Life and Death in Malawi
By Captain Ted Horwood –
Life is capricious in Malawi. In a country where poverty, HIV/AIDS and illiteracy are the major strokes on the social canvas, life seems so precarious. It never ceases to surprise me when young people approach me very enthusiastically to announce they have made it to their 20th birthday.
Two things happened recently which, to a large extent, exemplify life here.
One of our officers (pastors) has been planning his marriage for many months. There are hosts of traditional customs that must be adhered to, as well as those that we would assume. So, small children dolled-up in pink dresses were taught special steps for their entrance into the chapel. Invitations were passed out, and crates of Coke bottles were bought. The people had arrived. Things were ready.
Debbie and I anticipated attending the ceremony, but not the reception, which is often a six-hour dancing marathon. We arrived 15 minutes before the service, and were quickly approached by our regional commander’s wife with an urgent request: her husband had come down with malaria the night before and was to have officiated. After some pleading, and with five minutes to go, I was now officiating the wedding.
Then the next crisis came. As we were about to enter the chapel, we were told that the groom’s wedding ring had been lost. They immediately looked at our rings, but that got them nowhere. I gave them some suggestions, but ran to the truck to find a small wire key ring, just in case. Well, the exchange of rings section of the ceremony came and I noticed that there was only one ring. So, I pulled my little wire ring-thing out of my pocket, placed it on the pillow, and carried on, “with this ring I thee wed.” The bridegroom wore that piece of wire all day. He finally did find his ring, and the glowing bride and groom lit up the day.
That was Saturday, but Sunday was coming.
Many of the guests could not get transport home until the next morning. A large 5-ton truck pulled up, and 80 people boarded for the three-hour trip home to the Lower Shire region. Several of our pastors and their families boarded as well. We received a call a few hours later.
As the truck was negotiating a very steep and curved road, the driver lost control and the truck rolled over on top of the passengers. Immediately several were killed, at least five. Included in the deaths was one of our officers, a wife and mother of two; her pastor husband remains in critical condition. The owner of the vehicle commented without a sign of remorse, that the driver was not qualified to drive, and the vehicle was not insured. He indicated that the vehicle was overloaded, and not really road worthy.
Yesterday, I went to their village to deliver the two children of the pastor. The seven-month-old had a broken arm near his shoulder. When I arrived, there were hundreds of people who had gathered the day before in anticipation of receiving the body of the woman officer. The body will arrive today, over 48 hours after they gathered, and they would not have moved during that time as they waited.
Unfortunately, this is not a new experience for our friends here in Malawi. One day we laugh and dance with family and friends at a wedding, the next we are conducting their funerals. People are surrounded by the relentlessness of grief and pain everyday. Please keep them in your hearts throughout the year. Please pray for the people of Malawi.