(The author is Murari Dasa, who has been preaching practically alone for the last two years in one of the world's poorest countries.)
Bhakta Ram has become very keen for any opportunity to distribute books, and so he joins me on weekend book distribution excursions.
On the first weekend of March Bhakta Ram and I rode by car about four hours to the shore of Lake Malawi, to a town called Mangochi, the main holiday-resort town in this country. Bhakta Ram took one of his company cars and a driver. Since the following Monday was a holiday, it was a long weekend. Mangochi is a predominantly Muslim town, but the people there are all liberal and friendly. The driver told us that when the Arabs used to travel to the African interior from the East African coast this town was a stop-over point, and that explains its predominantly Muslim population.
We distributed books in the shops and among the staff of two beach hotels. By Caitanya Mahaprabhu's mercy we managed to distribute nineteen books, including an SSR to a doctor, Salim Ahmedou, and a Bhagavad-gita to the owner of a hardware shop. We had entered the shop and shown the owner all the small books, and after looking at a few he asked us what "BG" meant. (He had seen some quotes in the small books with references to BG.) We told him that BG stood for Bhagavad-gita, and when we showed him the book he decided to take it. In another shop we sold an "Easy Journey" to a young Gujarati Muslim boy. The shop was owned by Indians, it was surprising to see them so far in the African interior. Since the boy and others in the shop were happy to see us, we thought they must have been Hindus, but after he bought the book we asked his name and he said it was Mustafa.
The second weekend of March we went back to Mangochi and started going house to house. We began in the most posh area. In such areas I only carry BG, NOD, KB, and First Canto, Part 1, of the Bhagavatam -- all maha-big books, since I spend all week distributing only smalls and bigs. The second weekend we sold 2 books, the third weekend 3 books, and the third weekend 4 books, including a First Canto. The buyer of the Bhagavatam book was Symon Msefula, the CEO of the Malawi Stock Exchange! He had a really big house. He mentioned how he had studied in New York and had some Hindu friends who told him about the Vedas.
Because of a row with the major donors, mostly Western, who supply 40% of the annual budget, Malawi is broke. Last year a fuel shortage developed, which is continuing. Nowadays the signs at most petrol stations read "no fuel," and only once every two or three weeks does fuel come in for a few days, at which time there are huge queues at the few petrol stations that have fuel. I have a scooter, which is fuel-efficient, and so by Mahaprabhu's mercy the shortage hasn't affected the preaching too much.
Here are some of the other problems in the country:
a. Sugar is scarce. Strictly one packet per shopper.
b. Imported fresh fruits are unavailable.
c. Razor blades are scarce.
d. There is no butter.
e. Many other items are difficult to find or unavailable. Many supermarkets have empty shelves.
f. Three major petrol companies have left the country (Shell, BP, and another one).
g. Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airways have cut down their flights from daily to twice weekly.
h. Crime has increased, and for the first time ever the thieves are armed. There have been deaths, even among the Indian community. But there are certain guidelines one can follow to minimize the chance of attack. E.g., don't go out at night, don't take money out in public, make sure servants don't know of any money or valuables kept in the house, etc.
Malawi is still not as bad as Kenya, Tanzania, or South Africa. The Indians here in SA say that we're going the way of Zimbabwe -- anarchy and economic collapse. But I should add that by the mercy of our Gurus and the all the other Vaisnavas, book distribution has never been better. I just ordered a few hundred more books from the BBT.