Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Malawi 2011

The primary purpose of our latest trip to Malawi was to again attend a male circumcision ceremony for young Malawi boys from the Yao tribe, who are Muslims.  It has been 3 years since attending other circumcision ceremonies and there were several differences noted. 
One of the present problems in the country as a whole is one of fuel storage.  Long lines of cars and vans are seen at every gas station where there is news that they have fuel or fuel will be delivered the next day.  People line up in the evening and sleep in their cars and vans to make sure they get fuel the next day.  The storage of diesel fuel is more acute, resulting in large trucks parking at the service stations waiting for fuel to arrive, idling labor and the supply of goods and services.   The storage of fuel is ultimately tied into the real or perceived economic strength of the country to pay its bills. 
Another very noticeable thing is the presence of the Chinese.  China has already built one new hotel and is in the process of building a very large hotel which will be one of the tallest buildings in the country.  It's the country's first five-star hotel, $90m worth of well-appointed rooms, a state-of-the-art conference center and 14 opulent presidential suites.
The parliament now operates from a grand new building that was opened in June 2010. That project cost about $41 million.
China will assist the Malawi government to build a university of science and technology.  China's presence in Malawi has been growing steadily since the two countries established diplomatic ties in December 2007, and Malawi abandoned its links to Taiwan after 41 years. A memorandum of understanding covering industry, trade and investment was signed between the two countries in May 2008, committing China to help in increasing the productive capacity of Malawi in tobacco, cotton, mining, forestry, fertilizer production and in processing hides and skins.
There have been some notable problems with several arrests and deportations involving trying to smuggle ivory and hard currency out of the Africa.  But all in all, the colonization of Africa by the Chinese continues.
We have a lot of time to spend in Lilongwe because the jondo and our arrival were badly coordinated so we spend time to visit the local markets.  One of the things we found out is that when asked where we come from and say “Chicago” the reply is “Obama” instead of “Michael Jordon”.
Eventually, we are informed that a van, would be arriving the next day to take us to Mangochi, a drive of 3 ½ hours. We travel through small villages along the way.
We stay at the Sunbird Hotel situated on Lake Malawi a few miles north of Mangochi.  It is July and we are about 1000 miles below the equator, so it is winter.  During the day when the sun shines, it is warm and pleasant,, but the nights are quite chilly and daylight is short.  So it is possible to lay out a few hours and soak up some sun given the right conditions. 
We were hopeful to attend more than one jondo, but in the end we attended only one.  To gain permission to attend a jondo one must first talk to the village leader, a woman, who was away attending a funeral, so we talked to her husband, explaining that the purpose was to gain knowledge of practices being used during the circumcision and to use the knowledge gained to see how it can assist in HIV prevention.  Talks with the circumciser, called ngliba, and his helpers were conducted also. The ngliba is the man on the right.  He was very experienced and recently had received a kit of surgical gloves from one of the NGO’s which he used and changed after each boy was cut.
There was a lot of down time where my presence was not needed so I took advantage to take some photos to record village life.  Here is a photo unusual tree with the village mosque next to it and an older woman walking to enter the mosque.
Here is the main form of transportation and a group of women and children waiting to be picked up.  The women are very shy about being photographed, but not the children.

While the women travel to do the laundry, the men play a game.
A brother and sister dressed in their very best clothes going somewhere and more children posing.
On the way up the mountain to the village, we stop so I can take a photo of Lake Malawi emptying into the Shire River.  Along the way we see a troop of baboons.
When we arrive at the village just before the jondo (circumcision ceremony) we find that the village women are upset at our arrival.  Later we learn that a husband and wife Christian missionaries came to the village and caused all kinds of ill will trying to convert the people away from Islam to become Christians.  So they were very suspicious of a white couple coming to their village and suspected the worse.  Part of this problem was because the village leader had been away from the village due to funeral and had not spent time communicating to the people about our intent.  Later, the Imam talked to the people and explained our cause. 
While I was at the jondo lodge, the men were upset about my presence until the ngliba explained and frowns turned to smiles aimed at me.  Just prior to this the ngliba took me to the side of the lodge and asked to show that I was circumcised after generously showing me that he was first. 
Here are photos of the children not showing any concern.  I made no effort to organize this photo and I love to look at each child’s expression.  To me, this is one of the best photos I have ever taken. I encourage my viewers to enlarge it and study some faces.
As a contrast, this is a somber photo of the boys ready for the jondo.  Understandable, huh?There is a pair of twins in this photo and one is a sister to her brother sitting at the side.
My part of the jondo was to edit the photos I took showing the actual cutting and what happened in the lodge immediately after, then write a description of what I saw, all of which is confidential. 
We drove back to Lilongwe and left for Rome to attend the International Aids Conference.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Long Live the Herds

When I wrote about my father in my writing class last year, I posted my story on my blog and when on Facebook and posted a link to the blog.  These actions resulted in my distant cousin Carol Tanner, who I never heard of before, contacting me through my email address.

She told me about some of my genealogy on our common side of our families, the Herds.  She also promised to send me some additional materials and after several months a package arrived filled with photographs of ancestors, lists of various related family trees, newspaper clippings, records of land deeds, marriage certificates, military records, photos of head stones and old homesteads.  I felt almost overwhelmed with gratitude would got to such lengths to enrich the lives on two strangers, myself and my half-bother Clifford who also received this treasure trove of information about our heritage.

Although I have not completely waded through all the information, this past week end I found out that I am distant relative to Pocahontas, Henry Hudson (the explorer), John Randolph of colonial Virginia, the Bush family and President Obama.

There are stories of my great grandfather Lt. Col. Andrew Jackson Herd having a horse stolen from him by the James Gang and set out after them and recovered the horse.  One of my relatives hung around with Daniel Boone there is a copy of a letter he wrote to Boone about selling a horse to him. 

I can hardly wait to what else there is to discover.