It was errand day today in Blantyre, our host city of 1.5 million. We travel Chipembere road, the main thoroughfare to get anywhere, so at least twice any trip. Four of us arranged ourselves in the car, one short person and one tall in the front seat and one tall person and one short person in the back, seats moved to accommodate those with long legs (not me). Windows wide open we set off for Africa Art, a shop carrying carvings of animals, candle holders made from bottle caps, canvas paintings, tablecloths, hair pins, note cards, journals, leather bags, fabrics and more. Maybe there should be a contest to see if you can correctly guess which items were purchased today. (And which we’ll be going back for in the near future.)
Then to the tailor shop. Discussions are carried on in Chichewa, with the non-Malawians in total ignorance of what is being said. I imagine the tailor asking …. Does she have any money? …. I don’t know how to sew for blondes … Will she be difficult to deal with? My host comes back with the price which seems reasonable to me and so we stand waiting. Why are we waiting you may well ask? Much more Chichewa talk ensues, then we stand outside the shop while the tailor goes inside.
Eventually, I realize the half hour wait was because there was a customer ahead of us. Ah, of course. Once in the back room, we examine pictures on the wall of blouses, skirts, dresses, with varying sleeves, collars, hem lengths, waists – the pattern choices – and make decisions, change our minds, sweat, ask opinions. I’ve brought 3 pieces of fabric; my host has brought one. Between us we’d like a skirt, a dress and a two-piece outfit. The choices are too many and I decide to go for just one dress at this time to test the tailor’s skills. My host orders a skirt made. Come back Friday our tailor says.
We have been in the shop only ninety minutes including the wait time and realize we are almost late to deliver our passenger to her college to register for her Accountancy Exam to be written over the next two days. She is a fellow guest in the home where we stay (one of many) and has travelled overnight, so will spend 6 days to write 2 exams over 2 days with two days travel time and two days to get signed up for the exams. We race to the school and three of us sit in the car waiting the ten minutes it will take to drop off her ID card. She comes out thirty minutes later saying the registrar has taken her card and disappeared, so she must wait. Ah, … yeah… of course. We agree to go on ahead shopping for a coffee pot and pick her up on our return trip down Chipembere Road.
To the store. To the coffee pot department. We made our choice last week so now we’d like to pick up the boxed item, pay for it and be on our way. Waiting, waiting, waiting ….
No box, no manual, we choose the $30.00 coffee maker over the $150.00 one. It has a permanent filter, fortunately, because the store does not carry coffee filters. We pay; we go, boxless, after retrieving our groceries at the mandatory parcel check and speed off down C. Road to pick up Angelina who has called to report that she is registered and waiting on the side of the road.
Straight home we go as it’s now 1:30; we’ve been on the road since 9:30, and the professor in our group has a class to teach at 2:30.
Time for a nap in the blessed quiet … there are caws and crows and bird songs, a cow in the backyard moos, a boy scythes the grass,. Do you hear what is missing? Lawn mowers, chainsaws, traffic, air conditioners, furnaces, snowplows, garbage trucks, street cleaners. It feels wrong to even write those noisy words onto this page. Every so often there is a car horn to signal a worker to open the gate at one of the local homes. There are no vacuums, no dishwashers, and no laundry appliances.
I do hear corn being tossed in the air and landing in a basket to remove the chaff. I imagine I can hear the Singer Treadle Sewing Machine making my dress, but I’ll just wait until Friday to know more about that.