|The final land negotiation/approval meeting was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. at the MTO School-we anticipated this would take no longer than 1 hour, but we should have known better than that. When we arrived, we were greeted by the 3 senior chiefs of the surrounding villages, the 2 school board members and the headmistress of the MTO School. The meeting was now to be split into 3 “issues.” The first was the fact that Heidi and Rob had to pay $40,000 kwacha again to have electricity run from the road to the school because the funds designated for this 2 years ago were misappropriated by our corrupt “gang of 3” I had briefly referenced yesterday, who were now exposed to the chiefs, who we found out had no idea that this was happening. Lesson learned: any money transactions from here forward needed to be done in front of the chiefs and witnesses to exhibit transparency and prevent corruption. The 3 involved were Reuben (former headmaster), Francis (leader of a volunteer organization that pockets fees from overseas workers) and The Sheik (a Muslim guy that was the former head of the village school board and ran a non-existent orphanage for 30 kids we were eventually told) Reuben, Francis & The Sheik sounds like it could be a hit sitcom in the States.
The second issue involved exposing The Sheik’s thieving practices and intimidation of the village and school-the chiefs assured us they would take measures against him and force him to repay the money he & his cohorts stole.
Finally, we came to the land issue-after deliberating again about the price for quite awhile, the chiefs accepted our offer of $1000 US dollars with some added conditions: 1)They each needed $1000 kwacha(about $6.50) to eat for the next couple of days, 2)They would like us to buy them a few additional shovels and picks to help dig graves in their villages and to use later to help in our building, 3)Some “appreciation” gifts were given to them including t-shirts, a couple of oranges, and some badly needed medicine including aspirin, children’s ibuprofen and hydrocortisone cream. We all walked the property again except the eldest chief who was 85 yrs. old, and broke ground for some photo ops you will all see. While this was being done, the village secretary had to bike back to village HQ to retrieve the chief’s stamp to validate all the copies of the paperwork needed to take to the govt. next week to make it official and have the land surveyed and deeded. When we returned from our land walk, we finalized all the paperwork and showed the 85 yr. old chief how to open a childproof bottle, which he had apparently been struggling with the duration of our absence. At this time, the chiefs were joined by a drunken nephew, George, who brought his own kind of humor and slapstick comedy to the meeting. The 1 hour meeting had become a 4 hour ordeal but MISSION #2 ACCOMPLISHED!
Some facts about the village where we will be building: It has around 1800 people spread out over 12km, there are 160 single orphans and 25 double orphans, the only assistance it receives regularly is from the govt. in the form of food, books and teacher salaries.
Our next stop was at Toys R’ Us- which is a roadside hut that sells finely carved replicas of various vehicles seen around Malawi. We had visited the place 2 years ago and returned to present the proprietor, Stanley, some gifts such as various tools, sandpaper, some Tonka toy replicas, a t-shirt and a prized illustrated book of vehicles, planes, etc. found in the U.S. Stanley does all these remarkable, functional carvings from pictures, so the book was like the equivalent of the Holy Grail to him. The smile on his face and the excitement and exuberance he showed us to the point of tears was worth the trip alone. Another mission accomplished for the team!
It was now late afternoon, so we returned to the lodge, where Heidi and Jan finished bartering with the local artisans in another 2-hour negotiation. They were able to get some amazing & unique items at a good price, contingent on throwing in some Hornets t-shirts, deodorant and wristbands that described Christianity through a story of colors. We also found out that Isaiah, the head artisan, had been dreaming of Rob’s beat up, old New Balance tennis shoes, but couldn’t follow through on that request & send Rob back to the States barefoot. After dinner that evening, we were once again treated to a band and tribal dancers dressed in authentic African garb and some dressed as Colonial police officers- not sure what the symbolism of that was, but I’ll sleep on it….