Thoughts about Malawi

-July

Flimsy blue chair pressed against warm iron walls.

Blue sky, no clouds.

Bees buzzing, butterflies flitting.

A multitude of voices, chasing each other on the backs of a steady breeze.

Maize leaves rustling, a thief in the field.

Creaking iron doors, a hammer beating a nail into shape.

Daisies growing, red dirt blowing.

Hot sun shining, temperature climbing inside my shipping container, turned soap factory.

Wooden shelves all around, holding bottles, molds, and rubber gloves

Soap stacked in neat rows, soap spilled in tangled piles.

Square bars, carefully cut. Round balls, made from scraps.  Hot to the touch, fresh soap curing and covered by a rat-chewed maroon blanket. 

Smells have mingled. Sweet lemongrass, fresh mint, dark chocolate and coffee. But also petrol, in dirty plastic jerry cans.

Lab coats hang, freshly laundered, a table is strewn with a cutting board, a baker’s scale, and hundreds of small soap scraps. Soft dots of fresh orchid, big chunks of dried out pine, and a thin layer of cinnamon, smeared underneath it all.

My office is here, on a blue plastic lawn chair with a laptop on my knees. The soap has been poured, the utensils are clean.

I will be back again soon to finish the job.

 

This nation is beautiful, and I love the sky and the warmth and the peace.

But there is a wound here too.

Beggars with no feet, crawling on the street.

Thirteen-year-old girls married to chiefs.

Trash on the ground, busses broken down.

 

How does me making soap help anyone in those situations?

 

-February

The rain comes pouring, from night till morning.

The power is on, a streak of three days.

Humidity is high, and so is the maize.

Things are green, I watch new life grow.

Sticky mud floors and a leaky grass roof.

The sound of water running through a house.

The river running through the mud road is clogged with trash.

Children playing with old tires and bottle caps.

Music blaring from broken speakers at the barbershop.

Goat liver on a skewer over an open fire.

Waves of smell and flashes of color at the market.

Dried fish in piles, dirty lumps that might be potatoes.

Green peppers and red tomatoes, precariously piled.

Smelly secondhand clothes, jeans for a dollar, shirts for a quarter.

Fresh cooked french-fries, day old donuts, or boiled eggs if I’m hungry.

Dzaleka Refugee Camp is always moving.

People are always working, full of new ideas.

 

It’s a new year, with new goals, and things are looking up.

This year I spend more time in the camp, but less time making soap.

I spend more time with people, trying to bring hope.

 

In the office I count things, I track things, and I project things.

I enter numbers in Excel, letters in Word, and pictures in Photoshop.

I meet business partners, beneficiaries, and potential employees.

My days are very busy.

 

With the rain comes the full spectrum of color.

Not only shades of green, but also yellow, orange and, red.

I don’t eat candy; I eat these colored fruits instead.

Apples, oranges, pineapples, bananas, mangos, papayas, avocados, and melons, I live in a tropical paradise.

 

But more fruit is growing.

I see signs of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

 

Things are still not ok.

Mothers still prostitute themselves to feed their children.

Husbands still misrepresent themselves to gain your trust.

People still line up for hours to get their portion of food that will last them half the month.

Invisible walls still fence in the innovation of businesspeople.

 

But.

 

Things do change.

In the face of seemingly impossible challenges, a business grows from a dream into reality.

Pigs are having babies, and their owners hope for profits.

Thousands of products are produced and sold.

Tomatoes are growing, and the profits will be used to send children in the village to school.

Soap is finally washing the hands of people in the camp.

And There is Hope for transformation.