Skip to main content

How I Met Lady Pace

How I Met      Lady Pace

The young Malawian woman you see in many of the photos on my website

April 24, 2015. There are four of us, refreshed from our open air showers. To ensure no suds remain, this treat still requires you to turn off the faucet while sudsing your hair and shaving your legs. We are all squeezed into second hand market surprise finds; jeans, a nice change from the long skirts we wear most days to honour traditional attire. We have even taken that extra bit of effort to apply mascara, blush and lipgloss which are secured from the west prior to arrival in Malawi, the third poorest country in the world. I remember meeting one Parisian in, “A LUXURY MALL,” in the south of the land-locked country. Appearing lost I asked him if I could help. “Where is the mall,” he inquired. I responded, “THIS is it.” Shaking his head he mumbled he need to go leave this country and kept walking with no hint of happiness. 

We say good bye to Alice and Innocent at the reception desk and the guards who are lounging nearby, getting ready for the night shift that keep us all sleeping soundly, outside of the malaria bearing enemies.  We begin to scamper up the steep stone staircase that lead us away from Butterfly Space, a volunteer lodge located in Nkhata Bay, along the shores of the ninth largest lake in the world; Lake Malawi (Nyasa) named after the country itself.

Patti DeSante

I say, “scamper,” because everyone seems to have their own unique way of getting up these stairs, designed for giants. I mostly take two small strides on each step so as not to look like a three year old looking for parental approval by proudly stretching themselves one stride per step, plus I am bravely or stupidly wearing heels tonight. 

Three beautiful young women and me, bubbling with enthusiasm for the night.

It’s my birthday and we are excited to get out of our village life and travel 45 minutes inland to Mzuzu. Our once a week trips to Mzuzu are always cherished. Normally we go during the day to hit Shopify, a large grocery store that carries western treats, but tonight we are going to get an early glimpse of the headline performers for the international music festival, “Lake of Stars.”

Lake of Stars 

Tonight was indeed special. 

Not only was it my birthday, and we were spending the night in Mzuzu, we also had secured a car for transport.

We each glanced at the car waiting for us. None of us felt a need to speak our first impression. Not tonight. Between the four of us, I just knew we had enough collective faith to will that car to our destination. I climbed in the back, happy to be driven by someone else skilled at driving on the, “wrong,” side of the road. 

Tonight we were not at the mercy of a line of minibus’ competing for passengers, and their conductors full frontal yelling at us, “MZUZU, 1500 KWACHAS.” Local transport’s legal maximum was rarely paid attention to, and a quick currency note exchange, usually sufficed any enforcement at regular check stops enroute.

To this day when people moving homes in the west tell me there is no room for all their furniture, I simply wave them aside and insist, “It’s no problem.”

All of the women are at least 25 years younger than me. Their adult lives have barely begun, where I have had several careers, been married twice, owned homes, and have two kids close to their age. 

What could we possibly have in common you ask?

Similar to this Malawian store front that quite accurately markets their store’s lack of predictable deliveries, “Who Knows?”

Nevertheless I will make a few sweeping statements that point in the direction of the, “What.”

1)We are all living/volunteering/working in a small tourist town in Malawi; Nkhata Bay.

2)We love live African beats, a few cocktails, and dancing. Maybe we all might be described as possessing a little, “Misala,” craziness in Chichewa, a local language.

3)We are all creative learners; a nurse who has worked in Papua, New Guinea/scuba diver, an ex-natural gas broker/Buddhist Chaplain, a new highschool graduate/perform artist and a videographer/interior designer.

4)We all have very Big Minds. We open beyond conventional education and common cultural constructs. All, “ism’s,” be damned.

5)I would also say we all have very BIG HEARTS. We strive to serve lives beyond our own. To be clear none of us are angels. No. We most definitely value play as a primary directive in our lives and stumble and scrape our knees like everyone in a playground. Our world is our playground and yes we all have privilege.

Yelling in unison, “Where are you going?” We unapologetically yell back back at the local artisans, whose shops line both sides of the road that descends from where we labour during the week.

We know they want to squeeze in, but not tonight, it’s girl’s night out. After driving somewhat recklessly through the village, recklessly on the part of the local’s blasé attitude toward moving vehicles, we pass the, “People’s,” grocery store on the left where the most common product lining the shelves is often green soap, used for laundering in the lake. The banks that witness our car now speeding by have never successfully responded to my bank card attempts to withdraw 1000 Kwacha bill. A 1000 Kwacha bill, the highest paper denomination at the time in the whole country was worth about $2.00 Cdn.

We are on our way

We head west

Windows wide open

Hair blowing wildly

Music blaring

Cocktails in hand

With the exception of one life changing moment, I don’t really remember much about that night other than the fun we had getting ready, and driving to Mzuzu. I didn’t even know that night, how meeting Lady Pace would change my life. 

Yes I know that that sounds a bit over dramatic, but it’s the truth. 

I was just hanging out near the bar, touching base with a few locals I recognized and then a young woman took to the stage that caused me to pause whatever we were talking about and  turn. She was rapping. I had never heard of this local celebrity, “Lady Pace,” before this night. All I could think was, “Feminine Power and Possibility.”The crowd loved her. Later I would find out this were her home town and these were her extended family. 

If she could make it, they could too. 

I felt an invisible force shoving me from behind saying, “Go introduce yourself and get her contact.”

I am attuned to these moments. There is no thinking involved, just a listening with all of ones being and an action always ensues. 

Why am I attuned to such moments, I have no idea. They arise spontaneously and have a different energy than ordinary day to day living. It’s like you feel your body drop away and only listening is left. And trust me it isn’t because I am a Zen Buddhist Chaplain and have some great awareness discipline. Nope. It is just how I am wired. I know I am definitely sounding like a typical West coast flake. I’m not.

Once she had delivered her three songs, I immediately marched up, congratulated her on her performance and exchanged contacts with her.

The rest of the night was uneventful.

Lady Pace and I would again meet briefly in 2015. She was being considered for a performance for an event I was sponsoring, but we couldn’t afford her fees.

It wasn’t until the following year after the criminal charges were dropped against me and I was released from police custody and the local prison, that she came into my awareness. This young musician, 19 at the time, who I had spoken to for maybe five minutes was the one I turned to, PTSD and all.

I won’t leave you hanging. I am not a criminal nor did I commit any criminal acts. I was simply the victim of a person suffering in poverty who had connections with local authorities who I am guessing (No proof and nor do i care) had collectively decided to scare the B’Jesus out of me and to extort money.

They were unsuccessful thanks to my zen practice of sitting for hours facing a wall meditating, usually in pain. I knew my, “straight back, open heart,” would come in handy one day.

I was released.

Lady Pace & Patti

I rang her airtel number and hoped she would be the person who answered.


“Is this Lady Pace?”


“I don’t know if you remember me but we met in Mzuzu last year just before you were an opening act at, “Lake of Stars. My name is Patti DeSante. I am from Canada and have worked with hiphop artists from Canada and Uganda.”

She remembered me and we agreed to meet at ShopRite in Blantyre. 

We immediately got along. Inspite of all of our obvious differences it was like we were old friends reuniting.

I look forward to sharing many of our adventures, and our activism that targeted our shared interests, gender rights, youth and preservation of indigenous languages 

Two people who couldn’t be more different became family.


Be the first to comment.
All comments are moderated before being published.