The house I stayed at this past summer was very small. It had three very compact bedrooms. When I first arrived I was shocked at the small space I was meant to occupy but I couldn’t complain. The bed was comfortable and it was private. Although the house was small, it was fine for the number of people staying there. For my first week I was one of three adults and a baby staying in the house. The sleeping arrangements were as one would expect the baby and her mother sharing a room, the grandfather with his own room and me in my own room.
Shortly after my arrival one of the teenaged sons arrived home from school. I wasn’t surprised to see that he slept in the bed with his dad. He had always shared a bed with his dad when I visited and I’m told he always chooses to sleep with either his dad or his brother out of fear. Shortly after his arrival, a small boy, the grandson arrived. He too shared the bed with the grandpa/dad. Now that bed had three inhabitants.
One day a call came announcing that there would be visitors. A man and his wife would spend a few days at the house. I naively asked where they would sleep. The answer was that they would occupy the room of the mother and her infant who would move to sleep on the cement floor in the living room. I was not happy at that idea. Who wants to sleep on a cement floor? I was told it was ok since they had a bamboo mat to place under them.
After a short while the couple left and the young mother and infant returned to their room, which by the way, houses the family deep freeze and often the family tv. One day two young girls arrived. Of course I asked where they would sleep and was told they would sleep in the room with the mother and infant. The young girls slept on a bamboo mat on the floor while the mother and child shared a single bed.
For one night an older teenage boy came home. He occupied the living room but quickly left to return to school.
The lessons I have learned from observing these sleeping arrangements are that htere is always room and never complain about a small room if you have your own bed!
Malawi is definitely in a different era than Canada. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve traveled back in time when I’m there. Sometimes I only feel as if it’s the 1960s. In Canada a typical family may have 1 or 2 kids these days. Parents decide to have kids presumably because they enjoy them and want to complete their families. Kids here are treated as special little beings who are appreciated for the short time they will actually be kids. Parents spent a lot of time with their kids, reading, playing, talking and doing family things. We discipline our kids and explain to them the reasons for that discipline.
In Malawi things are very different. Children at a very young age are made to be independent. Girls as young as 7 are given chores to do and are expected to help with the preparation of food. Children are often left to entertain themselves while the aduls in the house carry out the tasks of running the household. While there is always an adult close by children and adults are generally seperate. I rarely see average Malawian families reading or playing together. Of course this is simply a result of lack of time and resources.
My observation is that kids are rarely disciplined. Their behaviour is excused as by their age. If there is a conflict between two children the older one is often reprimanded even if both were at fault.
Families in Malawi have many children. I recently had a chat with a young mother. She currently has a 7 month old daughter and when I suggested that she may choose not to have any others she was shocked. She explained to me that it would be reckless to have only one child. She suggested that a mother must have more than one child so that if one dies she has another. If a mother has only one child and that child dies, people will think the mother is barren. Several years ago I commented that a man with 7 kids had many children and he replied that they are his insurance policy. They will care for him when he is old.
It is very common for adult children to support retired parents. Many of my friends regularly send money to their parens and parents have no qualms about calling adult children and asking for assistance.
While more affluent families in Malawi are having fewer children, the typical family has at least 4 children. Older siblings care for younger ones as if they are the parent. Aunts care for nieces and nephews as if they are their own children and grandparents who are working will accept into their home a grandchild as if he or she is their own child. So much of what happens there in terms of family is like what I think it must have been like here in the days of the pioneers.
After my anxiety ridden trip back to Lilongwe with my xylophone I debated about taking a taxi. Azikiwe’s earlier warning about taxi travel along with my inability to negotiate a reasonable fare led me on to a local mini-bus.
There are not regular stops on the min-bus routes. Passengers just notify the conductor when the bus approaches their destination. Mini bus conductors speak very little English and are generally young men who are not known for being honest or responsible. Generally when I ride a local bus I try to sit close to the conductor so I can tap him and mim that I wish to get off. Sometimes sitting close to him is not possible and I must improvise.
As I said, I always feel as if I am on display. If I try to attempt Chichewa it is met most often with chuckles. I was not in the mood for any of this so I asked the lady in front of me to tell the conductor I wanted to get off at “the tanks.” After some repetition and help from the guy beside her, she understood my request and informed the conductor. The guy beside her said something to me that I couldn’t understand but he too informed the conductor of where I wanted off.
I paid my 100 kwacha fare and was able to relax knowing that two people were looking out for me. Unfortunately the mini-bus was stopped by the police. Who knows why? It could have been overloaded, unsafe, uncertified, unlicensed or it could have been police looking for money. In any case off we all got.
The conductor literally escorted me to a mini bus that was waiting ahead for us. My lady gave me back my 100 kwacha and my young man told me to jump on before it became too full. I sat back down but was made to stand several times to allow others to pass. At one point I felt a pull on my pants. Feeling behind me I noted a piece of the metal seat hinge was exposed. Upon closer inspection I found that it had ripped the seat of my pants. Now I had a three inch hole in my pants.
Getting off the bus means that your butt is generally at eye level with all the customers behind and beside you. SO, now, everyone say my rip. Of course they didn’t say anything in my presence but my paranoid side tells me that there was some chuckling after I left. From the bus stop I walked about 1 km to Azikiwe’s house using my purse to hide my rip to the best of my ability. If my fabric hadn’t been in use holding my sticks in place it would have come in handy to wrap around my waist.
Malawian ladies always carry a chitenge in their purs. Now, I know why!!