They Call It “The Bush”

Living in the city of a developing country can be a funny thing. One day in church an announcement was made about a Malawian who was marrying a Mozambican and everyone laughed. I leaned over to the person next to me and asked, “Why is everyone laughing?” “Mozambique is the bush.”

We have a friend from Zambia who is quick to reminds us, compared to Lusaka, Lilongwe is the bush. I have yet to hear someone describe their own home as the bush—most are proud of their village heritage. But there is always somewhere farther away or worse off. Everyone has a place to pity.

The dichotomy between life in Lilongwe and life on the outskirts is shocking. Unlike the established world, where the rich often seek to live away from city centers (i.e. the houses with the best views, most land, etc.), in poorer countries the wealthy seek to move closer to the busyness. Here, the urban are wealthy.

A week ago Hailey and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in the bush. We have spent plenty of time in villages that border main towns— still villages, just ones with the benefit of living near developed roads which weakens the blow of poverty. Some suggest that infrastructure improvements—like paved roads— are the key to helping countries like Malawi become self-sufficient (I don’t disagree, but the corruption in the county has to be discussed as well—a topic for another post).

My friend Sydney had been lobbying for me to come visit and preach at his church, Chamatao C.C.A.P., for some time. And we agreed that early in the new year was the best time.

After two cramped bus rides and a three hour adventure in a flat bed truck we arrived at the Mdoni Trading Center. We stopped and five or six people began unloading some supplies we had picked up along the way. Fuel for a generator, a few bags of fertilizer and some tools—all necessities for a distant rural community.

Sydney’s house and church sit on a few acres of ridiculously fertile soil. Fields of tobacco as far as the eye can see. Corn is the main food produced and consumed in Malawi, but tobacco is the cash crop. While there is no excuse for the greed and injustice of large cigarette companies, seeing fields of the cancerous plant is oddly breath taking.

In the distance were the Chipata Mountains, Nkhotakota and Lake Malawi. In the 19th century Nkhotakota served as a major slave trade center. Thousands were captured and shipped across Lake Malawi to Tanzania and Mozambique, where they were forced to walk to the shores of the Indian Ocean before boarding boats to be sold in Arabic nations. Tragic.

Sydney’s family welcomed us and neighborhood children sprinted toward the truck as we unloaded our things. The negative impact visiting missionaries and aid organizations have had on developing countries is most apparent in the way its children react to visitors. Most kids have been conditioned to beg for money because, at one point or another, someone gave an older brother or sister a hand out. In many ways, we have ourselves to blame for being seen as an “endless resource.” Not here. These kids were simply curious.

We bathed in water drawn from the community borehole and warmed on a fire before eating dinner. By the time I got in the bathroom the sky was a mix of deep purples, blues and greys. I closed the door of the bathroom, took off my shirt and noticed I wasn’t alone. CHICKENS! I opened the door and our hosts were laughing–not sure if it was a joke or just a routine occurance. Something tells me, when bathing with birds, one doesn’t get too clean.

Sydney’s boys spent an hour firing up the generator, a rare treat reserved for holidays and visitors. Then, as if it were a game, they swung at the bugs attracted to the light from the naked bulb hanging over our heads.

The night rain panged off the sheet metal roof and kept us awake for hours. I preached the next morning and we were once again humbled by the gift-giving sprit of the Malawian people—eggs, bananas, mangos and chitenge.

We spent the rest of the day walking in the market and tobacco fields. Sydney told me of his plans for the church and of the challenges of working in a place as poor as Chamatao. A man met us, bought us cokes and we sat on a porch—the white guy on display for the entire market.

It didn’t rain that night. It felt like I had just fallen asleep when I heard Sydney’s voice, “Dave?!?” The sun was ascending over the mountains and the flatbed had arrived for our journey home.