It is now Tuesday May 9th and since arriving home on Thursday May 4th I have thought about how I might end this round of emails and I am struggling. The struggle is there because I do not know how I can adequately communicate to you the depth of my experience and also summarise how those who have so little can give such a lot. So in the end I have decided to sum up with a “letter ” as if to the people I have left behind and here goes.
To the people of Sitima
As I have spent a few days in England reflecting on my recent experiences in Sitima l should like to offer a most sincere thank you to everyone I met for your contributions to making my stay such a happy one and in enriching my life overall.
You reminded me of many niceties in life especially in the way you took time to genuinely greet each other whenever you met. I practised this in Kendal today and it took me a long time to get around the shops! You taught me patience, focussing on the moment and not always jumping to the next thing on the list. You helped me to think consciously about how just by living in many parts of the world you can be held back from fulfilling dreams and achieving potential,- a lack of healthcare facilities, no electricity, no running water, disease and illness, limited schooling opportunities, difficult climate conditions, no roads and no local transport…. the list goes on.
To the villagers – never before have I received such a welcome. From the moment I arrived you made me feel totally at home, comfortable with everything around me. You welcomed me into your homes and community, you shared your food with me, and most importantly you gave me your time.
You managed to get on with your everyday life without all the trappings that I think of as normal. You had no electricity or running water yet never did I hear a complaint about the efforts you went through day in day out to collect firewood from wherever you could get it and water from the pump in the village. Strangely the one really funny related story I heard was about the elderly woman who having bought a solar lamp is complaining of being tired as she now stays up later as she has light!
To the Women’s Choir – working with you on the feminine hygiene kits was both fun and humbling. As a group you looked after each other so well, you didn’t judge, you just helped each other whenever the need arose, teaching each other to sew and to draw around templates and evenly and fairly sharing out with each other the limited resources. You sang beautifully as you created the kits and you were even polite when I joined in the dances with you! You were very focussed on the task in hand and it was an absolute delight to watch you all walk off with your finished kits. I wish I had been better able to converse directly with you, but I promise you that on my next visit I will have a little more Chichewa.
To the ladies at the irrigation plot – how you worked in such conditions I will never know. The sun was shining, the soil rock hard, you had no shoes, yet you swung those heavy hoes to create beautifully turned soil in perfect drills. I guess by now the fertiliser has been applied and some of the crops are sown. I am delighted that you are getting training in agricultural practices, budgeting and literacy. I wish you luck as your fertile farms benefit from the irrigation system and finally you will be able to sell some crops for income.
To the children – thank you for your constant smiles and enthusiasm for life. You were always so very cheerful, you had no toys, so very few clothes, often very little food yet you could always smile.
Visiting some of you in school was a privilege,. I wish your eagerness to learn and willingness to grasp every opportunity could rub off on some of our young people over here. You were attending school, which like your homes had no energy, yet you still turned up, many of you having walked for more than an hour, to be taught in dark, overcrowded classrooms, with chalkboards being the major teaching aid. I loved watching your play specifically written by students for World Malaria Day; it really made me think of the fairly devastating impact malaria has on you and your families.
Outside of school I loved to watch your creativity, playing Bao, but instead of using a board you hollowed out shapes in the sand, using empty flour bags as dressing up clothes, singing and dancing at every opportunity and always looking after each other, particularly the toddlers, who always wanted to be with you.
As a very small thank you to you all I am making some promises:-
Firstly, you might have heard that we have a general election coming up, so I think it is timely that I ask would-be MPs how they and their parties will continue to support vulnerable communities across the world.
Secondly, it cannot be denied that climate change is making life more difficult for you, (no rains in the rainy season means no food), so as well as taking whatever little steps I can on a personal level I shall also ask those same prospective MPs some questions on tackling climate change.
Thirdly, I will endeavour to support you in creating that very necessary clinic in Sitima removing that long bumpy hike into Zomba for medicine and first aid.
To everyone I once more say Zikomo ( thank you)