When we walk into the dusty clearing surrounding a quaint little hut, an old man hobbles out to meet us. He calls something in rapid Chichewa to a couple boys nearby. They run and grab some burlap sacks on which we sit to avoid getting our cloths too dusty.
After we are seated, he totters over and greets each of us. After greetings, he sits to talk. The sweetest eyes peer out from his round face and a toothless smile stretches from ear to ear. We are immediately charmed.
We are here for a home-visit, an essential part of every trip to Malawi – even for the medical team. Amidst the busy days of clinic, it is important to find time to come, be present, and chat with some of the most vulnerable families. It invites insight into the lives of people who live without secure food sources, without dry spaces on which to sleep, without clean water.
Today we are visiting Levision Dulana at Mpoola village. I am with my Mom, a team member named Carol, and our translator, Sydney.
“We are here to learn a little bit about your life,” Carol tells him. “Is it ok if we ask you some questions?” (Sydney is translating everything).
“Of course, it is fine,” he replies.
“Who lives with you?”
“A 13 year-old grandson, but he is gone now for Chinamwale in the Simba.”
Chinamwale is the initiation of boys to men – they are circumcised at the beginning and then spend a month secluded in a tent with men, learning about many… things. I shudder imagining this traumatizing experience as a 13-year-old.
We talk for some time – his story is like many others. He lives alone because his wife left when he grew too ill to work. He did not harvest enough food to last the year. He lives with the boy because he cannot care for himself. But the community helps him, sending aid. He is still not sure how he will make it. God will provide.
Finally, my Mom returns to the initial conversation. “Abambo, can you tell us about chinamwale? Or is it a secret? What do you learn there?”
To all who venture to Malawi, I encourage you to spend time with my Mom – she asks the best questions!
“They teach the boys to respect their elders. They tell them they must work hard or women will not like them. But I can tell you nothing else.” He chuckles. “There are many things regarding women!”
“Do you expect your grandson to be a better helper when he returns? More respectful?”
When conversation dies down, we ask him if he has any questions for us. Questions about our lives, America. He retorts – “I have never left this village! How should I know what I should ask?” He laughs some more.
At the end of the visit, we present him with some gifts, including a pair of soccer cleats. He lights up. Although he can barely shuffle around the house, he tells us he is an avid soccer player. The toothbrush makes him smile even more – “I have only 1 tooth – it will be a clean one!” He points to the back of his mouth.
As we take leave, my Mom takes a picture of us together. “Will you bring me this photo so I can tell my friends that I hosted azungu (white people)?”
“We will try – next time we come, maybe we will dance together because the vitamins will make you so strong.”
“Next time you come, I will be on the football pitch!” He says, bent at a right angle because he cannot support his body upright. He sends us off with his laughter echoing through the air.
A few days ago, Sokoso, our veterinary officer, told me that a happy man lives long. I think this old man has many years yet to live.