Monday, March 21, 2011

Spare Me a Towel

The sun rose warm on another beautiful day in Malawi. I pushed the mosquito net aside from my sleepy cocoon and wandered out to join Brett for coffee on the verandah. Joey heard our muted conversation and hurried over to serve us our breakfast. I felt like royalty as I sipped on my freshly squeezed orange juice served by our attentive minion.  Nothing in life was as sweet as this day and I savoured every moment of it.
My day continued in a tranquil vein, as I headed out to the beach to catch up in my journal. I laid my towel in the shade, aware that the day would get hot soon enough. The hope was for a lazy day of swimming, writing and nothing more strenuous than that. My time in Mwaya Beach was coming to a close and I wanted to soak in every nuance of it.
I laid my handful of possessions down and strode into the gentle waters that lapped at my skin.  I dove into the warm lake and popped up for air, only to strikeout for the distant shore.
Aw, who was I kidding though? After several strong strokes, I paused to tread water and look around. A wisp of wind touched stately palms on shore and I caught sight of the housekeeper wandering over to clean our hut. I rolled onto my back and lazily kicked my feet, as I traced cloud shapes in the Malawian sky. A bird flew overhead gliding towards shore.  Life was perfect in this moment and I wanted it to last forever. My sun-warmed  smile filled the universe and I was at peace.
Eventually my fingers began to pickle though and I made my way back to shore. I laid down on my towel and picked up my pen to capture life around me. I became engrossed in recounting my experiences at school the day before and only looked up when I noticed a man walking by me on the beach. I looked up with a smile in greeting.
“Jambo”, he said.  “Hello”
“Hello,” I replied. “Beautiful day today.”
I noticed the net thrown over his shoulder and asked him if he was going fishing. He looked confused, so I pointed to the stringy bundle on his back.
“No,” he said. “I work at the Matete post office. This is my towel.”
His towel was nothing more than a few threads loosely strung together. He then proceeded to ask me for my towel. While my heart lurched, I had to say no. It was my only towel and a possession that I would continue to have need of for the foreseeable future. While I could afford to go and purchase a new one, I was still on a tight budget.  Comparatively, I was rich in their eyes. Just by my presence there alone. Handing them anything and everything would do little good in the greater scheme of things though. In Mozambique, the widespread aid organizations that handed out alms only helped to create a beggar society. I loathed the thought of the friendly people of Malawi following in those same footsteps.
My visitor took his leave with a smile. He wandered off to enjoy a bath in the lake and I was left to contemplate the economics of wealth in a continent largely unfamiliar with it. Back home, I had clothes and towels aplenty. More than enough to spare and share. I knew that hand-outs took their toll in pride though. I offered my good-will and that was enough for the day. I prayed that the warm heart of Africa could keep its special nature, and perhaps one day be able to proudly have more wealth to share with its people. Today though, it shared what it was able and I was grateful for all that Malawi was.

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