Men, it is believed in Malawi, are so selfish that educating a boy is akin to educating a snake: Njoka siyenda ndi mwana (snakes don't move with their young in tow)!
As if extending this line of thinking, Malawians are fond of saying that, "When you educate a man, you have educated an individual. But when you educate a woman, you have educated a nation". Nobody knows where this saying originated from- may be it's now a Malawian thing (saying) at all; may be it is. Who knows? We are a nation that does not value records.
As one Desmond Dudwa Phiri- the Malawian historian- has said time without number, the best way to hide information from a Malawian is to publish it in a book!
The gist of the matter is that women are held in high esteem in Malawi, and are regarded as the best people to play custodian over national resources. This is true. I have my own personal experiences. After I got my Malawi School Certificate of Education, the men who were in well-paying jobs and would have helped pretended to be busy.
They were too busy to help out. I had just lost a father that time, having lost my mum five years previously. And I could see that, looking at the situation, I would end up having a simple Malawi School Certificate of Education the rest of my life. I could not see myself making it to college. There was no choice.
May be, before I continue, I should add that in my home village (my father made the 'mistake' of finding the love of his life in the same village as his, separated by a distance of 40 metres. His was a decision that has meant that I have had one home village only. Others have two: The mother's place of birth. The father's parents home. Not me), there is no one with a degree.
The whole village, which has 1286 people, has no individual with a first degree. And it has become the habit among children in the village to look at their gardens as their only source of hope and survival. So, they grow maize, cabbage, tobacco, sweet potatoes, irish potatoes, cassava, and what have you.
Well, it is embarrassing but I am one of such people- the people from the village where no one has ever 'earned' a first degree. It could have been worse, for me. I would have ended up with a Malawi School Certificate of Education for ever.
And, guess what, Leader of Opposition in Parliament, John Zenus Ungapake Tembo- he who recently handed over the button of leadership in the Malawi Congress Party to Rev. Dr. Lazarus Chakwera- has been the Member of Parliament in this constituency since...I don't know when. He has been the Parliamentarian forever. 19 years ago, his constituency was so big and he was the chief over the chiefs. Then, the United Democratic Front led administration changed all that and created two constituencies: Tembo's Dedza South constituency, and Dedza Central Constituency.
I was talking about how I nearly ended up with a Malawi School Certificate of Education qualification forever. But here is how that possibility failed. While I wandered about town- no, it's not a town; it's a city I am talking about. Blantyre is a city), this wonderful thing happened. (Allow me to say something about Blantyre before I talk about this 'wonderful' thing that happened).
Blantyre has been my city forever. I was born here. And I was lucky to have been born at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, thanks to the United Kingdom, of course. At Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, you are assured- at least in those days of the good Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda- that you will receive the medical attention you so desire. And I was born there!
Being born in the city- where my father had moved to some three years after Malawi received independence from Britain in 1964- was a good thing. A sign that you were destined for greater things. A sign that, at least, the lucky stars were within your orbit. But, of course, this is not wholly true. And they say if it is not wholly true, it is not true!
And I was born in the city. And I remember that we were staying in Chitawira Township. Our house was House Number 11. During the day, we could go places- including visiting Blantyre's commercial hub of Limbe. It is through such visits that I learned that the name Limbe is derived from the name of a Malawian of Indian origin. His name was Limbe. Thanks India. Your people have been an integral part of Malawi's development. But they are our people now. We will try to find a way to delink them from India. The term 'Malawians of Indian origin' doesn't sound right. It is like we are disowning them. No. We love them.
It is from the city that I would, in the company of my parents- before they decided to have enough of me and my four siblings and go up-high for that eternal rest- travel to the village. My home village has always been some 340 kilometres from Blantyre Central Business District. The village where nobody- including me- has a degree.
Well, I think I have talked of the city. Let me talk about the 'wonderful' moment.
The moment did not end up as anticipated. It originated from a single decision" To visit my cousin who works somewhere in the city. And visit I did.
She asked me so many questions. It had been a year since I saw her. Yes, her. In the course of the discussion, she learned that I was keeping some relatives at home, providing for them without complaints.
"Oh," she said at last. "I can see that you are responsible enough. Some people said you are selfish. Just yesterday, one of them told me you have never thought of staying with any of our people, and that you are not even responsible enough to pay school fees for some of the relatives, or buy a bag of fertiliser for the old people in the village," she continued.
When people like us meet, we talk of school fees and fertiliser, and visits to the village. These things bind people together. So, I listened as she talked. I did not interrupt her. I managed to do this despite the pain in my heart; I felt some people went too far with lies. Like the thing about being selfish.
But, somehow, my patience paid. The decision to keep quiet bore fruit.
"You see, Richard. I am convinced, and always have been, that you are a good man. I will send you to school. Go, study for a diploma. I will pay everything. If you struggle to settle your rental bills, I can do that for you. For the time being, I am ordering you to stop whatever you have been doing- stop whatever work you have been carrying out and, for the next two years, concentrate on school," she said, adding:
"I am told, and this I know, that you are an intelligent guy. You learn something once and don't bother to go over the material, the notes, again. Now, put all your energies into education, and I think I will have given you a starter pack in life. A diploma will make it easier for you to get a degree. May be you will work very hard after getting the diploma and study for a degree. Good luck," she said.
Again, I did not speak.
Then, we parted.
And I found a school. Is it college? And I schooled? Is it colleged? For two years. And got the diploma.
And the year I went to school is 2009. how time flies.
The diplomas are out. I am feeling lazy and do not feel like going to pick mine. Well, on January 6 I will go and pick it up.
What am I saying? It is true that once you educate a woman, you educate a nation. My cousin, a woman, decided to educate the nation one individual at a time. God bless her.
Women are, really, the great changers in the world.
But I still come from a village where nobody has a degree.
Will I get one, someday? I don't know.
Will it take a woman to make it happen? I am saying, and I repeat, that I don't know.
But you have said that it is your cousin, a woman, who facilitated your going back to school, others may ask.
In which case, my answer would be: All I know is that, in the African set up, women are more understanding than men. The other thing I know is that my beloved village cannot go on like this: Whole village, no First Degree?
But, believe you me, this story is true. And it pains. May be it is high time we started helping each other in my village. Evoke that communal spirit that makes Malawi the Warm Heart of Africa.
I will get that First Degree and, then, the second!
This village! You want to know the name?