April 22, 2005
One of the best decisions that we have made during our year here in Malawi was inviting the Banda family to be our neighbors. When we hired Alfred Banda, his wife Margaret and children, Ruth (7), Chrismon (4), Dauphine (3) and the baby, Ellen, moved into the small house on the property. (Alfred’s niece is currently living with them as well.)
Over the course of the past nine months, we have come to know the family well. Heather and Brooke come home from school each day and play with the children. They teach each other English and Chichewa. Heather reads storybooks to them over and over. If Dauphine is grouchy, Brooke will give here a piece of bread. Eating always cheers her up. Heather loves to hold Ellen. This gives Margaret time to do some cooking and household chores.
I just love to hear the children’s laughter outside our windows. We have given them toys, but they often play with bottles, boxes and bags that we have discarded. As our wall was being built, they used the piles of sand as a giant sandbox. Heather and Brooke taught them how to play “King of the Hill,” on them. They in turn, have taught us how to harvest mangoes, paw-paws and avocados from the tree tops.
When the family first arrived, they showed signs of malnutrition, and when they came back from an extended visit to their village in February they told us that there was no “ufa,” or corn flour in the bush. We make sure that they have plenty of food. When a church gives Dan a chicken, it goes straight to the Bandas, as do extra tangerines, bananas, pumpkins and pineapples. We tell them to help themselves to produce from our garden as well. Margaret uses the beet greens and Chinese cabbage to make relish for her family.
When our electricity goes out, Margaret fires up her charcoal stove for me so I can cook dinner for our company on it. Dan and Alfred enjoy each other’s sense of humor and are always making each other laugh. When our gardener, Michael, was sick, Margaret swept the yard and the kids opened and closed the gates for us. We have met their relatives who come for visits and they have greeted our relatives warmly.
When you live this close to another family, however, you get to know each other, warts and all. They hear our family “discussions” from time to time. We, in turn, have witnessed huge blowouts between Alfred and Margaret.
However, recently we were all working on a project together that epitomized our relationship. Dan decided to use the broken bricks and gravel left over from building our security wall to fill in some low spots in the driveway. He and Alfred were shoveling it into the wheelbarrow. Brooke was raking it smooth on the driveway. The children rushed over to help with the project. They grabbed small plastic bags and filled them with stones, and then carefully carried them over to Brooke. It was so precious!
Throughout the year the Bandas have been teaching us about their language, their culture, and their customs. The most important thing that they have shown us, however, is how to be a good neighbor.