John does not exaggerate the calm beauty of Conforzi. It was built in the 1950s by an Italian family who owned a tea plantation. It is a U shaped building, built to make the most of the breezes off the lake.
Kate, Lily and I put on appropriate attire to visit a village (long skirt or chitenje wrapped around one’s waist) and went to call. We exited the gates to the Conforzi house and turned right on the dirt road. About 25 yards from the house we reached the first houses of the first of two villages close to Conforzi house. We had not taken 10 steps along the road before children began to stream out of houses and from yards to see the Azungu! One young mother with a baby appeared on the front stoop of the house on the right and almost immediately another young mother appeared from the house on the left. The first one smiled and came down the slight hill to speak to us. “Where are you going?” she asked. Kate pointed down the road and spoke the name of the village. Now most of these people speak Yao as they are from a different tribe than in Blantyre, but they also speak Chichewa. Her question was one of help — how could she direct us to our destination? Meanwhile, a child of about 6 had brought a child of maybe one, in arms, to see up close these Azungu. The older child put the baby near my face for a kiss.
By this time, which was about 4 or 5 minutes at most, a young man in his early 20s materialized seemingly out of nowhere (followed by another 20 children). He introduced himself to us as John and welcomed us to the village on behalf of the chief. In another minute, Cliff appeared — also a young man of about 20-23. They were both in secondary school (which is costly — all children are educated in primary grades 1-8 but few go on) and spoke excellent English. Cliff became my guide, John walked with Kate and Lily and Lily became the Pied Piper of the walk with masses of children following her.
Cliff and John were pleased we wanted to see the villages and said it would be their honor to take us anywhere we wanted to go. We started off and I suddenly found myself holding hands with two children– Ishmael on my left and his sister on my right. Ishmael is an albino and has a constant battle with sun burn from this tropical sun. As redheads, Lily and I sympathized with his plight. As we walked, I had a delightful conversation with Cliff and learned a great deal about village life. There are about 2000 people in these two villages. One village is Christian and one, the one in which we were walking, is Muslim. They live side by side, intermarry, and have absolutely no problems stemming from their differing religions. Cliff said they sit together to solve any problems or issues that arise. Each village respects the beliefs and traditions of the other and the same thing happens where there is intermarriage. I think Cliff and John and the village chiefs to come advise the rest of us. . . .
In the center of the village there is one power line which brings electricity to one building. The villagers come there for education tapes on topics like fighting malaria, clean water, and family planning. Cliff said they could not have more electrified houses because “electricians are too expensive to pay!” There were goats everywhere, but with their lives on the banks of the lake, the villagers eat mostly fish, which they dry and then eat whole. They get their starch from the maize they grow.
As we passed people, most wanted to shake hands. Malawians don’t hug much but it is very important to shake hands. To do so is a sign of respect. Please visualize Kate, Lily and me shaking hands with 40 children over the course of our walk. Many adults shook our hands as well and almost everyone gave us the “double wave” with a huge smile — two hands waving palm out left to right. We had not gone too far when another child brought out his baby brother to see the Azungu. He was about 18 months old and, when he saw us, let out a curdling scream, clutched his brother, stared at us and cried very very loudly. Cliff said he had never seen Azungu before and that he was afraid of us.
In the center of the village there was a market with women selling mango, tomatoes and potatoes. Men were drying and selling their fish. There were probably 15 different stalls, all in same section of the village, with buying and selling going on. There was a “watering hole” where middle aged men were playing Bao in the cool of the shade. They all wore Muslim attire and were gracious to us but did not rush away from their game to shake our hands.
The village is teeming with goats running free but Cliff assured me each family knows whose goat is whose. They do not use the goats for milk or to make cheese — just for meat (and, I think from observing, as surrogate pets). I saw only one pet dog while we were walking (still holding hands with the children) but Cliff said people do have dogs as pets.
As we walked with them back towards the house, still with the children in tow, we were quite a parade. As we got closer to the first group of children who had welcomed us, Cliff said they were yelling “they’re coming back, they’re coming back!”
Cliff and John gave us their address so we could send them the photos we took of them and of their villages. We learned that John’s father in law is one of the head staff members at Conforzi house. Kate sent her big straw hat to Ishmael to try to help him with the sun. My Emory Law baseball cap now lives in our adopted village too with those precious, welcoming children and their families.