The team splits into three groups in the morning. The first group is going to harvest honey with village bee keepers. I was originally intending to travel with them but my newly acquired cold makes me fearful of being stuck in a bee suit with no way to reach my nose. The second group is going to help some construction workers move bricks to the construction site – as thrilling as this sounds, I think I will pass. So, I join the third group. We are going to work with a group of village women to prepare lunch for the team. A village lunch is always an interesting affair. But before we travel into the villages for lunch, we must make a stop to pick up groceries.
We pull up on the tarmac (not an airport, just another word for paved roads here in Malawi). Mada, our community health worker, runs to the car and climbs into the back. She individually asks us all how we are doing in typical Malawian politeness and then directs my Mom to the next stop – the butchers.
Farther along the road, we park. There are two wooden stalls here surrounded by a cohort of men. Hanging from the roofs are large chunks of freshly butchered goat meat. A leg is identifiable but the rest is ambiguous. On the table underneath the stall, I see pieces of liver, and one man even holds up the testicles. Mada informs us later that the testicles are her favorite part of the goat – very soft and juicy. They put the meat on scales balanced with metal weights on the other side to determine weight and price.
While the butchers are measuring out the meat and chopping it into pieces with a machete, one man tries to talk with me. He is speaking rapidly in a language I do not understand – I assume it is Chichewa that has simply exceeded my limited vocabulary. When I try to communicate my lack of understanding, “Pepani, sindikumva,” which literally means “Sorry, I don’t hear,” he starts laughing. All the men do. I blush. It can feel very disconcerting to have a gang of men speaking a language you don’t know and laughing at you. Finally, he recovers his composure.
“Yao!” He says. Understanding crosses my face. He is not speaking Chichewa; he is speaking Yao. I join them, laughing at myself. We azungu (white people) must look very silly.
The goat meat is ready and we drive along to a much larger market. Piles of tomatoes, oranges, bananas, lettuce, potatoes, rice, and other produce stretch as far as the eye can see. They are laid out on the ground, in piles, on cloth, on plates, in trays, or just on the dusty ground. There are some more unusual food stuffs too – dried insects, live chickens, fried mice. We pick up firewood, tomatoes, rice, cooking oil, and six live chickens. We put them under the seats of the car where they squawk occasionally.
When we finally begin moving again, we are a carload of Malawians, Americans, chickens, goat testicles, firewood, and an assortment of other goods. Mada leads the car in song. As we sing, the chickens fall silent. Little do they know, this is their funeral dirge.