Tuesday, April 26, 2011


“It's your turn to go buy relish; the money is on the table next to the onion!” My sister barked from her room. She expected protest but it was just what I wanted- to escape the noise that she called music and my claustrophobic room.

It was time to pull the old rusty gate while avoiding the greasy handle. All the men in the houses in the compound pull and push it.  The women, the children and the strangers that drop in to waste our time or hawk their cheap Chinese goods, perched on dirty shoulders and pinned on old cartons, all pull and push it.

I would wonder what would make that grease on the handle. As for the men; the sweat, the oil from work, the pudenda they had been fumbling minutes before sneaking out or morsels after a meal of fish, potatoes or pork.

Anything could be in that grease on the rusty gate handle that I have to pull at when going to the market. Think of the younglings of the compound: wiping their behinds with hands when elders are not helping or looking, the mucus combed from noses and pasted on unlucky surfaces, gate handles included. Or it could be the mud or the greasy fresh mangoes they had been wasting.

The mothers: they could have been tending to the babies seconds before fumbling the gate handle or could be coming from the toilet fixing their pads to prevent menstrual-used-oil from leaking and the most noxious of all, the hair chemicals. 

The thought of a husband making love to a woman with repugnant hair is unsettling; it makes one envision a man in a gas mask on top of his wife making sure that he keeps his head away from the woman’s head.  No kissing and no whispering sweet nothings in the ear.

By this time I would be out of the rusty gate, past the cakey and crackly brick fence and would be strolling down the dust path towards the bridge. A look at the brick fence would raise questions in me- why did the build it? It is obvious that it can’t keep out thieves; I would then conclude that it was designed to keep out the neighbours’ kids especially at lunch time, nothing else.

I then would stroll on, down the path towards the bridge clasping the money and the same paper bag that I would have used to buy relish for the last two weeks before it is used to light the charcoal stove when there is a blackout. By this time the paper bag is really just paper, with only one handle functional and the colour bleached due to overuse and the washing it faces each time it unloads that day’s load from the market.

 My sister says we don’t have to enrich the paper bag sellers; strange logic, I nearly thought she had been reading about pollution. It would not be pollution though, because the neighbourhood survives on it, not one house has a rubbish pit.

That thought would remind me of the day my aunt ordered me to escort her on a drive, I was so happy to ride her car that she defended so much from our behinds. It was around six, I sat in the back of the car fantasizing about her driving to a park to teach me how to drive.

As I sat there seeing myself on the wheel, she slowed down on the culvert and lowered the window next to me and told me to throw out the big lump that was sitting next to me. I complied and watched how the bag rolled downhill; rupturing and revealing the disposable baby towels, onion and potato peels that it encased. 

I felt bad but then noticed that everyone was slowing down at the spot and everybody pulled something from somewhere and flung it sideways while continuing their drive or stroll. 

“The neighbourhood has no space for rubbish pits, here the filth will soon be washed away by the river,” she said while stepping on the gas. She must have seen my inquisitive face.

Even when I walk to the market I see the road littered with debris from houses, either the rain, wind or cars carry it away or the soil will burry it. It invokes the image of futuristic archaeologists digging and pouncing on a disposable diaper and say, “Eureka! There used to be a baby around here!”

I would then push aside the thought as I approach the small market before the bridge. I have never seen anyone buy from here; their everything is just too expensive. My sister told me that the market is made to milk moneys from lazy people who don’t go to buy relish in time, and when its dark and the main market is too far people have no choice but to pay double here.

I would then pass the miniature market with my eyes cast down; I wouldn’t manage to face the women behind the merchandise. They see my paper bag and they know I need relish and they probably hate me for passing them with the money. In their minds they are probably wishing me bad luck.

“May he fall off the bridge and break his knee,” they are probably mumbling, “why would one walk past such good vegetables, just to save five Kwacha?"

 My mind would then wander on as I cautiously win my way through the tattered paper bags that litter my way. With the evil women’s thoughts aboard my clear mind, I cautiously climb down the hill towards the bridge. 

The so called bridge is really just two logs running parallel across the river with sticks flung clumsily across the logs for people to step on, barely keeping them from sinking in as one would in quicksand. Under the two logs, a small stream meanders among the rocks.

The water is green as if there is a Chlorophyll factory upstream, but it is just the collection of urine from bogus and porous sewers, used oil, grease from washing bodies and fertilizer from the maize fields that line the stream. 

The smell is nearly pleasant at first, it hits you as cooking potatoes and then the real nastiness comes, revealing to the nose buds every smell in the smell: the urine, the oil, the rotting frogs and their unhatched dead eggs and the decaying branches that lie on the riverbed.

I would cut airflow to the lungs as I balanced my way on the two logs and step on the other side, then let in a big breathe of air to feed the empty lungs,  regrettably the gulp of air is also full of the detested smell. 

It must be something with my uptown nose because a look downstream shows women washing in the water, children somersaulting into it and some drawing it for home use. I would then visualize green rice made from it, what dish would that be? ‘Rice on the pollutants?’

Soon after the bridge I would be ready to enter the market, but not before passing the refuse dump at the market gate where shabby and shaggy members of society sift for what is good in what the rest have termed garbage.  Sugarcane, wood chips, metal bits and plates, torn sacks and rotten tomatoes. Why did they not sell the tomatoes at discount than to lose it to bacteria?

Different people ooze in and out of the market. Men holding hands, men in skirts and in women shoes, men looking like they have no shaving money, men that overdid the shaving with heads cleaner than buttocks, men with red eyes and men sucking on sugarcane. If there was a statistician at the gate, the mode would fall on men sucking on sugarcane.

There is something with sugarcane and folks from high density areas. The streets are lined and smeared with white cleanly chewed sugarcane remains and city officials seem not to have problems with ridding the streets of the cane remains every morning.

It seems ghetto people know that they cannot afford the processed sugar and they see the fresh cane as the source of all their sugar, the only sweet thing they can afford. 

I would be past the sugarcane guzzlers and sellers near the gate and squeeze my way in the sea of people wandering up and down the market.

There is something about the women here that I find interesting every time I come for relish. No matter how beautiful they are they all have one serious issue to point out.

Talks of a beautiful girl, a beautiful face that it but with breasts hanging at the same level as her navel and she cannot even think of the word ‘bra.’  I spot another well dressed and pretty girl and then she smiles at you and walks straight to a stall where they sell mice and she buys about thirty and goes away...

Gangster looking faces smile and blush to the ladies in the market crowd making me think of replacing the police with these ladies. She can walk to a tough guy and ask him, “Do you have ganja on you?”  And if the gangster says yes then she calls in backup and asks again, “do you want to hear your rights?”

Talking of gangsters and ladies makes me imagine the intercourse that takes place in the neighbourhood. HIV faces and babies keep appearing indicating great activity after dark. My uncle once said overpopulation can be dealt by bringing electricity.

“Dinner is at six, at seven people are in bed, what do you think couples do in the dark? If they village and the ghettos had lights, people would be watching TV or listening to radios till they are too tired to make babies, simple logic,” boasted my uncle.

The market has everything one would need from salvation to damnation. There is a guy selling burnt bulbs here and another guy hawking old calendars, empty nonreturnable bottles and empty TV cases there.

Grasshoppers and small birds selling like hot cakes, used bent nails, video cassette tape rolls for people to decorate their weddings with and a stall with chicken heads only, a thousands of heads.

Stalls separated by two meters playing different music both at high volume, a seller shouting at his customer after he changed his mind after already paying for cooking oil in plastic phials.

There would be a charming preacher speaking of hope and riches that come to those who give. It’s funny how market preachers research so that when they shout the message is almost directed at you and you are so touched that you give some of your money in offerings in the dirty plates that aides circulate as the preacher prattles heavenly dogma.

“God saw what you did yesterday, he saw what you did to her, he heard what you said about him...if you know you have sinned raise up your arm and pray with me,” the preacher would say, attracting scores of people, most of whom did things the previous day.

 I would then shrug off the fantasies as I pass the boys with paraffin tubes on sticks on the corner and then suddenly a vast open space of relish sellers would face me.
“Makelele Crapao, cheap,” a Mackerel seller chants, “veges here, sire: these good with groundnuts and those with cooking oil,” another would say, “somba nyama apa!” another would chaunt and leave me wondering what kind of fish really tastes like meat.

I would then stand and realise that I hadn’t decided what to buy, leaving myself at the mercy of the coaxing and intimidating hawkers.

 I cannot buy the Mackerel because my sister claims she is allergic to them, not the cabbage because my brother says the sugar in it causes nausea when mixed with salt and the eggs are also out of bounds because they are for tea not dinner.

“Don’t pretend that you can’t hear because you can, go and buy relish before it gets dark and worse still before brother comes from work and finds no relish!” said my sister, still shouting and jostling me from my fantasy.

I pushed aside my novel, slipped my feet into my sister’s sandals and put the money into the tattered paper bag and closed the door behind me facing the gate handle, I carefully avoid it and I disappear towards the market.

Monday, April 25, 2011


The din was enough to wake the dead. I could hear it from five kilometres away on the lake. I suspected some kind of reception. The village is always busy doing nothing this time of year and the only thing that households know is beer parties and marriage send offs.

I banished the idea of a funeral from my head, nobody was sick in my village. Furthermore, the other inner me confronted me of being too pessimistic, so I continued fishing, feeling the sharp edges of the small wooden canoe piercing into my buttocks while I held steady on to the fishing line waiting to pull on the fish that dares it.
Fish are rare nowadays but on this day, they were unveiling themselves as if to compensate me for missing the commotion in my village, I had four slimy precious catfish and another was on its way up. It was a rare trout-type-of-fish, so rare it doesn’t have an English name. It refused to die by pulling on the line and threatening to straighten the hook and break free. 

As soon as I loaded the stubborn fish onto the canoe I looked back at my village smiling. My father said my growing up in town meant that I would never become a fisherman, well here I was...as I confronted my father in my mind and looked towards my village, something told me to hurry.
I paddled shoreward with all my might. I was sure of what I saw; there was a crowd at the village courtyard, which was also our lawn. Something was the matter and the shouts mingled with the wailing were certificates of certain trouble.
The beach was unusually quiet for four of the clock in the afternoon, it would usually be thronged with younglings dicing with the murky estuary waters and the elders would be tendering to their nets, patching the holes that debris delivered by the river made in their nets.

Not even the lazy ones were there to slant their heads, telling stories of how much flour they had and the only thing that has been keeping the children hungry was the scarcity of fish. Their absence, especially of the fish beggars, was very unsettling.

The beach was only empty when there was a derby football match between the village team and the one from across the river or when there was a political rally which meant free beer and meat for the lazy and the guzzlers, dance money for the ladies and chance for mischief and collection of empty bottles and bottletops for the kids.

I panicked; I rushed to the near bushes where I had hid my clothes from belt and slippers thieves that lurk the beach. I then pulled at the canoe to keep it away from the water as possible, this by lifting one end of a canoe and staggering in a half circle towards land then going to do the same to the other end until the canoe was about three meters away from the water.

I took the wooden paddle drove it into the fish from the gills to the mouth so that the fish hang like clothing when the paddle was balanced on my shoulder. Everybody would give respect to someone with such a catch, especially the women picking cassava leaves for relish in the fields. Others would offer cash and others would use their in-law and chief status to extort the fish. Today there was no one to admire or take away.

I rushed through the thick shrubbery and the piercing reeds that emitted lake flies when disturbed and to add the pressure to my panic, the quails that suddenly flew from two meters leaving you panting with fear. Why do these birds not fly until you are this near? No wonder the Israelites picked them for manna.

Running in the sand is useless and annoying when you have distance to cover, the road back to the village is as sandy as the beach and it takes crisis to notice the annoying sands. Children love the hot sand; walking five meters then jumping on grass to cool off. I had slippers on and didn’t worry of heat after all it was nearly sunset.

The only itch was the slippers sinking into the sand behind me then launching the sand onto my bare back and then the sand gliding down my back with some bits finding their way into my panties where they created all kinds of discomfort. With the village up ahead, and the din growing louder I cared less of sand balls sharing space with mine.

The first person I met on entering the village was the shabby village laughing stalk with an acute syndrome that left him glorifying food and nothing but food all day.

“Hey, what is going on?’  I asked nicely.

“Pasaku somba yooh,” was the answer the fool gave.

There was no one but I still did not curse the unhelpful man, I feared it would multiply my chances of finding something grave up ahead, which means in normal cases I would have cursed. Going beyond the prescribed diction of the dictionary was the way of the lakeshore after all, I would have said something about his drooling mouth or his funny head - instead, I ran on.

I was home. There was a ring of people blocking it thoroughly with the children outside the ring trying to peep through the elders’ hips. Inside the ring was my uncle or my young-father as we would call him, he was brandishing a machete and was being restrained from entering my fathers’ house by three other elders. 

“What is going on?” I shouted: I never trusted my uncle because he showed too much that he wanted my father’s chieftaincy. I always knew and feared that one day he would try to hasten the passing of my father to get the chieftaincy, since he was next in line.

“He has raped, this young one...yes Dorofy, he has hurt her bad and he is in there! Let me go and cut off his manhood why are you protecting him?” my uncle shouted and I know the last  statement was not directed to me, it was for his captors,  after all I was not there to listen.

Dorothy was my only sister, she was only twelve and after the passing of mother, she did all the motherly work at home. Who had raped such a young sweet innocent child?  Her breasts did not even have the power to push against her t-shirts and make any visual impact. 

I knew small boys that hung around the house trying to date her but they were too young to rape her and even if they did, the resultant sex would be fair. I knew it was somebody big and my father was hiding and shielding him in the house in his chiefly capacity. I calculated that this is what had animated and angered uncle, who always tried to earn marks by pouncing on and rectifying my father’s mistakes. 

I never answer back when my father addresses or undresses me. I have never rebelled, but today I would confront him to release the rapist. I was not going to hear his wise owlish statements today; nobody rapes my only sister and goes unharmed.

I was thinking about all this while I fumbled over paraphernalia in the pantry, the sacks, the mortars, the old pots, the panga, yes that was what I was looking for! I grabbed the machete and the crowd did as it had done before by splitting and giving me a good space as if I was the only one with a solution to the hullaballoo.

I felt an arm on my arm and when I jumped onto the veranda I heard someone falling behind me, I had overpowered him. The living room was empty, only my aunties were there, all crying.  When they saw me they cried harder and louder. I went into the corridor towards the rooms. All the rooms were wide open and empty and at the far end lay my fathers’ and the houses’ master bedroom.

It was locked but I was too angry for it and soon the door fell inwards, succumbing to my one kick, I stepped in with the machete in the air. There in front me and hanging from the roof, struggling, was my father dying.
I threw down the machete, my arms were weak. I then knew why his younger brother was so determined, why my aunties were raising their wailing voices when they saw me and finally why my father was committing suicide.  

I could have saved him by climbing on the bed and then using the machete to cut the string from which he was hanging, instead I went to the sitting room and told them to make space for the body and funeral.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

‘It sure feels like the 70’s Cambodia’

I released this press release after the University Council of the University of Malawi decided to close down the two main universities in Malawi...giving students two hours to vacate campus and they did so at gun-point. the PSU is the Polytechnic Students Union and  i am its spokesperson.

We the PSU feel that the decision to close down the university is not only morally, practically wrong but also illegal and illegitimate.

Poly Students were never in conflict with the University Council, actually we only knew of its existence after the ‘academic freedom’ battle began. To us, this fact tells us that the council lacks sufficient interest in the issue.

When lecturers downed their tools, the university council never sent them a bogus memo with typographical errors on fools’ day giving them notice of vacation. Why students? Is it because we have no legal muscle? We have been calling for dialogue on the issue but the warring sides refuse and chose to use us as pawns.
To add salt to the wound; take Lemmy who hails from Chitipa and he has two hours to pack and then find transport money to go to Chitipa, and its already 2pm. Is this decision made with ‘fairness’ in mind or it was just some sort of vendetta?

Polytechnic students chose to take a stand in the issue, as the adage says; fight for something or fall for everything, we analysed the academic freedom battle and found it sweet and worthy the ride so when Poly lecturers joined the battle by downing tools we never whined, we giggled with excitement. When the same lecturers dropped the battle we took it from where they left it.

Our argument was simple, learning these days is learner centred thus academic freedom is chiefly for the students.  Secondly, we saw bribes and cowardice in the lecturers’ decision to drop the issue, so we demanded an explanation and when we heard from PASCOW’s chair, Salima that it was due to tribal allegiances, we declared Poly a no fly zone for lecturers, anybody would. 2011 is no time to be dabbling in tribal foolishness and as lecturers they should know better. So the students; Lhomwe, Tumbuka, Chewa and Sena fought on.

We feel that the involvement of police in this issue is not legal. We are fighting with Mukitho and how do you expect the same Mukitho to handle us? It’s why we have police officers gassing students and beating us like bags of sand. 

Police involvement is also illegal in that the Kampala Declaration forbids any police presence on any campus or where African intellectuals are...why do Malawian police, led by the whole commissioner invade our campus? Yes we know most of them are brutes but at least they should have heard of the word ‘law.’
Now we have lost a student, Justice Mwafulirwa,  yes he had lung trouble but what sparked the final blow is cleary the gas that was settled on campus, there have been about five cases of students collapsing in the hostels since the teargas was fired, and they have been none since the semester started, draw your own conclusions.

We will not speak much on the minister of education here, because he has failed us miserably and if he thinks this is a lie, let him try to come to Poly one day.

Finally, we have our chancellor, forget the debate about the legality of his post as chancellor; to us he is the one to blame for all that has transpired in this conflict and to achieve peace will also demand his hands as well.
When the president was being inaugurated, he vowed never to close down any university in his reign...how ironic and funny does it feel to finally break the vow on fools’ day?
At first we thought the president would quickly apply Machiavellian philosophy and fire Mukitho to make peace with the whole load of critics, most of whom are influential, but to our shock Mukitho was glorified and the rest vilified effectively starting the ‘Chinsinga wars.’

The details are not our concern, but we are the sufferers, we know that as university students we have the power to start a revolution but that depends on the failure of government not on a single lecturer. The university system is too complex for anybody to manipulate.

The way forward depends on what the president will do and on the way the grieving lecturers will be handled. Already Poly students are swearing to continue where they left off if any lecturer or student is fired.
 As a union, and as we said at our previous press conference, the issue will only rest in our hearts if the law takes its course, we can’t be having anybody coming to campus and saying and doing  things in the name of national security especially when they have never been to a campus before.

We hope this is not the beginning of the Khmer Rouge type of government which hated intellectuals and eliminated most of them because of the ideas of a few. Already, we cannot seem to stage a demonstration without the City Assembly and police firmly refusing us permission.

 We also should take time to salute those who have stood firm in this time of battle, names like Kamchezera, Kapasula, Salima, Amin, Kanyongolo, Mungoshi, Sithole, Morra and Mgala.

PSU would also like to thank the public and the independent media for being understanding and empathetic even when we were being violent and barbaric. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The law, through the constitution and the Kampala Declaration speaks of academic freedom, let government grant and assure it.

As PSU, we are disappointed in the system and we hope that when we return we shall find no spies in classes, no intimidated lecturers, no uniformed brutes on campus, and we hope that we will return to campus very soon as the world, including the police force, is waiting for our well trained input.