March 1, 2005
You would think that after more than seven months of living here in Malawi, we would be getting used to the African way of doing things. We are not. Well, that is not entirely true. We enjoy many things about this culture, but other things still drive us crazy.
As Americans, we are used to keeping tight schedules. School, meetings, church, and other functions start on time and last for the scheduled amount of time. If they did not, there would be complaints and problems. We use personal calendars and palm pilots to keep our lives operating smoothly.
As we have told you, here in Malawi, things are much more laid back. Church can start up to an hour late. Dan sometimes goes to scheduled meetings and is the only one there. We can wait for hours in line at the bank and the “Express” line in the grocery store means nothing – people with overflowing carts sally up to the cashier. You would think that we would be used to things that take more time, but often, we are not. I will give you an example of this.
On Friday night Dan and I were invited to a fund raising dinner for St. Michaels and All Angels CCAP Church. They are building a beautiful new church/multi-purpose hall on the Synod grounds. The dinner was held at the upscale Mt. Soche Hotel. Our tickets said it started at 7:00 p.m., and the pastor of the church, who asked Dan to do the opening prayer, said that we would be home by no later than 9:00 p.m.
We arrived what we thought was fashionably late at 7:15 p.m. and there were about three other people in the huge banquet hall. People did not really start arriving until about 8:00 p.m. The Master of Ceremonies asked Dan if he would mind doing the benediction since the pastor scheduled to do it did not show up. Dan agreed.
We were given a program which listed the order of events for the evening. They included five musical groups, Bible Recitations, a speech by the “Special Honored Guest,” prayers, several collections, a raffle drawing, and opening and closing remarks. We knew immediately that it would be a long evening, but we were not prepared for just how long.
Dinner was scheduled for 7:30 p.m., but we started eating at 8:30 p.m. According to the printed schedule, the function was not supposed to be over until 11:00 p.m. (Why were we told that we would be home by 9:00 p.m.???) Anyway, we sat at the head table, and so were called to the buffet first. There was a lovely arrangement of starters (appetizers) and a long line of chafing dishes. However, the only thing you were allowed to get on your first pass through, was soup. Neither Dan nor I wanted soup since it had been a very hot day, but we took small bowls and had to make subsequent trips back for the rest of our food. We could live with that, but we thought it was odd.
The honored guest who spoke after dinner was a professor from the Medical College here in Blantyre and he gave a very interesting speech on HIV/AIDS. One in four people in Blantyre is infected with HIV/AIDS. Young women are most at risk. It is really crippling Malawi.
After that the Sunday School choir sang. It was really fun to see some of the neighborhood kids and Brooke and Heather’s friends perform so well. Then a mother-daughter group and the Mvano choir sang. The woman who performed after that, sang with all her heart. You could tell she really meant every word. Unfortunately, even I could tell that she was horribly off key. She sang two long numbers.
While these musical numbers went on, the attendees were asked to bring up their offerings and place them in big baskets. This was really fun to see. Although we just walked up and dropped our money in, most people danced right up and threw their Kwacha in time to the music. It was a real celebration, and since everyone was dressed up, with lots of “traditional” clothing, it was extremely colorful as well. It was a wonderful example of joyful giving. By the time that this ended, however, it was well after 10:00 p.m. (Dan and I are usually asleep by 9:00 p.m. because days start so early here.)
Some very generous people had donated 17 door prizes so they brought out a drum with a handle and put all the tickets in. (In the states, that would have been done ahead of time.) Then they asked for volunteers to come up and pick out the winning numbers. The problem was, Malawians do not like to call attention to themselves, so no one volunteered. Finally, they decided that each table, in turn, would send someone up. Often it took five or ten minutes for a table to decide who should go up and draw the number. Then it took another five minutes for the winners to slowly make their way up to claim their prize and be congratulated. Then they would ask the next table to send someone up… You get the picture. In America the whole thing would have taken half an hour, at most. It took more than an hour.
By this time I was fidgeting and ready to go home. Dan glared at me. He is more used to long drawn out events here than I am. But we were not even close to being done. There was another Bible recitation (in Chichewa) which was delivered with gusto. I think it was an entire chapter from Jeremiah, but I am not sure. Then three of the musical groups were asked to come up and perform again. They were “back by popular demand.” I think I actually moaned when the off key woman went up to the mike. Dan glowered at me again, but he was tired and grumpy by this time too. Actually, many of the Malawians were getting up and leaving when it got to be after 11:00 p.m. Even the guest of honor left.
After the thank you and farewell speeches, when Dan got up to give the benediction, the only people left at the head table were the Merrys and the Master of Ceremony. We scooted out as soon as the final hymn was sung. It was midnight. The church raised over $2,000 for their building fund.
I am used to, and actually enjoy, the typical three or four hour Celebrations of Worship here (unless it is sweltering in the sanctuary), but there are still some times when I want to scream, “If you were more organized, this would run much more efficiently!!!!!” Then I think about the exuberant dancers, and the earnest, off key singer. The people here don’t worry about deadlines and timelines, they concentrate more on matters of the heart and faith. Maybe we should too.
Better yet, maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle.