March 18, 2002
Dear friends and family,
There have been storms along the lake for the last few days, but today the lake is calm and clear. I went for a morning swim and watched the colorful fish nip at my feet. The clouds have cleared leaving a vacant blue sky through which the golden morning light shines down on the creatures below. I saw three monkeys this morning. They swung branch to branch showing off their acrobatic skills. I watched this circus over breakfast, and then headed back to my chalet to write this email. I saw a bush baby rummaging about a few minutes ago. This place is full of life: snakes, some of strangest insects I've ever seen (a metallic bee - like it's covered in a plate of armor), noisy frogs, lizards of all sorts. There are butterflies flying around me now blue ones, orange ones, black ones with violet spot. They slowly flutter by, nothing moves quickly here. This is a magical place.
The locals are beginning to stroll down to work. They chat to each other. It sounds like they are singing. They speak their local language Chinagnga, which literally means the language of the lake people. I have over twenty students who are so eager to learn. For many I am the first teacher they’ve ever have had. They treat me with the greatest respect. Patrick warned me when I arrived that getting these people's respect is not a problem, however, keeping that respect is what I should be worried about. But they still are coming to class with a smile and we laugh a lot and I can tell they are learning. Patrick (the project manager) has stopped speaking Portuguese to a few because their English has improved so much.
My advanced class just finished - The Russian Princess a short story by the famous Mozambican writer, Mia Couto. It was beautifully written and brought up important issues that we will go on to discuss. The advanced class is turning into a sort of middle school English lesson, but soon we will have to move on to more pressing subjects. Many of my students are training to be safari guides for the lodge that opens in June. There is a lot I have to learn. I have started with the night sky.
Every night we have drinks on the rocks by the lake and watch the sun set across the lake. Then we lay down and get lost in the constellations. I can only look at a small section of the sky without turning my head. Is the sky bigger in Africa? Dinner follows sunset and then we usually pass out. It is very difficult to stay up much past nine. Nadia and I managed to keep our eyes open until eleven, but we were fast asleep before midnight. But, I have long mornings from six until eleven, when I can plan my lessons, study the guide books, go for a swim and help out a bit in the kitchen. I am also on photography duty which has sent me out on the canoes a few times to catch the beach at sunset. We even brought some beers out on the lake and bobbed about as we drank Manica, a Mozambican beer.
I am sending this email from the Malawi address. Patrick and Nadia are off to party for St. Patty’s Day. I have decided to stay here and check out the famous 2,000 year old Baobab tree, and if the weather stays nice I would love to go snorkeling!
We have a few guests coming for Easter weekend, which means we are in a rush to get the lodge in order. I need to move out of my guest chalet into a more modest A-framed chalet. I don’t really mind moving out of this palace. Not that it isn’t gorgeous, but I am knocking about in it and I am very far away from everyone else. It will be nice to have some neighbors. It will restrict my guitar playing. In this chalet I can bang on my guitar as loud as I want without anyone hearing, but my new place will be right next to Patrick’s chalet and I don’t think he will appreciate listening to me practice finger picking all evening.
As you know I brought over loads of school supplies donated by Katie’s school in Estonia. A few pencils have been given out to my students. Surprisingly, most of them read and write, however, the old ones have forgotten a lot of what they learned and the younger ones education was stopped by the war. So, there is a large gap in education, making my job more than just teaching a language. I am teaching many what we would consider a general education. Yesterday in a meeting with Patrick he was advising me on ideas of what to teach and he said, basic problem solving and thinking were a major problem. The students in my advanced class are better-educated having been refugees in Malawi during the war, except Rabecca the head cook and up and coming manager who is from Zambia, but I have yet to here her story. Hum, yes, there are many stories here that I would like to hear more of.
Samuel, my housecleaner, has a good story or two in him I am sure. He is one of the local Chewa’s, but the war drove him away to South Africa where he worked in the gold mines. He is also rumored to have been in Zimbabwe and some other southern countries. People here don’t travel; they get by day to day. They don’t understand the concept of holidays or traveling. When people here leave their place of birth it is because they have been bouncing in and out of wars. So, Samuel, who greets me with a quick bow and a thank you, and then scuttles away, probably has a few stories to tell, but as you can imagine the time has not yet presented itself to ask.
I have just finished a wonderful book, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I cannot recommend this book enough! When I finished I was tempted to just turn the book over and read it again, but Stuart has asked to borrow it. Patrick and Nadia already read it and are amazed how accurate her portrayal is of this part of Africa. It has been the perfect book to introduce me to this place
Well, I should go now. The batteries on the laptop are getting low and I need to finish the stocktaking. I have no idea when I will be able to email in Malawi again, but Patrick seems to go over every couple of weeks. In case you don’t know my post address is:
c/o Manda Wilderness, PO Box 223, Nkhata Bay, Malawi
Out here correspondence is like gold. So, anything you send my way would be really appreciated. Does anyone have a CD typing tutorial for Windows ’98 or ’00? We really need one over here! If anyone can please send a CD my way, my typing students would really appreciate it.
Ah! Oh! The computer is beeping at me! It’s time to go. I will email next time someone is in Malawi.