Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Name is Jennifer!

I’m thinking of changing my name to ‘Jennifer’ – not because I particularly like the name – or dislike the name ‘Jayne’ for that matter, but simply because it has brought me a great deal of laughter over the last couple of weeks. After the sadness that we have experienced here recently, that laughter has been a real tonic.

I’d like to tell you about particular man in Kasungu; he absolutely cracks me up whenever I see him – his name is Mr Phiri and he works for the Water Company. Mr Phiri is responsible for our water bills. Now you might think that getting a water bill would be a very straightforward – and boring - matter. However, you would be wrong – this is Malawi after all and rarely is anything here straightforward and/or uneventful. Even getting a simple water bill can become a remarkably complicated affair; getting an accurate water bill is a task designed to test even the most patient and tenacious person. Enter Mr Phiri. Now for some reason, when we first met – way back in July 2009 – he thought my name was Jennifer. Of course, the simple thing to have done at the time would have been to correct him and to tell him that my name is actually Jayne. Now for reasons which seemed perfectly sound at the time, this is precisely what I didn’t do. Not only did I not do it at our first meeting, I didn’t do it at any of our subsequent meetings either – and believe me, there have been quite a few of them. Why? Because the guy absolutely loves saying the word ‘Jennifer’. And he doesn’t just say it once – in the course of one sentence he might say it three or four times - in the course of an entire conversation, he will say it LOADS of times. And he says it with such exuberance and energy. When he sees me, he beams the most jubilant smile at me, jumps to his feet and shouts “Jennifer” at me in the most animated fashion – sounding out all the syllables. I simply haven’t got the heart to tell him that my name is Jayne – it just doesn’t offer the same possibilities! Over the last couple of weeks we have been disputing our water bill at TLH and as a result, I have been seeing quite a lot of Mr Phiri. Of course he has absolutely no idea how funny I find his behaviour and I have to work hard to make sure that he doesn’t know how hilarious I find the whole situation. But just thinking about him brings a smile to my face; he is such a nice man who tries so hard to help. What’s particularly interesting about this situation is the fact that I’m quite sure that he finds me and my ways just as comical – something that is actually very healthy. So often, ‘difference’ is viewed in a very negative way, but of course when things and/or people differ – even when they differ as widely and as wildly as they do here in Malawi – this needn’t be the case; more often than not, it is a cause for celebration and an opportunity to learn. Certainly when you start to look at yourself from the point of view of how others might be seeing you, it is impossible to take yourself too seriously; in fact, to do that here would be absolutely disastrous. In Malawi, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re finished. Nine months in, the Malawians continue to view me with great hilarity. For example, I was attempting to explain to someone recently precisely why I put Sam on a lead and take him out for a walk – in Malawi, this is regarded as a very bizarre thing to do. As the words were coming out of my mouth, I was watching the expression on the man’s face – he became increasingly bemused as I attempted to enlighten him. In the end, I had to admit that standing in the middle of Africa, my explanation did seem pretty daft – meanwhile, I interpreted the look on his face as something along the lines of “this woman is completely bonkers”. In the end we were both laughing uproariously. It was good.

On a separate note, I am currently house hunting; so far my ‘hunt’ has yielded nothing. I have to be out of the house where I’m living at the end of June and so still have a few weeks before the situation becomes really urgent. However, the town of Kasungu has recently been given ‘municipality’ status; this is a formal acknowledgment that the town is growing and that it has been earmarked for development over the next few years. Kasungu is now a very attractive location for investment and an increasing number of people are moving here – something that makes house hunting that much harder. Although houses are available here, finding one that is safe and secure is proving difficult. To put it bluntly, I am an attractive target for robbers - single, white and female! It’s like putting your money into one of those one armed bandits and hitting the jackpot – singlewhitefemale. The best – or worst – combination, depending upon your point of view! I must admit, I try very hard not to think too deeply about the security issues associated with living here, but am aware that I have to be very careful. In all fairness though, the exact same could be said for many parts of the UK; it certainly isn’t just Malawi where personal safety/security is an issue for women. Having Sam certainly helps with this situation though; he barks when anyone approaches the house and does sound very fierce – a wonderful deterrent. This is a huge red herring of course – he is the soppiest, most loving dog I have ever come across - unless you happen to be another dog - but that's another story and I'm digressing! The point I am trying to make is that if someone did break into the house, I suspect that Sam would be pretty useless: he views every new person as a potential play mate – any burglar would probably be licked to death! Now that our House girl has left, Sam is spending much of his day on his own. I have someone who goes in twice a day to walk him, but it is not the same as having regular companionship; I do worry about him. I am trying to find someone who can help out a bit more at the house, but once again, this is proving quite difficult; finding the right person will take time. We will get there though.

Work at TLH continues, although there has been a significant drop in our income over the last few weeks. This is hugely disappointing, given how things were immediately before I left for the UK. The precise reasons for this change in our affairs are difficult to pinpoint, although it’s fair to say that the town is very quiet at the moment. Many people have actually left Kasungu to work on the Tobacco farms; this is the time of year when harvesting takes place. From talking to other businesses, our situation seems to be mirrored across town and it is reassuring to know that other businesses have also experienced a drop in their incomes. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the coming weeks.

As always, I will keep you updated with all our news - good and bad. We have a busy and challenging few months ahead as we continue in our work to bring TLH to a position where it is financially viable. At times it feels as if we are moving one step forward – only to move two steps back again. But like the situation with Sam and my search for a new house, we press ahead with confidence, knowing that will succeed – it might just take some time!

Once again, thank you for your emails and your good wishes - they make a difference. Thank you for your prayers – they work!

With love and best wishes - Jayne and Sam