Church visit in Nkhotakota

I had read in Lonely Planet that the singing in the church of Nkhotakota
was wonderful. Luckily the weekly Ilala ferry arrives there on Saturdays
which would fit perfectly into my plans. I thought it might be crowded
with tourists because it is mentioned in LP. But I was the only white
person there.


I had to walk for half an hour with my backback before I got to the guesthouse
I had selected from Lonely Planet. Once I got there, the owner greeted
me with a big smile and said: oh we have a problem in this guesthouse,
just come along, I have a better one not far from here!

Right… so another 45 minutes later, sweating heavily in the burning
sunshine with my backpack (always bringing too much! Mental note to self:
next time bring less stuff!), we arrived at the second guesthouse.

Proudly he presented to me the most luxurious room in the place. Later
on I heard him bragging about it too, how he had given the ‘muzungu’ the
self-contained, as he called it. Well, self-contained meant that
I had my own toilet (no seat and smelly as hell), and ‘bathroom’ (a bucket
which I could fill from the well outside). The room itself was
in dire need of a paint job. The chair was so unstable I was afraid to
sit on it.

Of course I showed only gratitude. But I did replace the hole-ridden mosquito
net with my own. It was the cheapest room I ever got in the whole of Malawi,
about $3 as far as I recall.


In the afternoon I was sitting out on my terrace reading when I kept hearing
all this noise of people cheering and shouting. So I followed the noise
and realised that it was a soccer match. I was such fun to watch, the
players seemed to be willing to die for the game and gave all they had
on the dusty grassless field.

Unfortunately I drew more attention than the players for some people.
People wanted me to take their picture and kids started performing their
dances, stances and playful fights for me. I did take some great pictures
that evening and had some nice chats on the way back after the game.


This is one of my fondest memories of Malawi.

Very early in the morning I went to look for the church. All I had to
do was follow the streams of people. When I got there, somebody went and
got the reverend. Again I must have stuck out as the only white person
there. Reverend Francis Kaulanda came and had a chat with me before the
service, welcoming me and thanking me for my interest.

Rev. Francis Kaulanda, Nkhotakota Angelican Church

I asked him if I’d be allowed to take photograghs and he said: yes,
sure, it’s my church and I don’t mind. Soon after that the 3 hour (!)
ceremony started.


There were three choires. One was the official choir of young adult
men and women who were standing in front, near the reverend. One choir
was a childern’s choir seated on the benches right in front of me. And
the last choir was an all women’s choir, seated directly behind me.

The women’s choir

So during the 3 hour ceremony there were prayers, singing, bible readings,
fund raising… and man, was the singing amazing! I was choking back tears
every time a choir got up and sang! Often they were African songs with
hand and arm movements (sowing seeds) or little dances, and sometimes
they were western type gospels, or a mix of these styles.

The voices of the Africans are so deep, melodious and warm! How I wished
I had some sort of recording device!

About an hour and a half through the ceremony I noticed that the church
had filled up pretty good, there were hundreds of people now. Sometimes
they got so carried away by a song or a speech that they started ululating,
that high-pitched tongue thing they can only do in African or Arab countries.

Hello, my name is…

Suddenly I recognised some words in the speech the reverend was holding
(all in Chichewa, the local language), one of them was Muzungu
(white person) and I also heard him talking about the Netherlands. Everybody
was staring at me and I must have turned crimson.

Then he asked me in English to step forward and introduce myself. AARGH!
Trying not to stumble over benches or words, I stood next to the reverend,
tried not to be intimidated by the hundreds of eyes looking at me, and
I introduced myself.

I told them that I was on a holiday in Malawi and that I thought it was
a beautiful country. The reverend translated for me, and approving sounds
came back from the audience. I said that so far, I had only met wonderful,
friendly people. More approval. I finished by saying Zikomo kwambili
, thank you very much! Then everbody started laughing and cheering and
applauding…. I felt like a rock star! 🙂

Tea at the rev’s place

After the ceremony Reverend Kaulanda invited me to his home right next
to the church, where his wife gave me tea and bread. They had about 7
daughters. We had a nice conversation about his visits to England, about
religion in general, about funerals (it’s a big happening with everybody
who ever knew the person attending, so hundreds of people who sometimes
spend days getting there) and about the AIDS-problem in Malawi. I was
positively surprised by his openness about this subject.

That afternoon I spent some more time in town, checking out the market
(western used bras on sale, pretty weird) and I played some Bao with a
guy who worked at the guesthouse.


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