go. As we walked slowly down the hill with pain in most all parts of our bodies we were passed up by mamas barefoot and with babies on their backs, some of them practically running down the hill. I’m going to guess that they pray on the top of Bunda daily and are very used to the climb both up and down. There’s nothing like being shown up by a barefoot mama with her baby tied to her back. I was ready to climb onto one of their backs. We finally made it to the bottom tired and ready for ice cream. It was a great hike.
. . . . . . . .
So after writing this email, researching a little about Kilimanjaro, hiking another mountain two days later with Lisa, and thinking, “When will I ever have this opportunity again?”….I’ve booked a plane ticket to Tanzania and in about two weeks I’ll be at the base of the largest mountain in Africa. I’m hiking Kilimanjaro! Eeeek!!! To see what I’ll be seeing and doing check these websites out: http://www.mountkilimanjaroguide.com/kilimanjaro-photos.html


Please also....UP YOUR PRAYER SUPPORT!!!!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dzuwa Traffic

Traffic. You can’t seem to escape or rid your life of it. It slows you down when you want to get somewhere and inevitably always makes you late. People sit in it for hours on a daily basis, or better yet wake up at odd hours of the morning just to avoid it. It’s a plague and frustration and I’m sure is most likely one of the leading causes of cancer!! Traffic makes you wish and long for a simpler life somewhere else. A place with fewer people, fewer cars, and fewer causes for accidents, and of course less frustration at the end of a long workday. Maybe a place in a remote and far away land like…. Dzuwa!
Dzuwa, may be a decent-sized village for Malawi but very small compared to a booming metropolis in America. Fourteen small individual family-sized villages exist with dirt roads leading from one set of adobe houses to the next. Between the villages and alongside the roads are lush fields of maize, peanuts, tobacco, beans, and tall standing grass making the area beautiful and green against the bright blue sky at times filled with white puffy clouds. You would think this would be the kind of place to be lucky enough to escape the plague of traffic. A place you would like to go to escape traffic!!
Oh my dear friend….here is where you are so very wrong!!! Dzuwa, a quaint village in the middle of nowhere has managed to create its own traffic! Who would have thought? Although Ronald and Ulemu I’m pretty sure are one of the few, if not the only, family to own a car in Dzuwa there are plenty of other road hazards to slow you down. Not that Ronald and Ulemu are a road hazard at all!! They’re wonderful drivers!! Ronald says Dzuwa does have traffic… “Goats, Cows, Dogs, Bikes, Ox Carts, and women with big loads on their heads.”....

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Ox Cart

Dzuwa's traffic is unique and something you don't see everyday in the states. One of my favorite modes of transportation...THE OX CART! This would be a cart, much like you would see in the bible times, on wheels pulled by two oxen with a wooden stick between their necks. On the cart a man sits on the edge with a stick to spur on the team and guide them to their destination. It’s a village truck, a vehicle used for hauling things like corn! Of their many diverse features one of my favorite is the ability to speed up these rather large animals…a simple process of yanking on one of their tails while hollering out words of encouragement…or at least, while riding one of these last weekend, were what I assumed to be words of encouragement! When meeting one of these modes of transportation on the road you would think that the best idea is to back up to let them pass. After all how easy is it to back up a team of oxen? Yet these creatures are fearless and feel no need to stop but veering right or left will plow over anything on the side of the road to make way for you! Very noble if you ask me!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Village Bikers

Another great mode of transportation in Dzuwa is the bike! Most of the villagers use this as their way of traveling and some are even lucky enough to have a metal plate-like piece on the back just small enough to fit the rear end of a passenger who may or may not wobble enough to throw both the driver and themselves right off! I know this from experience. While riding on the back of a bike from church to home Ronald reminded me to not be scared but just relax and enjoy the ride. I think he may have been fearful that I would take us both down!! It was a definite possibility. Yet I’ve noticed that with or without a passenger these biking villagers are just wobbly in general. On the small roads going to and from Dzuwa we pass many, many bikers and their attempts to gracefully exit the dirt road in order to let our car pass is often a comical situation. I think they seriously believe that we will hit them…they might not be too far off base.
One instance in particular still makes me chuckle! A group of four “village bikers” were traveling along the left side of the road towards us as we were in Ronald’s truck driving away from Dzuwa. The road, not being very wide at all, didn’t allow for much room for error, or even space to really ride on the shoulder. One of the first bikers was struggling to keep his balance in keeping on the road while also keeping on his bike. Just as we approached him his eyes widened, we heard a, “woah, woah, woah….” and down he went. The poor guy toppled over, bike and all, down the embankment into the tall, thick grass. As he disappeared we could hear his friends and hopefully he laughing...we also laughed. Poor fella! I don’t think he was hurt!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Women With Big Loads...and Stuff

Other than ox carts and the local village bikers there are also the typical goats that mindlessly run out into the road as you are passing, the typical cow who just looks at you with a blank stare, a few dogs here and there that think they are SO brave as they chase you…just waiting to get caught up in your wheel wells. Then there is Dzuwa’s Little Ark (the boat ferry that transports you from one side of the flooded road to the other) ...and of course then there are the women carrying, in the words of Ronald, “big loads on their heads”. On the way home from Dzuwa Tina, Funa, Ronald and I discussed the issue of African women carrying rather large things on their heads. My excuse as to why I couldn’t manage to do it was that my head was not flat enough to carry anything. To which my dear friend Tina responded with encouragement, “Every head holds something!” I thought about it and then replied, “My head holds a ponytail pretty well!”!!!!!! Maybe one day I’ll learn the ways of an African Woman! However, oddly enough, and with much respect, what you think would be the most awkward of all these and most dangerous were actually the least of a drivers worries! It’s actually quite amazing how much strength and grace they have as they hold on their heads anything from a big bucket of water (that I struggle to even pick up), to long bundles of sticks, or bags of who knows what. All of these things they seem to carry with easy and grace. Women of America…you have no idea how easy we have it!!
During our last visit to Dzuwa I was lucky enough to experience all of Dzuwa traffic and was thrilled enough to ride on three of these wonderful modes of transportation! Another trip on Dzuwa’s Ark, a bike taxi ride, and yes….even a ride on the back of an ox cart! That was probably my favorite, I wish I had a picture…I guess I’ll have to do it again!! Hehe!!So there you have it. Traffic is indeed everywhere. You can’t escape it, you can’t confine it, you just have to embrace it!!! So go on….give traffic a hug! Maybe while it’s at a dead stop though!! Just to be on the safe side!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Just Another Day in Malawi

I realized today that there are many things that no longer seem odd to me. Like for instance that our gardener trims the lawn with a machete…not so weird. Or that instead of seeing chipmunks or squirrels scampering about here I see big lizards with blue heads. I no longer think it odd that I share the walls of my home with geckos, and I even find it cute to see their little gecko bodies scurry across the wall inside our home. They have a fun little wiggle as they move, ask me when I come home for Christmas and I’ll show you!!! It’s not so uncommon to see a family of chickens pecking through my yard, or to have a mama hen hop onto my windowsill and stare at me while I’m sitting at my desk putting on my makeup…okay, that’s actually not true, that one was still a little weird. But it's no longer abnormal that I do my makeup in front of a window instead of a mirror! It’s no longer peculiar to see a woman carrying 10 feet of long bamboo-like sticks on her head with a baby on her back and the only thing holding the baby on is a piece of fabric. Or to see men and women dressed in business attire walking in the dirt alongside the road in the heat of the day. To see a random fire burning rather close to houses and with NO ONE in sight to watch it is no longer strange. It took me forever to get a straight answer out of anyone but finally I found out that they burn fields to scare the mice out in order to catch them, boil and dry them, and then skewer them to sell on the side of the road. Which they sell along with bananas, mangos, slingshots, movies, dried fish, and live chicken hung upside-down and bundled together by their feet. Yup, no longer weird…I’m finally starting to get used to this place!