This story is NINTH in the Missionary Kids Stories about the Matthews family who live in Malawi, Africa.
Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).
I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. My goal is to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them important truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.
So, here is the next story! (Hint: This is a two part story, and has a “cliff hanger” ending.)
(If you are new here, scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)
Chinsapo Adventure (part 1)
Hi! It’s me! Gussssssssssss!
Last time I told you about our fabuloussssssss HERO DOGS. Remember?
This time I am going to tell you about when I got really, REALLY scared! I thought I was done for! A goner! Never to return to my nice life with my family. It makes me shiver to think about that night even now!
Okay, here goes. It started out pretty fun. But… well, let me tell you a teensy bit about the weather here in Malawi first. In one way it’s opposite of yours, in another way it’s the same.
Okay, you might know from your parents, that there has been a drought in Malawi over the summer. We usually get a few little rains, like where you live. But not this year… and not last year. Some people blame “global warming” or something like that, but don’t know what that is.
Here’s how Malawi weather is different from yours. In the summer it is COLD!! Not snow-cold, but pretty chilly!
The summer is called the “dry season”, but it’s cold.
The winter is called the “rainy season” and we DO get a lot of rain then, but it’s very hot. I mean roasting, sweating, dogs-with-their-tongues-hanging-out-panting hot!
Cold dry summers…. hot wet winters. You’re probably thinking “weird,” right?
THIS year, the water in our river went way, way down to barely a stream because of no rain.
This made it so the city officials couldn’t make any power for us. Something called hydro-electricity, which is when you make power by water in a river turning the wheels or…well, I’m not sure. Ask your mom or dad!
So our town ran out of water in the river and power in the… wheels or something… and it can’t make electricity.
When you run out of something, you know how that is, right?. Like when you run out of Honey Nut Cheerios and you were really wanting to eat that cereal for breakfast. Or when you run out of dog food and your dogs look like they want to maybe eat you! Or when you run out of gas in your car!!! It’s not fun.
At first we didn’t have electricity for about six hours a day. That’s about the time when you wake up till way after lunch time. But worse than that, is when the electricity goes out when you are about to eat dinner, and it’s getting dark (it gets VERY dark in Malawi). I think my sister, June told you about last Christmas when we had to light all the candles so we can see to open our presents.
What other things need electricity besides the lights? How about the refrigerator? Or a hair dryer. Or the washing machine and clothes dryer?
The VERY worst part is, that even though we might still have some water left in our big water storage tank outside, way up on a brick tower, we need the electricity to pump it into our house!!
After a while, the power started staying off for 12 hours each day!
Then 18 hours!!
You know there is only 24 hours in a day, right? So sometimes Mom had to stay up AT NIGHT to wash our clothes while the electricity was on for a few hours.
Finally, even though we were VERY careful to only use a TINY little bit of water for things, we used up all the water in our water tank. Now we had no power and no water.
At FIRST, it wasn’t so bad. It was like camping. We had candles. We ate things from cans that Mom warmed on our stove for dinner, which is powered by that blue-flame gas. She cooked oatmeal for breakfast and we ate BP&J sandwiches for lunch.
I loved, loved, loved not having to take a shower…. for days!! Can you image that? No scrubbing behinds your ears or washing your hair. Yay! Mom didn’t like it very much. And my sisters didn’t like it after a while. Dad said he didn’t mind and Marshall acted all “macho.”
“WE guys don’t need showers!” he said. “WE are tough!”
We had to buy ALL our water in bottles from the Chipiku market. But, pretty soon the supplies there got low.
We brushed our teeth in two spoons of water from a bottle! Washcloths could be barely wet to wipe our hands and face and really dirty parts of our arms and legs.
And the toilets. Yikes! Do you know that you cannot flush a toilet more than one time without water???? At first, when the water shortage started, we collected some water from our pipes into buckets and kept them in the bathrooms to flush the toilets when they REALLY NEEDED flushing. But soon even THAT was used up. What did we do then? We…well I’m not going to write about it here!
And then it came!
A huge storm dropped so much water on Lilongwe that things started to flood. Our driveway, our culvert, the streets. Water started coming into the side door of our house by the patio until we laid down big rolled-up towels. The red dirt roads and trails to the villages turned to slick, squishy red mud.
Then a very strong wind came with the rain. Our trees bent over and small branches broke off. The windows of the house rattled and shook. It was spooky! The girls screamed, but I LOVED it!! Sometimes the wind blew the rain right straight against the windows, like a garden hose! Goliath and Gideon huddled in the carport in their beds.
“Marshall!” Dad called to my brother over the noise of the wind and rain. “Come help me put out the water buckets!”
I knew what they were doing – catching as much water as possible where it poured off the roof so we could flush the toilets again. They put out all twenty buckets. I watched them fill up and overflow. It was coollllllllllll.
“The plants are getting a good drink,” my sister April said, looking out the window.
“You mean they are getting a BATH,” I told her laughing. Wait… would that mean I’d have to take a bath now? In bucket water???
“No, honey,” Mom said, chuckling.
Then she said a very crazy-amazing thing. “Children, hurry! Take off your shoes and run outside in your dirtiest clothes. The rain will wash them for me!”
We stared at her in surprise.
“Quick! It’s not cold. The rain brought on the warm humidity.” We hesitated only a few seconds longer, then whooped and ran to follow her orders.
Soon we were out on the brick driveway, jumping in big puddles and twirling in the wind and rain, flinging water from our hair and clothes like dogs do when they shake off the wet. (Goliath and Gideon stayed undercover in the open garage, but they barked at all the fun.)
Soon, Mom brought out more shirts and pants and skirts. We changed quickly (not our underpants, of course!!) and left the wet and now pretty clean ones to be wrung out and hung up on the clothes lines on the side patio where the washer and dryer were.
“Rub the really dirty places on the fronts of shirts and knees of pants,” she said, handing each of us a little piece of bar soap. Then she looked at Dad. “Hudson, you too.”
He and Marshall both had soaked shirts and shorts from putting out the buckets, so they changed into the dirty clothes she handed them and joined the scrubbing and laughing and chasing us. Wahoooooooooooooooooooo!!!
What an awesome time we had, changing our outer clothes two more times before the rain slowed and stopped. Mom had some dry and almost clean towels waiting for us when we came in, dripping and grinning from ear to ear. It was awesome, having so much fun and helping Mom “get the laundry done” too. And…. we all got our hair washed!
Have YOU ever done that? Or played in the rain? You should try it, if your parents say it’s okay.
But our happy time ended later in the afternoon when Medson Chunga, our night-time gate guard came to work. His clothes were damp and his shoes and pants legs were covered with reddish mud. He looked sad. (Medson has to walk all the way from the village to come to work every night. It takes him TWO HOURS!)
When Dad asked what the matter was, Medson said the stormy wind had blown off his roof. Rain had come in and made everything wet.
“Oh, Hudson!” said Mom. “What will his family do?” (Medson has a wife and six children.) “You KNOW it’s going to rain again tonight!”
I looked up at the sky, and sure enough, dark gray clouds were crowding all around the edges of the sunset.
“Medson, is your roof made of thatch?” Dad asked.
(Thatch is made of piled up branches on the roof boards, with lots of long dried elephant grass tied on top. I keeps out the sun, and a lot of rain, when it’s new. After a while…. not so good.)
Medson shook his head. “No. Made from the metal.”
He was talking about that corrugated tin that was on some of the small houses and shops in town. It kept out the sun and rain better, but oh, what a loud noise the rain made on it. In a hard rain, you could hardly hear yourself talk.
Dad told us once, that if a sheet of that metal blew off in the wind, it would be like a flying blade and could cut a person’s head off!! I shivered. I’m glad Medson didn’t say anyone got hurt.
It was all the way dark by then and no way Dad could drive to the village in the mud and blackness. He promised Medson that he and Marshall would take him home in the morning as soon as there was light and see if they could help fix the roof.
“Do you think Medson’s wife will take the children to a neighbor or relative’s house tonight?” Mom asked Dad. “I wish they all could come here.”
That made me a little worried. Where would eight more people sleep?
“Was anything damaged inside?” she asked. “The villagers have SO LITTLE to begin with.” I could see her mind working. She went to the kitchen and opened some cupboards. Then she went to our pantry and linen closet.
That gave me an idea, but I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t want them to say “no.”
Early in the morning, Mom cooked coffee and oatmeal on the stove for Dad and Marshall. I’d gotten up and dressed very quietly, not waking up Deek, and tip-toed to the hallway. I could see what she was doing through the crack in the kitchen door. She put three loaves of bread into a bag, plus ten small water bottles. Another plastic Chipiku bag had one of my old blankets stuffed inside.
The oatmeal they were eating – piled high with brown sugar and raisins – looked really good. My stomach growled. Good thing I had taken two granola bars out of the pantry the night before.
When they were putting their dishes in the metal sink (and making some noise) I sneaked out the door by the garage and climbed into the back of the Range Rover. There was a plastic tarp there, and I crawled under it. I wanted to save the granola bars for later, but I couldn’t wait. I unwrapped one of them and ate it. Soooooooooo good.
I wished I had some water of to wash it down, but before I could think of going back inside, Dad called Medson from the little guard hut by the gate. He and Marshall helped Dad load some things into the Rover. I stayed really still under the tarp as they put in hammers, a coffee can of nails, a few boards, and a short ladder. Mom brought out the bags she’d filled and put them in too. I thought about getting out a water bottle, but I might be noticed and my whole plan would be ruined.
Medson tied the dogs and rolled back the big gate for us to drive through. Then he closed it, let the dogs loose and came out through the small door in the gate.
“You’ll have to give us directions once we get over the bridge,” Dad told Medson.
I raised up just a teensy bit so I could peek out the side window of the Rover. I could tell it had rained overnight. Our culvert was still full of rushing brown water, and the streets had small branches all over them. The main road was okay to drive, but I wondered about the dirt road going to the village.
“It’s a good thing the Rover has 4-wheel drive,” my dad said as we bumped off the paved road and onto the dirt… well, mud.
We slid sideways and spun the wheels. It was kind of fun, until I bumped my chin, which made me bite my tongue. Owww! Thank goodness the Rover has a noisy engine.
I could see mud from the tires flying up and plopping onto the roof. After a while, most of the sliding and flying mud stopped. Our Malawi sun dries dirt fast.
Then I heard Dad groan. He pulled the Rover to a stop with the engine still running.
Ah-oh. I knew we were at the bridge over the small river that separates the village from the town. It wasn’t a safe looking bridge to begin with; had the storm hurt it more? I wished I could sit up and get a better look, but I didn’t dare.
“No way the Rover is getting across that, Dad,” Marshall said.
They all sat in silence for a minute, then Dad said, “Everybody out”
What was I going to do? Nothing! I squeezed down lower under the tarp and waited. I could feel the Rover rock as each person got out.
“Marshall, you go on ahead and direct my tires exactly over the long wood planks” I heard dad say from under the tarp.
“But Dad, there are boards in the middle that look broken! What if one of the wheels breaks through?”
“It will be okay, son,” Dad assured him. “That’s why I had you all get out, to lighten the load.” I heard him say a quick prayer to God for safety, then the Rover rocked again as he got in and slammed shut the door.
Oh no! What if my extra weight made the Rover break the boards? I took a big breath and held it. When you swim, doing this makes you float. Maybe it would make me weigh less now.
We started moving slowly. I could tell when the front wheels and then the back wheels went onto the wooden bridge. I could picture Marshall walking backwards, carefully, pointing Dad to turn the wheels to the right or left. I looked at my hands and saw they were grabbing the tarp really hard. I let loose and swallowed, still holding my breath.
It took sooooooooo long. Would that old bridge go on forever? A couple times I heard boards creaking and imagined the Range Rover falling though into the river below. Could I get out fast enough not to drown? By the way… how deep was the river now? Usually a person could go across in waist deep water.
I thought of Maya running through that on the night he escaped from the Medicine Man… in the DARK!!! I sure couldn’t have done that!
Then… finally…. the sound of the tires on the boards changed and I knew we were on the dirt again. I felt like whooping out loud, but stopped myself before I could make a sound.
Dad got out and I could hear him calling to Medson to come across too. I heard a kind of slapping and I knew Dad was hugging Marshall.
“Good job, son. And thank YOU, Lord!”
We got going again and Medson started giving directions. I raised up and watched out the window. We bumped along, turning down one path then another with no markers to show where we were. There were fields of tan, dried-out maize stalks. Now and then we passed some huts, smoky with cooking fires.
Little kids ran out from the huts to the roadside and waved, calling “Azungu! Azungu! (That means a white person.) Some of them ran alongside us for a while, but others just stared wide-eyed as we drove by.
I wanted to wave at them, but I didn’t.
Dad dodged around a herd of cows, some donkeys, and several goats being prodded along by young boys with sticks.
That was a Malawi boy’s job, to take the animals to places where they could eat grass or drink water. A Malawi girl’s job was to help her mother with cooking and babysitting and “washing” clothes by the river.
“Watch out for that kid!” yelled Marshall all of a sudden making me jump. Dad jammed on the brakes and I was pushed hard against the back of the backseat. Oh, no! Did he hit a boy or girl?
But Marshall was laughing and pointing at a little spotted goat who was bouncing off into a cassava patch. (Baby goats are called kids, as you guys know, right?) After a minute Dad laughed too.
One time, the Rover slid sideways into a ditch and I was knocked over to the other side. I grabbed the tarp but still got uncovered a little bit.
Medson called to some men who were sitting in the shade of a tree. They helped him and Marshall push us out. One man looked in the back window and saw me. I smiled at him. He didn’t smile back, but he walked away without telling anyone.
Finally I guessed we could go no further and dad stopped the Rover.
Medson opened the hatch and helped pul out the tools and boards. I held my breath, but I’d covered up really good again. Then he waved for Marshall and Dad to follow him. I thought about getting out then. Surely Dad wouldn’t take me home now, but he’d be mad. So I stayed crouching there a while longer.
Malawi kids ran out and walked on the path beside them. It wound between some huts made of bricks from the red clay on the ground. Most of the huts had thatch roofs. When they had gone past one nicer looking house and I could still see a string of kids following them, I got out.
I stretched my legs and my back. Whoa, that felt good.
I noticed a little girl carrying an even littler baby in a sling on her back looking at me with wide eyes. I smiled at her and put my finger to my lips. Did she know that it meant “shhhh?” I guess so, because she didn’t say anything.
I pointed to my chest and then to where my Dad had gone. I made walking signs with my two fingers and started going that way. She came along too. The baby on her back was awake and stared at me with big round eyes. After a while, the eyes drooped and closed.
I kept Dad and Marshall in sight (they were taller than Medson or anybody else and easy to see) but I looked around too. I’d never been this far into the village. I saw boys kicking around one of those plastic bag soccer balls (a big wad of old paper wrapped with plastic bags and tied tightly). They make a pretty good kicking ball, for a while at least.
I wanted to go kick with them, but I knew I should keep my Dad in sight. I didn’t want to get lost. Maybe later, when I saw where they were going, I would come back.
The girl beside me tapped my arm and pointed. I looked up. Dad had disappeared! Oh, no! Which way had they gone? The girl tapped my arm again and pointed left. I smiled and walked faster till I could see them again.
We did this for a while, the girl and I. Every time I got distracted by interesting things to see, she would show me the way to go. Once I watched a couple boys with a young ox who was pulling a cart about the size of Deek’s old crib. It had two big wooden wheels and rocked side to side when it moved. The boys jumped in. I wished I could ride too, and go wherever they were going. What fun!
Then came the tap on my arm and I looked to where I could barely see Marshall’s red shirt.
Another time I watched a girl with a blur bucket full of dirty water. She was pushing something up and down in it with a stick. I went closer and pointed at the bucket with a question look on my face.
She dredged something out of the water and I could tell it was an old shirt. She smiled. Oh, man! She was washing the shirt in… in… that dirty water. I remembered running around in the rain the day before. And what fun we’d had. Did she ever do that?
Then came another tap on my arm and I turned away.
Finally I saw Dad stop up ahead and Medson point at a house. It was small, but it had plaster on the outside walls, painted dull, dirty blue. There were lots of dirty hand marks all around the sides. One part of the roof looked okay, but on the other side the metal was peeled back in a kind of roll. Three sides had come lose, but the nails on the fourth side kept it from blowing off.
“Looks like a sardine can!” I heard Dad say.
Huh? What’s a sardine can? How did this roof look like one? I shook my head. You will have to ask your mom or dad about sardines in cans.
Of course, now was the time that I SHOULD have gone forward and showed Dad that I had come along without asking permission. I could help him carry the boards or hammers, or pick up nails that dropped down accidently.
My foot started to take a step forward… but then I remembered the boys kicking the ball, and the ox cart and other fun things I wanted to investigate back here in this part of Chinsapo Village. I’d only been to where Mrs. Molenaar gave Bible lessons to the kids on Thursdays. Back here was where they all came from. Maybe even farther!
Maybe… maybe I’d look around a little first. Marshall, or any of the kids that crowded around the roof project could help pick up nails.
I looked for the little girl carrying the baby. She was just going into Medson’s house. Hey, she must be one of his daughters! No wonder she knew the way. Well, I didn’t need her now. I would just go a little way down this path. As long as I could hear the hammering of nails, I would know where to come back.
Oh, man, did I have fun. I found another bunch of boys in a clearing who were also kicking around a bag-ball. I stopped a minute and listened for the hammering. Yep, still going. Then I went to the boys. They stopped and stared. I pointed to the ball and made kicking motions with my foot. A minute later we were all kicking and dodging.
They didn’t know how to play soccer, not really, but they had two teams and were playing keep away. There were two pairs of rocks at each end of the field and I guessed they were the goals, but we hardly ever got to them.
I showed them how to jump with my feet around the “ball” and twist kick it away. They loved that and were soon doing it too. Now and then I stopped to listen to the hammering. Still going on.
The day was getting pretty hot now and I was getting thirsty. I remembered the water bottles back in the Rover and was about to go back, when one of the little scrappy kids kicked the bag-ball right at my head. I head-bopped it toward the “goal” and … wow, it went right in. Of course they were excited then and I had to stay longer.
Finally I did start back, several little kids who weren’t playing ball following me. My stomach growled and I remembered I hadn’t had breakfast. I pulled out the granola bar, which was squished a little and tore open the wrapper. Suddenly all the little kids pressed in close, their hands outstretched.
Yikes! I held the bar up high and they reached higher. It was MY bar. I was hungry! I hadn’t had any breakfast! My mouth watered for that granola bar!
Then I remembered what Mrs. Molenaar said. Village kids NEVER had breakfast. Slowly I lowered my hand and started breaking off little pieces and handing them out. The ball boys came too, but by then I had only one small piece, about the size of my thumb nail. I popped it into my mouth and showed them my empty hand.
Then one of the boys was pulling my arm and pointing a little distance away. I followed, wondering what was up. I found another boy near a hut, squatting by a little fire, with some… Yikes! He had big grasshoppers frying in grease in a little, bent-up pan. The boys all grinned and rubbed their bellies.
What?? No! Suddenly I remembered what Melody had done – eaten Mbewa, a mouse, well the head anyway, and she’d said Malawi kids eat grasshoppers too.
I looked closely. They were crispy and browned, with their legs tight against their bodies. They did look a little like fried baby chicken wings. Maybe.
The boy stuck a stick in one, blew on it, then held it out to me. All the boys watched, friendly-like, eager for me to…. to… eat it.
I reached out my hand, and took the ‘hopper off the stick. The boy poked another one and handed to another boy, who quickly crunched it in his teeth and licked his lips. Actually, the frying bit of grease smelled pretty good. And I could smell pepper too…..
Quickly I put the creature in my mouth and chewed. It was hot! Hot from the pan and hot with pepper. It had a sort of French Fries taste – you know the kind that are fried real dark and crisp.
I chewed it and swallowed and smiled.
“Zikomo!” I said (thank you). They all cheered and crunched ‘hoppers. I looked to see if I could have another one, but there were none left.
Then I felt a tap on my arm and turned around.
It was the little girl, minus the baby. I almost didn’t recognize her in the dim light. She backed away from the boys and motioned me to come. Huh? Then it hit me! The roof repair! My Dad and Marshall! Were they done? I looked around, not remembering where I’d come to after the ball game. The sky was getting dark with clouds, and….. sunset. Yikes! I’d better hurry!
I thanked the boys again and hurried after the girl, who turned this way and that down paths. I didn’t remember going like this. Did she really know the way? Was it really the same girl, Medson’s daughter? How long had it taken her to find me?
It was really getting dark when we got to the clearing. The roof looked normal again, not like that… that sardine can. But, where was my Dad? Where was Marshall? And the tools and the ladder?
I turned to the girl and made motions like turning a steering wheel and sounds like a motor. She just shook her head. I made the motions again and started down a path. I had to FIND them before they got to the Rover and drove away. She caught up and grabbed my arm. Again she shook her head. This time she made the wheel turning motions too and then threw her arms out wide.
I stared at her. No, they couldn’t be gone, couldn’t be driving home already. No! I started to run again down the path where I thought we’d left the Rover. She ran with me, then in front, then stopped me, holding up her hands.
I saw the truth in her face. They had gone without me! How could they forget me? Then I remembered. No one knew I had sneaked along. No one knew I was in the village. No one knew but the boys I’d played ball and eaten grasshoppers with. And this girl.
What a stupid idea this was! Why hadn’t I asked for permission! Or told Dad that I was here? I started to cry, even though I didn’t want to. I knew Mom was so worried. And Dad was probably very, very mad to have to turn around and come back for me. But wait! Oh, no! He couldn’t drive into Chinsapo in the dark!
And it WAS dark now. Black-dark. The clouds were covering all the stars. I could see a few tiny cooking fires, but that’s all.
I was breathing hard now, like I had been running.
A mosquito buzzed around my head and I swatted at it frantically. What if I got bitten? What if I got malaria?
I heard a rumble. Was that thunder? I was really scared now. What was going to happen to me?
I sank down to the ground. “Oh, no!” I cried into my hands. “Noooooooo!” I started rocking back and forth. “I want to go home!” I wailed.
Then I felt a tap on my arm.
Oh gosh. Mom’s calling me to do my homework now. I’ll finish this story next time! Bye!
“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.” ~~~ Psalm 34:11 Good News Bible