A week or so into our stay, it does seem that there are two ways to live in Malawi* – at least as evidenced by the way people shop.
We happen to live near one of only two shops in Malawi that people from the West would recognise as “supermarkets”. This has the advantage that, while we slowly culturally acclimatise, there are familiar things for us to eat. But this comes at a cost.
First, a material cost because prices in this Blantyre supermarket are often not significantly lower than in the UK. Based on who we see, the whole enterprise is geared towards expatriates of all nationalities (Europeans, South Africans, Asians) and elite Malawians.
More importantly, if we relied exclusively on this supermarket we would be cutting ourselves off from the sort of incarnational engagement with the majority of Malawians who shop in the local markets.
So, in the middle of last week, Ruth got a market shopping lesson from the ladies who work in the zm office. Shopping lesson passed, with some excitement on Saturday morning we walked in to the main Blantyre Central Market to buy fruit, vegetables and other bits and pieces.
Perhaps because we were intent on practicing our little bits of Chichewa on the unsuspecting stall holders, we had a wonderful time. Despite the press of buyers and sellers the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, and Ruth quickly got into the way of shopping round to test the “market rate” for bananas or ginger or whatever.
We cannot, and should not, try to pretend we are Malawians; particularly since part of the value we are bringing to our partners here is that we come with a different perspective. However, we are increasingly looking forward to finding that right balance between keeping ourselves spiritually, emotionally and physically strong through maintaining contacts with our home culture, while as much as possible integrating ourselves into majority Malawi life.
Nevertheless, something tells me that for the forseeable future I will continue to be seen in Blantyre both pushing a trolley behind Ruth around ‘Shopright’, and carrying a basket behind her around Blantyre Central Market!
(* Of course there is an even more important way that there are two ways to live, no matter which country you live in. See here for more details!)