Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Here Comes the Rain - Hopefully!

The rainy season has begun here, but it certainly isn’t what I expected it to be. I had been told that the rainy season in Malawi begins at the end of November and lasts until the middle of March. Very definite, very neat and straightforward; when I heard this, I absolutely approved of this approach. As a librarian I like things to be organised and this seemed to me to be a wonderful way to organise the weather. No more uncertainty about what to wear each day – no more getting caught out by an unexpected downpour – no more sweating under a thick jumper when the sun suddenly decides to come out – fantastic! And things certainly ‘kicked off’ according to plan; on one day during the last week of November, we heard the distant rumbling of thunder and watched as dark and threatening looking clouds gathered overhead. Both steadily increased throughout the day and then suddenly at about 3pm the heavens opened and down came the rain. It was torrential; after weeks and weeks of relentless heat and dust, the rain and mud were here – or so we thought! Yet this proved not to be the case. After three days of solid rain, it stopped; it only began again a few days ago. Even now though, it is hot and dry – the rain remains in short supply in Kasungu. This has enormous implications for people of course. The majority of Malawians rely on their land to grow maize; they work solidly throughout the rainy season to grow enough food to sustain them throughout the entire year. An absence of rain puts this entire process at risk; it can mean starvation for people. It is a very worrying time at the moment.

UPDATE – As I sit and write this blog, it has started to rain – it is pouring down – it is a wonderful sight! I sincerely hope it lasts.

In my last blog, I promised to give you an update on how Sam is getting on. He is doing fine although he has a tendency to eat anything that he sees on the ground; there is certainly plenty for him to choose from here - frogs, cockroaches, large worms, spiders, snakes, lizards etc – believe me when I say that we really do live with nature here! The problem of course is that these things reek havoc with his tummy; on more than one occasion he has been very unwell as a result of eating something that he shouldn’t have. It has got to the point where I have to put a muzzle on him when he goes out into the garden to prevent him from picking things up. He hates it, but there really isn’t any choice. Unfortunately these creatures invariably make their way into the house as well and it is virtually impossible to keep Sam away from them totally. Overall though, Sam is having a grand old time – I just wish I could bring him to work as I miss him terribly throughout the day. Coming home to his wagging tail and ‘kisses’ is wonderful though. He’s a super friend and I would be lost without him; at the end of a long day working at The Lighthouse, I receive the most fantastic welcome home.

Talking of The Lighthouse – it continues to grow, although we are still not making enough money to be financially viable. Our library is very well used and is doing great things, but this is not the side of the business that brings in the money – it is our computers that generate revenue. Unfortunately, there are not enough people in Kasungu who know how to use a computer; the number is far, far lower than was originally anticipated. This represents our biggest challenge at the moment and we have spent a long time considering how we can tackle this – we have drawn up plans; these will be launched in the New Year. It is amazing to think that 2010 is just around the corner. The time has gone so quickly and I am really looking forward to Christmas. I am discovering that Christmas in Malawi is very different affair from Christmas in the UK. In the UK we start seeing festive stock appearing in the shops from about October onwards and we are bombarded with messages to ‘buy, buy, buy’. I think even Christians would acknowledge that at times it is easy to get distracted from the real reason for the season! Yet here in Kasungu, there is a wonderful absence of this depressing commercialism – in fact if one were simply looking at the shops, it would be easy to forget that Christmas is upon us. It really is refreshing. Yet there is a flip side to this. As I reported in my last blog, here in Malawi, approximately 80% of people attend Church each Sunday; relative to the UK, that is a staggering figure. I had assumed that as a result, Christmas would be a very spiritual occasion. However, this is not proving to be the case. Sadly, only a small number of the people who attend church are practicing Christians; for many Malawians, God and Jesus are only relevant to a) the Church building and b) Sundays. Here in Kasungu, virtually all the shops will be open on Christmas Day. There is little or no recognition that this is a special day – there is little or no desire to celebrate the most important birth in our history. In many ways this is very upsetting, yet it is a timely reminder to me of why The Lighthouse is so important in Kasungu. Apparently, the reason that most Malawians go to church each Sunday is because they want prayers to be said over them when they die. What they fail to understand is that these prayers will be completely meaningless to them if they are not genuine Christians – i.e. if they do not have a living, day to day relationship with God. In many ways of course, this is entirely the same as our own situation in the UK. I must admit that I have always found the business of Christian funeral services quite strange - strange when they are conducted for people who were clearly not Christians when they were alive. There doesn't seem to be any point to me - why not just have a service of thanksgiving for that person's life? I don't know. What I do know though is that the community of Kasungu desperately needs to know God and Jesus – not simply on a Sunday when they are sitting in Church – but EVERY day. This is the task that we have been set.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do in 2010 – am I daunted by the prospect? If I’m honest, the answer to that question is “yes”. But I am also hugely excited by it as well. Through The Lighthouse and our Christian library we are uniquely placed to reach out, to help and to support people on their Christian journeys. Libraries are actually very new to Malawi; in fact there is nowhere in Malawi where one can go to train as a Librarian – the qualification/post just doesn’t appear to exist at the moment. As a result, I may well be the only Librarian in the country at the moment!

Sam and I thank you for all your support, prayers and good wishes; we would also like to wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year. We look forward to writing to you and for you next year.

NEXT TIME - I promise to tell you all about my Chichewa lessons - I would tell you about them now but they're not going terribly well - I think I will feel much more positive about the whole business when 2010 arrives - you know, New Year, new start etc, etc! Oh I hope so!