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Letters Home from Malawi by Peace Corps Volunteer Laina Poon
Letters Home from Malawi by Peace Corps Volunteer Laina Poon
July 5th, 2003 06:48 pm - Last one from Cape Town Hey y'all,
We've come to the end of the road, I'm sad to say. It's been a long journey, almost two and a half years, and one that, as much as I have tried, cannot be contained in words. I've evolved as a person, in terms of what I know, what I've experienced, and how I think. I've met people who have taught me, loved me, and keep me in their hearts... I stuck my neck out in a way, joining the Peace Corps, and instead of coming back ambivelant or just tired, I've been renewed, blessed in so many ways. All I can say is that I'm thankful.
I'm at a slick internet cafe next to an art college in Cape Town, Tamboerskloof area, listening to Nirvana behind strains of Afrikaans and that harsh South African English they speak here. Cape Town is a breathtakingly beautiful city - they aren't kidding when they say it's the most beautiful city in the world. Surrounded by dramatic mountains and bays, chuckablock with interesting architecture, from the graceful Cape Dutch to the ornate Victorian styles, clean, beautiful people, loads of cafes and cool spots, music, culture, refinement and gritty vitality that comes from places with the ridiculously rich and the desperately poor rubbing shoulders. It's got an edge, that's for sure, not the safest place in the world, but fascinating just the same.
The safari finished a couple of days ago, and we parted company with our newfound friends amongst hugs and wellwishes for the next legs of our divergent paths. Guides going back out on the dusty road, Italians to hot and sticky Milan, our Swiss friend back to his job in Rwanda, us whirlwinding around CapeTown theWinelands CapePenninsula scubadivingTableMountainRobbenIsland and back on the plane on Tuesday. Adventure over, time to go back and pick up our lives again. Or in my case, to select some pieces, some used, some new, and put together a new life. I'm excited for grad school, for my own flat, learning a new neighborhood and making new friends, but I am still sad about leaving Africa.
Gordon, the guy who cooks and cleans in our guest house, is Malawian, I discovered yesterday, and we have been enjoying chatting in Chichewa. I was FINALLY able to finish my mixed tape of Malawian/African music, and gave Gordon the two local music tapes that I'd been carrying around for ages after I got the songs off that I wanted. His face lit up like those fireworks that start with a spray of brilliant white and then twinkle into blue sparks - he was so happy to have some music from home. There is a small community of Malawians here that clean houses and such, and he shared the tapes with a Malawian friend yesterday who was equally delighted.
I know I haven't told you much of the safari itself, haven't had the opportunity to write a lot. It seems futile to really attempt to go into it... suffice it to say that the southern Africa region is breathtaking in its diversity. We went from the still waters of the Okavango delta, islands of fig, palm, and acacia trees reflecting between the day lilies, to the border of Angola, where Nkwasi Lodge has an arrangement with the Angolan police to allow tourists to come over (unofficially) and visit an Angolan village.
We crossed the river surrepticiously in a motorboat and met the police and the sub chief of a little village up the bank a ways. They are poor, really desolately poor there. The climate is bad for agriculture, so they survive off scraggly millet (rain was bad this year as well) and what goats and cattle they manage to keep on the scrubby semi-arid pastureland. We visited a Roman Catholic church, which consisted of some rough, twisting logs nailed to posts for pews, arranged under a huge acacia tree. The choir and band were practicing with the priest, singing, dancing, and playing traditional drums, one of which utilizes a wetted reed on the inside of the drumn which is rubbed with the thumb and forefinger. They were interested in us, and we chatted with them through an interpreter for a while. I could understand a few words of their language, because they are Herero people, another line of Bantus that came down from Central Africa back in the day. All Bantu languages have things in common, which makes it pretty easy to learn others once you know one. The priest motioned to their airy "church" and asked us if we had anything we might want to donate to them to help them rebuild, as their church building had been destroyed in the civil war a couple of years ago. We looked at each other, not wanting to encourage dependency or begging, and I said something about how God is not confined to buildings, that He is present everywhere, as much in trees and sky as in stained glass and cut stone. After we got back to the lodge, we decided to give them some money through the priest and in front of the congregation to try to ensure accountabililty - the more people see the money, the less likely it is to disappear into someone's pocket. We wrote that it is for the development of their community in whatever way they think is best, whether that is a bag of maize meal to give to the poorest members of the congregation or to save and buy cement for a new church. We encouraged them to develop something for tourists, like traditional dances and drumming or something, just to get community groups going and take advantage of the opportuity they have with the lodge so close.
Thinking of the civil war in Angola, again, I saw something in Rundu, the northern Namibian capital of the Caprivi region, that disturbed me a little. I was waiting in the van outside the bank for our friends to change some money, and I saw an older man dressed in a worn suit coat and trousers bend over behind another man, holding his arms as if he had a rifle. He pretend-stalked another man, who was aware of him, for a few seconds, and then jumped out from behind someone else and pretended to shoot his friend, who grinned and they slapped hands in greeting. I shook my head, a little uncomfortable at the clear reflection of the recent war in their play. We saw some destroyed buildings and bomb old bomb shelters, but otherwise little evidence of the wars that have raged in the Angola and Caprivi regions.
Aside from that, the other thing that struck me were all the people who were clearly of San origin (one of the "bushman" tribes indigenous to the area) that looked just like the pictures in my guide book. They evolved in what is now South Africa, so they are very light skinned with particular facial features. We saw a lot of Khiosan type folks - the San, of course, Nama, and Damara peoples - as we travelled down through Namibia.
I'm running out of time, but even if I wasn't, I couldn't even begin to describe for you all the things we've seen. I have a healthy respect for this region, and an affection for South Africa, somehow. Her people are very diverse, and are not so unified, even within the same racial group - English and Afrikaaners often don't get along, nor, necessarily, do Zulu-Xhosa-Batswana-etc people - but everyone seems to be proudly South African. A great country, indeed. I'm sure I'll be back, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Finally, thank you VERY much to all of you who have supported me on this journey. Some of you wrote letters, others sent packages, others simply good wishes and prayers. I am immensely grateful - without the backing I have from you all, there's no way I could have done the things I have. I hope I have given back in some way by sharing my experiences with you.
All my love, Laina