Every day I wake up thinking, “What adventure will there be today?”
How will God surprise me with the beauty and wonder that He is about, the gifts of grace that speak His presence, His image, His love, which are all around me, if I am willing to look and listen for them? Life here is so colorful, one never knows what to expect, especially if you don’t know how to read the cultural cues.
One adventure was learning how to purchase the electric units from the local petrol station. Apparently when the red light starts blinking on the meter box in the utility closet it means your out of units and your power could get turned off. Since electricity goes off fairly frequently I would not have understood this had it not been for Rosa telling me (not once but twice because I didn’t understand what she was telling me the first time). For 2,000 K (about $10) you can re-tank your electric units by punching in 15 digit code into the box. Kind of like buying minutes for your phone. We’re told that should last about 3 weeks. Yes, it’s very inexpensive electricity but since it is often out and only about 7% of the country has electricity, perhaps that’s why.
Another adventure was negotiating for a mop at the market. I ran into a Malawian we’d met and asked how much a mop would cost. He told me and then told me if I want to pay less I just have to say “But I only have 500 K”. It worked! Cultural lesson, always know the price before you go to bargain. The picture I wish I could have taken was the one of me carrying the mop over my shoulder all the way through town and back to the house. But alas, no one was with me to take it.
This was one of Randy’s adventures, a $2.00 haircut at the market. Since it was raining and he was off the beaten path, he didn’t draw too much of a crowd. Usually we attract 5-10 people at the market all following us around trying to sell us things.
Other adventures have been getting our new car registered and inspected, letting us experience the Malawian equivalent of the DMV. Randy did the first day and a half of waiting in lines for the change of title to our name. I went back for the inspection for road worthiness and taxes. I think it helped to be an older, white female. Elders are respected so I got lots of “How are you today, madam?” and maybe a bit more expedited service. I didn’t have to play like I didn’t know what was going on, I clearly didn’t, so several people pointed me to the right windows and lines to stand in. I arrived at 8 am and was out in an hour!
The learning curve continues to be steep. We often feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us as we try to learn how things get done here, suspend judgement and keep an attitude of openness. I had one of those ethnocentric “aha” moments the other day when the housekeeper who has been on maternity leave for three months was to come back to work. I kept thinking, “What’s she going to do with her infant if she’s coming back to work?”. Then it hit me in the face, well, of course she’s going to come to work with the baby, duh! So, the next morning when she came in I was not at all surprised to see William, snug as a bug on her back. That just one example of how I think from my own cultural viewpoint and can be so unaware of it. But each new cultural adventure opens us up to seeing more of God’s image in others and alternative ways cultures do life.
We see how difficult life is for Malawians. Not only is petrol/diesel in short supply with long lines (can you see Americans putting up with lines of anywhere from 1-6 hours for $8/gallon gas?) but prices on most basic goods seem to jump 4-6% every few months. Many items are in short supply, so one week it might be there’s very little sugar or flour or salt, but you don’t know which items will be limited. Even though the rains have been plentiful thus far, so the crops will have a good harvest. the economy is such that the selling prices will not be high, meaning people won’t get as much for their product. Yet, with all these realities of life here human ingenuity finds a way to work around obstacles, barriers and difficulties to provide for one’s family, to live and even to prosper. I am astounded at the creative ways people work with what they have!
I’m finding how many different ways beauty and wonder are constantly being expressed, demonstrated and evident all around me in this new culture. I’m just “illiterate” to it so I need to learn how to see it, read it and identify it. I’m thankful for the daily adventures that are God’s tools in teaching us.
(These last two pictures are from a local nursery that has a patio restaurant among it’s plants and pots. It’s a lovely setting for afternoon coffee or lunch!)