July 23, 2004
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Visitor from Malawi dazzled by Oregon
By Jim Cornelius, News Editor

Deb and Tom Hainisch with Spiriano Khunguni. photo by Jim Cornelius
When Tom and Deb Hainisch decided to get married at Black Butte Ranch, they knew they would have to include a special friend.

The couple met in Malawi, Africa, where Tom, a Peace Corps volunteer, worked closely with Spiriano Khunguni, a local assistant to the Ministry of Health. Deb was a teacher and the trio became fast friends.

"Khunguni was good to us," Tom said. "He taught us a lot about the culture and introduced us to a lot of people," Tom said.

Khunguni accompanied Tom and Deb on a climb up the 10,000-foot volcano Mt. Mulanje, a feat most Malawians would never attempt because of superstitions about the mountain.

But Khunguni had a sense of adventure. He needed that sense of adventure when Tom and Deb asked him to attend their wedding, which was held at a Ranch cabin on Saturday, July 17.

Khunguni had never ventured far beyond his home.

"It is the first time to leave my country, the first time to take a flight, first time to take a long journey," Khunguni said. "When the plane took off, I was really scared."

Malawi is sandwiched between Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania -- a beautiful, green highland country, totally dependent on agriculture.

Going from Malawi to Portland, Oregon, was a big culture change. Khunguni quickly adapted to indoor plumbing, running water and refrigeration -- which allowed him to indulge in cookies-and-cream ice cream.

Khunguni was astounded by the variety of foods available to Americans. Malawians eat their staple food, nsima -- a corn flour mix -- at every meal, sometimes with beans.

He was also struck by the gender equality he saw here -- men and women working together, women acting as breadwinners and men cooking for women.

He said he plans to cook for his wife Mary when he returns home. Specifically, he will make French toast.

"I want to be an example," he said.

Khunguni was initially shocked to see so many women in America in shorts. In Malawi, women's thighs are considered "very sexual" and are kept covered by a sarong-like garment, while breasts are considered functional.

The sight of bare thighs was a bit overwhelming, but, Khunguni said, grinning, he has gotten used to it.

The Malawian was also taken aback by the use of timber in buildings, both homes and commercial structures -- because wood is so scarce in his homeland, which has been deforested by firewood seekers.

Similarly, large game animals have long been confined to national parks and a visit to the Oregon Zoo was Khunguni's "first time to see an elephant, a zebra, a giraffe."

A visit to Seaside provided Khunguni with his first sight of the ocean and he enjoyed driving bumper cars at an amusement park. Less enjoyable was a visit to the IMAX theater where he got sick.

Khunguni found Central Oregon a congenial place to stay.

"Black Butte is a good place -- there is so much to do," he said

Khunguni and Tom Hainisch biked and ran on the trails at the Ranch and planned to climb Black Butte on Saturday after the wedding.

While acutely aware of the material wealth of Americans and the relative poverty of his own people, Khunguni and Tom Hainisch both said they thought Americans have the wrong idea about Africans.

"People in Malawi are so friendly, so happy," Khunguni said.

He said they greatly enjoy life, though he is fearful about the effects of recent late rains and drought. Harvests are dwindling and "maybe this year we will face hunger."

Tom noted that "I think we really do portray (Africans) as helpless, starving, unhappy people. I think we saw more happiness there than we do here."

Khunguni was to return to Malawi this week.

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