Sunday, December 29, 2002
Here is a post of Chuen-Yen's Christmas experiences. I'd wager they were vastly different from most of ours:
Home is where the heart is. Rather than spend the holiday in comfortable Blantyre, most workers will return to their villages. My houseboy Gift is no exception. He was so euphoric when I gave him ten days off that he rashly invited me to visit his family. He never fathomed that I would take him up on the offer.
During the expedition, I was subjected to the benefits of inequality, which Malawi�s masses whole-heartedly embrace. Each bus rushed us to the head of the cue. We were given the best seats. Items were snatched from Malawian customers and handed to us if I showed the slightest interest. Most disturbingly, Gift persisted in addressing me as �Master�.
The main stretch of our journey began aboard a dilapidated bus destined for Gift�s village of origin � Mikwasa. It did not budge from the congested dirt terminal until we had loaded far more than the posted maximum capacity of 48 seated and 52 standing. Weighed down by its excessive cargo, which included not only too many people, but also livestock, bundles of clothing and furniture, it crawled smoggily through the picturesque landscape of natives toiling on foreign owned plantations. The trip consumed 4 sweaty hours. Halfway through, I began to think my bladder might explode. When I finally did reach a �toilet,� an odiferous pit swarming with flies, I decided not to drink any more water until home.
At Mikwasa, Gift�s siblings navigated several kilometers of obscure dirt trails from the bus stop to their adobe house. While we picked mangoes, �The mother,� always referred to by that moniker, prepared small rations of greasy foods over a smoky fire in a dark, poorly ventilated room. Actually, the entire house was dark due to soot and lack of electricity. �The father,� blind from glaucoma, sat on a stump lamenting his plight.
Prior to dining, all hands were cleansed in a bowl of water fetched from a nearby stagnant pool. As one of those utensil-using foreigners, I was offered a serving spoon, which could never fit into my mouth. A tour of the barren farm ensued. Gift, ashamed of his village, repeatedly apologized because �White people cannot be in a place like this.�
For Christmas, I gave Gift a mosquito net and a few hundred Kwacha. His family received 5 kg of rice and 2 kg of dried beans. Everyone was delighted.
Having already appreciated the big bus, I squeezed most of my body into a minibus for the trip back to Blantyre. I, and fourteen other seatbelt-less passengers, clung to the upholstery as we tore down the treacherous one and a half lane road. Once home, I promptly enjoyed electricity, tap water and a flushing toilet.
Have a great Christmas.