Malawi and my friends there have been on my mind a lot this past week. It seems strange not to be visiting this year. Last year at this time I was still hopeful that my “lost” bag would be recovered. I was still adjusting to the way Malawians interact with me. I was getting used to my accommodations and the family I was to stay with.
It seems that my past in Malawi will always be a part of me. Just last week a package that was sent to me while I was teaching at Mount Sinai was returned to the sender here in Toronto. Today a second package sent by my parents was returned. These packages have been traveling the globe for more than 3 years and both are intact. I was absolutely convinced that the contents had been taken. This strange journey of the packages has renewed my faith in Malawians but made me wonder about the postal service!!
Several weeks ago I decided to return to the lakeside town of Port Rowan where my parents currently live to speak again at the Community Church. The members of this church have been incredibly supportive of Itatu for a few years now. The members often inquire about my safety, send thoughts and prayers my way and offer words of encouragement when I become disillusioned. They have also been overwhelmingly generous financially, for which I and the people in Malawi continue to be grateful.
As the day approached for my upcoming talk I felt a great deal of anxiety. I was dealing with many personal issues which tied into my future in Malawi and I was having trouble getting information about the girls. I hesitated about speaking to these kind, generous people fearing that I would have to stand up and admit defeat or look like a fraud. I was advised to proceed with the talk and to “speak from the heart.”
As I headed to bed Saturday evening I had no idea what I would say. I knew I would need to just be honest and explain my feelings and the congregation could take away whatever message they wished. I hoped that at least they would all understand my eternal gratitude for their on-going support.
Just as I was settling into sleep my phone rang. It was Azikiwe. I was overjoyed. He had surely understood my pleas for help. We spoke for about an hour. We agreed on some new communication rules to help ensure the flow of information. He told me stories of the girls and information about the rising costs of goods.
The next morning I had a head and heart full of anecdotes to share. I did not hesitate to speak from the heart and tell the congregation of my gratitude. I told them of my hopes and of my frustrations. They listened attentively, sometimes laughing, sometimes with tears. I’m sure I spoke longer than anyone anticipated but I think my message was clear.
Having spoken at the church has renewed my passion for what I do in Malawi. Just when I was about to give up, I have a renewed drive. I now have a strong desire to return and continue what we have started. Thank you again Port Rowan for guiding me and supporting me, even when you may not have been aware of my need.
Last night I learned that my friend, Godfrey, passed away from AIDS. I didn’t know he was HIV positive but given the high rate of infection in Malawi his status is not surprising. Rumour has it that he felt healthy so he stopped taking his medication. He became ill and died rather suddenly.
Godfrey was a dedicated teacher. He was the deputy head teacher at his primary school. He taught grade one to a class of approximately 90 children at a school with no furniture or electricity. He was soft-spoken, kind and caring. The children and his colleagues adored him. During our last visit together I gifted him with a few items I’d used while teaching in Malawi and we planned to do some professional development together in the future. He was grateful for my donations and my ideas and I know I could learn a lot from watching him manage such a large group of young children.
Godfrey lived in housing provided by the government for teachers. His school was in a very rural part of Malawi and was accessed most easily by a bicycle. The ride to his home and school from “town” was about 10 minutes. He lived without electricity in a fairly new home with his wife and two young children.
Godfrey did plan for his family’s future. I understand he had a life insurance policy and had built a house for his family to live in upon his retirement. H rented the house out to supplement his income. The house was nothing special, likely a small 2 bedroom cement structure with a tin roof. He was rightly very proud of this house. A primary school teacher earns a very small salary and the fact that he was able to save and put money into a house is a testament to his dedication to his family.
His wife is not working. She is illiterate and will likely resort to selling vegetables in the market or some sort of piece work. I am unsure of her HIV status but it is likely that she too is positive.
This is the first time someone I have known and cared about in Malawi has succumbed to AIDS. It is a very sad day for me.
I will miss my friend and am honoured to have known him.