Thursday, August 20, 2009

Living Yoga, I Presume

What is the first thing you do on a holiday? Sleep in. We did. Until 6:15. After months of waking up at 4:30 – 5:30, it was wonderful. And the rest of the day? Yoga! Hot showers! Omelette Breakfast! Adventures in town! Food, food and more food.

The breakaway from the group was exactly what I wanted. There were no schedules to be followed, and we even had a fighting chance of seeing the pace of life in one place. Maybe even talk to someone local. This trip is nothing like my other trips. I definitely notice the change of pace. It feels more like I´m watching a movie, rather than really getting to know any one place.

During yoga I felt everything that I had been doing to my body for the past couple of months. Bends which used to be so easy were now impossible. Slowly everything started opening up, and by the end I felt a million times better. A swim in the warm lake just made it that much better.

At breakfast we chatted with two Scottish fellows. They were father and son, though the father confessed that the few months of his son`s visit were the longest they had ever spent together. For decades now, the father had been coming to Malawi to set up special projects to help the locals. He had originally come to help in a local clinic, but when the local people started approaching him with questions on how to improve parts of their lives, he became an intermediary for them. One of his current projects with them has been to bring a boat over from Scotland, rebuild it in Malawi, and then have it transport medicinal supplies to all of the villages along Lake Malawi, since most of these have no access to roads. Two local engineers were sent to Scotland to learn how to do the reconstruction from engineers there. His son, an architect, is in constant contact with his dad, so that whenever there is a question of having something built, he comes up with an answer. Even building toilets is not as easy as it might seem. At some point we got on the topic of all the people we had seen at the side of the road, whose jobs were to break big rocks into gravel by hand. He said the worst thing he ever had to do was send a shipment of gravel back to have it broken into smaller pieces. Life is not easy here.

Around lunch we chatted with some Norwegians. They were stationed here to help out with the fishing industry, but half a year later were still unsure of what their task was. The wife of one of the men came over to live with him, and she was brought on to a local hospital (being a nurse), but since they hadn`t gotten permission as of yet from the local government for her to work there as a foreigner, she was given a local salary allowance. She was currently in pediatrics, and saw over 60 patients a day.

The Norwegians gave us a lift into town, and we got to use some of the fastest internet we`d seen in months. The Norwegians laughed, saying that it was the slowest they had ever used. It`s all perspective. They tipped us off to a local beans and rice place, which was good since the hotel was very pricey in regards to food. We checked out the local supermarkets, but all you could buy were cookies, soap, milk, meat, alcohol, chips and water. Veggies were available on the roadside – local women sold them for pennies. I guess the locals buy their grains from the bulk stores.

We hopped onto a local truck – pickups wait at the edge of town and will load up with hitchhikers to pay for their gas and vehicles. With so many stops and starts and waits for more people, it took forever for us to get going, and with all of the stops at local villages to pick up more people, we didn´t get to the hotel until the sun had gone down, which meant we got to take the long, 4 km walk to the hotel in the dark. A local drunk on a bike wandered with us until he realized we were walking faster than him. He then got on his bike and kept ahead of us, but then his bike kept breaking down and he kept falling behind. He seemed very frustrated at having two women move faster than him, but we were glad for every moment that he fell behind. Finally the rival lodge owner drove by, picked us up and brought us down to our lodge.

We got in and I grabbed a quick shower before we headed to dinner. I heard someone come to the door. It was giggler. Erin answered the door, and he burst out in giggles and eventually got enough control to be able to hold up the menus.

`You want us to come to dinner?`

More laughter and a nod.

`We´ll be there in half an hour, is that okay?`

Even more laughter and a nod.

James is great. He´s been teaching us Chichewa. And we can´t see him without breaking out into a smile. Mind you, he can´t see us without breaking out into great peals of laughter.

The following day we woke up and had a really long yoga session. It´s great to do yoga with Erin. We have basically the same start, and then go into our own poses, each one reminding each other of poses we like but might not have done for a while.

Our Scottish friends were at breakfast and offered us a lift into town where we could get our beans and rice, as well as supplies for the hitch the next day. He had visited the old slave trading village the day before. He told us about Livingstone, who had come over to Africa and was appalled by the slave trade of the day. He was only one voice of many of that time, but he was the only one who had seen the trade first-hand, so he became the voice everyone listened to. On the west coast, the slaves were being shipped-off to America, and on the east coast they were headed to the Arabic countries. Headmen of villages would sell off their villagers for a handful of salt in some cases. Life was cheap. I suppose it still is. When Livingston died, they put him in Westminster Abbey, and when they were going to erect a monument for him, they decided instead to put the money into missions to help with infrastructure so that the villages would have an income independent of slavery. So many good intentions. Up until now, all I´ve known about Livingstone were my own presumptions.

After breakfasting on beans and rice and then a grocery-shop that consisted of avocados, chips and water, we headed back to the lodge quite early, having learned from yesterday´s mistake. We got a lift from a boisterous local woman, one who I felt quite justified in giving the local greeting of ´mama´ to- greetings change between mama and sistah for people here. She owned a local lodge that had a real grandmotherly feel to it. We suddenly wished we had stayed there to support her instead of some British fellow who didn´t even live in that village. Hindsight. We walked from her lodge to ours, along beautiful white and black sand beaches. We watched fishers out getting their day´s haul, and young fishers sitting in rows of three, heaving in the nets. Some men were tarring the bottoms of their boats, others were fixing their nets.

We had dinner, chatting over wine about trees, fair salaries, and whether or not to have dessert. The answer to the last was the most obvious. We went for a long walk, talking to locals along the way. They were all out waiting along the beach to buy that evening´s meal from the fishers. We played games with the kids who followed us. In the evening we sat on the porch writing in our journals and reading until the bugs got to be too much. In three days we´d had ten hot showers each – with the general argument that it might improve our chances against bilharzia, but knowing it had more to do with the knowledge that we had a long way to go before we´d see warm water again. Every day we had the luxury of fish and vegetable instead of red meat and legumes. It´s been a dream.

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