Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What can you get for $1.38?

I am in the village of Chinseu, basically in the middle of nowhere. We arrived at the village after a 45 minute drive of ups and downs on a twisty dusty road better suited for one way traffic than two. Maneuvering through rocky parts of the road and concentrating on passing over narrow bridges built of stone or wood were included in the journey.

Even though we had to do various things in preparation for today’s seminar, we first went to the resthouse. It is important to check into the resthouse early to reserve your room. On any trips like this into rural areas, I have learned to bring a number of items that often prove very helpful. These include some basic tools, a mosquito net, a travel pillow, a towel, flip flops, headlamp and a tent. There are different reasons that I carry each of them. The tent is because sometimes the room that you booked at the local resthouse two weeks earlier gets given to someone else passing through.

The resthouse we’re at has two room options. The first is $1.03 a night and the second is $1.38 a night. We are told the difference between the rooms is the thickness of the mattress on the beds. We take five small rooms. Three of the more expensive rooms are available as well as two with the thinner mattresses. After some shuffling around, I end up in one of the more expensive rooms. So, what do I get for my $1.38? I have a bed with a lumpy mattress through which I can feel the cross beams of the frame, questionable sheets that I am told have been washed, a locking door with key, a single window with burglar bars, a mosquito net with more holes than net, a light bulb and a slightly funky smell. I’m actually quite happy. It is better than I expected. The locking door, burglar bars, and light are all bonuses I wasn’t necessarily expecting. There is a single toilet and “bath” shared between eight rooms. The toilet is a hole in the ground with a concrete cover and the “bath” is a small concrete room with a bucket in the middle. It is clean compared to most I have been in and recently painted.

After confirming that we were in fact here, and were in fact going to spend the night, we wandered off to the venue for the seminar. There is a community hall that World Vision constructed. We can use it free of charge, but have to pay $6.90 for someone to clean the toilets. We find the hall in a bit of a state of chaos. Chairs and building materials are spread around. After some discussions, we are told they will begin cleaning at 5:00 in the morning and it will be ready be the time we arrive at 7:30 for set-up. This is the reason we go a day ahead of time to set-up for seminars. Communication can happen on the phone, but nothing replaces face to face communication here.

We are met by the pastor that is the chairman of the local Pastors Fraternal (a group of pastors that meet monthly to discuss issues and encourage one another). They are hosting us for the meeting. It has been their responsibility to publicize the seminar. We meet with another man that is responsible for supplying soft drinks and then we go to the restaurant that will be supplying the food for lunch. Many details of how much food needs to be prepared and how it will arrive at the venue are discussed. It is near dinner time, so we also order our meal ahead of time.
My meal tasted of mosquito repellant. I had applied it not long before eating my nsima (local staple food) and chicken by hand. It added a tangy chemical taste for the first few bites. The meal was by the light of a kerosene lantern. Returning to my room I quickly made a cocoon of my mosquito net to hide from the swarm of mosquitoes that call my room their home. I began to do some work on my computer, but found my thinking getting fuzzy and my eyes closing. Apart from some vague memories of people talking much too loud outside my room and a constant shifting because of the wood cross beams below my mattress I was awoken at 5:00 by a knock at the door and the announcement of “madzi” or “water” letting me know that there was some warm water waiting for me in the “bath room.”

We are told 200 church leaders should be coming this morning to learn about how to share with their Muslim neighbors. We’ll be happy if half that number arrive.