On the last day of the pre-service training we learn that I am going to be volunteering in Zomba and Rachel in Blantyre, thirty-five miles away. It means I am not going to see her every day, nor talk with her since there were no telephones in the huts where we are going to stay. I frown but resolve to continue our friendship. I don’t want to lose Rachel.
My home for the next two years is going to be in the Malemia village, Zomba. It’s a two-room mud cottage with thatched roof. The entrance is through a wooden door with a latch and a large padlock with key. It is furnished with a small bed, a stove and a small table with two plastic chairs in the kitchen. A kerosene lantern serves as light. There’s a tap outside, to be shared with other neighbors, serving as a source of water. Bathing is to be done outside within a shield under the open sky. I hope I can get used to the pit latrine with no flush button.
“Here we are. Just settle down and I’ll come and get you tomorrow and show you our clinic,” Kasigo says as she prepares to leave. Kasigo is the nurse in the village clinic and my mentor. She promises to introduce me to the village chief in time.
“Thanks. Looking forward,” I say before realizing that I said the same thing the previous night when she had received me at the drop-off point.
I dump my bag, guitar and my back pack on the mud floor. I look around. So be it, I say to myself.
“Don’t expect to stay in a four-star hotel,” the Peace Corps managers said. “You’ve got to immerse yourselves with the locals, live with them, eat their food and help them in whatever way you can to better their lives.” We were trained in the local customs, a few local words which I forgot. We were told not to flaunt American anything. I wondered if my white skin would be a source of novelty to my neighbors, and I wasn’t sure what their reaction would be.
I didn’t have much to unpack. I look around the room once more when I hear someone whispering and giggling close to me. I turn around and find four children, all half naked, observing my every move. The front door was left open. It’s very hot and humid outside, like mid August in Las Vegas. I walk over and say “hello.” They just smile. They probably have never seen a white man up close. They point to a young man sitting on a wooden bench outside an adjacent cottage. A while later he walks over to us.
“Welcome to our village,” he says in English. He says his name is Ayo and he’s a student at the local school and has learned English.