2019 Malawi Youth Pilgrimage – Reflections – July 5

All Reflection posts include long descriptions of group activities impressions of what they’ve seen so far. There aren’t any pictures. This post describes the trip to Africa, the welcome they received when they arrived and their first full day in Malawi.

An email sent by Michelle Snyder on Friday July 5, 2019
Greetings from Malawi.

Since this is my first message home, I’ll give you a several day play-by-play.
We left Pittsburgh Presbytery on Tuesday at 3p and drove to DC where we had some devotions and were in bed by 11a (in spite of Coleman and Kemps denied requests to go swimming😉).

At 7:30a Wednesday, we left for the airport where things went off without a hitch…..as much as is possible with a 13 hour flight, a 3 hour flight and then a 45 minute flight. I counted at one point that to get to our destination, between cars, shuttle buses, planes, and trams, it took us 11 vehicles to get here. We ate well on the planes…..4 meals total which was a fun little taste of Ethiopia which the 5 of us really liked. The boys slept on the long-haul flight (2-3 hours) better than the girls did (1-2 hours) but when that flight was overnight and we crossed 6 time zones headed east, that wasn’t enough for anyone. We had a 2 hour layover in the airport in Ethiopia which was our first experience of Africa. If you look at Dave’s blog, he has a picture of that airport. Hoards of people from all walks of life. Many burkas (as a predominantly Muslim country). More Asians than any of us expected. And I was probably the only one in the whole airport wearing a tank top (oops😊). The airport was more modern than we thought it would be. But also, we walked the whole length of it (after a 13 hour flight, we needed it) and there was NOTHING. Not a coffee vendor. Not a store to buy as much as a bottle of water. Just people and gates and not enough chairs. We then flew to Lilongwe which is the capital of Malawi. We dipped our toe into Africa a little deeper when, off the plane, we had 2 hours but needed to apply for visas which required three different steps, each of which took a long time, get our bags (which never showed up), go through customs (which doesn’t take long when you have no luggage) and get to our plane (which we only made because it too was running late). Our final flight brought us to Blantyre which Dave describes as the NYC of Malawi. In terms of size, I think he’s all wrong. In terms of being the cultural center and a center of influence, he’s probably right. The Lilongwe airport had assured us that we should just go ahead and get on our plane without our bags and that they would find their way to us. But when we arrived at Blantyre, only 13 of our 30 bags had made it and unfortunately, 9 of those were medical supplies. The team seemed to totally take it in stride. The three of our teammates who did get their bags were happy to share any essentials we needed. And I guess we were all too tired to care. We have learned that a pair of underwear can get you through more than one day when you really need them to and that when everyone smells, it’s kind of like no one does😊. We were greeted at the airport with about 50 Malawians from various partner churches who were singing, holding signs and individually shaking our hands, saying “hello” and “welcome”. Malawians are very welcoming AND they LOVE speeches. There are speeches at the beginnings of things and speeches at the endings of things. So there was a ceremony with speeches in the airport parking lot before we left to come to our conference center. They hosted a reception for us followed by dinner. And we all were in bed by 9p (after 28 hours with almost no sleep) and we all slept for about 10 hours, most of us waking up rested as if we hadn’t just crossed the world.
Today, we had two things on the agenda:

1) We got a tour of their Synod. There are 2 million Presbyterians in this synod alone which is more Presbyterians than the entire US. And behind their gates they were excited to show us their offices, their cathedral looking church (like something you might pluck right out of Europe), their radio station that broadcasts all over the country, their school and their beautiful grounds. We then came back to find that all of our bags had arrived except one medical bag and Chloe’s suitcase. Since Chloe and Greta wear basically the same size and the Snyder’s brought enough toiletries for 3, if someone had to lose their bag, one of the Snyders was the best possible scenario.

2) We then went to the home of one of the lead pastors in the synod who also does some things in government (including flying tonight to advise with the president about how to handle some unrest because of unhappiness with the outcomes of the recent election). His home was extravagant to say the least. How cool for the kids to see what Malawian wealth looks like. They fed us a big meal that included Nsema, the staple food of their culture. It’s a little like grits or polenta, only thick enough to eat with your hands. There were more speeches: a speech by Dave, the presentation of gifts, a speech by the host wife and a speech by the host husband. They sent us off with singing as we pulled out of the parking lot.

That might not sound like a lot on the itinerary but that took us basically the entire day. Because it gets dark very early here…around 5:30p (I think that has something to do with being on the equator) and because this country just generally moves slower, that was a full day on Africa time. Kent and Coleman are now chilling out, playing UNO in the gazebo. Chloe and Greta went for a walk with Dave to see the missionary cemetery. And I was just happy to (FINALLY) get a shower, put on clean clothes and write you this message.

The conference center we are staying at is very nice. Beautiful grounds. Comfortable beds. Flushing toilets. Mosquito nets. Hot showers (for most of us😊). Good food. Very safe. It has been a nice place to continue to dip our feet into Africa. As we have driven around, the kids have had a chance to see the life of Malawians…..the congested streets, the women walking with baskets on their heads and babies on their backs, crowds of people standing around and street vendors selling just about anything you can imagine. We’ve heard roosters, seen chickens running wild and being slaughtered on the side of the road and we’ve even run into a band of wild goats.

This trip has a lot of introverts so I have felt compelled to assist with team development and overall conversation generation. I will say at this point that the team is merging nicely. Kemp has taken TONS of pictures and has even smiled for a few. A small, pretty rough looking 7/8 year old came up to the van and asked him through the window for food, saying “I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in 2 days”. That will stick with him for awhile. Coleman is taking it all in with intelligent commentary and good humor. Greta is feeling very connected to her dad’s Africa years and is more quiet than I generally see her which is probably a good sign. Chloe is doing what Chloe does…..observing everything and forming very strong opinions about the economics, politics and religion of the place. And I’m doing my best to offer context and perspective as it relates to globalization, colonization and religious syncretism. I think (hope) I’m doing it in a way that keeps it from feeling like civics class😊.

Everyone is taking their Malaria meds. Everyone is drinking enough. Everyone is safe, happy. No one is drinking the water. So all is well in this little corner of the world.

Tomorrow, we are hosting a youth rally here at the conference center for the youth of this Presbytery. We don’t know if there will be 50 youth or 500 youth. I’m the speaker and it will be on suicide which is pretty cool. And then Sunday, we head for the lake (whatever that means…..we’ve learned to the take the itinerary as it comes). When I asked the boys if they had any messages to send to the family, they said “tell them ‘hey’”😊 More to follow when and as we are able.

Michelle

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