Monday, October 8, 2012

Meet the Parents

We were invited by a former student now on attachment at our welding workshop to accompany him to visit his family. We’ve known this student since we have been here and so we were pleased and honored by the invitation to meet his parents. Something we have learned here is the importance of offering a gift when visiting someone’s home. Accordingly, we prepared our gifts – cooking oil, sugar, sweet potatoes, bananas and a live chicken. The last gift presented the biggest challenge as you have to carry chickens upside down by their legs. Any self-respecting woman here is capable of this and I am proud to say that I managed the hand-over rather gracefully.

The day before our intended journey, the student shared with me that he had made arrangements for us to meet with his village’s small church community in order to give an ‘input’. I could almost hear my heartbeat accelerate. You would think I would be accustomed by now to last-minute speeches and presentations but both my natural disposition and American training prefer at least a week to prepare anything like a public presentation. After discussion with Spencer, though, we agreed that we should be flexible and go with the flow. So the next morning, we set off with our gifts (agitated chicken in the truck bed) and a general idea of what our talk would be.

The student’s family lives near Mt. Mulanje, an enormous and majestic mountain about two and a half hours from our home. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the drive and the chance to chat with our student and his friend who came along for the day. Our first stop upon arrival was at the student’s home where we were ushered inside the house and introduced one by one to all the members of the family and the small church community leader. After meeting everyone, we decided to drive out to a nearby Comboni parish to greet the parish priest, a friend of our student. We didn’t find the priest at home, but with typical Malawian hospitality we were invited to come inside to rest and have a drink.

From there, we went on to tour the church and then we walked on to the home of our student’s aunt, the matron of the Catholic hospital in the same compound as the church. Although, not expecting us, she invited us in and served us lunch. After the impromptu lunch, we returned to the parish in hopes of finding the priest. We didn’t find him but instead found lunch waiting for us. At this point we were late for returning to lunch with our student’s family so he communicated our regrets and we headed back to his home.

We arrived back at his home to be welcomed with a delicious second lunch and the small church community eager for our input. In a last minute twist, we were told that we should give a reflection on the reading they had picked for the day. Fortunately, what we had planned to share was easily adapted to the reading about going out ‘In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ With the translation help of our student and our own broken Chichewa, we managed to give an appropriate reflection on the meaning and implications of the Trinity and then sat back to enjoy the rest of their prayer service. This particular community lives out too far for a priest to come weekly and so instead they lead their own services on Sundays.

When it came time to say good-bye, we were again escorted back into the house where each member of the family thanked us for coming. Then to our surprise, they brought out gifts to present to us: a large bucket of peas, about 15 kilos of rice and a goat! Luckily, it didn’t fall to me to carry the goat to the truck. At the end of the day, we headed home with happy hearts, some of our student’s relatives whom we dropped in town and a very vocal goat who I regretfully report turned out to be quite tasty.


  1. A goat! I love it. Sounds like a beautiful day. I remember very well the necessary state of mind to be able to frequently "go with the flow". Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. Dear Andrea and Spencer,
    I'm a US medical trainee, coming to work at Queen Elizabeth for the year (from Sept). Hopeful to make progress in Chewa, and with greater interest is rural health development, I've considered staying in a smaller town outside Blantyre-- including Lunzu and Chiradzulu.
    I wondered if you'd consider a Skype conversation to address some practical questions, etc. With only a year to initially spend, I'd love your guidance/observations re housing, language, transport, etc.
    Please let me know if you're available. You can reach me directly at mpatricksweeney at gmail dot com.
    Many thanks,
    Patrick Sweeney