October 15, 2004
An Afternoon at Sanjika Palace
Last week my Irish Presbyterian friends called and asked if I would like to go to Sanjika Palace for a Charity Fundraising Tea with the First Lady of Malawi. Of course I said, “Yes!”so on Wednesday Debbie Soye (she is from Northern Ireland and her husband works in the Synod Projects office, her daughter Emma and Brooke have become good friends) and I drove across Blantyre to the event.
We were told that about 900 women would be there and that we should bring either a farm implement or a monetary donation. I wanted to bring a hoe, but I was afraid that it wouldn’t get through security. The embossed invitation told us that we should wear “native dress or smart causal”So we both wore linen dresses, mine was yellow, hers was black. (Sorry men, but women always like to know what people were wearing.)
We passed through a huge gate, guarded by soldiers, and drove down a jacinth tree lined road, which was absolutely lovely, because the natalensis trees were in bloom and are a lovely shade of deep lavender. We parked and then walked up through another security gate and metal detector.
Then we walked about a kilometer up to the “back yard”of the palace. We really couldn’t see the palace very well because of the lush vegetation, but it was huge. There was a back porch on the palace which had a long table set up for the First Lady and her guests with additional seating for VIPs on the side. The rest of us were seated on plastic chairs a few dozen yards away. There were tents set up around the perimeter of the lawn, and gardens surrounding them. I was told that it takes 150 gardeners to care for them.
Our invitations told us to be there by 2:00 p.m., but things didn’t get underway until 2:45 when the First Lady descended a long stone stairway through the garden to the porch. A young woman served as mistress of ceremonies, and did a very good job of introducing guests and events and making sure that we knew what was going on.
The program was started with prayer. The woman who prayed was very eloquent and impassioned, and talked about improving women’s lives in Malawi.
We then watched native Malawian dancers, listened to the Blantyre United Choir sing a song about “Jesu,”watched a graceful Indian dancer, heard a local band play and then heard two comedians entertain the crowd. They spoke in Chichewa, so only half the crowd could really understand them, but fortunately a lovely Malawian woman sitting next to me from St. Columba CCAP translated for me.
After a few speakers, Madame Ethel Mutharika, the First Lady of Malawi, spoke to us from her seat on the podium. (She was wearing a long sleeved, floor length lavender chiffon dress) She explained to us why she was hosting this Charity Fundraising Tea. She said the women of Malawi are among the poorest in Africa. This is especially true in the rural areas. She is starting a foundation which has purchased large tracts of land in the North, South and Central regions of Malawi. With the tools and money collected, women of those areas will be able to grow food for their families, and extra food to sell. She hopes that this will alleviate many of the problems in those areas. She graciously thanked everyone for their support, and expressed her pleasure with the fact that women from so many countries had come together to help other women.
Then the First Lady came down from the podium and started to go to the booths that had been set up under the tents. Twenty seven countries were represented. People from each nation had prepared snacks to be eaten by the ladies during “tea time.”After Madame Mutharika and her entourage made the rounds of the tables, it was our turn. The tables were mobbed with hundreds of women (if the tables had been spread out more, it wouldn’t have been so crowded), but the food was delicious. We sampled things like cassava from Niger, scones and strawberry jam from Great Britain, cream puffs from Sweden, vegetable triangles from India, windmill cookies from the Netherlands, brownies from the USA, and crepes filled with coconut from Burundi. It was really amazing. Tea and coffee were served in gold trimmed china cups.
On top of that, it was probably the most colorful event that I have ever attended. (Sorry guys, here comes more about the clothes.) Many people were in beautiful native costumes. The scores of Indian women had on yellow and maroon and lime green silk saris trimmed with ornate bead and lace work. The Finns were wearing aprons with delicate embroidery, the South Africans, Malawians, Nigerians and other Africans were decked out in their gorgeous eyelet lace and gold trimmed native costumes, complete with elaborate headdresses. It was really amazing to see.
But the best part of the day was just what the First Lady said, it was really inspirational to see hundreds of women from every walk of life, from scores of countries, and many religions come together and help women who were in need of assistance. We were all there to help.
It was a day I will never forget.