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The Gule Wamkulu, Baboons, and Homestay: Part Two

Lilongwe, Malawi

Our first "real" camp after the refugee camp went so smoothly. The student presentations on the third day drew a large crowd from the community - one of World Camp's main goals to have the students become educators in their own communities, so this big showing was awesome. At the end of the student presentations, the community members presented a series of four cultural dances for us. The fourth dance, the finale was a sacred Malawian dance that only happens about once or twice a year. It is known as the "Gule Wamkulu" and stems from the animistic religion common among the Chewa tribe in central Malawi. The Gule dancers believe they are able to summon the spirits and be michevious. The dancers are considered to be overcome by the spirits and are not considered human. They cover their faces completely so as not to be recognized. There were a couple dancers on stilts, three men whose ripped bodies were planted completely black with oil, a young boy dancer with just a loincloth on (and just huge ball of fabric on the front), and a few dancers dressed as women. The dance was more like a skit, and we have to admit that we were all completely lost during it. The villagers are supposed to pay the Gule Wamkulu throughout its dance, and as no villagers (or us, the azungus) did this, the three painted black men (with whips, we might add) said they were kidnapping children because their was no money. Obviously, we didn't understand what was said, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the children sprinted from the circle (trampling a few of us). Fear was plastered on their faces. It was quite an experience, and one of the directors said it was one of the best Gule Wamkulu presentations he was seen in his six years in Malawi.

After two successful camps and a very exhausting week, we had a much-needed day of rest on Sunday. A handful of volunteers joined Guise, one of our amazing translators, for his church's two-hour service. A volunteer who is in the conservatory at Oberlin played his clarinet for the service. The preacher yelled at the top of his lungs into a woman's ears for about 10 minutes...we think he was trying to call a demon out of her. It was quite an experience. A group of volunteers went to the local putt-putt course (very hard, supposedly) and out to pizza and ice cream. We took a drive through Lilongwe to get more familiar with the "city" - we saw the hospital, the UNC project there (a very well-funded program that focuses on HIV.AIDs research and ARV distribution to HIV+ patients), the presidential house(s), the US embassy, and the government buildings (all the ministries). We also had quite an experience at the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary - a type of "zoo" presented by the Ministry of Tourism. We all paid our 30 kwacha (equivalent is about 15 cents) and headed in to see the baboons, hyenas, etc. However, right when we walked in, a crowd of young Malawians was running towards us. Again, fear plastered on their faces. We saw a few baboons loose, but naively, we thought it was supposedly to be like that. So, like stupid azungus, we start to walk on down the path. Perhaps more stupidly, the workers there let us go. Suddenly, we're surrounded by three ferocious baboons, fangs out. The workers started throwing rocks at them. One of them nibbled a volunteer's butt (not breaking any skin, thankfully) and one of our directors was milliseconds away from being attacked by four of them. Thankfully, we all sprinted away in time and no one was hurt. We were all laughing uncomfortably, shocked out of belief, and so thankful nothing serious had happened. A worker came out to talk to us and said because they have no money, the cages are old and the baboons escaped from them. We're like "gee thanks for taking our kwacha and letting us walk right into the park, then buddy." Safari will (hopefully) seem tame after that close encounter...

permalink written by  Price and Janie on January 17, 2007 from Lilongwe, Malawi
from the travel blog: Price and Janie do the World
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refuge camp experience in every regard sounded so rich and full - 5,000 sounds like such a huge # - how long are the 'residents' generally there for?
got a kick out of your ability to find pizza and ice cream! so love hearing about and visualizing the complete cultural immersion you are having! your encounter with the baboons was one I hope won't happen again - glad that you are in good shape that you could outrun them! they are nasty! the malawians are lucky to have you in their midst and clearly, you feel so fortunate to be in their company!
my best
hi price - I am zach's mom!

permalink written by  audrey foster on January 21, 2007

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