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Diary of a Volunteer





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The Four Stories

"Harry was 14 but he looked more like a 9 year old" More...More

"I looked, but couldn't find my key anywhere" More...More

"ISSA is (or was) Caro-Anne's night-watchman" More...More

Steve #2: (S.F.W.?)
"So I'm overdrawn! So I owe money for the sale of my house" More...More


Oct. 1996

You have to learn to bend with the wind, eh!?

This month's newsletter is about a weekend I spent at Cape Maclear (Mangochi) with Caro-Anneeand Kay.

It's about the intimidation (and ugliness) of the strong and the self-destruction (and ugliness) of the weak (gosh!). All encapsulated in 4 stories...

Harry's Story: HARRY'S GAME

HARRY WAS fourteen, but he looked more like a nine year old. He was three feet nothing high, and had none of the tell-tale signs of puberty in his face: I just remember a big pair of eyes, and an even bigger forehead. He did speak good English, though. And as we arrived at Cape Maclear he immediately began to practice it on us:

"...So, how about a beach barbecue tonight: Campango [large fish] and never-ending rice. Tomorrow, I can organise a boat trip to the island: boat-trip, food, and good snorkelling - all in. Good price for both." He followed us, smiled with us; befriended us.

After fifteen minutes of discussion on price and the virtues of a beach barbecue, we decided to be un-decided. We told Harry to meet us in an hour. Harry's smile faltered: "Let's do the deal now. K150... You're giving me the brush-off, I know. K130... You're going to buy the barbecue from someone else! Okay, K120... K100, then!"

As we stood firm on our decision of indecision, Harry's price got lower and lower. His mood became more and more surly; he became irritable. He really was behaving like a 9 year old.

An hour later, we agreed to a barbecue the next day, for K110 - six Campango. We also had an (adult) word with Harry about his poor attitude to his customers. But the deal was done, and he didn't care: he just took his half-payment (K55) and left.

The game continued. Next morning he told us there were no Campango, so we would be eating the smaller Chambo instead. Our illusion of a feast was slowly fading.

The game moved on. Barbecue time, underneath the stars, and the fraudulent feast was found out. Six fish had been prepared for us, with paltry rice and sauce, but the fish were not Chambo. Harry called them 'Son of Chambo,' which you know means smaller. We complained to Harry. He was taking our money and giving us nothing in return. But Harry didn't care - the fish was the fish; the meal was ready; eat!

We ate. The game got better. We hatched a cunning plan to pay less: K20 less. So we ate, but the fish bones stuck in our throats; and Harry's greedy game spoilt our appetites.

We gave Harry K30, and the game got good, real good. Harry became angry. He threw the money back: "I'm not taking this! You're joking if you think you can cheat me. You think I'm a fool!"

He wasn't friendly, any more. Again, we gave him the money; our adult voices protesting the justice of it. But Harry became aggressive, this time forcing the money down Caro-Anne's top. He started to talk about his brothers who would meet us - maybe in an hour, or maybe in twelve. They would find us, and would not be pleased that we had cheated Harry. Harry's game-plan was revealed. Hostile threats, if you please.

Our choice was simple: principle against expediency. And a three-foot nothing boy was giving us this choice; was playing out his game. We were outsiders; it was no choice. We paid the full Kwacha, and we lived to tell the tale.

Harry's Game can not be played forever, though. Someone will call his bluff; they will not flinch at returning his verbal attack with a physical one. He won't always look like a harmless 9 year old.

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Steve's Story: NOT AGAIN

I LOOKED and looked and looked, but couldn't find my key anywhere. (I'm talking about my room key at the rest house, with no spare.) And this, after a frantic five minutes rummaging inside my rucksack - looking for my wallet. Maybe someone at the bar had my key (maybe that someone had already emptied my room!). Maybe I was beginning to get worried.

I told the staff at the rest house; they were not impressed. Could I check the bar again, did my friends have the key? And would I pay for the damage if they broke the door down for me? I told them that I'd checked the bar, and my friends didn't have the key, and yes I'd pay the K100 to fix the door.

Minutes later, I found the key - or Caro-Anneefound it (in the top of my rucksack). It was a small key, attached to a huge you-can't-lose-me-if-you-try wooden key-fob. The staff were still not impressed; they joked that I had taken too much Chamba. But I hadn't smoked any funny cigarettes; this sort of thing happens to me all the time (just ask Rachel).

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Issa's story: PAIN, BUT NO GAIN

ISSA IS (or was) Caro-Anne's night-watchman. His tardiness, and a tendency to go to sleep the same time as Caro-Anne, meant that she was finally going to sack him. She gave Issa (eye-sa) one week's notice.

That weekend we had our fun and games at Cape Maclear. Issa too, had had an eventful time. Apparently, he had been caught stealing cabbages in the local market, and had been severely beaten by his captors, before being arrested. So he didn't guard the house that weekend (though thankfully Lydia, Caro-Anne's worker, quick-wittedly arranged a substitute).

The next time we saw Issa was Tuesday; face puffed and bruised. He wanted the night off, as he was sick: his ribs pained him (he still hadn't been to hospital). Of course Caro-Anneeagreed, and of course she still paid him for his last week's work, even though she didn't want to.

Now Issa is (or was) a thief. And tardiness is still not desirable, but you don't get sacked from this job - eventually, you just get killed.

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Steve's story #2: (S.F.W.?)

SO I'M overdrawn! So I owe Pete money for the sale of 95 Oak Road. So I owe money to my company, Cafe Computers Ltd., to balance the books. So I owe Rachel more than all these debts added together. So!

I am well educated, and have marketable professional skills (and I think my family and friends still care); I'll cope, I'm sure. I don't need to leave Malawi early, or even panic buy National lottery tickets, by proxy. Either, I get a good job in Malawi after finishing VSO, or I get a better job back in Britain. Simple; and the debts will pay themselves.

When I'm still on the dole however, this time next year, then - that's when I rue my spendthrift ways; that's when my hair turns completely grey; that's when I become persona non grata. (You have been warned!) But then again, maybe being a debtor millionaire by the time I'm forty, isn't such a bad thing.


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