Building is dirty work!
Our arrival in the village today was different. We were not greeted by song, boisterous children were scarce, and energy was missing. We were quickly notified by our liaisons that a village member had died during the night and so began a period of mourning. The village chief agreed we could continue our work, but to do so in a quiet and respectful manner. Before beginning our work, several of our team members walked to the home of the bereaved to offer our condolences. We were told to quietly sit on her porch. After a few minutes we each offered a word or two of sympathy and excused ourselves.
We commenced our work without the usual cacophony. We quietly climbed our scaffolding and worked on finishing the last, more technical part of our interior and exterior walls. Scaffolding was built inside the tiny rooms. Working space was at a premium. Everything that needed to be completed today was up high, which meant lots of loading bricks ‘UP’ and leaning to reach difficult places. Today’s work was not as quick or satisfying as previous days, but we were getting very close to finishing.
Throughout the morning, we intermittently heard wailing from the nearby home. The demonstrable display of grief was heart wrenching. Late in the morning, we heard singing in the distance. The beautiful harmonizing vocals gained volume and clarity as the group of singing women, stepped in unison and walked to the home of the grieving family. There they sang for the remainder of the day. Various community members came to pay their respects while ‘sitting on the porch’. We were told this process would continue through the next 24 hours. The coming to together of the community and the rituals of death were both heartwarming and fascinating.
All but the youngest of the children understood that today would not include singing, games or other boisterous activities with the Muzungu (white people). We have several black team members and I am not sure if they too were classified as Muzungu. Still they came in small quiet groups to say hello, offer a smile, take a hand.
Both at our hotel and at a local craft market, we all upheld our responsibility to stimulate the local Malawian economy. Hand carved wood pieces are the primary souvenir of choice. I will likely need an extra suitcase and a shipping container to get my purchases home. (Sorry Leo). Heavy negotiations are part of the process. However the price of these small pieces of art are very reasonable. This led to a discussion with some of our younger team members about the suitability of negotiating a price down on something most of us could clearly afford. Is it appropriate to engage in; a local custom of negotiating, getting the best value for your money, or to provide a few extra dollars for the merchant and his craftsmen that would clearly not change or impact our lives anyway?
This evening we celebrated our youngest team member’s 17th birthday. We had a dinner at a restaurant on Lake Malawi (barbecued vs. stewed meat). We sang happy birthday, ate cake and had an early farewell celebration with the Habitat staff.
All in one day we experienced death & mourning, celebrations of life, acts of service and commerce. No matter where you live, the developed world or the developing world, these actions are all part of the circle of life.
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