Lost on a Mountain in Malawi and Other Stories

By Rob Pfeiffer | Apr 10, 2016
April 7, 2016: "Lost on a Mountain in Malawi"
At about midnight on Saturday night, there was a group walking past my hut talking quietly but earnestly in Chechewa. The group consisted of approximately 15 people, both men and women. Usually, things are pretty quiet by that time of night. I arose Sunday morning to find that a huge search party was on the mountain, and had been for most of the night, looking for a guest at the lodge who had gone for a hike the previous afternoon. I had been descending from the mountain Saturday morning when this individual drove up and I noted a strange vibe. He did not respond to my wave and roared past as though on some "mission." Apparently, his mission was to explore the mountain and he was absolutely positive he needed to do it alone. He did not need a map and was very clear about how he hiked fast and did not want to be bothered with any encumbrances or straggling. So, off he went after lunch. At eight p.m., the concern at the lodge rose to alarm stage and people went out beeping horns and shining lights. Then, they came over to our ridge and looked back at the mountain for a light or a fire. We are positioned on a parallel ridge a half mile from the ridge which makes up the mountain and the forest. We are at the southwestern end. Nothing was visible so a general alarm was put out via cell phone and parties of searchers got out of bed and hiked to the mountain in the pitch dark. Then, there was some rain. By the time I joined the search, people were exhausted and hungry. But, the search continued until around two p.m. when he appeared, dashed back to the lodge for a shower, and left hurriedly. He had gotten himself down the rugged northeastern face of the mountain and couldn't find a way back up. At about eight, he bedded down and slept most of the night before resuming his hike. He is a British citizen living in Lilongwe. He inconvenienced a great many people, all of whom cheerfully responded to the situation and disrupted their lives considerably to try to help him. This is indeed a remarkable community. I think we have some of that spirit left in Maine and I hope we never lose it. Helping out a neighbor speaks to the very core of our humanity.
I mentioned some rain and we are definitely in a tropical low here at the moment. We have no barometers or other weather gear but this resembles the weather just before a hurricane--wind driven rain and lots of it. I am presently alone in a building with a metal roof. If there were another person here, we would not be able to talk normally as the pounding sounds on the roof drown out regular talk. I live in a thatched roof hut which is an entirely different experience. There is a soft pattering which is very soothing and easy to sleep with. If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear the bamboo growing.
There will be a few more of these articles and then, I'll be back. That's some of the news from Malawi.
Another Missive from April 7, 2016
This is definitely the homestretch. It feels a bit weird as people are waxing a bit sentimental as I enter my last week here in Malawi. I have been offered three pieces of property to build on, for example. The most heart wrenching is the fear of being forgotten. No one can know what I have stored in my head and all I can do is reassure people that what I have seen and experienced is unforgettable. The spirit here in particular is a phenomenal tangible "thing" which exists here and which I have never experienced elsewhere. For example, for the past week and one half, I have met a group of 15 mothers and daughters hiking up the mountain with axes and machetes at 5:30 a.m. I can hear them coming from a great distance as they are chatting and singing. Then, when they spot me, it's family entertainment time and they explode with greetings and laughter. It's tough to find 15 people that cheerful at that hour except for the "Y" crew.
The bamboo seems to be taking root as new shoots have appeared on at least 70% of the plants and green stems on 90%. I've never had 100% success with transplanting, but this will be close.
I'm guessing that at one time or another while here, I have reviewed almost every event in my life. I've experienced regret, joy exultation, fear (again), etc, as images have floated through my brain. Most of this seems to occur when I wake up during the night in a dream state which catapults me into a review of whatever the dream resurrected. It is fascinating to me to see people turning up in my consciousness whom I haven't been aware of thinking about for years. And coaching successes or failures which seem to need review all of a sudden. And wonderings about past girlfriends from way back as to how their lives have turned out. In addition to listening for the bamboo growing, you might hear a few gears grinding as well. Those are a few of the things going on in Malawi today.
April 9, 2016
For years I've read the works of learned scholars on the subject of crime. In my years as a counselor, crime in various forms has raised its somewhat ugly head from time to time. I've never been able to discern how "scholars" point to various social issues as causal when it comes to illegal activity. I have worked with the destitute and the fabulously wealthy, for instance, and have found the incidence of illegal activity to be about the same when you go to a per capita comparison. As part of this news from Malawi missive, I have reported several crimes. I need to say that, as part of news gathering, that is in fact news. I have always been irked by the front page that shrieks in the morning about some catastrophe or other. Where is the good news? Are we addicted to the sordid and disgusting? At any rate, I want to say definitively that this is the most peaceful, law abiding society I have ever witnessed, in spite of abject poverty. People here learn early in life to make the most of what they have and to work hard for it. For example, we purchased 500 bamboo seedlings a month ago. They have stood outside for the most part ungaurded all that time and everyone, to a person, wants one or more to provide some financial security in this precarious world. Yet, they wait patiently for a moment when they have a "spare" 65 cents before coming over to choose their investment. I have been sorely tempted to go the "giveaway" route, but feel strongly that ownership and value are tied to money. 399 bamboos are in the ground with 181 to go. I sure hope this plan works out but, as I have alluded to the desperation here between seasons, I also wanted to point out the endless patience of people longing for something precious. It is very touching to behold.
The weather has cooperated with our extended planting season, thank goodness! We have had rain off and on for a week or so and clouds in between, so the earth is still soft. When I was told that the rainy season ended with March, I had big fears about dying seedlings. So far, my fears were without foundation.
Joyous singing (and I guess dancing) are going on each night as I drift off and the chanting and chatter of the working women climbing the mountain each morning will be a constant reminder to me of how spirit can turn adversity into an opportunity. USAID had a representative here from Washington the other day and she has spent several years traveling about in Malawi. We agreed that the spirit of the people makes this an ideal place to visit. She was in a bit of a rush to get back to cherry blossoms and tulips, however. As she followed up on projects with little or no progress, her spirits flagged a bit, so she was happy to hear of some of our initiatives. Dumping money with little or no oversight is a recipe for disaster wherever it takes place. That is some of the news from Malawi.
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