Saturday, October 23, 2010

Of Good Grooming, Light Sabers, Working Wages, and the Lord’s Supper

“My elders have reported to me that they are out of razors and have asked if I might help them get some.”

The speaker was K. Banda, a guard (yes, male) at our complex and a friend. He had asked me one Sunday in August to go with him and another brother to church in Mponela for a gospel meeting, which turned out to be a pleasant visit to a church in a village within Mponela’s jurisdiction, a village which neighbors K.’’s home village. We were able to meet K.’s wife and at least one of his children and lots of church members from all over Mponela who had come for the event. We know his church, which now needs razors.

I wondered why. Some African Americans have to shave regularly or grow longer beards with a dangerous interim where curly facial hair tends to turn inward and cause bothersome if not serious infections on the face. I presume Africans might have a similar problem, but I’ve not seen or heard of it firsthand. Kay asked me how much razors cost.

I use one of those multibladed gizmos which Gillette sent me and every other American male in the mail on the “if you try it you’ll like it” theory, and then I’m buying the heads from them for life--or until something better comes along. I clean up my beard once a week here and haven’t bought razors in ages. I have not a clue how much a pack of Bics would cost here in Malawi, but I’ve seen them and their Chinese knock-offs in the stores.

I’m trying to explain all this to Kay, who speaks very little English--I’m not even trying to touch this subject with my Chichewa. Malawians do not differentiate between the “R” sound and the “L” sound, so I begin to correct Kay’s English since I’m not making much headway explaining permanent handles and replaceable heads of multi-bladed razors. “Laser. That’s a special kind of ‘torch’ (the English word for flashlight in this part of Africa) which is very powerful, very strong. It can burn holes in things.” If I can’t explain razors how am I going to explain lasers which I myself hardly comprehend, but I’m on a roll. I write in the dust “Laser”, then “Razor”, then we do a little speech therapy. (I get a lot of this from Malawians. Turn about’s fair pay.) K., probably more frustrated than I am at this point, writes out in the dust his understanding of the word, “Raises” and we launch into the even more foreign concept, at least for Malawians, of getting paid a little more. Actually, this was a big cue to what he was really after, but I missed it completely.

Then, like the locks on some of our doors around here, the conceptual key finally falls into place and the mental bolt turns. Kay explains that he’s looking for “What’s used for Holy Communion instead of wine.” Raisins!!! In a laudable attempt to be Biblical about worship, to do what first century churches did, many congregations in tropical Africa, churches in villages which have no electricity and have no spring for a spring-house, soak and then boil raisins to extract the essence of grape as juice: fruit of the vine, African style. The only problem is that raisins are almost as rare as grape juice. Both can be bought here, but grape juice is considerably more expensive. Both are imported—no grapes are grown here, and it costs a lot to move all that water around the world. (Most liquids we consume, with the exception of hard liquor--greater than 100 proof--are mostly water, heavy and costly to move.) African struggles to do communion right, however, are another story.

Kay Banda was not looking for a shave for his friends at home, or a light saber, much less an increase in pay. His elders are just looking for a little help in getting raisins to make “fruit of the vine” for the Lord’s Supper. Transportation issues and other short-term problems have kept us away from the grocery store for several days, so we may be in town this afternoon, certainly before the weekend, and we’ll see how much raisins are for Kay and his church back home. And we’ll continue plugging away at better communication skills with our Chichewa friends here in Malawi.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


It was all I could say, but it was enough.

The driver of the car was a young man, and in that exuberance and impatience of youth which most of us show at one time or another, he was anxious to be out of there, out of the parking lot that was much too small for its clientele. The ten shop mini-mall is shaped like the state of Mississippi, and the parking lot fills what would be that piece of Louisiana east of New Orleans. The lot will hold only about 12 cars max and today there was a 14-passenger van and a 25-passenger tour bus which the small car’s driver had to maneuver around. So he jerked his small sedan back out of its space next to the patio where we sat, and then forward. I thought he was clear to move ahead to the gate, but he thought otherwise, paused, and the back-up lights came on as he prepared to head my direction again—in reverse. He didn’t see the boy.

We were eating at the best Italian restaurant in Lilongwe, which occupies the southern extension of that map of Mississippi which this property forms. Where that southern leg joins what would be the main body of the state, right in the angle, there are steps going up from where we were eating to the rest of the “strip mall,” the first business on the left being an Italian deli. The toddler and his mother and father of course were eating at the first outdoor table at the top of the steps. The boy, probably tired of sitting as most toddlers shortly are, escaped down the steps, and failing to get his parents attention at first move, proceeded full bore into the parking lot. Dad had his back to the parking lot, and Mother was seated to one side. Neither saw what was developing until it was too late. Dad leaped down the stairs, but he wouldn’t get there in time.

I had seen the child’s exuberant escape, distracted from the weekly comics Beth and I were reading together via internet, but I thought the car would be gone before the boy would come into danger. The driver’s decision to insure his clearance of the bus was synchronous with the boy hitting the parking lot. As the car reversed, I was out of my chair. The boy came into the car’s path, saw it coming and froze, out of the driver’s sight well below the trunk line.

I was moving when the back-up lights came on that second time, but I wasn’t going to make it, and if I had, the car would have hit us both as I crouched to scoop up the child. I threw out my hands in front of me, still in full forward tilt, and gave it my best game voice, “St-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ppp!!!!!!!” The car came to a halt, the father caught the child and scooped him into his arms, hugged him and started back up the steps. (No whipping or shaking, thank goodness.) With both adults and the child out of the way, the driver decided he already had sufficient clearance and accelerated out the gate.

The couple sitting at the table next to us said “Thank you.” Squished child does not help the appetite on the patio of even the best Italian restaurant. I thanked God the boy was ok. I guess it pays sometime to have a little ADD. Even our weaknesses, especially our weaknesses, can be used as a blessing to others to God’s praise and glory. Dd