The Maidens Do Mchinji!

THE MAIDENS DO MCHINJI!!

Travel is unpredictable. Which, for some, is its appeal. No matter your plans, the trail has its own intentions, and we are all subject to its whims. The best experiences and the greatest people you meet come, more often than not, as complete surprises while traveling! A couple weeks ago Emily, Ben, and I traveled to Mchinji, Malawi with our good friend Aaron Maluwa, for what we thought was just an assessment for potential water projects in the area. However, we soon found ourselves immersed in local politics, tribal ceremony, and rarely experienced rural culture.

On the road to Mchinji! On the left side of the road is Mozambique and the right is Malawi. There really isn't a border other than the road and people from both countries freely travel and live on both sides.

On the road to Mchinji! On the left side of the road is Mozambique and the right is Malawi. There really isn't a border other than the road and people from both countries freely travel and live on both sides.

Mchinji, Water, and Politics!

Mchinji is an economically depressed region in Central Malawi with little to no access to electricity, water, or improved roads. Though economically depressed, the area’s vibrant people are rich in culture, and kindness. It is also the home of Aaron’s extended family. You should remember Aaron from the Museums of Malawi. Aaron asked me recently to tour Mchinji to see if I could help with improving access to safe water. Though Aaron lives in Blantyre, his heart still belongs to Mchinji, and he spends a great deal of time and money providing assistance. He helps pay the salary of teachers, supports orphans, has helped build a medical clinic, and is helping construct a maternity ward. It is not surprising that the Malawi Congress Party has asked Aaron to run for Malawi’s National Parliament! Therefore, between village assessments, we traveled the campaign trail with Aaron for a first-hand view of the insane world of Malawian politics.

 Aaron at his Museums of Malawi, Blantyre office. 

 Aaron at his Museums of Malawi, Blantyre office. 

Aaron on the campaign trail flanked by security and party offcials

Aaron on the campaign trail flanked by security and party offcials

Aaron's Home

The adventure began as we pulled into Aaron’s family home and were greeted by traditional welcome songs and dances by his family. By family, I mean his entire extended family. Ben even joined along! Aaron has helped build a small village for them to live and farm. Everyone was so kind and eagerly shared their home with us. They loved Ben, and he loved exploring the village with his new friends. Speaking of new friends, we met one of the coolest women ever, Eva, from the Czech Republic! Eva, has spent her life traveling the world, providing eye glasses to the less fortunate, and volunteering as a teacher. She is one of the coolest people ever, and has so many incredible stories from her travels. You never know who you’ll meet on the trail. I hope one day I can be half as cool as she.

Ben loved exploring the village where Aaron's family lives!

Ben loved exploring the village where Aaron's family lives!

Ben, having a very important discussion with the guys.

Ben, having a very important discussion with the guys.

   As always, Ben made tons of new friends!

   As always, Ben made tons of new friends!

   Aaron's family together at his home. The man in the front is his father, Eva is seen in the row behind Emily.

   Aaron's family together at his home. The man in the front is his father, Eva is seen in the row behind Emily.

On the Dusty Political Trail!

The next few days were spent traveling from village to village on bumpy, dusty, dirt roads as Aaron made stump speeches to the communities. The travel was incredibly arduous for us all due to the road conditions. Often, we would have to navigate collapsed bridges and pitted roads. When we would arrive at a village, the entire community would come out and surround the truck singing and dancing. We had to have security ride on the outside of the vehicle to keep the jubilant crowds at bay. Sometimes, it was almost impossible to maneuver through the crowds.

                                           Energizing the crowd before addressing the community!

                                           Energizing the crowd before addressing the community!

                                Speaking of the crowd, they swarmed the vehicles almost everywhere we went!

                                Speaking of the crowd, they swarmed the vehicles almost everywhere we went!

                                                     There was a party anywhere Aaron went!

                                                     There was a party anywhere Aaron went!

                      As security runs to our truck, a choir is coming to escort Aaron to his next meeting.

                      As security runs to our truck, a choir is coming to escort Aaron to his next meeting.

Making Connections!

Aaron would be introduced by several local political leaders before making a speech to the crowd. It became very apparent that the current member of parliament was not well liked. Often, in Malawi, dissatisfied constituents call their representative an “Honorable Member of Parliament” which is derogatory slang for a representative that fails to deliver on their promises while receiving all the benefits of office. As we drove around the district, we observed several half-completed and abandoned projects started by Aaron’s rival but never finished.

 Aaron addressing one of the communities. The areas Chiefs would introduce him sit with him and the community would sit on the ground listening to his speach.

 Aaron addressing one of the communities. The areas Chiefs would introduce him sit with him and the community would sit on the ground listening to his speach.

       The crowds seemed receptive to his message.

       The crowds seemed receptive to his message.

One meeting started with an impromptu dance party!

One meeting started with an impromptu dance party!

Politics, Party, and .......... Punches to the Face?

The week ended at a traditional chief induction ceremony, which is a huge party, complete with masked dancers and a parade. This was exciting, as not many foreigners get to see these events, not to mention have full access to photograph them. This is because many of the traditional areas are so close to urban centers that noise complaints, and taxes on gifts provided the chief to help recoup the cost of ceremonies have prevented the free expression of culture. It is, sadly, a dying part of Malawian culture, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to share it with y’all.

                                         The new chief watches the ceremony and political speeches.

                                         The new chief watches the ceremony and political speeches.

Before the dancing and speeches a parade took place in the nearby village.

Before the dancing and speeches a parade took place in the nearby village.

Every mask is designed to tell a story or convey a certain idea to the audience.

Every mask is designed to tell a story or convey a certain idea to the audience.

he dancers with their masks walked with the crowd to the house of the new chief before parading to the event.

he dancers with their masks walked with the crowd to the house of the new chief before parading to the event.

Unfortunately, these cultural events are becoming rare as municipalities expand. New taxes and noise ordinances are preventing many communities from having dances. 

Unfortunately, these cultural events are becoming rare as municipalities expand. New taxes and noise ordinances are preventing many communities from having dances. 

As we pulled up a huge crowd surrounded the truck, and our security had to pull people off of the truck. They all wanted to see Aaron! It was a bit scary trying to get through the press of people to our seats.

As we arrived, the crowed swarmed the truck to look at Aaron. The situation became tense, as we had to walk through the crowd to our seats. Poor Benjamin became scared and had to be held tightly by his daddy!

As we arrived, the crowed swarmed the truck to look at Aaron. The situation became tense, as we had to walk through the crowd to our seats. Poor Benjamin became scared and had to be held tightly by his daddy!

Riding next me on the outside of the truck, one of Aaron's supporters wears a traditional headband. 

Riding next me on the outside of the truck, one of Aaron's supporters wears a traditional headband. 

This security guard, rode on the roof of our truck trying to order the crowd back. Shortly there after, we had to abandon the vehicles and make our way by foot.

This security guard, rode on the roof of our truck trying to order the crowd back. Shortly there after, we had to abandon the vehicles and make our way by foot.

The parade to the event was full of singing, dancing, and drinking of a locally brewed beer!

The parade to the event was full of singing, dancing, and drinking of a locally brewed beer!

Despite trying to keep politics out of the event, the ceremony turned into a tense standoff between Aaron and his rival. They both made speeches to the crowd, which included an event where they threw money onto a blanket to help the new chief recoup the costs of the ceremony. Unfortunately, the crowd behind me surged forward to try to take some of the money, and I found myself surrounded by fist fights, and people being whipped with sticks by event security. It was a bit tense, but did make for some good picture taking opportunities. Eventually, the crowd calmed and Arron’s rival, seeing his support, left the event!

Both candidates addressed the crowed before the event started.

Both candidates addressed the crowed before the event started.

 Aaron and his rival, seen here, both made concerted efforts to avoid politics, but, ultimately had to make speaches to the crowd!

 Aaron and his rival, seen here, both made concerted efforts to avoid politics, but, ultimately had to make speaches to the crowd!

To help recoup the cost of the ceremony, both canidates participated in a ceremony, throwing cash on a blanket while dancing. Unfortunately, the crowd, many already intoxicated, surged forward to try and grab some of the money! 

To help recoup the cost of the ceremony, both canidates participated in a ceremony, throwing cash on a blanket while dancing. Unfortunately, the crowd, many already intoxicated, surged forward to try and grab some of the money! 

 A man runs forward through the crowd to grab money.

 A man runs forward through the crowd to grab money.

Security is trying to break up the fights and move people away from the canidates.

Security is trying to break up the fights and move people away from the canidates.

An argument broke out between party goers that soon turned to fist fights.

An argument broke out between party goers that soon turned to fist fights.

This gentleman, helped shield me from the fighting that broke out around, me so I could concentrate on photographing. Thanks, man!

This gentleman, helped shield me from the fighting that broke out around, me so I could concentrate on photographing. Thanks, man!

The Dance!

Soon the tension dissipated and the revelry continued as traditional masked dancers performed for the crowd, with one performing magic by turning sand into sugar. The dancers scaled tall poles and performed acrobatics high above the crowd’s heads, secured only by a single rope tied to their ankle. 

                                                         Magic sugar, being sprinkled in front of me!

                                                         Magic sugar, being sprinkled in front of me!

The dancers climbed these thin poles and did acrobatics.

The dancers climbed these thin poles and did acrobatics.

The crowd surrounded the poles and danced as the masked dancers swung above them!

The crowd surrounded the poles and danced as the masked dancers swung above them!

As the sun set you can see the silhouette of the thin rope securing the dancers.  

As the sun set you can see the silhouette of the thin rope securing the dancers.  

                The crowed gathered around to see traditional dances performed by the masked performers. 

                The crowed gathered around to see traditional dances performed by the masked performers. 

We only stayed a short time, as Aaron worried for our safety due to the failing light and intoxicated crowd. Again, as we left, we were surrounded by the crowd and had difficulty getting the truck through. As we drove away one of Aarons political supporters clung to the side of the car and sang songs to Ben about the campaign, and asking God to ensure Ben’s safety and health.

                                                Supporters cling to the outside of Aaron's truck.

                                                Supporters cling to the outside of Aaron's truck.

                                                A child peers into the truck to get a look at Benjamin.

                                                A child peers into the truck to get a look at Benjamin.

I’ve always hated the term “poor” to describe people who are from a lower economic stratum. While, the people of Mchinji live in poverty, even by Malawi standards, they are not poor. They exhibit a richness of character, warmth of heart, and strength of purpose, all the while working to improve their families’ lives with dignity and resolve. We met people who draw water from holes in the ground, or live with terrible infections due to inadequate access to basic medical care, but, despite these conditions treated my family, especially Ben, with kindness and love.

Again, Ben making a friend. Another boy, on the left, kept jumping into the frame to make funny faces.

Again, Ben making a friend. Another boy, on the left, kept jumping into the frame to make funny faces.

 Two local children trying to sneak a peek at Aaron.

 Two local children trying to sneak a peek at Aaron.

One of Aaron's supporters resting after dancing and singing for hours outside of the building he was in.

One of Aaron's supporters resting after dancing and singing for hours outside of the building he was in.

      Ben, has followers everywhere he goes!

      Ben, has followers everywhere he goes!

I’m very happy to report that after speaking to WaterStep about Mchinji, they have donated systems that should be delivered in the next couple weeks. From there, with Aaron’s help, we will create a local team that will continue to work with myself and WaterStep to address the areas water and sanitation issues. I will continue provide updates on our Mchinji project and Aarons campaign, so stay tuned!