&     Bouncing the Backroads


The article below is about a typical bus ride in northern Malawi and what the author learned from that experience.    Fasten your seatbelt and start reading!




I think it was on that bus ride, bouncing down the barely paved road that comprised a major highway, between Rumphi and Mzuzu that I realized what a treasure a book really is.  Though Rumphi, a dusty, rural, market town in northern Malawi, and Mzuzu, a bustling frontier city and the jumping off place for tourists heading north to Livingstonia, are only a hundred or so kilometers apart, it is an all day, exhausting trip with frequent stops.  Frequent stops, yes, but not enough time to leave the bus to take care of any “personal business” the bumpy roads may have inspired!  No, the bus merely slowed down long enough to allow more passengers to board, which they continued to do, long after all the seats and the aisles were filled with men, women, children, luggage and livestock!  A ride on a Malawi bus is nothing like the luxury of a Trailways or Greyhound bus ride in the USA!


We survived several bus trips and as veterans of the experience, we boarded this bus prepared with reading material and snacks.  We also decided to refrain from imbibing in liquids for the day, a strategy designed to reduce the chances of a call of nature.  We quickly settled into our seats.  I was fortunate to be near the window and Mark sat next to me.  At his elbow was a woman traveling to visit relatives in the city.  In her lap she carried what was likely to be a feast for the family; a live chicken was nestled on her lap. 


I mention the chicken, because typically on our bus rides Mark managed to sit next to a chicken-toting person so it was becoming a joking matter between the two of us.  It seems we never notice the chickens until something startles the bird and it lets out a squawk of alarm, which is nothing, compared with the yelp that invariably slips through my husband’s lips when he responds in alarm to the bird’s excitement!  Mark’s alarm always was cause for a good laugh from the other bus passengers.   

The Story Teller in the Back

As we bounced along that day, I pulled out my travel guide and read some facts about the area that was flying past our window.  Mark became engrossed in a paperback novel.  Soon I became aware of an animated conversation in the seats behind us.  The gentleman behind Mark was apparently telling a story. I couldn’t understand his words because he spoke in a tribal language, but his hands flew as he described something to an attentive audience of fellow passengers.  In a moment, he turned and peered over Mark’s shoulder and then shortly turned again to regale the people at the back of the bus with another amusing tale.  It did not take me long to realize that the gentleman was simply reading over Mark’s shoulder  The story he was sharing with fellow passengers was obviously an excerpt of the book!


The Value of Books

Books are an uncommon treasure in this beautiful country.  This is a land where public education is fairly new and people are working hard to outfit their schools with the things they need to educate their people.  This is a land where people make the very bricks used to build the walls of the school their children attend. Thatched roofs provide a shelter for children to learn and enrich their lives, but there are no windowpanes, there are no doors, there is no plumbing or electricity, there are not enough teachers and there are not even books!  Despite this significant limitation, people here can read and take great joy in using their literacy skills.  The man on the bus, a country man from an outlying mountain area was eager to share what he read in Mark’s novel with those around him.  It is hard to imagine anything similar to that happening on public transportation in my homeland. 


During our visit to Malawi, we toured several schools, both private and public.  Some schools were funded by missions from outside of Malawi and had amenities such as desks and corrugated roofs and doors, but even those schools had few books available to the students and faculty.  Most of the schools we visited did not have electricity or running water, or even desks, windows and doors.  The teachers faced classes of 50-70 students crouching on bricks on the dirt floor, eagerly waiting to read what their instructor may write on the primitive chalkboard mounted on the wall in the front of the meager classroom.



Back Home in South Carolina

When Mark and I returned to the USA and resumed our jobs at Emerald High School where we taught, we were extremely aware of the embarrassment of riches we have here in our small, rural South Carolina town.  Though we live in a community that has economic challenges and a depressed economy, our students are blessed with the resources they need to make a better life for themselves. The textbooks we no longer used in our classrooms could be put to good use in those rural village schools in northern Malawi.  There must be a way to make them available to these people who are starving for a chance to learn and grow. 


Here where we have public libraries, school libraries, book stores and access to the Internet, we sometimes forget how blessed we are.  We also forget that we can bless others.  We can do it one book at a time.  A small donation will make a difference.


A Grandfather Speaks 

I heard a story told by a man recalling a conversation with his grandfather.  The two were skipping rocks on a small pond.  After they had thrown several stones, the old man said, “The water level rises with every stone you throw into the pond.”


The young boy threw a few more stones in the water and then looked up at his grandfather and said, “I have thrown several stone, but the water doesn’t look deeper to me. All I can see are the ripples left behind my stones.  My stones make no difference.”


The grandfather paused, looked at the boy and said, “You see the ever-widening ripples and they are the proof that you make a difference.”


We can make a difference in those small towns in Africa.  We do not have to wait till we have lots of money or the support of some large non-profit organization.  No, we can simply meet this challenge, one book at a time.


This article contributed by Virginia J. Pulver.


Visit My Malawi Travel Journal at the pulverpages site for more information on life in Malawi.




Contributing to Africa's Literacy & Education with Books:

The CALEB Library Project

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