Parents, Pencils and Pneumonia

(Mom and Steve at Kumbali Cultural Center)

First of all, it’s absolutely fabulous to have my mom and Steve here in Malawi. There’s nothing better than coming home from a long day’s work and seeing my mom and Koshie entertaining themselves on my back patio, admiring the endless species of birds that cohabitate in my yard. Each morning I’ve been waking up to the sounds of not only beautiful bird songs but also to my mom screaming, “Oh My God – Do you know how RARE that bird is? I LOVE IT HERE!”

(Mom ecstatic with the African music)

And mom’s enthusiasm is contagious. She greets everyone with a bright and cheery, “Good Morning, how are you?” and “IT’S BEAUTIFUL HERE!” I can’t help but smile as I see Malawians beam with pride and grin from ear to ear. In general, Malawians are rather reserved people and probably have never met anyone even remotely similar to Mayday!

(Mom with the Guluwankuli)

And my staff just adores her! Elizabeth, my housekeeper, always says to me, “I love your mom”; and Koshie has been having a hayday with Hendrix, my gardener. And the guards are beside themselves as my mom goes out of her way to feed them each day!

(Mom in Salima)

Granted, when mom and Steve first arrived they witnessed their first quintessential African experience – the guards were on strike! As it stands, the guards work 16 hour days, 7 days a week and earn the equivalence of $35/month. I am all for the strike and desperately hope their wages are raised.

(Mom and Steve at Senga Bay)

However, I think my mom and Steve were a little worried as the guards feared for their safety. One of my guards came to work one day and said, “I’m sorry, madam, but I must go – there’s a mob of guards patrolling the streets and beating up any guards that are still at their posts.”

(Amy and Mom at Safari Beach Lodge)

I wasn’t too worried about the guard’s strike – but I did think that if there were ever a time to attack an Embassy home, during the strike would be ideal!

(Mom at Senga Bay)

And just when I thought the situation was tapering off, I received a phone call from Post One (the embassy) saying that guards were gathering at the corner of Zomba and Blantyre streets (which is literally down the street) and throwing rocks at any Embassy vehicle that drove by. Despite the docile culture of the Malawians, mob mentalities can be frightening.

(Kids in Area 18)

Alas, things are slowly back to ‘normal’ and the guards have agreed to postpone their strike for another day (and I do believe that they will receive a small wage increase – not nearly enough but at least it’s a start).


On another note, my mom brought hundreds of pencils to distribute in Malawi. In one of her emails, she noted the following observations:

(Distributing Pencils in Area 18)

“To deliver pencils showed me the true poverty and true Africa.
Everywhere we went last year, we encountered children who would ask for pencils….so I was determined to bring hundreds of pencils with me this year. Students at SMEast donated, as did my book club and friends….so believe me, I was armed with pencils….maybe 500 – 1000 pencils.


Hendrix, Amy’s gardener, led us to his village…again, hidden, from all sight…until we went down the rutted roads, teeming with people.

(Hendrix handing out pencils)


He had announced that we were coming to distribute pencils, and within minutes of our arrival…HUNDREDS of children showed up. COMPLETE CHAOS….MOB RIOTING…UNCONTROLLABLE CROWDS…This was only for pencils….I couldn’t envision what would have occurred for food or shoes!”


This experience opened her eyes to how the majority of people live in Malawi. As a visitor, it’s very easy to be disillusioned by the luxurious lifestyles of the ex-pat community, the National Parks, and the ‘mazungu’ restaurants.

Tomorrow I’m taking Steve to Kamuzu Central Hospital to see first hand what dentistry looks like in Malawi. Kamal, a dear friend of mine who also happens to be a dentist, has offered to show Steve the challenges of having a dental practice in Africa.
(Friends over at the house)

Finally, I’m starting to feel better – health wise. I had been diagnosed with pneumonia, which explains why I’ve been so ill for the past seven weeks. Perhaps it’s my mother’s love that has ultimately healed me. Regardless, I’m almost back to ‘normal’ and grateful for the energy that I’m slowly regaining.
(Kate, Amy and Ann)

Sending much love,

1 comment to Parents, Pencils and Pneumonia

  • Jana Cox

    i just love reading your blog.
    it sounds like things are really shaping up nicely for you.
    i’m very happy for that.
    take care and keep posting!
    –jana, in austin 🙂

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