Making dinner for me and a friend.

From Julie’s recent trip to Malawi in May 2018.

I don’t even know how to describe it. I’m at a loss for effective words.

I stand in my kitchen over the gas stove. Propane tank knob is twisted open just a smidge, main switch flicked down to turn it on, element is lit. A single bulb hangs a foot from the ceiling, casting little light, and shadows in front of me and over what I’m cooking. It’s been a long day, and I’m quite hungry.

As I stir around crumbled bits of ground beef sizzling in a pan, amazing smells arising, I am reminded of my friend and our chat this morning.

A single mom, who became pregnant about 6 years ago after a man forced himself on her. She has left her daughter in her village, with her mother, and come to this small town in search of piecework to earn any money she can, to support her little girl. She arrived here about five years ago. Struggling to survive herself.

The sound brings me back to my cooking. The meat pops and sizzles. I drain some of the fat from the meat and put it in a second pan to create a meal. I go to the fridge and grab my cold, wrinkled fries from last week, and toss them into the hot sizzling oil in the second pan.

My mind shifts back to my friend. She sat across from me wearing the second hand shirt I’d given her just days before, the only skirt I’ve ever seen her wear, a frayed-at-the-edges, splitting-seamed, sweater with broken zipper, and plastic shoes. We began our chat about her monthly budget requirements, as she was visiting me to ask for assistance to buy a solar lamp as she couldn’t afford to buy credit for hydro.

Maize flour
Cooking oil
Matches to make a fire to cook on
Firewood (she collects from bushes)
Soap for washing herself and her clothing

Just nsima? What about vegetables? They call them “greens” here and are usually cooked with onion and tomato. So I asked, “What about greens?” Yes, she has them from time to time (without onion and tomato, because they are luxury items)...

Let me add some leftover noodles to the pan with yummy golden fries. Oh, this looks very good. Smells even better. Kunoa chomene! (Very delicious!)

Wait! “From time to time”?!?! What does she mean? I ask, and her response leaves me gutted. “When I can find them in the brush.” My friend SCAVENGES for food. I hold back the tears, saving them to spill without abandon, for after she’s gone. How on earth?! This woman lives on less than $25 a month (what she earns from selling soap). She doesn’t have a garden. She lives in a small 10’x10’ room. Living by the LUXURY of candlelight if she has any money to buy candles. And she scavenges in the bushes for greens to cook.

When she leaves, I weep. Gut wrenching weeping. Side heaving weeping. How is this possible? How is this right and fair? How can I not feel gutted and sick to my stomach? I have more than enough at home. I live in a world of over abundance. Even while here in Malawi, I have more than enough. But to scavenge for food? I will likely never have to in my lifetime. No one should have to. LUXURY items are soap, candles, a bed, sugar, toothbrush & paste?? How? My gut is wrenched. How do I convey to those back home that their help is desperately needed? How do I help them see what I see? To know what I know? What can I do? Lyrics from a song come to mind:

“Now that I have seen, I am responsible ... Faith without deeds is dead ... I am on a plane across a distant sea, but I carry you in me, and the dust on my feet ... I will tell the world, I will tell them where I’ve been. I will keep my word. I will tell them.”

I am responsible. To tell where I’ve been. To tell what I’ve seen. I promise.

The smell of my cooking quickly returns me to the present. I add some of the ground beef to the second pan (saving the rest for later). I dump the food in a brightly coloured orange plastic bowl. I walk from kitchen to dining room and open the front door. I walk outside, sit on the edge of the concrete veranda and give a quick whistle. “My” dog Tiger comes running to join me. I tell him what a good boy he is. I lean over and place the orange bowl and delicious food in front of him. He devours it in no time. I bend my head and cry again as I think of my friend in her unlit, cold, room as she sleeps on the hard, cold floor awaiting a new day of hope that her life will be different one day.

I’ve just given my dog better food than my friend eats. I let the tears run down my cheeks and beg that God should show grace to her, and the millions of others who live lives like hers. And that He should have mercy on those of us who spend and waste on ourselves, stocking our houses with things unimportant, making things look clean and perfect, banking away money for our futures. I grieve over the confusion our planet creates in my mind, and the ways of myself and my fellow humankind.
Love a Village Mission PO Box 33511 Toronto, ON M3A 1Z0 Canada
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