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last post Friday, November 5, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 45
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Week 15 and 16: Malawi, part 2: We 'adopt' our friend Azibo for enrollment at school and stay an extra week in Malawi

Azibo arrives!

The boat was late again by at l0 hours and Azibo was at Big Blue when I walked in to say hi to Jack. Looking at him, his big smile and so well dressed, I knew my first impressions were probably not wrong.

We chatted and then made the 30 minute walk through town and up the hill on the other side of the by to meet Louis at Butterfly. Azibo, it turned out was the Azibo from Butterfly and our relationship became closer. I told Azibo that evening that Louis and I might like to help in get back to school. Previously I did not want to give any indication we were thinking of helping in case we had a change of heart. We also made it clear that we had been researching him and that we had to resolve some 'issues' and learn more.

We asked Azibo if he would take us to the school he wanted to go to the next day so we could learn for ourselves what we were looking at and what might be needed. Little did we know how we had just created another week in Nkhata Bay meeting incredible schoolmasters, government officials, Malawi bureaucracy and lots of travel around the area.

Off to see Azibos's school and support arrives in strange ways.

We crammed into a chapa (van) waited for it to fill beyond capacity and went up the hill from Nkhata Bay to the police check point and the highway junction. The school was up the other road so we got out and tried to get a ride. After a fairly short time a truck with gravel in it stopped and we got in the back on top of the load. About half way to the school the truck pulled off the highway into a new school to dump the gravel. While we waited under a tree for all of this to happen, we are suddenly greeted by a big, energetic, outgoing man who introduced himself to us as the headmaster of the new school. He asks where we are from and I tell him Canada, Vancouver, and he responds with his life story of how he spent the last 6 years in Kingston, Ontario at Queens University, getting his degrees and how he loves Canada and Canadians. Again Azibo lucked out. 'The professor' gave him a little lecture (every one we met seemed to give Azibo about the same one) of how lucky he was to have us for our support and he better work hard and not mess up and on and on. And 'the professor' was personally willing to help Azibo not only in his studies but to show him how he might get a scholarship to enable him to go to school in Canada.

We went to NBB School and met with the headmaster. He was an interesting man with a good heart. It was somewhat of a homecoming for Azibo and we met both previous classmates and many of the teachers of the school. Everything moves so slowly in Africa and in this respect, we had lots of time to chat with teachers, talk about their courses, their grading of students and even see where many were living. The headmaster gave us a tour of the school and didn't mind us seeing the conditions of the classrooms, the old archaic desks, the missing windows and ceiling tiles and the basically rundown condition of it all. We passed the toilets in the school and one breath and I was hopeful they were not going to be part of my experience that day.

Having said what I just said about the physical infrastructure, the teachers were so interested and seemed really to be focused on what they were doing. And they also had a great sense of humor about their lives.

What we were not ready for was the difficulty of getting Azibo enrolled in the school. Now having money available for school was only the beginning, getting a spot in the crowded school and as a boarding student was becoming a challenge. During the next couple days we went to visit the Education Secretary travelling an hour to Mzuzu the city closest to Nkhata Bay. We visited local education commissioners', and even went back to Mzuzu to go to the Bishop's office to meet with the head of education for the Catholic Diocese. Again we lucked out. It seemed the Diocese had actually been started by a Canadian and the Education Secretary told us about his love for Canadians.

But official was official and love of people may help Azibo but we needed letters from the school and other letters to get him on the list for consideration for a spot at school.

Our Angels are working overtime and are sweating out the details

The next morning I come to meet Louis at Myoka Village and as I was walking down the steep rock stairs of the Village I greet a well dressed and energetic woman coming down the stairs with me. Seems she is a headmaster of a school of 720 students not far outside of Nhkata Bay. She had come to Myoka to fundraise and as the owners were away she was on her way into the town to do some business. Amazing how it works here in Malawi or as I often say, traveling Africa is hard work for Louis and I, but our angels must be really sweating it out.

I told her what I was up to and the people I was planning to meet and all of a sudden she was my guide. It was amazing. Instead of having to walk back through town, we just climbed down all the stairs in Myoka to the water and boarded a boat for town. She was treated like royalty. The 'boys' on the boat knew her and many had been her students. When we arrived in town, our walk became a welcoming for her. People waved and acknowledged her, people came out of shops to shake her hand, probably just a small exaggeration, it seemed everyone knew her.

She had decided to help me and escorted me to the government school administration offices where she new and was good friends with everyone to the very top. Seems they were traveling to London in two days, her first trip abroad. Even with all the help, the bureaucracy was staggering. I was looking forward to her meeting Azibo the next morning, telling him about what we had accomplished and going and meeting some more of the administrators.

On top of it all, she invited us for dinner at her home at her school and needless to say I was truly honored. She was leaving for London the next day and still had time to cook us dinner, which mean't lighting the fire on the ground in the kitchen, preparing everything from scratch and then having the time to chat with us in depth about her school and life and lecture poor Azibo the same lecture he heard over and over.

I asked her what she needed most at the school. Immediately she said lights. Her students couldn't study when it got dark. Neither the school nor her home had electricity and it gets dark by 6pm here. She got out some LED flashlight lanterns and showed me what they used. Perhaps a project I will work on in the near future?

We left with great emotion and hugs and kisses. An amazing woman, doing so much with so little.

Enough of the details of 'trying to get enrolled' in school. We worked with Azibo on a budget for his tuition and room and board. We also had to figure out school supplies, clothes and school uniform, and a list, which included every thing from soap to sugar. Thanks to the help from AJ, we opened a couple of bank accounts which she will administer to be sure the money is spent according to our agreed budget.

The second last day in Nkhata Bay was so emotional for me. As I walked from Big Blue through town and up the hill towards Myoka Village I could feel the tears coming down my cheeks. Unlike my usual 'chatty Cathy' demeanor, which Louis calls it), I felt like finding a place alone to 'feel my feelings'. I had become attached to so much of my experience in Malawi and the next day we were leaving for Tanzania.

Going with Azibo to meet his Grandfather and see their home

The highlight of our stay in Malawi was the Sunday and last day of our stay in Nkhata Bay. We had bought some liquor which Azibo thought his Grandfather liked a few other things and made the journey to Azibo's grandfather's home and where he was living. We were all very excited. Azibo wanted us to meet his Grandfather and some of his family. He had planned a dinner in our honor. Louis and I were so interested to see how they lived and more about the family.

We arrived in the village after walking from the highway. Although there was water from the system from the lake, the village did not have any electricity or other conveniences. The village, though basic, was certainly one where people were proud of their home and land. We arrived at Azibo's uncle and meet some of his family. His grandfather arrived and we had introductions. We then proceeded across the road to his land and house and sat under a tree he had planted 27 years ago.

After Azibo had shown us the two room house, which he shared with his grandfather and brother we were taken on a tour of his property which included a fairly large area of bananas. He showed us where he had begun to build a new home and the pit he had dug all the dirt to build the bricks which were stacked as a kiln to cure them.

We had come to honor them and they were in great honor of us. Hopefully our meeting Azibo will greatly contribute to his education and life. His grandfather was incredible. Almost just like an older Azibo. For a man of at least 74 years, he was energetic, aware and so smart. His English was incredibly good. And Azibo and his grandfather looked so much alike. Louis asked if Azibo's father was much the same and they all said, so much alike. I will never forget the sharing, the gratitude and the love that came from Azibo's grandfather and family.

It was interesting as the night before Jack had told me that he never allows himself to get 'attached' to the projects he is doing and we briefly talked about it. The next morning at breakfast with Jack I suggested to him that 'getting attached might be the only thing of importance in life' and perhaps it was how we saw our attachments, which would make the difference. Anyway, leaving Nkhata Bay turned out to be a very unemotional time. Thankfully I had worked it through the day before. We were off to Tanzania.

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