Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nyanja Lessons

So, I spent 10 days in the Eastern Province at the Kamnjoma bridge site working on building the bridge towers. This was full immersion living in the bush with no running water- only a hand pump- no electricity- except for the solar panel I was given- and no cell network. It was an amazing learning experience to see how they really live. I even got to go to their church, and see the singing and dancing even though the only word I could understand was Jesus Christo (hopefully some videos to come later). They even had me go up to the front and introduce myself, and then everyone in the church came through and shook my hand with big smiles- incredible!

We made a lot of progress on the bridge, but I think the group I was working with thought that I was too strict because they had never had a female musungu come tell them what to do and make them finish the job each day. Although there was a language barrier, we had a lot of laughs while they were teaching me Nyanja and listening to me try to make the Mwauka Bwanji sound like they sound. I did learn how to say "Let's go!" to get them to keep working- Tiyen was my favorite saying, and if that didn't work I would pull out my camera to take pictures and they would all work a little harder! It was very cool to see how everyone in the community stopped by to see the progress, and most often everyone who came by pitched in and did some shoveling or carrying- even the children who unloaded the cement truck with bags that weighed more than them.

I even got to take two trips on local transport- on the console in the inside which was a priority seat because I was a Musungu working in the community but not exactly comfortable after 4 hours each way. The second trip was on this Honda with a worker at the clinic which only took an hour and half. Much more pleasant, and even felt a little like Colorado.

Despite the shocking number of people who are hungry and poor, there is an amazing peace and happiness in this place. There are people who get along and people who don't, but they always had smiles on their faces and a respectful handshake to say hello. It really put the Western lifestyle that I am used to in perspective. Kids have to make their own toys out of tree branches and old bicycle parts. Adults have to save up money for transport into the city to get spare parts. The soccer ball that I brought gave the kids from several villages hours of entertainment playing both soccer and their version of handball- crazy how a simple ball is something of value there. However, there is no complaining of the way they live. They were more interested in showing me their maiz market and teaching me their language. It was an incredible experience to be working on a project that will impact so many people for many years to come in a place where the entire community went out of their way to make me feel at home.

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