As we approach the half waypoint, it seems like a good time to reflect on the past six weeks or so. It has been all, challenging, exhilarating and at times exhausting, though through all this the learning has been non-stop. My previous apprehensions of whether to commit to the ICS journey has ceased.
I feel a part of a community that is always welcoming, accommodating and happy. I am now more often greeted as 'fateema' rather than 'azungu', which translates to ‘white person’. Fatima is a Malawian name too, which helps. On the walk to work I meet Judith and Ayesha and we play jingo the equivalent of 'elastics' in the UK and Bao, a game played with marbles or stones. Malawians, here are very innovative with the little resources they have, 'elatics' uses plastic tied together and the Bao board has been engrained into the floor outside. My morning commute has definitely been transformed.
Religion plays such a huge role here in Malawi and there is great respect among the Christians and Muslims. On the first day as I pondered on which direction to pray, my host mum sent my host brother to the neighbours house at 9:30 pm to enquire. In the evening she always prepares a bucket of water so I can carry out ablution. Even as her mother lay on her deathbed she invited me, even though we were of different faiths, to say a prayer, which we could all enjoin. Where religion in the west continues to create deeper divides, here in Malawi greater respect for faith seems to bring people together. Again at her mother's funeral I witnessed this picture of faith coming together to mourn, grieve and pray as one.
I did not hesitate to join my host family during that first Sunday Church Service. My host mum is a devout Christian and I wanted to better understand and interpret her religious traditions. We were welcomed by the congregation, listened to the sermon and took part in some dancing. This also paved the way for good working relationships with religious leaders during our placement.
Malawi: Religion, Culture and Me!
Being immersed in a whole different culture here has been a huge learning experience. I often find similarities with my own South Asian culture in terms of the respect for parents and elders and sometimes even in the food we eat like tamarind and unripe mangoes with salt. My fellow UK volunteer finds my liking for this very peculiar but it's a convenient and tasty snack as I can just pick a mango off the tree outside.
Other aspects have been new and different, namely holding your elbow to show respect when shaking the hand of an elder, having your legs stretched out when sitting down to mourn a death and the famed chitenge, which we were quickly introduced to; a traditional wrap that most women wear both in and outside the home.
Week 6 and I have come to embrace being part of this new culture, a new family, a new community, a new work place with new friends and I get the distinct impression the community have come to embrace us too!
Written by Fatima Choudhury whilst she was in placement in Mzuzu, Malawi (October - December cycle 2015).