As I (Myles) worked at my PC yesterday evening, once again completely focussed on my dissertation research, I caught myself subconsciously saying this before I suddenly remembered I was not sitting in my livingroom in a cold British winter but was sitting in my livingroom in a sticky tropical Malawi waiting for the rains to break.
This seems an apt metaphor for the cultural adaptions we are going through as – a week in – the surface of our lives begins to acclimatize but just below the surface our characters, behaviours and thoughts are still firmly planted in the UK. We are beginning to surprise strangers with a few greetings and exchanges in Chichewa, we can begin to get our head around the geography of Blantyre, we begin to expect the evening mosquito bites and expect to be woken by barking guard dogs through the night. But deeper down we are still ‘translating’ all this in our heads; subconsciously mapping it onto decades of UK experience. Our cultural understanding is like our language understanding: we are thinking in English and translating into Chichewa. Our prayer is that over the years we might (at least culturally if not linguistically) get closer to the way our cross-cultural Malawi friends can flip their whole brain over from thinking in Chichewa to thinking in English without the need for any lengthy translation between thought and word.
Now, so far our day-to-day posts have appeared on the steppingoutwithgod Facebook group, but we have been reminded that some friends are not on Facebook and want to see ‘news’ as well as ‘reflection’ on this site. And that in these early days they would like to get a feel for how life is for us here. So – in iPhone pictures and words here are some snippets from our first week …
So, since arriving here in Blantyre we have been allowed a very relaxed start as we are intentionally given the room to physically and mentally get used to the local climate. We live in a lovely bungalow which is both the zm guest house and the zm Malawi offices. In the new year we will be moving next door to our more permanent home in another zm bungalow.
The bungalows sit on Chipatala Avenue behind the College of Medicine and just down the road from the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital; all very appropriate given Chipatala means hospital in Chichewa.
And as you look around you cannot help but see the beautiful mountains that surround the city of Blantyre that sits up to 1600m above sea-level: chosen by the colonial powers for its moderate climate. It reminds me of Glasgow nestled among its hills, and I hope that the next time Mike Beresford (the Director of zm) is in Malawi we will be able to walk up some of them together.
We are trying to settle into a daily routine where we get time for a walk of about an hour each day to compensate for the fact that the dogs here will not take as kindly to being taken for a walk as Brodie does in Suffolk. The old colonial residential area of Mount Pleasant is conveniently close by. And, although the wonderful flowering trees are a bit tired looking as they thirst for the rainy season, the gardens of the posh houses provide useful shade to the street.
Of course our walks take in other areas of Blantyre that reflect the more typical environment for inhabitants. However Malawi continues to live up to its reputation as the Warm Heart of Africa and we receive nothing but amused and happy reactions from passers-by as we practice our stumbling Chichewa on them.
Nevertheless, even in the centre of the commercial capital of Malawi, life is not straightforward for anyone and there has been major disruption to the water supply over the past weeks meaning we have been without water for 24+ hours but it is amazing how quickly even middle-aged soft westerners can adapt to these things. We are getting used to the neighbour’s guard dog that decides at random points of the night to start barking non-stop for 20-30 min for no apparent reason. And even I (Myles) – despite my bodies propensity for hyper-reaction to insect bites – is learning to cope with the evening’s airborne visitors. But perhaps it will take a little longer to get used to some of the house pets!
Maybe this all sounds a bit too much like a holiday to some of you, but rest assured work starts properly next week, and remember we are ramping up for a sustainable marathon rather than a hectic sprint. On Sunday we will visit the second nearby ZEC church to test which English-speaking service might become our adopted home. Ruth and I will be re-starting our studies (ethnodoxology and applied theology respectively) in earnest. I hope to gate-crash a “Learn to Serve” training course being run by J Life and Kerusso Trust. And Monday we start our language classes.
Now those of you who know me (Myles) well – and the few of you who will remember my school days – will know that my brain doesn’t do languages. Give me quantum electronics or business strategy any day, but learning a new language? Argh! So this will be a trial of love for me, and a trial of patience for Ruth. However, having met her I somehow think it will be Mrs Funny Kapakasa – a very experienced language teacher with a cheerful but assertive character who works a lot with our missionary cousins SIM Malawi – who will have the last laugh as she knocks me into shape!
That’s all from us for now, folks. Do please remember to Pray – Follow – Write.