Saturday, 18 May 2013

Rebel Against Apostrophes

Any of you who have a blog, or are writers, or for that matter, have ever felt the need to write something, but just can’t seem to find the best way to start, welcome to my ramble!

I’ve been staring at the screen, blank and white, until, like looking at the sun, I close my eyes and still see bright spots behind my eye lids. I still can’t think of anything “catchy” to start with. I’ve said this a few times since being away that the longer one goes without speaking to someone, the harder it is to think of things to say. If you talk to a friend daily, you share the goings on of each day and consequently, you know almost everything they’re doing. However, if you don’t speak for a while, you feel that the little details don’t warrant being shared, because surely there is something exciting that’s happened. But frankly, I'm not….

Wait! I just remembered something! I can share with you about how I hit a mini bus today. Not with my hand, but with my car! Some might call that an “accident” or a “graze”… I simply call it, “oops!”

This morning, I was en route to my coworkers house before anyone should be awake on a Saturday. I was fetching her and her husband and another gentleman from their church and all the loot bags we had prepared for their visitation to the prison.
Likely, due to the fact that I don’t remember speaking about this before, the prison visitation is not something that turns the light bulb on in your mind, and you're thinking, What do loot bags for inmates look like?

Well, in this case, sadly, they were rather sparse. When my co-worker first told me they were taking a group from their church to do outreach ministry at the prison, she mentioned there were only 40inmates. I didn’t know much about this prison, except it was different than the regular, large, co-ed prison that most ministries/churches here in town associate with.
So, one day I packed up 40 loot bags that included sugar, salt, cookies, washing soap and body soap. I copied out some Chichewa Scripture that shares about God’s love for His children, and how He sent Jesus, not to condemn us for our sins, but to demonstrate that love toward us instead!
On the day last week that I was dropping off the loot bags at my coworkers house, she informed me that she had been misinformed. There were actually 261 inmates!

That’s a huge difference. We still aren’t sure where the mistake came from, but for the last week I’ve been looking to reorganize some of my funds in order to make sure that everyone at the prison got at least ONE gift (soap or sugar; sadly, not both). We did manage to learn that there were 15-20 HIV/Aids inmates and so I made them special bags of milk and ground nuts (full cream milk and protein). And, after some other donations from our coworkers, we realized we had put together 312 baggies!

So, this morning as I was heading to pick up my coworker and all the jumbos (bags) filled with gifts, I had to drive through a busy minibus loading intersection. And, as per usual on dusty dirt roads in the middle of market places, no rules apply. There is no stopping/loading zone; no right of way; not even general courtesy for those who need to go straight vs those who need to turn.
Personally, I think I’ve learned to navigate fairly well on Malawian roads. Perhaps in part to the fact that I actually love driving aggressively, and therefore have no problem mimicking the minibus drivers who are impulsive and impatient.

Today, no exception. There were three mini buses fully blocking my path and none seemed willing to move out of the way. They all thought the other guy would give me room to move, and held their ground. It is sometimes very very frustrating to be waiting upon a mini bus driver who is determined to fill his bus at the expense of those of us who are stuck behind, in our own car, or inside, as a passenger. I’ve waited sometimes 20minutes in a bus while we watched the man ‘strolling’ to the main road to jump aboard an already full to capacity bus.
When none of the three mini buses decided to move, I tried maneuvering between them. Suddenly, in front of me, was an oncoming car trying to do the same from the other direction. However, he had room to stop, whereas  I was already half way between two of the minibuses. Only problem, the third minibus I was behind, decided to stop and chat with the driver of the oncoming vehicle. Though I honked my horn at him, he only inched forward by releasing the brake.
I just kept right on his tail. That’s when the conductor from the mini bus to my left started slamming his hand on my car. When I finally looked over, I saw that I had clipped the front of the mini bus with my rear left side.
My reaction was pretty much like I described up above, “oops!”

I asked if the mini bus was okay, and the conductor said, “yes, yes, but your car…” and as soon as the mini bus reversed to give me space (see, I knew we could be reasonable) I said, “I'm not worried about my car! Thank you”, waved and drove away.

I arrived at my coworkers house having already forgotten that I just clipped a minibus and should look at the damage, and instead walked into a dining room overflowing with boxes and jumbos and soaps!  There was no adrenaline rush, or sweaty palms as I would expect if I hit a car in Canada. And honestly, there was also no remorse. Not that I wouldn’t have taken ownership and responsibility for hitting the minibus if there was damage. I would have. But the man said the bus was fine, so I took his word for it and carried on with my agenda – much like minibus drivers do whenever they hit something, or sadly someone.

We loaded up my car and I suddenly remembered the incident, but found no visible damage among the already present scratches and dents and rust of my old beater! Not that it would have affected my affection for the beast in any way.

When we were ready to leave however, my car was so weighed down that we bottomed out nearly five times just getting back to the main road that I'm sure the damage underneath my car is far worse than that visible damage to the body! I cannot wait to leave this car behind. I'd love to drive it off a cliff and watch it crash just for fun. It would give me so much delight!

Arriving at the prison, I was shocked to discover it was a juvenile institution! Oh.My.Goodness! YOUNG OFFENDERS!
What was the male equivalent to Talitha House called? Sj, Lori? Was it Fairburn?  I suddenly felt compassion and longing to work in this prison, and a sense of nostalgia all rolled up in one!

Part of me wishes I was staying to meet the young men inside, but I’ve made it clear that I wont go into any place to do ministry (hospital, prison etc) and hand out gifts because I’m not willing to perpetuate the stereotype associated with Azungu (that is, that all white people are rich and give freebies to the poor Africans).
Instead, for the time being, I am more than willing to fund the outreaches from behind the scenes because I know that my coworkers and her friends continue to do ministry to these places long after I am gone. They are building relationships with the inmates and the guards and they will be known over time for what they do, rather than what they give.

However, since having left the prison this morning, having gone to the market on my own to pick up a special order of diaper covers made for six year old children, having tutoring at a restaurant I thought served breakfast but ended up eating a sandwich and fries (chips) instead, I have thought many times about what could be done for those young men.

I hope that for most of you, the confession that I have considered, contemplated and am still weighing the options about returning to Malawi, will come as no surprise. Despite the challenges I have wrote about and complained about and even screamed about in my own quiet space, this experience has been more positive than not. And there is such a need! Everywhere you look, there is a need. There is something that can be improved and done better, or even started for that matter. And I dream of returning. With no specific goal in mind, just returning, immersing myself even further in a backwards culture that often evokes extreme exhaustion in me, I dream. But as soon as I start to seriously consider my dream, the reality of raising funds for another year overwhelms me and I consider how easy it would be to return home, get a job, blend in with the Jones’ (if I ever have), and no longer wrestle with the Western societal impression that I am a leech who fails to earn her own way in the world and expects others to fund all her outrageous humanitarian efforts.

And its on this teeter-totter I currently precariously balance.

Until next time…

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