Dank u zeer! Friendship Forever!
Here we are back in Malawi, at the campus, after an eventful ten days with our Dutch friends in the Netherlands as well as family. Running water, flush toilets, showers, washing machines, electricity all day … how quickly we adapted to previously accepted norms.
I must tell you that the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands was wonderful. Our hosts cared for us in all possible ways: food, drink, bussing, host families, rental bikes … whatever our need was, they had thought it out and provided. We felt like we were at home with meals, beds and even a washing machine. Thank you so much, all you Dutch friends who hold Canadian veterans responsible for your freedom. Special thanks to Diny and Jan Templeman and Hendrick and Hanna Bowmans and Gert-Jan Ooplat. We appreciate all you do for us and we thank you for keeping alive the memory. You cause us to know the price of freedom, the cost of occupation, and the recovery of humanity after the fear is lessened. You teach us humility: you are the ones who suffered five years of occupation. You teach us gratitude: yet you are the ones who thank us our veterans year after year. You teach us to teach our young people the lessons of war. Thank you!
Ten days and nights of comradeship: cemeteries and cenotaphs in Holten, Markelo, Nijmegen, Arnhem, Apeldoorn; crazy farmers’ golf, bicycle riding, beautiful gardens, red chestnut trees in full bloom, a BBQ in an open air theatre catered by a wonderful Markelo restaurant (aka Branch One or DeHaverkamp), a party, a dance, (who ordered all those drinks is what I want to know??), the big chair in front of Happy Smit’s Restaurant and a wonderful dinner there with our hosts, the tour to the bridge where Frank Graham was wounded and the memories …. Old and new created by that walk … thank you Gert-Jan, and Diny and Jan and Daniella and … Branch 1 and Branch 2 of the Canadian Legion of Markelo … and Hendrick and Hannah and Burger Bert and Albert Ooplat and Henrietta and Femke and all the other members of the Welcome Again Veterans Committee … how to thank everyone? … we heard Scottish pipe bands and the Canadian British Columbia Volunteer Band who shared our bus, and we rode in the Keep ‘Em rolling vehicles of the 2nd world war … so many people took part in this huge celebration of freedom and hope and remembrance. I have forgotten some …. I know that … and yet … all are so important and all are remembered in the big picture of thankfulness and especially the knowledge that there is hope and ongoing friendship between Dutch and Canadian people.
Of course there will be pictures posted.
Now we are back at the flat at Cunima University for our last three weeks of the Malawi adventure. First order of business is to bring in the groceries and that entails a day trip to town, on the mini bus where we are, once again, the visible minority. Little kids point and stare at me amazed at the whiteness … and then they notice the even whiter, bigger man behind me. I sit ready to pop their eyes back into their sockets if need arises. It is a good conversation and smile starter with the kids’ parents too.
Walking to the market I say hello, Kodi muli bwanji to everyone and anyone and they all answer back, mostly with hello. One 14-year old walked behind me for a bit; I turned a few times as I thought I heard her speak. She shook her head when I asked, “Are you talking to me?” Finally, there was a tap on my shoulder and I had a walking companion. Aida. 14 years old, lives at the school for the deaf; she pointed to it using hand signals as we passed. “Oh, so you are deaf?” I asked in sign and words. She laughed. No. My father works at the school. Aahhh. Actually I said, “eeeeeeee” which seems to connote understanding and a few other things, like thinking, grief … more … a small welcome friendship offered and accepted.
Friendship is wonderful in every country. I’ve heard ‘azungu’ a few times as we’ve made our way along the streets, a word meaning ‘whites’ (more than one), usually said by children as a comment to their parent, but when an adult calls it out, with a sneer, mmmmmm, not so good. When in Nairobi, Kenya, on our way to the Netherlands, we saw T-shirts printed with Mzungu (that means one white person); guess who’s got new Tees.
Our friend, George, who delivers (by bike) our bottled water, boxed milk, and pop in cases (everything heavy) has new product in his store these days; now that the harvest is over and the locals have food in their cupboards to last for the next few months, they have disposable income. He is stocking lengths of fabric to fill changing seasonal needs. And the ubiquitous tailor is happily pedalling his sewing machine, crafting winter wear. In the spring, does George carry hoes I wonder? An investment opportunity?
It makes me so sad: the abject poverty. Why in this world of abundance are people starving? There are beautiful people here. There are lazy people, of course. It takes all kinds. And there are the azungu too (that’s us – the observers … )
Too much thinking for one evening; it is 11PM – 5 PM your time and the moths and mossies need to be controlled before the bug net is untied … TTFN
Do please keep in mind that we’ll have our new books coming out this summer: a book of poetry by Lloyd; Master Gardener, a novel by Claire. Also, while in Malawi, we have created a collaborative effort (with six other Canadian writers) called: The Raven Project. Stay tuned for details later this summer.