Little did I know that coming to Malawi would lead me to the craft of quilting.
As a child, I loved to make things: drip sandcastles, drawings, paintings, mud pies, popsicle stick houses, clay pots and macaroni and cheese. My sister and I even wrote plays and performed them in the backyard. I loved to watch as sand and water muddied my fingers, dripped through my fist to become a tall tower in a palace, or make something beautiful emerge from paper, paint, and a brush. Getting my hands dirty with this stuff or making up something with my mind was always fun. It has been a fun challenge to try and illustrate life here through my words these past few months.
After we had been in Lilongwe for about a month, we took a trip to town on the minibus for the first time. On our ride back we met an American who happened to live in our neighborhood! She mentioned that she had been attending a quilting group made up of international women. We exchanged phone numbers, and that week I attended my first quilting group meeting.
So far, I’ve learned a fancy way to tie a knot with the thread and needle, how to sew a simple stitch, a back stitch, sew a pattern that creates a picture, finish off an edge so that you can’t see the thread, make a simple curtain, and make a cushion. With each little accomplishment I feel a sense of triumph. I figure that as I learn how to move things together with fabric and thread I can also teach others how to do so as well.
In addition to learning how to sew, this quilting group has surrounded me by a group of women from all over the world who have learned what it means to live in a different place. There are those who’ve been here for only a few months, and others who have been in Malawi for several years. It has been a blessing to have a place to ask questions, like where I can find a specific food item or just find out about the culture from those who have already gone through the transition to life in Malawi. It has also been fun to hear their stories about interesting cultural encounters…like eating fish eyes. Topics that are even more serious have come up, like stepping into retirement by adopting children from the Crisis Nursery here in Lilongwe. Attending the group each week gives me encouragement and also a break from the daily culture shock for a few hours. I can sit and listen, chat, or just sit and sew allowing myself some much-needed downtime. The tea and scones (and even Christmas cookies) are nice too.