It has become a norm.
It is so embarassing it ties tiny bits of prestige into knots of shame.
This is the story of fuel shortages in Malawi.
Everyday, especially on working days- which, esentially, means Monday to Friday- respectable men and women stand on queues.
Often, it is a long, barren wait; sometimes, it is as short as a State President's order for dinner, in which case wishes turn into realities at the brink of an eye.
Part of Life:Malawi is facing an acute fuel shortage
But it is still a wait. People get no pay for it, except, perhaps, for the pain it is, and the pain it inflicts: this is Malawi's tale of fuel, a tell so riddled with terms like shortage, crisis, problems, challenges- and suc names as Nacala Corridor, Zambezi Bridge, Grain Malunga, President Bingu wa Mutharika, Petroleum Importers Limited, National Oil Company of Malawi, Petroda, BP, Cartex, Total, black marketers, fuel pump, fuel, diesel, petrol, government, among others.
It is also a story so inter-mingled and twisted it leads to rivers of thoughts on Mutharika's performance, the current administration's performance appraisals, ruling Democratic Progressive Party's competence to run the affairs that are one bundle of distress called Malawi, opposition merchandising (that is, whether the Malawi opposition offers better leadership alternatives), among others.
It is a sad, long, confused story the only unifying factor has become the term 'fuel'.
At the rate things are going, it may not be wrong to say that, in Malawi, people have stopped looking up to the powers that be- both on earth and above the blueless sky- and are increasingly looking up to 'fuel' as the saviour and redeemer of their static vehicles, as well as their pampered lives.
In the past, it was honour- and more prestice- to own a vehicle. People did not mind about the condition of a vehicle: so long as it was a runner, it was a vehicle- the symbol of honour, and distinction.
Today, even in the work of the influx of Japanese vehicles, the status quo has not changed much- a vehicle means life, a step further on to the mountain of the stairs called life.
No more. At least, for the time being.
People are so obsessed with fuel availability; and people are angry that they own vehicle, a form of temporary madness with the moveable tools that have sustained them from place to place, offering safety in the coffin of darkness, when panga-knife wielding angels of death lie in ambush- waiting to separate body and soul. Their knives and night weapons are the tools of divorce, and have caused havoc among the population for such a long time.
Perhaps, as ong as vehicles have not been there. When the vehicls came, and people in their pockets folked, things changed alittle, as vehicles offered some sense of protection.
Protection in real form and not just feelings of prestice.
Today, vehicles are the source of misery- forcing men in suits to stand on the queue, and well-dressed women to take their place on the fuel queue, and forget the phrase that has sustained African women for such a long time, and, in a way, left them stuck in the mud of stereotypes: women first.
Women no longer come first; it is fuel that has taken that space on the bed of Malawian life, and Malawi's realities.