To begin, I just want to clarify a point that I made in my last blog about some of my culture frustrations. I’ve been getting a lot of emails and questions about it and I don’t think I phrased things right in my last entry. When I say that me and my family disagreed about the best way for me to get better, I mean that they took VERY good care of me and were always pushing me to go back to the hospital, take lots of medication, and eat extra nsima. We disagreed because after it was confirmed that I didn’t have malaria I didn’t want to take up anymore of the doctors time, I just wanted to let whatever I had pass through my system and I certainly didn’t want to eat even more nsima. Looking back on it now a lot of my frustrations seem foolish, but when you’re sick and in a different culture the little things can sometimes get to you.
Since everyone seems so interested in Malawian culture I decided to dedicate this entry to sharing some of the cultural things I’ve experienced or noticed since I’ve been here. I don’t want to make any generalizations about Malawi or “Africa” so my observations are based solely on my own personal experiences in Thyolo and some other parts of the country.
I’m going to start off by telling you about greetings and teaching you the greetings in Malawi. You always greet people you know when you see them and when you get visitors or visit people you always greet everyone who is present. Basically whenever you have any kind of interaction with someone, you greet them. The most common greetings I’ve experienced are “How are you?”, “Good morning” and “good afternoon”. I’ve listed the greetings below in this order. After greeting someone, both people end the greeting by saying “Zikomo” which means thank you. Most people shake hands when they greet each other and it is pretty common to continue shaking hands until the end of the conversation. I found it pretty awkward at first because people would continue to hold my hand a lot longer than I would hold someone’s hand in Canada. Anyways, the greetings are:
Ndili bwino, muli bwanji?
Ndadzuka bwino, kaya inu?
Ndasewela bwino, kaya inu?
I’ve also noticed some things based on the way people dress and the importance of dressing well here in Malawi. For the most part women never wear skirts above their knees; they either wear a longer skirt or they wear a chitenge. Sometimes in the cities women wear shorter skirts, but for the most part you never see their knees. Malawians also take great pride in the way that they dress for work. You will be hard pressed to find a Malawian working in an office who is not wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and shoes. Malawians make sure their shoes are always polished and their shirts are always wrinkle free. Children on the other hand will wear pretty much anything. I’ve noticed that a lot or children don’t wear shoes, however I think this is due more to the fact that they don’t like wearing shoes rather then that they don’t have any. This is definitely the case with my family. All of my sisters have loads of shoes, but they usually only wear them to school and church.
On the subject of church, everyone I have met here belongs to a church. When I am first getting to know someone one of the most common things they will eventually ask me is what denomination I belong to. Most people in Malawians are Christians but there are also some Muslims. The most common denominations in Thyolo are Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist. People attribute their successes and blessings to God and they trust in him to provide for their families and to protect them. I’ve spent a couple bus rides listening to priests pray for the protection of the bus for the first 30 minutes. This usually only happens on bigger buses though, not on minibuses.
Finally, one last thing I’ll share with you is that the pace of life is much slower here. I took me a while to adjust to this at work; technically work is supposed to start at 7:30, but people usually start coming in anywhere between 8 and 9. Mr. Nzengo and I usually come in around 8:15 and we’re always the first people there aside from the Water Officer. Lunch is usually a 2 hour affair and the day ends around 5:00. Some days feel very slow but it can still get quite busy here sometimes. Outside of work I really like the slow pace of life here. No one ever seems in a rush to get anywhere, everyone takes the time to greet people and have conversation. It gives Malawi a very chill and relaxed feeling which I quite enjoy.
Anyways, I could go on and on about the differences I’ve noticed between Malawi and Canada, but I’ll stop here. These are some of the bigger things I’ve noticed (and can think of right now) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. I’m trying to keep track of lots of the smaller things as well!