Part of my therapy during the covid-19 pandemic has been regular expeditions on Zomba mountain. Social distancing with a vengeance as I wander its big open spaces. Today my expedition took me to Chingwe’s Hole – a deep cleft in a spur at the edge of the mountain with precipitous cliffs and steep gorges all around. It is an awe-inspiring spot and no wonder that the Hole has given rise to a rich mythology, much of it about who was thrown down it.
Today there is a small shop beside Chingwe’s Hole which takes its name from a verse in the Bible: “What must I do to have eternal life?” It is the question that was put to Jesus by the rich young ruler. It is common in Malawi for shops or businesses to take their names from biblical texts but few have such a spectacular setting to provoke thoughts about the meaning of life.
You would have to be strongly insensitive to the natural environment not to experience Chingwe’s Hole as a place to stop and think. In fact, a very fitting place to ask a question that echoes through the ages: what must I do to have eternal life? For most Malawians the biblical language rings true and speaks still to their own life and experience.
A fundamentally religious view of the world has also shaped Malawi’s experience of covid 19. This does not mean that simplistic answers are convincing. Like everywhere else there is much about the current pandemic that is perplexing and troubling. But the great majority are united in the conviction that it is God who will see us through the calamity. Even at this stage when there are more questions than answers, this conviction remains unshakable.
On my way back from Chingwe’s Hole I passed a young woman walking in the opposite direction and melodiously singing a hymn at the top of her voice, the words echoing across the hills all around. She had found an answer.