Saturday, March 31, 2007

Village Stay - Part 4: The Final Day

Note: See below for the first three parts of this post if you haven't read them already. This is the fourth and final part of this post.

On Thursday while we are sitting around I remind my friends that I will be leaving the next day. They ask what time and I tell them that I have no real plan, but probably in the morning. Mr. Chalema tells me that I can’t leave in the morning. He says “No Trevor, you cannot leave until the afternoon. Tomorrow morning we will climb Mpudzu. We will climb the mountain.” I had first seen Mpudzu on Tuesday when we walked to the surrounding villages. It is a mountain (more of a big hill, but we’ll call it a mountain) near the village. They tell me that it is about 2 km away. The idea of climbing a mountain sounds awesome to me, and I have no problem delaying my departure by a few hours to accomplish this task. We decide that we will get up at 5:00am and set out for the mountain by 5:30 at the latest. Mr. Chalema has even decided that we will take the morning off from working in his garden. As the plan forms everyone, myself included, is getting more and more excited. We are planning a great expedition.

We arise just as the sky begins to lighten and quickly get dressed and wash the sleep away. The team assembles in front of the Chalema’s house. There is Seveliano, Mr. Chalema, Mr. Sitolo (another man from the village), Mr. Milazi (also a villager) and myself. We set out. Mr. Milazi takes the lead. Now for the entire week as we have been walking all over the area my friends repeatedly have to tell me to slow down, that I walk too fast. The village walk is relaxed, more of a stroll. It is important to be able to take in the sights, and to greet people you come across as you walk. My expectations for this trip are that it will be an enjoyable walk, time for chatting and enjoying the beauty of Malawi. I am not sure whether it is because Mr. Milazi is from Mozambique and things are different there, or if mountain climbing expeditions are a different type of outing than any other walk, but Mr. Milazi sets a brutally fast pace. I cannot keep up in normal walking mode, I must take a “run-step” every few steps to ensure I don’t fall behind. Mr. Chalema and Mr. Sitolo, our oldest two team members, grab bicycles as we leave. They will ride them to the foot of the mountain and then proceed on foot. The three of us who are walking do not waste breath on talking, we only concentrate keep up the pace.

I find this situation very funny, and openly laugh as we walk. Seveliano asks me what I am laughing at but I don’t answer, I just keep on walking. We are on an epic mission. This morning, we will conquer Mpudzu. I had been a little worried about how long this would take us, and if I would be able to leave to catch the bus back to Lilongwe in decent time, but such worries fade away as the fields fly by us.

We are quite the sight, our band of five. Two Malawians and a Muzungu speed walking along dirt trails while two older Malawians follow along on bicycles. We pass through numerous villages on the way, greeting people with a quick “Mwadzuka Bwangi” (this means good morning, or literally “How have you risen?”) and answer their greetings with an equally quick “Nadzuka Bwino” (“I have risen well”).

We keep up this pace for almost 2 hours, before finally getting a very short break as we come to the last house before the mountain. Mr. Chalema and Mr. Sitolo will leave their bicycles here and continue the rest of the way on foot. The break is only for a minute as we chat with the man who lives in this house and explain what we are doing. I take this minute to reflect on how far we’ve come. I realize that the original estimate of 2 km from Chandiwe village to the mountain was way off. I would guess closer to 6 or 7 km. I chuckle again, and drink some of my water.

We hit the trails again, at the same speed. We are probably about a 10 minute walk from the mountain. Only a hundred meters down the road a yell brings us to a halt. It is Mr. Sitolo. He has already fallen behind. He catches up and scolds Mr. Milazi for walking so fast. Everyone has a good laugh over this. We continue, at a slower speed. There isn’t much of a path anymore, so we must cut across maize fields and the going isn’t easy. As we approach the mountain my excitement is building. Although it isn’t very big, it will still offer a great view.

We reach the bottom of the mountain at 7:30am, exactly 2 hours after setting out from Chandiwe. The climb up takes only 15 minutes, but involves a small degree of agility, as one must jump from bolder to bolder occasionally to proceed with the summit assault. It is at this point that I first take note of the footwear of our group. I am wearing my hiking boots (at this point I’m feeling none of the embarrassment over these boots that I felt on the first night, only thanks that I decided to bring them afterall!), and Seveliano is wearing running shoes. The rest of the group causes me to shake my head in wonder. Mr. Milazi is wearing dress shoes, Mr. Chalema is wearing rubber boots, and Mr. Sitolo is wearing flip-flop sandals. I chuckle to myself, but not too much, because I realize that my friends do not have the luxury of having different footwear for different occasions. A small amount of embarrassment over my boots returns, but not too much, as I know my friends don’t resent me, or my fancy boots.

The top of Mpudzu is fairly large and flat, with a large group of boulders marking the very centre. We take some pictures, and enjoy the view. It is truly breathtaking. The morning sun shines on endless fields of maize, groundnuts and tobacco. Other than the small paths and the buildings of the various villages in the area, there is almost no uncultivated land. From below I hear a man singing. I look down and a man is working in his field right at the foot of the mountain. He sings a song at the top of his lungs. I ask Seveliano what he is singing and he tells me that it is a song of thanks to God. I press him, asking “Thanks to God for what?” He gives a small smile, as if I’ve asked a very stupid question, and says “Whatever you want.” I stop asking, and just listen for a while.

I set up my camera on a rock and use the timer to take a picture of our group, the group that has conquered Mpudzu.

After sitting for a bit Mr. Milazi gets us all up and heads to the group of boulders in the centre of the mountain. As we walk there, Mr. Chalema points to a spot where the tall grass is all pressed and matted down. He tells me that this is where the hyenas play and where they sleep. He says that if we’re lucky we may even see one or two in their cave. Apparently there are a few hyenas that live on the mountain, and although they are normally deep in their holes sleeping during the day, they occasionally venture out in daylight. My common sense tells me that coming across a hyena would probably not be a great thing, but my excitement silences my common sense. Unfortunately we don’t see any hyenas.

We climb up on top of the boulders and I see that somebody has made a cement pad with a cement pillar about 4 feet high in the middle. It marks the highest point of the mountain. Seveliano tells me that the mountain is government land, and they put up the pillar. The name of the mountain and the date the pillar was made are etched into the base. 31 July 1970

We take some more pictures here, but I unfortunately did not consider the position of the sun and none of the pictures here really turned out. (Sorry Russ! I know we talked about this in the photography session!) I was able to salvage this one, even though the quality isn’t great.

After a short rest it is time to go. As we head to the edge of the mountain to start our descent we pass a group of unusual looking plants. I think they are aloe plants, but my horticultural taxonomy is a little rusty, so I’m not 100% sure. My friends all decide that they like this plant, and they each proceed to rip one from the ground to take home. This proves to be no small feat, as the root systems of these plants are quite extensive. After a close call with Mr. Sitolo (remember these plants are growing right at the edge of the summit) we head down.

We are down in no time, and after a brief chat with the man who was singing we begin our return trip. We collect the bikes and share some stories with the man at whose house we left them. He laughs over the plants and give us each a stick of sugar cane for the walk home. We are not in such a rush on the way back, and walk at a nice easy pace. We finally stroll into the village at about 10:00am. An entire mountain climbing expedition has been undertaken and we are back home by 10. Not too bad for a Friday morning if you ask me.

Gogo greets us and tells us to get washed up. When we are clean we sit down in the house for some breakfast. Breakfast in the village is usually some fresh guavas picked from the tree and eaten while you work, and then at about 11:00am you sit down for some tea, scones, and an assortment of fresh fruit. Today we also have maize porridge, which is made from the fermented water that the maize is soaked in after it is pounded. The water is boiled and stirred until it turns into a think porridge that is a little sour and tastes a bit like yogurt. It is very good.

After eating I tell my friends that I need to get going. I call Heatherwick, who says he’ll be there to pick me up in 45 minutes. I throw my stuff in my pack and begin saying goodbye to my friends. This part is, as expected, extremely hard. They want me to stay, they want me to come back and visit. I wish I could stay, but I can’t. I would love to come back and visit, but I know it is not likely to be possible. I can’t think of too many times that I have had to say goodbye to friends knowing that I won’t likely see them ever again. We exchange gifts. I have brought some cooking oil, some salt, and some tea for the Chalemas. I have a bag of hard candy that I pass out to the children. I have decided to give Seveliano my Make Poverty History white band. I have been thinking about this for the past two days, trying to decide whether it was a good idea. He has asked me about it many times, and has told me that he really likes it. I have tried to explain, as delicately as possible why I wear it, and what it means for me. I decide in the end to give it to him. I am still unsure of my decision. I wonder what he will say if someone asks him about it. Likely he will just tell them about me. I decide that this is OK, it doesn’t need to mean the same thing to him as it does to me.

From my friends I receive wonderful gifts. Too wonderful. I try to turn them down, conscious of what they are giving up, but I can see that I am starting to insult them, so I stop protesting and just accept them. I am giving a handmade clay pot, and a hollowed gourd, which I am told is a traditional drinking cup, although all week we have been drinking out of coffee mugs and plastic cups.

I think the gift giving is over, but Gogo leaves and comes back with a wicker dish full of maize flour. This is my flour she says, and she is not just being nice. I have made this flour. One of the other things I did while in the village was to follow the entire process of maize, from stalk to flour. I harvested maize, I picked it from the cob, I pounded it, I separated the undesirable parts from the desirable, I soaked the pounded maize over night, and then laid it out to dry the following day. The only thing I did not do was take it to the mill. Doreen and Memory did that for me, as I was helping the women build the stove. This flour will now be used to make Nsima.

I try again to tell Gogo that she should keep it, but she insists I take it. I help her put it into a plastic bag and she is not satisfied until every last bit is in and the bag is tied. She tells me that I must use this flour to make my own Nsima and remember her as I do it.

How could I forget the wonderful woman who showed me how to stir Nsima, who was patient with me when I was clearly doing it wrong? How could I forget how she slowly repeated everything she said so I could learn Chichewa? How could I forget how comfortable I was around this family, even though communicating was hard, even though we were from completely different worlds? I assure her that I couldn’t possibly forget her. We finish packing the flour and then Gogo motions for me to come outside. There is one more thing I must do before I go.

Outside Gogo hands me a small tree sapling. They want me to plant a tree in their yard before I leave. She shows me where to plant it then bends down to help me. With the help of Gogo, and Lozi, the neighbour, I plant the tree and water it. They tell me that it is my tree, and that I have to come back someday to see it when it is full grown. I just smile.

As we head back inside Heatherwick drives up. Gogo insists that he stay for lunch before we leave, so we take one last meal of Nsima. Conversation is easy as everyone wants to fill Heatherwick in on what has happened this week. Heatherwick can’t believe all that has happened while I was here. He is amazed at all the work I was able to do, and roars with laughter at each new story. As with before, he talks way too fast for me to understand him, and I think even the villagers have trouble sometimes. It is a good meal.

When we are finished it is time to go. Heatherwick straps my pack to his bike as I say my goodbyes. I use what little Chichewa I know to thank my friends and tell them I will miss them, but I want to make sure they understand fully, so I ask Heatherwick to translate for me. I tell them what meeting them has meant to me, and how wonderful the week has been. I speak to each individually. By the time I am done, half of the village has gathered to say goodbye to me. After making the rounds I head back to Seveliano and Gogo for one last goodbye. Seveliano promises to walk to town and call me every Sunday at 3:00pm (so far one Sunday has passed and he’s kept his promise!). Gogo says something to me that I don’t understand, and then gives me a hug.

Heatherwick starts up the bike, and I hop on. With one final wave we drive off, leaving my friends behind. As we fly down the dirt paths, passing the fields that I walked through, passing the other villagers I met, I reflect on the past 5 days. That was a week ago now, and I have not stopped reflecting, and don’t anticipate that I will anytime soon.

That’s the last of the posts on my village stay. Thanks to everyone who is reading. I hope I was able to communicate what a great time I had, but also how much I learned. The village stay was not without its challenges, even after that first night. I will try to use the lessons I learned in that week and put them to use when I start my placement. I don’t pretend to understand what village life is like, but I have had a glimpse into what it means to live in rural Malawi. Hopefully this is the first step toward better understanding the lives of the people I am here to work with. Thanks again for reading and for all of your wonderful comments.


Chris said...

The view from the top of Mpudzu looked great. Even though it isn't tall, it is the highest point in the area which would offer a great view. It sounded like a great hike that really got the blood flowing.
Thank you for sharing so much of your experience in the village as you have . The Chalema's sound like wonderful people and I know that you are very greatful for their hospitality and teaching they gave you. As with all the people in the village you interacted with. I am very happy for you, that you were able to have this experience and I know you will always remember it.

Take care of yourself and we'll talk soon.

mom said...


I loved reading about your grand adventure to the "mountain top"!! As you have so beautifully shared, your whole village stay was a "mountain top" experience and I am so happy for you. Thankyou for allowing your faithful blog-followers to have a glimpse into your transforming experiences!

Kath said...


This final installment brought tears to my eyes. What a way to end your time in the village - a trip to the top fo Mpudzu. As with all your memories of the week you spent with the Chalema's, I know you will never forget it. Your writing is amazing - obviously straight from the heart. You have given us who are back here in a Canada a glimpse into the lives of these amazing people. With each blog entry I read, I am changed too. Thank you for sharing all this with us! You have such a knack for capturing each moment and making me feel like I was there! Keep up the great work! Lots of love!

Josh said...


The glimpse that you give from one post to the next into your experience keeps each reader eager. Your words have captured so much, and your pictures have been a great addition. You are giving your all, the abilities and talents you have been blessed with - you are in God's country, seeing and doing His works (remember James 2).

Know that our prayers are with you through each passing day and week.
In Christ,

Sue Titcombe said...

Hey Trevor,

After reading the last couple of posts, I find myself too overwhelmed to even post a comment.

I couldn't agree more with what Chris said in a previous post's comments about it all being part of the journey and how amazing it is that you've gotten to meet all of these people just because of your visa struggles. What an incredible opportunity.

Looking forward to reading about all that's happened since the village stay.

You're in our prayers,

Erin said...


you are amazing man. that series of posts was phenomenal! i feel like i lived the village stay with you, experiencing each new sight, smell, taste and feel as you did. there's some amazing writing in there! (in fact, i'm going to recommend that brenna use some of it on the website. don't worry i'll let you know which parts first!)

it sounds like you've had an amazing experience, one that will stay with you forever. i can only imagine how hard it was for you to say goodbye to all the people you met, but be comfortable knowing that none of you will likely forget the other any time soon.

keep your chin up, you're doing some awesome work, even without a visa. i'm so proud of you!

love erin

Anonymous said...

Hey Man

I loved reading the posts on your stay in the village. It sounds like such an amazing experience. That food sounds pretty interesting but good. I want some of that porridge now.

Loving the pictures.

Can't wait to read more.

Paul J.

Anonymous said...


Your last four posts have been soo wonderfully detailed!! I was so anxious/excited for the next one after each and every post! I have to say I was brought to tears more than once!

Thanks for sharing so much of your visit to the village with us!!


PS: The pictures are awesome!!

araeside said...

Trev --

A big fat DITTO DITTO DITTO on what I've been saying each and every post, plus a little bit of what everyone else is sharing. It's been an amazing few weeks of listening to and learning from you and your experiences.

It's only month #1 and you've set the bar so high for yourself with these initial posts!

Emailed you yesterday with all sorts of questions and a bit of awesome news - looking forward to hearing back from you when you return from the irrigation/health projects!

Talk soon,

Anonymous said...

Hey Trevor,
I just finished reading some of your post and I'm absolutely amazed by what you're experiencing. The pictures are beautiful and its great that we're able to share your journey with you through your blog. Your writing is so well done that I feel like I've experienced some of this myself. I can only imagine the stories you'll have to tell once you return home.

I hope all is going well and that you're safe and healthy. Your friends and family love you and we're all very proud of what you're doing. Keep up the good work. I can't wait to read about what you do next.

Take care.
Jessica St. John

Anonymous said...

Sweeeet're a daring man. Coolest views I've ever seen. It's all about the memories. I'd be wheezing and looking for a mcdonald's half way up that mountain...good for you!

PS- cool beard

Dana S. said...

Thankyou so much for sharing so much with us. You have done an excellent job of portraying your experiences, that I can close my eyes & envision being there. I have to say that I believe your new friends have been blessed in that they are so thankful for all they have & you too are blessed to having met them & had such a great life experience such as this. I guess I have to take this a step further & say that we are also blessed to have someone so giving in taking the time to share this wonderful story with all of us. We have a lot to learn from your friends. Thankyou so much Trevor. Happy Easter to you.
Your mom's work bud-Dana S.

Aunt Karen said...

Wow Trevor,
I just finished reading your 4 posts of " Village Stay". I must say, your writing is captivating, and your account of your stay in the village left me in awe. I can just picture you walking/running to the mountain for your summit climb. The 2 km did indeed turn out to be much longer, and I'm glad for you, that the walk back was at a more relaxed pace. The pictures are breathtaking, and the impression of Africa that you are giving us is absolutely beautiful. The people from the village, especially the family you stayed with seem friendly, caring, with a good sense of humour. You spoke often of the laughter around certain activities....more than a little likely at your expense. And these experiences that you are having will last your lifetime. The little children, will also remember you, probably as that funny, pink-faced, red-haired man with the light on his head. The pic of the kid with the headlamp was gorgeous. Please keep the pictures coming...they are marvelous.
I wish you the best of luck as you start your work placement, and of course, great experiences, and good health. We are all thinking of you. ...Love, Aunt Karen.