Categories
Malawi politics Travel

Jesus is alive, Bin Laden’s dead & Britain got the boot.

It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted a blog (And this one is being posted after 1 AM, so I blame any crazy statements or grammatical errors on the time). The truth is, any spare moment I have found over that time has gone to sleeping or eating. The last two Saturday nights I slept a total of 9 hours and then worked 14+ hour Sundays (sleep deprived sermons may entertaining to some, but they can be painful for the preacher).

Between teaching at JMTI, ministry at Lingadzi, getting ready for a Mission Trip to Mozambique and preparing for the arrival of a team from LJPC, I’ve had little time to process the world’s happenings or my own experiences. I haven’t written much, which is a shame because there has been a lot going on.

Jesus rose from the grave, Bin Laden was killed and the High Commissioner of Britain was kicked out of Malawi.

Easter was insane here. From Friday morning to Sunday night it was non-stop. I preached a ton, prayed with people and saw God move in ways I had never experienced. I’m glad I got to celebrate the risen Lord in such a different setting. God continues to show me how important it is to get outside of the bubble of Western Christendom. Too often, we get stuck on the church looking one way or another, and because of it we miss out on the diversity of the Already-but Not Yet Kingdom.

Almost exactly a week after celebrating Easter, I woke up to the news of Bin Laden’s death. I quickly turned on the BBC and, like many, had conflicting emotions as I watched people celebrate on the streets in New York and in front of the White House. The feelings continued as I read hundreds of posts, passages from the Bible taken completely out of context and mis-quotations on facebook and twitter.

I have plenty of opinions about celebrating the death of Bin Laden. I just don’t think a blog is an adequate place to talk about them (some of us still believe in face to face conversation…). I will say this, some of what was said, in both camps, was absolutely ridiculous.

In the last 8 months there have been a few days where I haven’t minded living outside of the U.S. May 1st can be added to that list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be an American and I definitely miss A LOT about living in such a great place, but it is refreshing to be in a country that doesn’t think it is at the center of the universe. I imagine, for many, the world stopped moving when Obama made his announcement. I could be wrong (and correct me if I am), but I bet 99% of the conversations at work on Monday started with something about Bin Laden, Fox News’s many mis-haps or Seal Team Six.

Friends back home have asked me what the reaction was like here. The death was definitely acknowledged by Malawians. And while I heard a few conspiracy theories, for the most part it was “he was a terrible man, a threat to the entire world and he is now dead.” No cheering. No morning. That was it.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy sent out a few emails (because of both Bin Laden and the public’s recent frustration toward the Malawian President). Here are a few lines from one of them:

According to Embassy sources and police reports, the Embassy has learned that demonstrations may be held tomorrow…We remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.  We urge any American citizen to avoid large gatherings.

So, what did I do? I took a trip to a Muslim village to talk with a pastor about a future outreach. I’m not saying I’m some sort of crazy rebel or anything (far from it actually); sometimes things just need to be put in proper perspective. The pastor we visited talked about his fears he had before he moved to the congregation a year and a half earlier…and then explained how unreasonable they were. He loves his Muslim neighbors. Some have even come to know Christ.

No one in their right mind would argue with the idea that what occurred on September 11th, 2001 was tragic. But what is as close to as tragic to the actual event is the amount of right-minded people making completely irrational stereotypes and generalizations out of a fear of what (or who) they are scared of getting to know.

Categories
Malawi Ministry preaching Theology Uncategorized

Altar Call Anxiety

I know it is a pastor’s job to introduce people to Christ. For most, the
chance to preach the message of grace is at the heart of our calling.

Yet, I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the “saved” terminology tossed out by most evangelical speakers at camps and conferences. We often throw it out like it’s one of those orange and white life-saving rescue rings. The chance to “get saved” is flung out over the side of the boat, and all the person drowning has to do is hold on for dear life.

For a moment the rescued feel safe. Tears of joy stream down their face as they are reeled in from the stormy waters. Death has been averted…for now. Once back on the boat they realize the boat isn’t really the safe haven they had envisioned. Open waters call their name and, soon enough, they’re back in the drink.

Again the life buoy is thrown out to them and, once again, they’ll be pulled back to safety.  Oh, to “be saved” once again. They’ll limp down the aisle toward the pastor and will hear the same message they heard the year before, pray the same prayer and re-accept the same Christ into their hearts. They are convinced; this time it will be different.

Tomorrow, revival season begins in Malawi. From Friday to Monday groups will gather in homes, churches and large fields. People will sing for hours on end. Both good and bad sermons will be preached. And people will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This Easter season I will experience Christ’s resurrection in an entirely new way. At Lingadzi there are four preaching teams that will be sent out to each of the church’s places of worship. I am leading one of the teams.

At the end of every gathering my job is to summarize what the three preachers before me said (a difficult task considering they will all be speaking Chichewa) and to offer an altar call. I’m all for the message of grace reaching people in a new way. I’m all for people accepting Christ into their lives and having it change the way that they live. What I am not about (and am fact terrified of) is cheapening the death of Christ by turning it into a dog and pony show.

Jesus died once for our sin but the need for repentance is constant.

When guilt—more than grace—drives people to the altar, Jesus is nothing more than an artificial life raft. He may save us, but he is no longer the one who gives abundant life.

We need to preach that no matter what a person has done in the past—no matter how they have screwed up or fallen short—that they are still loved by Christ. Yet, at the same time, we need to preach that the grace that Jesus offers is costly and demands us to become imitators of the One who calls us to put on faith, hope and love.

Categories
Malawi Ministry preaching Theology

Oh Death, Where is They Sting?

In life, “nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” Usually when people quote Mr. Franklin’s famous words during this time of year it is in a complaint about giving money to the government. While many tax themselves greatly to find ways to get out of paying one’s full duty, none of us can cheat death (unless we are Elijah, who didn’t die but rode off to heaven in a flaming chariot).

I am learning a lot about death in Malawi. For Malawians, death happens on a daily basis. Last Monday, the Masina family told me one of their cousins had just died from Malaria. She was two. Later that day I found out that one of my colleagues at the theological college lost his wife. She was 57. Africa is the only continent in the world where the life expectancy is still under 60 (I read today that in Swaziland it is 30…I turn 30 in a month).

As I sat with my friend Vasco at Mrs. Chikoti’s funeral we talked about the high mortality rate. He told me that there are hundreds a day in Lilongwe alone. He also said funerals are expensive and a burden to most families. He said, that before he would be able to actually mourn and grieve his father’s death he would be expected to take care of all those coming to the three day service.

The National Aids Commission did a study and found that, for a poorer family, a funeral costs between 120,000-140,000 Malawian Kwacha ($800-950). That’s a lot of money when you make less than two dollars a day. Wealthier families spend as much as a million kwacha ($6,700) per funeral. Many people here spend more on dying than they do on living.

I didn’t grow up where someone I knew died every other week. One in seven African children die before the age of five. Those that die have brothers and sisters. On Thursday a friend told me there were ten children in his family, there are now five. He just turned 29. Everyone here deals with death from a young age.

I preached this morning on Jesus’ death (an odd feeling—while most of the churches in the world were celebrating the Divine King’s Jerusalem entry, I was asked to preach on His execution…).  Jesus may have conquered death, but He still had to die. Before we can approach the empty tomb we need to come to grips with the magnitude of Jesus’ death. And before we can know what the power of Christ’s resurrection means for our own lives we have to come to terms with our own suffering and our own death.

During this last week, while I was thinking about death, I read an article written by Donald Miller. When Don’s book Blue Like Jazz blew up in the pop Christian scene, I’m not gonna lie, the pretentious theology student in me was a little turned off. But then I read his A Million Miles in A Thousand Years and I was taken aback by his desire to live a life that is worthy of a story. In this article he asks if we know how to trust God with our lives, but also with our death.

I’m not sure if anyone knows all there is to know about death. But my Malawian friends are teaching me a lot about how death is an unavoidable part of life.

Categories
family Malawi Ministry Travel

Malawi: Meet the Parents

Hailey, Mom, Dad, The Phulas and The Masinas

I’m not shy about it at; I’m a mama’s boy. I had marked March 25th on the calendar as soon as we knew for sure that my mom, dad and uncle would be visiting Malawi.

Seeing my mom and dad’s faces at the airport was a relief. Hailey and I knew they were tired. Flying from San Diego to Malawi is no small feat, and (despite my dad’s small illness) they still had giant smiles on their faces. They were in Malawi and we, after a long LONG time, were finally with family.

We drove from the airport and my dad couldn’t believe how much had changed since his last visit in 2007. We pulled up to Manse #2 and they met the Masina family. Dad took a nap and Hailey and my mom chatted. By dinner time we had watched the videos my sister sent of Lindsay and Becca riding their bikes and reading to our cousin Rich.

Saturday we woke up early and headed to Nchinji for a wedding of one my students at JMTI. Right away my parents got to experience village life. For the first time in their lives they ate rice, cabbage and meat with out utensils. They saw traditional dancing and participated in the Malawian wedding tradition of Parakani Parakani. My dad quickly did his best impersonation of Hailey when we were asked to take photos for the bride and groom.

With Blessings before the ceremony

Sunday we went to Church. I preached on The Last Supper and then led the service of Holy Communion (which is done completely different here than it is in the PCUSA.

Dad visiting the Lingadzi CCAP Pre-School

Monday and Tuesday were full of school and church visits, gift sharing, an electrical short in the kitchen, a birthday dinner and long walks (I may have gotten us lost once or twice). Uncle Dave arrived on Tuesday afternoon and we took him straight to the central market for a fun cultural experience.

After seeing a bit of the frustrating and ugly side of the country (you’ll be able to read about it in my next blog), we headed to Lake Malawi on Wednesday for lunch. My mom, dad and uncle reminisced that the fish reminded them of what they ate from Lake Michigan as kids. We enjoyed the beach and than drove back to Lilongwe, stopping along the road for crafts, wicker sofas and tomatoes.

Thursday we went to the theological college in Nkhoma so Hailey and I could teach our classes. Our family practiced English with Hailey’s students before touring the Nkhoma hospital and visiting with some of the synod staff.

We also went to Nkhoma village to visit our World Vision Sponsor Children. I have never been more impressed with the WV staff. Hailey and I were able to visit the boy we support, but there was a mix up with getting to the girl my parents sponsor. She couldn’t be found. Apparently her family had a crisis of sorts (which we later found out was mix up and that her family was just fine) and the WV staff would find a time for Hailey and me to visit when things got sorted out.

Our plane was to leave for South Africa on Friday afternoon. We got a call from Dave at World Vision at 7:30 in the morning letting us know that the girl had been found and that she would be coming to our house to see my mom and dad. This girl rode on the back of a motorcycle out of her village, to the WV office in town and then to our house to meet my parents.  It is a big deal for these children to get visits from their sponsors and the WV staff went the extra mile to make this rare opportunity possible.

In a short week my parents and uncle got to see much of what life is like here for us. They can now put a face to the names we give them, can picture daily activities and know that we are safe and being taken care of very well. Thanks for coming!

 

Categories
family Malawi Ministry Travel

Assimilation Realization

I feel like I’m going to burst. We took off from Johannesburg about a half hour ago and will be landing back in Malawi in an hour. I’m not sure if it is my body dealing with the 2:45 a.m. wake up (really, I never fell asleep) or the realization that Hailey and I are heading back to a place where normal is not normal at all.

I know we only have three months left in Malawi and that we’ve already been there nearly seven. Mostly, I know what to expect. And I know we will make it, but the pit somewhere between my stomach and heart remains. We had a great time with my parents and uncle in Malawi and thoroughly enjoyed our vacation with them in Cape Town (blogs and photos to come).

As our plane sat on the tarmac, Hailey and I discussed the reason behind my thumping innards. We realized that for the last seven months I have been trying hard to assimilate to a culture that is uncomfortable and foreign. And in doing so I have sacrificed a bit of who I am as individual and a bit of who Hailey and I are as a couple. I enjoy drinking wine and beer, cooking, watching baseball and wearing shorts. I can do none of those things freely or easily in Malawi (there’s a good chance some of them would get me kicked out of the church). Hailey longs for privacy, to not be viewed as a second-class citizen by men and to wear jeans. Again, none of which are had or done with ease.  Unlike most married Malawians, we actually like holding hands with one another when we go on a walk. Is it too much to ask to be able to hold my wife’s hand in public?

I get that Malawi is a different place. I am reminded of it every time I wake up, step out of the house or utter a misunderstood word. But I think I am just now learning I am trying too hard to be someone I am not. I will never get used to clerical collarsobtrusive music, blatant corruption or the brown haze that is a result of dust, the burning of plastic and exhaust.

Our friend Davidson has said on a number of occasions that when you take a fish out of water it won’t live. We need to have a few things around us that feel familiar. Time with visiting family and friends, phone calls to our nieces and things as small as a dinner alone or holding each other’s hand in public. But most of the time we feel like there is a drought of comfort.

Pray for us. Pray that God would bring more water—familiar things, space and people. If we don’t find it I’m afraid this rotten feeling will turn into a hardened and calloused heart.

Categories
Malawi Ministry Travel

James Bond Has A New Pastor

Some believe that the way out of poverty for a developing country is private entrepreneurship and NOT foreign assistance. These same people argue that aid agencies do little to “teach a country to fish” and instead fuel the growing fire of disparity between the poorest of the poor and the rich.

I’m not going to pretend I know the first thing about global economics and international aid (though being here has definitely got me thinking about it more than ever) but I do know that Malawi is full of entrepreneurs.

Last week I went to a wood market that I had been to a handful of times. I was with a friend, Johnny, who was looking to trade some personal belongings for a few things to take home as gifts. The guys that sell their crafts in this place are aggressive. When walking across the street they will run out and say, “My name’s Spiderman, what’s yours?” Before long you’re in a circle talking with James Bond, Fred Flintstone and Bill Clinton.

I had known of this tactic from previous trips to Malawi. I remember thinking it was funny and a bit awkward. I didn’t know how to respond, but now I do. When I am approached, I answer questions in broken English with equally poor Chichewa and then laugh when the salesmen try to figure out what just happened. On Saturday while the masses were trying to make a deal with Johnny, I got talking with Chicken Legs. He told me his real name was Peter, but that there were hundreds of Peters in Lilongwe, but only one Chicken Legs—People remember Chicken Legs. Fair enough.

As we walked away James Bond screamed something to Johnny about how I was “his pastor.” Johnny asked if he really goes to the church I am serving.  I’ve never seen him on a Sunday morning, but it’s still kinda fun to say I am James Bond’s pastor.

But business ingenuity doesn’t stop with the craft sellers. Whether it is a hand painted sign on the side of the road or an advertisement written on the side of a wall, each entrepreneur tries to get a leg up on the competition. Some business offer as many services as possible (we frequently pass by building that says, “mini-mart and drivers education—a perfectly sensible combination”), others claim their product is better than the competition (like the car garage that has painted on the wall, “not corrupt”) and some steal popular store names that are used elsewhere (I bet hundred’s of visitors go into the local 7/11 looking for a slurpee only to be disappointed that it’s a butcher shop).

Sadly, the most successful private businesses are not owned by Malawians. They are South African, Zimbabwean, Indian or Chinese. If entrepreneurship is really going to help Malawi become self-dependant, something has to be done about the market poaching that continues to hinder development. James Bond and Chicken Legs need to be given an opportunity to compete with the big boys of distant lands. And something tells me they’ll need help to get that chance.

Categories
Malawi Ministry preaching

Preaching in Malawi: Five (More) Lessons I’ve Learned

During my first three months in Malawi I preached more Sunday morning sermons than I had in my entire ministry career. I wrote some things I learned in our first months here. We just finished our sixth month and I’ve continued preaching on an almost weekly basis. I’ve grown accustomed to the routine of studying and writing a sermon every week. And I’ve learned a few things. Here are five more lessons I’ve learned while in the pulpit:

1. When your wife starts dosing during your sermon you know you’ve lost the congregation—This is true even if the reason she is struggling is she’s heard the sermon twice (four times if you count its Chichewa translation) and only slept five hours the night before. Part of being partnered in ministry is having your best critic sleep next to you every night. We just gotta get to bed earlier.

2. When preaching and leading the liturgy for two 2+ hour long services without a sound system, it is wise to save some of your voice for the last half of the day (even if the back five rows can’t hear a thing in the beginning)—Who would have thought that it would be preaching instead of singing/screaming in a punk band that would send me to my sister for vocal therapy?

3. It is possible to preach a sermon that plants seeds in young minds while nourishing and stretching older (more mature) soulsI’ve always had a deep passion to see intergenerational church work. It’s tragic that most churches don’t make more of an effort to create a worship service that is welcoming to the entire body. I do understand that many parents see Sunday morning as a time for personal growth and worship. But that doesn’t have to mean shipping kids to Sunday school every single week (a blog for another day). I recently preached on the traditional Palm Sunday text (the church calendar is different here). My sermon was definitely geared toward adults, but right before I began preaching I looked out the door and saw a donkey grazing outside. LIGHTBULB! I desperately wanted to bring the donkey in, but settled for having the children make the sound ah-oo, ah-oo, ah-oo! whenever I uttered the word donkey (if you ever want to laugh in a foreign country ask a local to make an animal noise, you’ll hear something different in every place). Adults heard the Word preached and children followed along waiting anxiously for me to drop the d-word (well b-word, donkey is burru in chichewa), and hopefully picked up some of the sermon along the way.

4. When preaching a bilingual service, knowing at least a small amount of both languages is VERY helpful—I’m not going to pretend that, after six months in Malawi, I am fluent in Chichewa. But I can take the church through the first part of the liturgy in the native tongue. I may not have the correct phrasing or pronunciation of every word down, but it is nice to be able to lead the congregation to the Lord’s Prayer… People genuinely appreciate my attempts at their language. We all get a laugh when, instead of asking people to stand and sing a hymn, I say “now can we all stand and sing a bean or house” (nyimba=beans, nyumba=house and nyimbo=hymn).

5. Illustrations are only useful when people can actually relate to them—A few weeks ago I failed miserably at explaining the function of a piñata. I said that it was a doll stuffed full of candy, hung from a tree and then beaten by children Great image. The man translating my sermon just starred at me.  I tried to go into further detail but soon realized it was a lost cause. I was attempting to say that when Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, we aren’t being told to take a beating for the sake of the enjoyment of another…like a piñata. Half of the people who knew what a piñata was nodded their head showing they were tracking, the other half laughed hysterically as I tried to explain the illustration to the 400 other people who were lost. When we finished the sermon the translator leaned over to me and said, “Children beat dolls in Mexico?” Illustration Fail.

Categories
Malawi Ministry teaching Theology Uncategorized

3 Punishments: Two Curses & A Promise

I threw my Old Testament class for a loop a few weeks ago. We had spent about 20 hours going over the historical setting, context of and the different theories about the Pentateuch’s composition. After the fourth lecture or so I could tell they were less than thrilled to hear about another dead guy’s opinion. Running without knowing how to crawl, let along walk, seems to be a common theme in Malawi—Biblical study is no exception.

After convincing myself that I had dutifully explained that it is possible to critically study Scripture while still holding it 100% authoritative, we finally opened the book of Genesis.

I lectured for about an hour on the two accounts of creation (yes, Scripture has two sometimes conflicting accounts about the formation of the world) and then I tried to convince them that the significance of the Primeval History (Gen 1-11:26) is theological in nature. I explained that while debating the how of creation, we often miss the why, which (regardless of how you interpret the first chapters of the Bible) has to remain central.

For the most part they were tracking along, so I figured I’d drop the gender role bomb. Malawi is a very male dominated society and, similar to much of the conservative evangelical western world, Scripture is often used to defend man’s domination over woman. I had them turn to Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25 and 3:14-24.

Gen 1:28-28. God created humankind in God’s image, both male and female, god created them. Most in Malawi read from the Chichewa, King James (KJV) or Nearly Inspired (NIV) versions of the Bible—which all wrongly translate humankind as man.

Gen 2:18-25. Verse 18 reads, “it is not good for humankind to be alone.” Again, not man. It’s not until the end of verse 23 that we see a distinction between genders (“this one shall be called woman”).

I said that if you want to use Scripture to defend male dominance, you have to look somewhere other than creation—somewhere like God’s response to original sin.

Gen 3:14-24. Three punishments; two curses and one promise. The punishment for the serpent; it was to be “cursed among all animals.” The punishment for man; the ground itself is cursed because of his actions. The punishment for the woman; a promise that childbearing will be painful AND her husband shall “rule over” over her.

We debated the issue for a bit and it was refreshing to see that at least a portion of my lectures on the work didn’t fall on deaf ears. I mentioned that the discussion we were having-one that asks what happens when one interpretation of Scripture confronts culture-was one that needs to be had frequently within the church, and too often it’s not.

A week or so after our discussion at JMTI, a good friend and mentor of mine posted this article about Scripture and Homosexuality (which was responding to this article) on facebook.  What followed was a very well thought out, though incomplete (really, how does one have a full conversation on facebook?) discussion about Scripture and culture colliding when it comes to sexual ethics.

In mentioning homosexuality and the church I do not mean to beat the dead horse that has unfortunately become the theological center of the destruction of the Western Church (the Church takes its focus off of Christ and then, somehow, is surprised it is dying?…a post for another time). I bring it up to ask this question; when it comes to any sort of Christian Ethic, are we to strive for the pre-fall understanding of our relationship with God and others? Or do we just accept that we live in the post-consequence world?

But we don’t only live in the post-consequence world, we also live in the post-resurrection world—where death has been conquered and love of God and neighbor is to reign supreme. But what does that mean for how we act and live in today’s world?

Categories
family Malawi Travel

4 Months

Miss this place and this girl...

Sixteen weeks from today, Hailey and I will be back inSouthern California.

Before we left San Diego I made it clear that we were only going to be gone ten months. When I made a statement about the length of our stay, someone would point out that I also said I would never move to Malawi.

On more than one occasion, I emailed the General Secretary and Moderator of the Nkhoma Synod, making sure one school year was an adequate amount of time and they always assured me it was. Once they responded, “Dave, in the Lord’s eyes one year is the same as a million.”

But I’m not so sure the rest of our friends in Malawi share the same sentiment. Over a month ago, I was a guest preacher at Mbuka CCAP. When I was welcomed and introduced, the man giving announcements said, “San Diego may be your first home, but Malawi shall be your last.” I knew what he meant, but couldn’t he have put it in terms that didn’t make me feel like the congregation had a hit man lurking in the shadows?

We have completed just over half our stay in Malawi, and I am torn. I could spend the rest of my life here. Could. Won’t. But could. Frederick Buechner says that one’s calling “is where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”

It is obvious that my gift setting is needed in this place, that there is great need here for my greatest passion. It is also blatantly evident that I don’t completely belong.

Could I see myself ministering here for years? Yes.  There is so much to learn and to teach. So much to celebrate and experience. Sharing life with Malawians is something I will forever cherish as one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

But do I see myself raising a family here? Do I think I will get used to the culture oddities that still, after almost six months, make me uncomfortable? Will I ever feel like Malawi is home? No.

Last week, while waiting in line at the bank to withdrawal money to get our plane tickets home, one of the church members who we have gotten to know well said he had hoped we would stay longer. I told him we were extending our stay two weeks. It wasn’t enough. Whenever our departure comes up, it’s the same painful song.

There will always be needs here. And we will forever be involved in God’s desire to see them met. But there are plenty of needs in the U.S. as well (here the majority of people actually know they need Jesus…that can’t be said for the states).

So Mr. Beuchner, riddle me this, “what do you do when your greatest passion meets a world with more than one great need?’

Categories
Malawi Travel

I wanna hold your hand

You can call me shallow if you want.

There are just some parts of Malawian culture with which I will never be completely comfortable. I have grown accustomed to the tasteless pastelike food of nsima, I’ve come to expect loud music and conversations, and I’m somewhat used to (but still not okay with) the rigid gender roles.

I’ve been told you’re a real Malawian when you can walk down the street hand in hand with someone of the same gender without feeling awkward. It’s a sign of friendship.

My current record is about a minute. Sixty seconds of bliss for a local feels like hours of horror for me. It’s not that I am against holding hands. I enjoy interlocking digits with my wife and don’t mind holding hands with one of my nieces or grandma. But a grown man?

Here’s how the whole hand holding ordeal goes down: Man sees man (or woman sees woman), reaches out for a handshake and, after a long greeting and grasp, the position of the hand rotates from a firm shake to a gentle clasp. It’s like the sly stretching to arm over the shoulder move that happens on first dates—you never see it coming but once it sneaks up, you’ve been clung to and can’t get out.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but every time I fall victim to the man-clasp I havethesudden urge to start skipping and singing “La-la-la-lala-la-LA-la-lala-la.” And though a spontaneous Smurfs musical might look awkward in most places, something tells me it would be fine here.

The irony of the whole thing is that public displays of affection between married couples, let alone dating youth, are completely unacceptable. On top of that, being gay is illegal.

In some ways, it is nice to see public affirmations of platonic relationships. In the U.S. the only acceptable male-to-male physical contact is the brief handshake to hug. But I still don’t know if I will ever get used to the all too common act.

I hope, when I get home (for the sake of my friends) I remember where I am. Just know that if you are in public with me-at a baseball game, at the beach or walking to a restaurant-if I reach out to hold your hand I’m not making a pass at you…I just forgot I wasn’t in Malawi anymore.