A Badger Abroad

Peace corps adventuretimes in malawi

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So last Friday, our Form Fours graduated! I didn’t make the ceremony last year, so this was a new thing for me…which is cool cos I don’t have a lot of those anymore. It consisted of chalkboard graffiti, weird paper graduation caps, speeches by the incoming/outgoing head boy and head girl, the guest of honor (a local politician), the village headman, the head teacher (who was rocking his Packer tie!), a few songs, lots of posing for pictures, cheers-ing of cokes, a dinner of rice and beef, presentation of certificates and awards, and a disco!

My fave moment by far, was when food was finally being brought out to the students, a bunch of them getting served first held their bowls up in the air for their colleagues that earned awards like best grades, best attendance, best footballers, neatest, or whatever….so that they could eat first. There’s a pic here with some students holding bowls aloft, that’s when that happened. Super coolio.

Congrats to the Form Fours, my former students, and good luck on your national exams! You got this!

Filed under malawi gradseason shades cheers

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Photos from the past few weeks: Goodbye letter, a peek at the workbook of a gangsta, the primary school, the mighty Luwazi river, Shoprite in the rain (STILL RAINING), the Peace Corps Malawi heirloom panda hat resurfaces and it likes curry, America on TV!?!?, America on me, cheese about to be in me, and many of the 40 students in Form 4 cram into the staff room with its solar-powered TV to watch Romeo and Juliet, which will surely be in a few questions on the literature portion of their national exam next week! But what doth I see? Not alleth the Formular Fourths beith in attendance? I daresay I bite my thumb at thee!!

Filed under usmutantninjaturtles moustache cheese malawi billyshakes MSCE inthecity goodbyessuck savethepandas wwf

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ENTER SANDMAN

Want to know more about Malawi’s new president elect, Professor Metallica? Well…


He has mixed reviews as a professor in America: 

http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=834703


He’s bad at treason (…..or is he super secret sneaky ninja-style good at it?):

http://news.yahoo.com/malawis-mutharika-treason-charge-president-223837825.html

http://en.starafrica.com/news/malawi-president-elect-mutharikas-treason-case-dropped.html


His definition of “olive branch” is not to invite people to things and then criticize them when they don’t show up:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27669753


He has great past leadership experience:

http://africasacountry.com/a-very-short-introduction-to-peter-mutharika-malawis-new-president/


He likes China:

http://www.nyasatimes.com/2014/06/02/mutharika-tells-west-russia-china-will-be-malawis-new-friends


He’s, like, super old:

http://www.thestatesmanonline.com/index.php/world-news/1173-malawi-election-74-year-old-peter-mutharika-sworn-in-as-president
^i just like how the title of this article begins with his age


He lived in America for 39 years: 

http://mwnation.com/peter-mutharika-american-citizen-us-embassy/


He’s not gay:

http://www.malawivoice.com/2014/04/26/peter-finally-speaks-out-on-gay-rumoursim-not-gay-and-only-god-is-my-witnessif-god-willing-i-will-marry-again-soon-just-stay-tuned/


His daughter’s a F. I. ……..I mean living in Illinois!

http://www.faceofmalawi.com/2014/01/meet-peter-mutharikas-daughter-can-she-be-the-reason-he-is-in-the-us/comment-page-1/#sthash.N5edpAXd.dpbs


Not only is he now innocent of those pesky treason charges, but “The constitution gives the president immunity from any criminal prosecution.” Which, as I take it, gives Professor Metallica a License to Kill (movie idea???): 

http://www.nyasatimes.com/2014/06/02/treason-for-mutharika-to-be-dropped-law-experts-say-malawi-president-enjoys-immunity/


You can’t get rid of him that easily!

http://banthutimes.com/peter-mutharika-under-pressure-to-step-down-from-dpp-political-gurus/


So is President Metallica what Malawi needs? 
Has he learned from his past mistakes in leadership roles?
What will it take him to move Malawi, the 9th poorest country in the world, forward? 
Is he going to attempt to link Joyce Banda to cashgate and prosecute her?
Will he turn his back on the West, much like his brother did as President? 
Will Joyce Banda’s lasting legacy be akin to that of a new, heavily hyped but ultimately failed McDonald’s menu specialty item?
Why does Bruce Jenner look like that? Is that what he told his plastic surgeon? Am I off topic?

 I don’t know the answers. I don’t think anybody does. It is rumored that an old man once knew the answers to these prophesies, but he lived high atop a mountain, and now he is dead.

(pictured above: Prez Metallica and an equally old guy)

ENTER SANDMAN

Want to know more about Malawi’s new president elect, Professor Metallica? Well…


He has mixed reviews as a professor in America:

http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=834703


He’s bad at treason (…..or is he super secret sneaky ninja-style good at it?):

http://news.yahoo.com/malawis-mutharika-treason-charge-president-223837825.html

http://en.starafrica.com/news/malawi-president-elect-mutharikas-treason-case-dropped.html


His definition of “olive branch” is not to invite people to things and then criticize them when they don’t show up:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27669753


He has great past leadership experience:

http://africasacountry.com/a-very-short-introduction-to-peter-mutharika-malawis-new-president/


He likes China:

http://www.nyasatimes.com/2014/06/02/mutharika-tells-west-russia-china-will-be-malawis-new-friends


He’s, like, super old:

http://www.thestatesmanonline.com/index.php/world-news/1173-malawi-election-74-year-old-peter-mutharika-sworn-in-as-president
^i just like how the title of this article begins with his age


He lived in America for 39 years:

http://mwnation.com/peter-mutharika-american-citizen-us-embassy/


He’s not gay:

http://www.malawivoice.com/2014/04/26/peter-finally-speaks-out-on-gay-rumoursim-not-gay-and-only-god-is-my-witnessif-god-willing-i-will-marry-again-soon-just-stay-tuned/


His daughter’s a F. I. ……..I mean living in Illinois!

http://www.faceofmalawi.com/2014/01/meet-peter-mutharikas-daughter-can-she-be-the-reason-he-is-in-the-us/comment-page-1/#sthash.N5edpAXd.dpbs


Not only is he now innocent of those pesky treason charges, but “The constitution gives the president immunity from any criminal prosecution.” Which, as I take it, gives Professor Metallica a License to Kill (movie idea???):

http://www.nyasatimes.com/2014/06/02/treason-for-mutharika-to-be-dropped-law-experts-say-malawi-president-enjoys-immunity/


You can’t get rid of him that easily!

http://banthutimes.com/peter-mutharika-under-pressure-to-step-down-from-dpp-political-gurus/


So is President Metallica what Malawi needs?
Has he learned from his past mistakes in leadership roles?
What will it take him to move Malawi, the 9th poorest country in the world, forward?
Is he going to attempt to link Joyce Banda to cashgate and prosecute her?
Will he turn his back on the West, much like his brother did as President?
Will Joyce Banda’s lasting legacy be akin to that of a new, heavily hyped but ultimately failed McDonald’s menu specialty item?
Why does Bruce Jenner look like that? Is that what he told his plastic surgeon? Am I off topic?

I don’t know the answers. I don’t think anybody does. It is rumored that an old man once knew the answers to these prophesies, but he lived high atop a mountain, and now he is dead.

(pictured above: Prez Metallica and an equally old guy)

Filed under metallica malawi treason allinthefamily

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A Probably Biased, Multi-Chaptered, Outsider’s Take on the 2014 Malawi Presidential Elections Saga

PROLOGUE: In Which Fictional Characters Played by Bradley Whitford and Dulé Hill are Used to Set The Scene, Questions, and Puns

Have you ever seen the episode in season 4 of the West Wing, when White House staffer Josh Lyman goes to the polls to vote for his boss, incumbent president Josiartin BartSheen? And as he’s leaving a guy recognizes him and asks if he can ask him a question? And his question is whether or not it’s cool that he voted for Prez Bartlett in two columns on the ballot, once for the Democratic Party and once for the Statehood party? And Josh is like uhhhh no dude, you can’t vote for him in two columns? And the guys like, well I already did? And Josh is like DOH you stupid dumb idiot person now it doesn’t count? And then a bunch of other voters come over and ask other questions about how they did their ballot, and it is revealed that they all did it wrong and their votes will be invalidated? And then it turns out that they are all actually actors (even the easy-to-talk-to cute brunette that chats him up, much to the chagrin of Josh) hired by wily Toby Zeigler to play an election day prank on uptight Josh? And then the first guy is all like, sorry bro that was kinda uncool, how about I go vote for your boy now…just one more question, do I have to be pre-registered or something? And then Josh loses it and screams YESSSS!!!! as he walks out on the joke, metaphorically invisible cartoon puffs of smoke shooting out of his ears? Remember?
Well we just had an election here in Malawi. And now that the craziness and confusion of that has (ostensibly) winded down, this scene keeps getting replaying in my mindhole.

And I feel like Josh Lyman, like somebody’s playing a joke on me.

Or do I feel like Toby, in on the joke and watching from afar as another slowly realizes what’s really going on?

Maybe I even feel like Charlie Young, observing a visibly shaking and tremor-struck President Bartlett attempt to sign some important documents and failing, unwilling to directly address the bigger problem at hand? (haha…puns! Forgive me my crassness Martin Sheen…).

I don’t know exactly how I feel. I guess just call me Aaron Sore-kin.
(if you think that’s the last of the puns, you’re not even a little bit accurate)

CHAPTER 1: (sponsored by Jock Jams, Universal Records, AMC, and Rainbows)

In Which We Get Ready to Rumble, The Sandman Entereth, The Walking Dead Walk, and We Celebrate the Importance of Colors

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I’m still trying to catch my breath after the whirlwinding squalls of democracy known as the Malawian presidential elections have knocked the air out of me, luckily only figuratively and not physically (more on that laters). You thought the 2000 Florida recount was dramatic….puh leeze. But before we talk about how things went down, let’s meet the candidates that vied to become the world’s most powerful Malawian.

THE CONTENDERS

Incumbent: Dr. Joyce “Contra” Banda, of her self-created People’s Party (orange…party colors are a big deal!). Took over as President after the last one died in office. Opened up a lot of channels for aid and communication from other countries after her predecessor burned a lot of bridges, and gained accolades for her work in female empowerment, stress on education, quasi-support of same-sex marriage, and the selling off of Malawi’s massive private jet to raise funds. Handed out a lot of maize and cows and fertilizer to people, which seems to have been the crux of her campaign strategy, for better or worse (spoiler alert: worse). Her term tarnished near its end by “cashgate,” a massive goverment money-siphoning embezzlement scheme in which it’s unclear if ContraBanda herself was directly involved, but happened under her watch (see earlier cashgate post for more info on that). Refused to participate in any presidential debates. Once hosted me (and the rest of Peace Corps too, I guess) at her presidential palace. Is even shorter in person.

Professor Peter Metallica (Okay….Mutharika is his real last name, but when run through the local accent machine his name comes out sounding like Metallica, which is awesome, and henceforth what he will be awesomely referred to as), repping the Democratic Progressive Party (blue). Brother of former president Bingu wa Mutharika who died in office. Was a top official in Bingu’s administration, and attempted to take over power after his brother died instead of obeying the constitutional due process which says the Vice President (Joyce Banda) was next in succession, an act of treason that most people have seemed to conveniently forget/not really care about. Former law professor in the USA who has garnered glowing praise from ratemyprofessors.com such as “BORING BORING,” “very helpful,” “I barely learned anything in his class,” “I hear you are now in malawi?” “One of the best professors.” and “You can’t understand what he’s saying, the lectures are unhelpful, and the exam is completely random. Might as well let a random number generator create all the final grades.” EEEESH. Apparently the jury’s still out (Yup, I did research, and YUP that is a lawyer pun….Told you!). Is very, very old. Has yet to officially state his stance on favorite Metallica album.

Dr. Lazarus (Rev. Zombie) Chakwera, president of the Malawi Congress Party (black, red, and green), also the party of the first president/benevolent dictator of Malawi, Hastings Banda. Former minister and Malawi Assemblies of God president before entering politics. Pre-election, was thought to be ContraBanda’s main competition. I never found out a lot about this guy, but he’s a pastor so he must be nice, and his party’s logo is a chicken. That’s pretty neat!

Atupele Muluzi, head of the United Democratic Front party (yellow). Son of Malawi’s second ever president, Bakili Muluzi. Second youngest Member of Parliament ever in Malawi. Was an outspoken critic of Bingu wa Mutharika, and was even arrested and jailed before a demonstration rally held shortly before Bingu’s death. Never really had any true shot at winning at all, but gets the “Ross Perot Bleeding Heart Award” for hanging in there and going through the motions anyway.

CHAPTER 2: Democracy is Hard: In remembrance of Mad-Eye Moody

Okay. So. This was only Malawi’s fifth ever presidential election in it’s over 50 years of existence as a republic (Hastings Banda declared himself president for life when Malawi became a free-ish nation and he ruled for many years). They were also Malawi’s first tripartite elections, meaning that citizens voted for their local governments, members of parliament, and the president in a single election. Malawi hasn’t had a lot of practice at this sort of thing, so it was fair to assume that everything wouldn’t go exactly according to plan (or even that there was a complete plan….). I mean, look at us-we’ve been doing this whole election-democracy thing for a LOT longer, and yet we still have had huge blemishes in our process, like hanging chads, voter apathy, the fact that the electoral college is still a thing we use, and the re-election of George W. Bush. So before the election, I was excited albeit slightly nervous, to see how it would all play out. Our bwanas at the Peace Corps office were prepared for the worst, and kept us all on high alert. They warned of possible unrest, accusations, recriminations, riots, and at worst, country-wide apocalyptic havoc (luckily, things never got too craycray, or least no more cray than the usual amount of cray, which can be pretty cray). They told us to stay at site, be careful, don’t choose sides, act normal. Constant Vigilance.

CHAPTER 3: Ryan Seacrest presents The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (for multiple reasons)

May 20, election day came. We didn’t have any classes at school-most of the teachers had to travel to other polling places to organize voters, maintain civility, and collect and count ballots. Many polling sites weren’t ready, or hadn’t yet received ballots by election Tuesday, so some polls didn’t even open until the next day, still some the day after. Most stations had no power (like at my primary school). At a few, scofflaws were caught red handed stuffing ballot boxes, but since they were also technically election officials, the people witness could potentially turn them in to would be…them. Some people apparently voted up to three times. Early on, the electronic counting system to be used to relay results to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in Blantyre was down and not functioning, which necessitated the Sisyphean task of counting all the ballots by hand, often by candle light into the wee hours of the night. More than a couple sites ended up with ballot tallies that exceeded the number of registered voters in the constituency. American Idol voting is more credible. People rioted in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue passionate mobs. Angry voters, claiming fraud, set some voting centers on fire. One Member of Parliament in Lilongwe, who was seeing his reelection chances disappear as more “results” came trickling in, actually shot himself with a gun and left behind a mysterious suicide note that said he had been receiving threats, and asked Joyce Banda to pay for his kid’s school fees. On Friday, still without a result, one man was killed. You know, normal election stuff!
These were some terrible things to happen, but in all honesty, things could have gotten a lot worse. Before the elections, Peace Corps told us to have a bag packed in case things swung drastically and they had to pull us out of the country (which I totally did…), so at least things didn’t get to that point. I do have to say though, at least in my community, there were a lot of people that seemed excited and proud to vote. At school that day, it was basically just me hanging around with the groundskeeper of our school, who does not speak a lot of English at all. In the middle of the morning he yells out to me, “Stanley! I am voting now!” and flashes a huge, pleased as punch grin on his face, excited for the act of civic duty he’s about to perform, thrilled to be an agent of action in his country’s history, inspired to make his voice heard. As he turns to leave, I think to myself that his childlike, christmas-morning smile is what I’ll remember most about this whole election experience.


CHAPTER 4: Red Tape, The Incumbent Who Cried Fraud (but Wasn’t Making It Up), Tennis Courts, That Last One Was Another Pun

So, there’s all that. Then stuff gets tricky and bureaucratic. Amid all of these breakdowns, Joyce Banda has been (rightfully) crying fraud. On the Saturday following the elections, she tried to take action. She issued a presidential order nullifying the election on the basis of “serious irregularities.” (Btw, these “serious regularities” had her getting trounced in the results counted so far). She called for fresh elections to happen again in 90 days, but, the kicker, she would not run. Some saw it as conniving, a last attempt to save face for a leader who knows their cow (“one for every family” campaign platform, at least) is cooked. Some saw it as noble, a selfless act of justifying a tainted election, especially in that she would graciously bow out of the proposed runoff. Others saw it as desperate, grasping at any straw she could to keep Metallica out of office, the man that she has been attempting to convict of treason for impeding her path to the presidency, the man that could likewise similarly try to convict her in connection with cashgate. Well, whatever it was, it didn’t work. The Malawi high court shot it down. ContraBanda, ardent constitutional scholar that she is, asserted she had the power to nullify the election results under this section of Malawi’s constitution:
“The President shall provide executive leadership in the interest of national unity in accordance with this Constitution and the laws of the Republic.”
But no dice. Apparently the lawyers and justices of the high court decided to interpret the constitution in a boring, literal, cut-and-dry, legally rigid document sense, as opposed to a looser, more figurative approach one may employ when interpreting a surrealist painting or the prose of Faulkner, as used by Madame Banda. Only hours after Banda’s press conference, Malawi’s High Court set aside Banda’s order that MEC stop counting votes. However, they did acknowledge the anomalies in the numbers, and would do a manual recount. They said it would take less than a month. Settled.
“NO WAIT! We change our minds!” then said the MEC, because apparently someone realized that Malawi’s electoral law requires an announcement of election results no later than eight days after the election. Whoops. A flurry of injunctions and counter-injunctions from each of the main parties bounced back and forth across the judicial system net at the rate of a tennis match. Metallica, in the lead after almost half of the votes counted, said that the law demanded results be released within the time frame. The others all said a new recount had to happen no matter how long it took, you know for justice and stuff. I have no idea what the consequences would be if the results announcement was to go past 8 days, but apparently the MEC thought that fire and brimstone would fall from the sky if it did, and decided they did not have enough time to do a whole recount. The result would be announced without a manual audit or verification. So with this series of decisions, the MEC basically said, “Yeah, this election is so messed up you guys, we really need to do a recount. Buuuutt that does sounds like a lot of time and effort and I’m sure the results are gonna be samezies anyway…. I know we’ve said before that we have the power to do whatever we deem necessary to ensure a fair election and all, but there’s this one arcane rule that says we need a result within 8 days we should probs follow it.” Or something.

CHAPTER 5: In Which a New Era Dawns, The Author Attempts To Seem Smart With a Fleeting Allusion to a Poem by T.S. Eliot, and an Unfair Rhetorical Question is Asked in Hopes to Provide a Dramatic Conclusion

So before midnight, on May 30, (technically within 8 days of when the last poll closed on the 22nd) we finally had a winner: prof. Metallica with 36% of the vote. In second, Rev. Zombie with 28%, third JB with 20%, and 4th Atupele with a Ralph Nader-like percentage. President Peter Metallica was sworn in as President on the morning of 31 May 2014. It’s been quiet since the announcement- a few demonstrations but nothing major. Joyce has congratulated Peter, but continues to refer to the elections as “fraudulent.” We’ll see if he decides to revenge-investigate her in the involvement with cashgate.

So that is how the election ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a furrowed brow and a quizzical: “okay???” Having spent so much time abroad, and only entering politics in the near past, it’s hard to tell what type of leader Peter will be. I hope a good one. I see both warning signs and glimmers of hope in him. JB was ahead in most of the polls before the election, but what I think it came down to was that too many Malawian men could not bring themselves to vote for a woman to lead them. Many people, men, talk a big game about gender equality, about progress, about human rights, about not being bogged down by traditions of the past and all that, but I think many are hesitant to walk the big game. I see it in teachers, I see it in politicians, I see it it our own office staff. The fact that people are proud to preach for change and growth, but behind closed doors are reluctant to prove this by, say, voting for a woman who is probs the better candidate, is sad (women were also super under-represented in the parliament and local goverment voting). As a foreigner from a more “advanced” country it’s easy to look at this and say how sad it is that this stigma is still so prevalent in Malawi, but let me ask you this….how many women presidents have there been in America? Malawi 1, U.S., 0.


http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27648964

Filed under martinsheen malawi metallica cashgate malawivotes westwing violenceisnottheanswer

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New Chim!

So the rainy season essentially washed away the innner groundearth stuff that my old chim sat atop, meaning that my toilet had become a cement slab balanced over a pit 10-feet deep and filled with almost two years of….yeah. So finally my new chim is finished, and it’s bwana. It has a walkway into it and a roof and everything you could ever want in a bathroom. Check out this virtual tour.

Filed under chimbudzi movinonup peacecorps alleypoop mtvchimz mavi malawi extremebathroommakeover

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Today in Form 1 English Action: Politics meets Poetry

To review rhyme, we played a game where I put a word on the board, and 4 teams competed to generate a list of as many rhymes as they could for the word in 2 minutes (we did 5 rounds). To give things a little bit of a topical spice, I named the 4 teams after the top four presidential candidates in the ongoing Malawi Presidential election (ps-the election was on Tuesday, it’s now mid-day Friday, and there’s still nothing close to a winner). It’s indescribably eerie how close the game played out to the actual election proceedings and how many parallels presented themselves over the class period: lots of noise for no particularly obvies reason, blind support of a candidate based on arbitrary factors (like party colors or candidate home district in the case of the actual contest, or what group you get sorted into based on where you choose to sit today in my class, for example), hitting (fo realzies), chanting (PEETAH, PEETAH!), ceaseless accusations of corruption being used by those on high (being either the Malawi Electoral Committee or candidates themselves….and me), rampant confusion, fervent excitement, the anxious feeling, imagined or not, that some weird knockoff almost-Jeopardy! theme song is playing on every single radio on an endless loop, people voting/writing rhymes even after the polls close/timer rings, flagrant cheating right in front of everybody, attempting to vote more than once (writing the same rhyming word 3 times), mad cheering everytime results trickle in (read by either the radio, or my sultry radio-quality voice), and still no real result (team 1: Joyce Banda and team 2: Lazarus Chakwera remain tied even after a tiebreak round, and in real life news mabes we’ll have an official winner by June???). This is what democracy looks like? Yeah? We’re getting there…


Photo 1: Hard to see, but results are coming in. Joyce Banda and Lazarus Chakwera neck-in-neck. This round the word-to-rhyme was “head”

Photo 2: Team 1 (Dr.Joyce Banda) come up with rhymes for the word, “tree.” Ironically, while being the namesake of the only prominent female candidate and one of 2 current female presidents in Africa, they did not think of the word, “she”

Photo 3: At the last second, Team 2 (Rev. Lazarus Chakwera) attempts to come back from the dead as they rush to find rhymes for the word, “hat”

Photo 4: Team 3 (Atupele Muluzi) finds rhymes for “tar” but I espy some corruption! That lad on the right appears to be jotting down words he hears from another group on his hand. Very sneaky, but unlike other polling sites that ain’t gonna fly here mister!

Photo 5: Presidential hopeful and son of late pres Bingu, Peter Mutharika, has taken the slim lead in elections, but Team 4 (Team PEETAH!) is lagging behind, struggling to think of rhymes for “blue.” They may have come in 4th, but it was close, and all teams came up with some sublime rhymes! (see what I did there?)

ELECTION UPDATE: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27556155 there ya go

Filed under rhymetime malawi malawielections joycebanda pp dpp mcp udf growingpains alanthicke

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Camp Sky throwback!

So one of the things we did at Camp Sky was to screen a film version of the play “Romeo and Juliet,” a text which is a key part of the English literature curriculum and shows up on the national exams every year, despite most students lacking the proper materials or avenues to actually see it as it should be experienced, performed . I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school I could barely follow the language even if I WAS watching it, so the fact that I actually heard some of the kiddos reciting select lines along with Leo/Romeo, Carrie Mathison/Juliet, and Michael from LOST(WAAAAALLLTTTT!!!!)/Mercutio is pretty dang remarkable. Yeah, we opted to show the more recent Baz Luhrman version (no nudity!) even though the modern setting could possibly pose confusion, but we also used it as an opportunity to talk about how the same play can have different adaptations, and this is how this certain director chose to tell Shakespeare’s story. Then we presented our own “adaptation” of the famous balcony scene. Ours pitted the two star-crossed lovers against the traditionally conservative, wary-to-rock-the-boat, Malawi family/tribe-system. Our Romeo was renamed Chikondi, and his ethnic tribe is Chichewa. He falls in love with Kutemwa, who is Chitumbuka. Their names both translate to “love” in their respective languages. We also chose surnames common to their respective tribes, and tried to intersperse common Malawian phrases and references. They laughed at a lot of the jokes, which means they got them, which means they’re pretty sharp! (especially since my joke-writing style is pretty sophisticated. Pretty much Steven Fry-level stuff). Here’s the script from our production (translation/explanations/commentary of Chewa things in brackets, stage directions in parenthesis). Showtime!

Cast:
Chikondi Banda, a Chewa, played by mustachioed camp coordinator Lauren

Kutemwa Chirwa, a Tumbuka, played by glowing coordinator Travis.

A Guli Wamkulu dancer, clad in authentic costume, played by coordinator Pat

Guli directioneer (person shaking a box with noisy things in it for the blind Guli can hear and follow avoiding any other people or obstacles, as mandated per traditional dance bylaws, played by coordinator Ali

SCENE: A Malawian garden. Like other gardens, except mostly just maize. The sun is setting, cooking fires are boiling, and chickens are annoyingly making noise. Chikondi sneaks back into the Chirwa compound for another glance of Kutemwa, a girl he met at the Chirwa disco earlier in the evening. P-Square can still be heard in the background.

CHIKONDI: Tis easy kuseka [to laugh] about being cut by a panga knife if one has never been cut by one before! If chief Chirwa were to find me trespassing in his munda [garden] he would sure strike me down with such a blade. Especially since I killed that annoying chicken of his that just would not. Shut. Up.

(ENTER KUTEMWA on balcony, unaware of Chikondi’s presence)

CHIKONDI (spying Kutemwa): But soft! What light through yonder mawindowi [malawiazation of window] breaks? It is Kutemwa, and she rises like the zuwa [sun]. She makes my soul kuvina [dance] like the gulu wamkulu.

(ENTER Pat in Guli Wamkulu suit, led by Ali, “performing” the traditional Chewa dance as seen in picture 3)

She makes my heart thump like the pounding vula [rains] of February against a tin-roofed house. She makes me feel like there are ngumbi [huge mayfly thingies] fluttering around in my solar plexus and in my spleen——OH! (CLUTCHES HEART) ….but mostly she makes me feel oh so very, very chabwino [chabwino=good, as in the sentence: rhyming “spleen-oh!” with “chabwino” was a very chabwino use of rhyme].

She is talking-but no words leave her mouth-her eyes, they do the talking. They say “Ndikufuna Chikondi…” [I want Chikondi], I’m so going in. [starts inching closer, panics, stops, and retreats] Ah, I am to bold, what if they’re talking about that Mphatso guy instead? She talks, but not to I. Her eyes, so bright and beautiful as if the two fairest nyennenzi [stars] in the sky had to leave to go work in the munda [garden] a while and Mulungu [God] asked her own eyes to twinkle in their places until they come back, which could be anytime between 20 minutes and 2 days [astute social observation]. If those were her eyes up there in the night sky zona [in truth], they would light up the darkness better than ESCOM [Malawi’s “reliable” electricity source. Sarcasm! Aha!] ever could. And cocks would crow to welcome a new day. See how she covers her chitenje [cloth shawl thing] around her. Oh, that I were cut of that cloth so I could wrap myself around her!

KUTEMWA (sensing somebody is there): Odi? Hello? [is anybody there?]

CHIKONDI (aside, hiding): she speaks! Speak again, my angel. For thou art as glorious to this night, being over my head, as is a fish eagle of heaven, and mere mortals lay back and watch as she soars upon the bosom of the air, until when she plunges into love’s madzi [waters] to snatch her prey as you have my heart. Ndimakukondani [I love you]

KUTEMWA (who still doesn’t know that Chikondi is there and is pretty much talking to herself like a cray person): O Chikondi, Chikondi, Ali kuti [where is] Chikondi? Deny they abambo [father], and refuse thy nyumba [house]. Or if thou wilt not, I shall ask another. Like Justin Bieber. Or that nice guy Mphatso. [Much love for Beiber here. Also a timely throwback to that Mphatso guy! Comedy 101!]

CHIKONDI (aside, still, like a creepo): She doth thinks she speaks alone by herself, but she doth not. Which is kind of hilarious. But dare I sayeth something?

KUTEMWA (still unawares of Chikondi): he is a Banda. And I a Chirwa. Enemies, in name. How can a name come between love? What’s in a name? That which we call nsima by any other name would still taste as delicious. For Chikondi, the same. Chimodzimodz. Lose thy name, and trade it for my love!

CHIKONDI (loudly): I am no baptized under a new name. Hence, I will never be Chikondi.

KUTEMWA (finally noticing Chikondi): Chifukwa! Chiyani! [what! Why!] Who’s there! Dost thou be a burgler!?

CHIKONDI (stepping on stage, calmly): Muli bwanji? [how are you?]

KUTEMWA (calmly, unstartled): Ndili bwino, kaya inu? [I’m fine, how are you? This is a joke about how all Malawians automatically greet each other no matter the circumstance upon meeting. Witty, progressive, funny stuff]

CHIKONDI: Ndili bwino. (turns dramatically towards Kutemwa) I am no burgler by trade, fair miss, just one who wishes to burgle your heart…

KUTEMWA: My ears hath heard you speak only ten words before, and yet I know your voice. Chikondi? Of Banda?

CHIKONDI: Neither of those, if you like.

KUTEMWA: How did you get here? The munda walls are high and difficult, and to be here is death if my family espies your Banda face.

CHIKONDI: I flew over the walls on the wings of love, for there is no fence that can keep me from you. Also, you left the gate wide open. And the watchman is asleep.

KUTEMWA: If you are seen, they’ll murder thee!

CHIKONDI: I’d rather die now, ended by their hate, than to die and never feel your love. Hey, unrelated, but do you have any Cokes? Ndatopa [I’m tired]

KUTEMWA: I don’t want to come off as desperate or clingy, but doth thee love me?

CHIKONDI: I swear by the moon…

KUTEMWA: AH AHHHH. The moon? The inconstant moon? As reliable as a minibus? Is it waxing or is it waning? Big and bright one night, small and dim another. Do not swear by the moon, or you may change as quickly as it does.

CHIKONDI: Okay… (looks around) Let me instead swear by the goat. Gentle goat, ever persistent in its bleating, who never works but always eats, who serves no perceivable purpose yet still endures, intimidated by no errant bicycle or slaughterer’s blade. Let my love be as stubbornly constant as the goat. And I do not just say this because a goat was the second thing I saw to swear by after the moon, but because that even if wert thou a pair of Nike sneakers as far as that vast market stand wash’d with the farthest sea of people, I would adventure for such merchandise [twist on the old text…wordplay on merchandise. Lol. But Malawians do love their sneaks though]

KUTEMWA: Swear by nothing then. Tonight has moved too fast, too sudden, like lightning which is here and gone in a flash. Let us say good usiku [night].

CHIKONDI: Wilt though leave me so unsatisfied?

KUTEMWA: Ok, well then borrow me your radio. [young Malawians have a hard time differentiating the terms borrow and lend, this is the hilar insight made here]

CHIKONDI: How about the exchange of your love’s faithful vow for mind?

KUTEMWA: I have already given it. And yet will do it again.

(A threatening amayi voice yells bloody murder, angrily, death-like, rage-filled, from the house)

KUTEMWA: Stay but a little. My mother just said she misplaced the salt again [classic misdirect! Bet you thought the Amayi was mad but she really just wanted salt! Classic!]. (goes behind wall/disappears)

CHIKONDI: O, blessed usiku! Is it real? Is it a dream?

KUTEMWA (returned): SMS me mawa [tomorrow] if you wish to propose marriage, also where and when and I will follow.

CHIKONDI: Actually, I’m out of airtime [oh, Airtel units]

KUTEMWA: Ok, well come here mawa. At what o’clock shall I expect thee?

CHIKONDI: I don’t know, some time after tea? If it is not raining? And you provide biscuits? [Malawians are good at keeping good time appointments. More insightfully biting cultural commentary]

KUTEMWA: Good night! A thousand times good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I will say good night till it be the morrow!

CHIKONDI: Tiwonana.


Photos: 1-Chikondi enters, 2-Chikondi woos Kutemwa, 3-Kutemwa makes Chikondi’s soul dance like the Guli, 4&5-the lovers connection strengthens, 6-shot of the students watching

Take that, Baz! Ps-your adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” was just okay! That’s right….just okay!

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