SO Im back in Lilongwe for Reconnect/In Service Training. Four months at site...ahhhh.
There's a lotta fun stories that have happened, but alas, only my journal shall know them all. Or if you make me tell you later. I'll give you a couple right now.
From my journal:
(First of all, to truly understand the magnitude of the following story, you must understand the Herculean rivalry between other Volunteers, most notably Jim, and myself, concerning high scores on the cell phone game Snake. When I am around other volunteers, and I have a low score, it rules my life.)
Mmmmm, today was delicious. A delicious curry, I finally cooked the perfect amount. But the real yes! yes! yes! came later today when I went to the market. There was a big square marked in white lines in the sand. Inside were gourds covered with beads and heair and horns, a box, a clump of clothing and roots. The witch doctor had come to town.
There were two, actually, both very young. I would guess, 18 and 22. Luckily John Howard was with me, translating. They spoke only Chichewa and Portuguese, so I really couldn't even catch bits and pieces. First they made everyone back up even past the square while they began to sing and shake their metal shakers. They began to dance around the white box, smearing black paste on their hands and arms and talking to the gourds and roots. The main doctor talked in depth with the mother, the biggest pile of gourds, beads, horns and skin, asking for her protection. "Theres a snake!" John Howard said. The doctors kept singing, shaking their shakers, and one of them opened the box, poked a stick in it and slammed it shut. He kept this up for a few minutes, until he finally pulled out a medium sized brown snake, about two feet long. It's the same kind of snake I see most often, the kind I call Alfred, the kind I stepped on on my way to the beach one day. Anyways, the snake is slow. The doctors sing and dance around it, placing charms on its box while it slithers slowly. The younger doctor takes a needle from off the top of the box and presses it into his skin. I cant watch this part (Doctor Matt, Doctor Matt) but when I look back the needle has pierced the bottom of his forearm and pooped back out again, like he was interrupted while stitching. He looks around and says to us (there are maybe 100 of us crowding around the square) that there are two magicians among us, a wizard and a witch. He picks up the snake and wraps it around his neck, goes around and pats people on their heads, searching for the witch and wizard. They don't find them, so the younger doctor taked the snake and holds it up so that it frames his face and then looks "through" it to try to see the magicians. Still no luck. (yes! yes! This is Africa, I recognize this even if it's only in my generalizations and stereotypes and preconceptions, this is not boring, that's it more than anything, this is not boring village life)(and I felt Berkeley guilt at even feeling THAT way, but in the end its what I saw, and it was so exciting!) The older doctor takes the snake and unzips his fly. He shoves the whole thing down there, pulls his waiststrap out and looks down and talks to it. He pulls it out and calls on someone from the audience. The participant stands on an X in one of the corners. The young witch then collects the charms from off the box while the older one starts to smudge the particpants arms and hands. He puts all the charms into a piece of paper and then folds it up and hands it to the participant, who is shaking just a little.
Malawians are terrified of snakes. I love to tell people it was what I used to do for a living in America- work with snakes.
The younger witch, needle still there under his skin, gives him the snake, and its all he can to stay put. They try to put it around his neck, but that's just too much. SO the duo takes it back. They ask the participant to open the paper- there's a 500 kwacha note in it now. Children run away, a woman screams.
Then witch #1 tells everyone who he tapped on the head to follow him to an abandoned building. John Howard and I were the last ones to get there, but thanks to my bent celebrity status we were the second ones up. We walk behind the building, where they are waiting. I kneel and put my hand on a gourd. The doctor tells me of my illnesses(Stomach pains) and asks if I want a cure. I say no, but I ask for a good luck charm/spell/medicine. He says he can, for 850 kwacha. I offer 50, he takes it. He puts smudge, bark and porcupine flesh into a newspaper sachet and tells me to bathe with it.
Is that all? he asks.
Can I hold the snake? I ask.
The way he looks at me makes me seriously doubt if anyone has asked this before. He laughs and smudges my the palms of my hands, "so it won't bite." So now I've got two black marks in the palms of my hands, a snake sitting in them, a bath bubble sachet-cum-charm in my pocket, sitting no kneeling behind an old abandoned building in Africa with a witch doctor who is looking into a hole in a gourd to see what ails me.
I get home and pick up my cell phone and start to play, guess, Snake. The first thing I do and the first game I play and I set a new personal high score and as far as I can tell a tie for high score in PC Malawi. 2795.
I'm still laughing.