Wednesday, May 25 2011
Wokongola: Beautiful. The word that describes the CBO we were lucky enough to visit today, Luzi, but can be pretty easily applied to Malawi in general.
Let me start off by saying that for the past week and a half I have been comparing every environment we are in to the scenery in the Lion King. Luzi takes the cake by scoring about a 8.5 (9 if you ask Ross) on the Lion King similarity scale. There was even some sort of mountain-like rock that could be considered Pride Rock.
The gorgeous landscape was happily followed by the best welcome anyone could ask for: song, dance, and smiling. I really think it’s a habit the U.S. should pick up; there is absolutely no better way to make a person feel welcome. We were ushered into a building with a huge amount of charts and diagrams and pictures on the wall. It was easy to see by the sheer magnitude of materials that Luzi was doing a heck of a lot. Such an impression was confirmed when one of the CBO volunteers was kind enough to point out one chart in particular to me. It explained that Luzi was responsible for over 1000 orphans and vulnerable children, over 100 elderly people, almost 300 youths, and over 2000 students. Most astounding was that there were over 1000 volunteers in this CBO. We were all amazed when other CBOs managed to include maybe 30 people willing to dedicate their time and energy to help others, let along 1000. All these volunteers have family and friends to take care of, all of them have their own problems and worries and concerns. Yet when you ask them “why are you a volunteer for this CBO” they all answer by stating that they wanted to help all the orphans or they didn’t want anyone else to die from HIV/AIDS, etc. It is as if they are compelled to help. They treat selflessness as if it is the most obvious thing in the world.
Not only are Luzi’s sheer numbers astounding, but their programs are equally impressive. They have departments and activities that include training youths so they can find employment, income generating projects, adult literacy, and more. One particularly striking program under “Luzi’s Activities” was “human rights and gender” where community members are reminded to maintain their dignity and humanity even through daily troubles.
After this look at Luzi’s main building, we, as is tradition here, danced. The four of us ladies were paired off with a volunteer from Luzi. Either my partner gave up or could no longer dance for laughing so hard at my attempts that I ended up pairing with Emily instead. I suppose two silly uzungus dancing together is better than one
The dancing was followed by beautiful singing by the youth choir and a sort of comedy meant to educate others about the importance of knowing your HIV status. I’m going to go ahead and say it was quite funny based on others’ laughter, but I’m still not quite fluent enough in Chichewa to really know.
At one point the children came and sat down and as I looked up I realized I was staring at three groups, one of men, one of women, and one of children. They were the pieces of the community, the beneficiaries of Luzi and the volunteers, the young and the old. All looking at the six of us from SLIM. And I wondered what we could possibly give to them. To these people who are constantly giving, to the volunteers who devote their time, to the youths who devote their focus, to even the children who take care of each other, the 8 year olds carrying the 1 year olds as if they were mother and child. It was yet another moment, one of many in Malawi, where I realized I would never be able to give these people anything to equal what they have given me, what they have given us SLIMers. But we shall try.
After the delightful time we had at Luzi, we went on our way but were stopped by a pleasant refreshment break that the director of Luzi, Mr. Banda, had arranged for us. It included these sort of roll/donut like things which Ross was super pumped about because his Grandma used to make them. Further proof that street food is the best food there is.
Finally the night ended with an evening with Mara, Fred, and Gogodas. Mara, the unbelievable woman who started Paradiso, her son Fred, and her mother, Gogodas (grandma) who is basically the most awesome woman in the world (excluding my own mother) were kind enough to allow us to cook dinner. I refer to this as a kindness seeing as how everything we’ve eaten in Malawi is amazing and we were simply planning to make guacamole and a pasta dish. Luckily it turned out okay, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Dessert included pineapple and a wedding proposal Fred made to Alexis. We all approve, yet discussions are still being held on how many cows Fred should have to give for the honor of marrying Alexis.
Did I mention Lauren, Ross, and Nick held a chicken? Needless to say I will no longer come into physical contact with any of them anymore.
The night concluded with a sky filled with more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Zikomo Malawi.