MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY
Tents, Pies and Sellotape
day in Blantyre - me and my family! More...
New Year Evolutions
New Year Reflections More...
This 2-for-the-price-of-1 issue is,
surprise surprise, all about Christmas and New Year. So sit
back, put up your feet, and pause the video...
Tents, Pies and Sellotape
CHRISTMAS day started
at 6.27am, precisely (I looked at my watch!). As kids, we would
have woken hours before 6.27. As a family of grown adults, it is
early: a rude time to wake; a lazy day missed; a hangover-necessity.
But, this is Malawi, and here the day starts when daylight starts.
Both Marcus and Mum greeted
me with a Merry Christmas. They had surfaced from their tent-cum-mosquito-net
a good while earlier, and were first to sample the morning sun.
(Yes, I did say tent. For the privilege of being family, they had
the luxury of a tented bedroom, inside the flat. Two tented bedrooms,
actually - I've got the photos!)
Before I go on, let me
introduce you to the gang, or The Family: they that had descended
on us from afar. They were Philip, Caro-Annel, Marcus, Julie, and
Paul - or Step-dad, mum, brother, sister, and brother (in order
of age or beauty, or something!). Then there was Irene, or Rachel's
mum. Lil' ol' Steve and Rachel, we made up the numbers - to eight!
Now you can imagine what
feeding this lot is like. Awesome. So much so that we each took
our turn in the kitchen, to placate the insatiable 8-mouthed hydra.
And we each needed the next day for recuperation. (Marcus and Mum
managed the ordeal best, and so had actually volunteered for Christmas
Anyway, back to the plot.
Breakfast, and present-opening, occurred at about 8am. All received
gifts, though Rachel and I had the most - tee hee! Some had curios,
recently purchased from Zomba Plateau; some had nick-nacks, bought
from Blantyre Market; and some had toiletries, purchased from Boots
PLC (where else?).
At about 9.30am, inert
beings transformed into industrious bodies. Paul packed his Chief's
Chair, using sellotape, some string and cardboard, and a lot of
imagination. (It would look ace in his Polyversity flat!) Phil and
Marcus fixed our punctured and brake-less mountain bikes. (Shame
they weren't able to fix the 17-seater Avis mini-bus, though. It
broke down on our wanderings around the lake - nice stress enhancer,
that one!). And Irene - she attended to the bread sauce and brandy
butter, doing her bit before the kitchen became flooded with hungry
Christmas dinner was
chicken pieces, rather than the much anticipated, much fattened
turkey. We were served roast potatoes, sausages (for chipolatas),
a bread sauce, and a delicious home-made Christmas pudding (though
not all at the same time). We would have bought and cooked turkey,
if the electricity and water hadn't been so unreliable in December.
(After all, pre-prepared chicken pieces is better than an uncooked
turkey, however big.) It was Christmas Dinner; and mince pies -
who needs 'em?
(Alas, Rachel and Irene
were unable to savour any Christmas dinner at all. Both had still
not recovered from illness; a wretched stomach bug. Alas, that is,
for them, for the rest of us it just meant a bigger helping of pudding.)
After that interlude
of gorging it was back to packing - all were returning to the bleakness
of Britain, Boxing day. So, Paul's 'extra' third tent was dismantled
for the last time; and safe places had to be found for the Dedza
crockery (we finally made it to Dedza, the cheese-cake heaven of
Malawi). It was a coordinated busy-ness that would have impressed
When the H-Team finally
rested, it was time for one last Christmas tradition: a game of
Newmarket (cards). Just 2 decks of cards, some loose change (Malawian
Tambala are ideal), and a measure of Christmas bonhomie, keeps one
collection of Hoggar/Nashes amused for hours.
Also, Paul, Marcus and
myself found time to play the final games of our chess competition.
We had battled hard over the last fortnight, and Christmas day would
see a victor, a grand chess champion, a master of the chequered
board. (Is that enough gloating?)
It was the familiar clanking
of tent poles that signalled yet another Christmas day over. As
with every other Blantyre evening, two tents were speedily assembled,
for family members to be promptly swallowed whole for the night.
It wasn't even 10pm, but wine, and an alarm clock set for 5am have
a surprising affect on one's tiredness.
New Year Evolutions
I'M ALWAYS one for new
year's resolutions. Give up smoking! Start to exercise! Watch less
telly! And so on. I do like to think of more profound improvements
to my new year, than those typical ones cited above. 1996 is no
different. And my resolutions are no less profound. So, in no particular
order, here are my Malawi-inspired resolutions, or life-style evolutions:
- DON'T GIVE MONEY TO
- SPEAK MORE CHICHEWA
- BE LESS GULLIBLE
- INTEGRATE AT WORK
(For once, Always Say Please and Thank You is squeezed off the
Perhaps I should explain...
1. Don't Give Money
This seems a simple enough
resolution - it saves money, and inconvenience. You just say No!
and walk past. But it isn't that simple, and these are not my reasons.
The Malawi problem of
beggars is different to the problem in Britain. It is not a life-style
of choice in Malawi, as could be argued in Britain. Neither is there
a welfare state, to provide food or shelter. In Malawi, beggars
are the poorest, in a poorest country. They have nothing.
So just what do you do
when confronted with the beggar, bedraggled? Do you look at her
clothes to see if she is deserving? Do you check that he is not
drinking a Carlsberg? Or do you just reckon on the next time to
give? I have had done all of these in Malawi (and all of these in
Britain). And on occasion, I have left a guilt-tarred 50 Tambala
(or 50 pence, or 50 something).
Still, when I do give
money, what difference does it make? Do I empower the individual,
or do I just perpetuate their dependence on so-called kind-hearted
souls? Do I give (and starve them of the need to earn), or do I
refuse to give, and encourage another solution to their problem.
I know this is simplistic;
a less-is-more scenario, currently popular amongst right-wing thinkers.
But I see no other way to change the situation. Should we look to
government. Do they succeed in ignoring what we, with our gifts
of guilt, continue to sustain.
Malawi itself, suffers
the malaise of donor-dependence. With their aid, with their loans
- donors alleviate the now; but the future remains crippled, by
an unrelenting dependence. And so it is with beggars; and so it
is that I shall not be giving today, tomorrow. Pepani!
2. Speak More Chichewa
This is more of a straight-forward
goal - I don't speak enough of the national language of Malawi.
I am not going to be an expert, but I can improve; I want to improve.
It does make a difference in day to day relations with work-colleagues,
with Malawian friends, with street vendors. It shows respect.
3. Be Less Gullible
Eeek! This sounds like
another negative resolution. It is, however, a reaction to people
always wanting something from you. This need to take from you is
often witness to the most incredible tales of need. (And I always
listen and I always believe). Well, no more. Once bitten, twice
bitten, thrice bitten; but eventually, it is time to be shy. (So
No! I won't give you 5 Kwacha so you can visit farthest Karonga.
Who are you anyway?)
4. Integrate At Work
I think last year I was
so concerned with doing a 'good job', that I took no 'risks' at
work and did everything myself. However, some tasks should have
been dealt with by other individuals. And to be task-oriented is
not my aim. So this year it is time to be a team player, and devolve
some of my past duties, as appropriate.
So, a mixed bag of thoughtful
goodies. Maybe next year I will be appalled at my growing cynicism,
mixed with naivete; or maybe it will be another year more cynical.
Happy new year!
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