“Not advance, Daddy. You share!”

27 May 2018

[Above photo:  Find the three Pied Kingfishers in the tree in Majete National Park.]

As I prepared to leave the house to join a friend for some music (supposedly acoustic guitar but it turned out to be really poorly mixed, loud electric) at the French Cultural Center and subsequent supper at Bombay Palace, our guards Catherine and Cabbage (His last name is Kabbich but he goes by Cabbage) approached me. “No foodo, Daddy. No money. Need money.” It is such a common refrain, often desperate by a young child leading their blind parent around to beg. I replied, “How much advance would you like?” Cabbage was murmuring softly but unintelligibly in the background, hovering at the edge of the circle of the porchlight. “No advance, Daddy. You share. You share!”  We all laughed at the directness of her plea—and for me, the absurdity of it. I am what I imagine, from seeing how other mzungus pay, generous. How wild it would be to actually SHARE my retirement money with them. Like winning the lottery, it might throw them into chaos and misery. Or relieve the constant fear of food and shelter insecurity. I admire her for asking, something I could never do. “If you don’t ask for honey, you’ll eat wax.” My favorite Chichewa proverb.

On the other hand, I asked our gardener and day-guard, Chimwemwe, to repair the clasp on a necklace he’d made for one of our friends. When he gave it, fixed, to me, I asked how much he wanted. “You say”, he told me. I suggested 1000 Kwatcha; he said, “Fine.” When I only had a 2000 Kwatcha note, he said, “I’ll pay you the 1000 tomorrow.” Why? “Because I agreed to 1000”.

It serves as a kind of cautionary tale. He, a gardener, plumber, and artist, thinks about how he can expand and improve his repertory of skills to make a better living. She, on other hand, doesn’t do that, hoping that someone else will give her something—a house, a handout. It is clear that his is the better strategy and makes others respect and want to help him. He won’t accept handouts but is much more resilient, resourceful, and successful, than she is.

The point I’m awkwardly making is that all the money that has been poured into Africa has distorted everything and entrenched Big Men in government.  It has distracted people confronted with a problem from initially thinking how they might solve it and they instead attempt to get someone else to pay for the solution.  The end result is that it hasn’t helped and Africa has been on a downward slide. On the other hand, teaching context-appropriate skills, like healthcare practices, allows locals to learn and provide and nobody gets rich on our dime.

Last night I decided to grill a large minute steak (oxymoron?) which I had marinated for 3 days. My secret recipe, one which will finally bring my ship in, is: soy sauce, chopped garlic, cayenne pepper and plenty of cheap whiskey. Don’t whisper a word of this around! Since the guards burned up all my fire-starting wood, in one big blaze I think, I have to be ingenious in constructing the pre-fire for the charcoal. No liquid starter for me.  After getting filthy with the charcoal and fiddling forever to collect and light the paper and dried palm fronds and twigs to get it going, puffing and breathing in smoke as I encouraged it while I lay on the lawn, it finally began to ignite reliably. Then Ari called and I forgot about it for 35 minutes. When I remembered, I rushed out, headlamp on, to find…where was the grill with my fire? I yelled for the guards who thought I was done with it. We laughed a lot; they paused cooking their supper and returned the grill. The steak went on and it was delicious. There was enough fire for the guards to use afterwards. I felt a little bad, eating it in front of Polly who is a vegetarian but what was I to do?

It will be great to be in a country—the US—where I can count on toilet paper in the bathrooms, even though I feel most of it should be used to clean up the White House!

I saw a tiny 8yo boy with his mother today. They live in Ndirande, described to me as the largest slum in Southern Africa. He has been fighting in school, wandering from class to class and not engaging in anything resembling learning. His mother separated from his father, a drunk who beat her for years and didn’t give her any financial support, 10 months ago. She now sells bananas to support the family. When you figure a lot of people sell them, they are rapidly perishable, and they cost about 60 cents for 5, it is a meagre existence. Plus, the little boy walked over to visit his father and has stayed there, coming to visit his mother frequently. His tree-house-person drawing had a miniscule person and tree, and a small, cattywampus house, reflecting his sense of self and feeling of powerlessness in a chaotic world.  She was slumped in her chair and when I wondered if her life was “hard”, she said, “Yes. It is.” Both are depressed and she, certainly, cannot give her unhappy son what he needs. I’ll see them in two weeks and try to get her into treatment.

I also saw a 10 year-old girl who, two months ago, began to have headaches and nightmares of people standing around her. She’d awaken and shout, “Jesus help me.” As this continued, her parents took her to a pastor who prayed and prayed and the nightmares worsened. They went to a sangalala, a traditional healer or witch doctor, who said it clearly was magic caused by someone placing something into her stomach. He gave her some herbs but the nightmares continued. The parents, fearing that she was in the spell of a witch or a demon, moved the family into an adjacent village, living with their eldest daughter. The girl dropped out of school, since it was too far away. She was a cute, bright girl without any suggestion of a psychosis or sexual abuse. I offered that they should have the home purified—the mother suggested using holy water—and move back in, encouraging the girl to return to school and re-establishing all the family routines. I did attempt to rule-out physical and sexual abuse. I also started her on a very low dose of a neuroleptic, as these have occasionally been shown to decrease the frequency of post-traumatic nightmares and especially because I felt that the family needed a placebo. I’ll see her in two weeks, stop the medication, and hope and expect she’ll be fine.

I took my car 5km out of town to Eugene Murphy’s Motorvation, the go-to shop. It needed a rattle fixed and an oil change.  After leaving the car I trudged up the dirt road toward the highway.   As soon as the traffic was in view a minibus driver waved, I nodded and he swerved across the traffic to park and pick me up. Great spotters, they are.  Natural selection, I think, and only the minibuses with great spotters will survive, it is so competitive. Anyway, we drove down the road with a radio talk show host asking questions of the guest expert about child sexual abuse. Hm, one of my areas of expertise, I thought. Unfortunately, he asked in English and she responded in Chichewa, so I couldn’t hear her views. After we passed the clock tower, the driver pulled into a Total petrol station to buy a few liters of gas. Why they think it costs them less if they run with the needle on empty, I don’t know? They actually often run out, so they lose their place in the rush to get the next passenger.  I said, “Thanks, I’ll get out here.” He replied, “Oh, don’t do that. It’s risky. Ride to Mibawa (next to the Blantyre market) with me and I’ll escort you home.” Nice try. I laughed and walked home comfortably. There is no risk in daytime walking around that area; perhaps there is in the middle of Ndirande or Manase but even then it’s unlikely. On the way I passed a guy with tires, rims, and an air compresser by the side of the road. He’s a regular there. I asked if he could fix me up with an X-Trail spare. “Sure, what’s your budget?” “What’s your price?”  We went back and forth that way until I saw I was no match for Raphael’s bargaining skills so I suggested a price. “Could you do 5000 (<$7) more?” Of course, because it wasn’t a matter of pride. I want to have two spares for the very remote, sharp-rocked washboard roads in Namibia.  A woman who has spent months there doing bat research suggested 3.  I’ll try it on after I pick up my car Thursday afternoon.

I’m finishing this at Flavors, my regular lunch spot up a gravel road from the COM, set in the middle of the defunct Blantyre City Botanical Nursery. Lots of lovely plantings, very consistent inexpensive food, long on vegetables. I tried their hot sauce—“Flavoursome Chillies Taste Delight”—for the first time. My god, call the fire brigade!! How have I missed this during my entire stay here?! It turns pretty bland fare into a South American Cha Cha queen’s passion!  I’m slipping off the chair here, so time to post.


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