Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Village voices

Jack took the newspapers with a shy smile. “Thank you very much,” he said. “Here in the village we don’t get to see the newspapers every day, and I like my news.”
He sat back in his chair. “I lived in the city for over forty years, it is nice to be back home, it is quiet here, peaceful.”
Jack is 70, and lives in Kadaya, a village in the Thyolo district of Malawi. For decades he lived and worked as a welder in Blantyre, the country’s largest city.
He was a town man. But as old age approached, he and his wife decided it was time to return to their roots. Back to the village, where over fifty years ago, he had charmed her into marrying him against her family’s wishes.
“He was a very naughty boy when he was a teenager,” laughed Thoko, his daughter, as we drove past the luscious green tea plantations on our way to visit her parents.
“They met at the market place. Every Saturday someone would bring out a radiogram and play music. All the young people would dance, and relationships would start.”
This particular relationship resulted in eight children, seven girls and one boy.
“I educated all the girls,” Jack told me. “It was hard work, paying their school fees, but it was important to me.”
And to his country. Jack’s seven girls, now women, are all professional women working as nurses, teachers, or with NGOs such as Save the Children. All have stayed in Malawi, each making an invaluable contribution to their country’s development.
Jack was just about to tell us about the years he spent in Zimbabwe, “it was Rhodesia then of course”, when a small woman with a very loud voice burst through the open door.
“Hello mama,” she shouted. “I am Annie, I speak very good English, I can come and work for you. I am very good.”
“Eeeeh, this is my aunt,” laughed Thoko. “My mother’s sister.”
Annie took over.
Teaching me how to dance like a village woman.
“Move your hips like this,” she shouted, while grabbing hold of them.
Showing us her green maize.
“My garden is only a few minutes walk,” she promised. It took us half an hour to reach her plot of land, “only a few more yards,” she shouted every five minutes.
Introducing us to her many relatives.
“This is my eldest daughter, Miriam.
“My second son, Charles.”
“ My oldest aunt, Elizabeth.”
Telling us about her violent husband.
“He used to beat me. So I said enough, and left him. I came back to my village with my children, and then divorced him. He was not happy,” she laughed.
Admiring my ample backside.
“I want to be fat like you,” she exclaimed. “If you are fat, it means you are rich.”
She finally fell silent as we sat down to lunch, but only long enough to eat four portions of nsima and two pieces of chicken. Growing maize is hungry work.
“I am going to come to Scotland with you,” she announced as she polished off the last of the nsima.
“I will get fat there. I want to be fat.”

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