July 6th is Malawi’s Independence Day so we’ve been able to see some celebrations! On our first drive up to Mzuzu we saw two guys walking barefoot in the bush (I have shoes that can’t handle the bush so I can’t imagine how tough their feet must be) with skull masks, red feather loincloth type things, red feather anklets, and were carrying spears. One member in the car commented that they weren’t humans but animals. That struck me as odd but I didn’t think much about it. On Thursday on our way back home we stopped in Mchinji at the Chapamba’s clinic. While we were leaving, Patricia pointed out a guy (he looked young, maybe around 14) who was wearing a maize bag tied around his head, a large black cloth tied around his face so all we could see were his eyes, no shirt, and had black stripes and dots painted all over him. The rest of him was real ashy. She asked what we’d call him in the States and having no clue what was going on we just assumed crazy. That got his attention (much to my freaked out dismay) and he came over. Patricia gave him some money but didn’t hand it to him. She walked up and set it on the ground a few feet from him then once she backed up he bowed and picked it up. Because he was really ashy, had his face completely covered, and people were scared to go near him I thought that maybe he was leprous or maybe just crazy? But Patricia said that he was an animal and that’s why she couldn’t touch him. Well, I was totally confused and a bit taken back by my friend’s actions so she laughed and explained. Around holidays people will celebrate by dressing up as the Chewa tribe’s Gule Wamkulu dancers and dancing. After she gave him the money he started dancing then another one came over and they danced for a while (the video is on my Facebook page) then got more money and left. So it’s kind of like people dressing up as Native Americans and Pilgrims for Thanksgiving, just two weeks in advance.
The real Gule Wamkulu dancers are really interesting. The main tribe in the middle of Malawi is the Chewa tribe and the people who we saw on the way to Mzuzu were part of the tribe. When people are dressing up like the dancers around holidays it’s just for fun, but the real dancers do it seriously and wear masks and kick up dirt to hide themselves from evil spirits. If that wasn’t freaky enough for the American me, they’ve also been known to grab people and take them for a while.
Thursday was an interesting day. A loved member in our congregation is suffering from cancer and the treatments here in Lilongwe aren’t helping to destroy the cancer but rather to make him comfortable. We got him an appointment in a clinic in Zambia so he could get a referral to go to a different Zambian hospital and start getting treatment to destroy the cancer (I still don’t understand the whole process). We drove to the Zambian border where we were told we shouldn’t go through the border but on this dirt road to the left because that was the only way to get to the clinic. We started off and found ourselves on the harshest road we’ve ever been in. Our trusty Bongo hit more than a few rocks and knocked some parts loose. It’s not looking like it's in too good of shape right now! But we eventually got to the clinic, found out we were in Zambia, and everything went rather smoothly from there on out.
Things have been a bit tense around here. The minibus drivers like to cram their buses as full as possible, which is of course illegal. Recently the cops have been cracking down on overcrowded vehicles and drunk driving. Because of that, the mini bus drivers are not too happy and have been having not so peaceful demonstrations. At least three police stations in Blantyre have been burnt down and minibus drivers have been blocking the roads and charging motorists 500mk (about .80 cents) to pass their barricades. We heard news of demonstrations yesterday and today but they were called off. Thankfully Lilongwe has been peaceful!