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Diary of a Volunteer





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The Discreet Charm of the Blantyre-sie

Writers' Circle
All about some budding Blantyre-writers More...More

Levitico and Friends
...Malawian teenage friends More...More

N'Jala Bwana!
...meaning Hungry Boss!
(Oh! Oh!) More...More


Sept. 1995

A thoughtful Levitico sitting on my khonde (verandah)

So what else can I tell you? You must know it all by now. How about... a discussion about life-style (and about some of the friends I've made)?

Writers' Circle

What with writing letters every week, and the efforts to produce a monthly news-letter, it seemed the natural thing to join with others interested in writing. So, every Tuesday we take turns to host a writers' evening - providing food, and a convivial place to discuss words.

Originally there were four of us: Kris, Bob, Tim and myself, but Tim has since returned to UK. I didn't really know Tim or Bob, and they seemed such extroverts that I was surprised they had a quieter side - a writers voice, as it were. A writer's voice they had though: with tales of restless travelling, or explorations of the self (!). Kris writes poems - good ones - though I struggle at their meaning sometimes.

At first, reading out aloud was a very nervous affair - so was cooking for three relative strangers - but now we are easy in each others company, and I feel we all benefit from constructive criticism of words or ideas.

So far the evenings have been famous for glorious cordon bleu cooking - at least at the other homes - and a tendency for our discussions to trail away from the confines of the art of writing: I mean, do you know the true meaning of democracy? On Tuesdays, that's where you'll find me, talking of "...inexorable winding bends..." and such like, with my bestest voice.

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Levitico and Friends

There's this small group of young men, that have befriended us - I'm going to call them Levitico & friends. We see them at the weekends, and sometimes during the week - we ask of each others day, or just play. They are Levitico, Roderick and Raymond. They're keen footballers; they skip; they dance to reggae; and they fool around. I like them!

Levitico speaks good English, and has this impish grin that is difficult to resist. I have visited his home in the township; we've giving food - we've received (modest) food back; and he's made us our very own Galimoto (wire-framed car), that are all the rage with Blantyre's young.

Roderick lives above us - or rather works above us, as a house boy. I practise my Chichewa with him, and he his English with me. He has such a friendly nature, and is so pleased of our company that we cannot fail to enjoy his company too.

Raymond - the Malawi wide boy, as Rachel likes to call him - is also genuine in his affection for us. He barges in, announces his arrival - a quick chat, and then he's gone (upstairs to visit Roderick).

We don't always see them together, we don't always have much to say; but when we have fun, WE HAVE FUN: Rachel, myself, Levitico & friends!

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N'Jala Bwana!

So yeah! With so many beggars here you learn to live with the hassle. When they say: "N'Jala Bwana!" (hungry boss!) you shrug or shake your head, you probably don't even make eye contact - just walk by!

So when you go to town to buy food, and they say: "Give me money", you lie and tell 'em "Ndilibe dalama!" (I don't have any money.) At first the lie hurts you, fills you with guilt; but after time, you don't even blink.

And when you're miles from anywhere, and when you smile to the kids, and when they reply: "Give me ten Tambala!", you start to seethe inside - why do they always want want want? You start to think of replies, put-downs: "Give ME ten Tambala!", or "I gave at the office!", or "Chifukwa chiani?" (why?) or simply "NO!"; or any damn thing... you just can't give to everyone. And if you give to one, they ask again to someone else. The Give-Me cycle keeps turning, keeps these people from learning to earn and not take. And it gets me mad...


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