Google has no idea what Friday often entails in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city.
Ask the search engine why Friday is an important day elsewhere and it will offer a wide range of answers: casual day in many workplaces, looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning, get together with friends and it is a ‘good day’ once a year.
For Muslims, Friday is their prayer day.
The significance of the day varies across cultures and religions, but the day carries another meaning in Lilongwe.
Every Friday, at around lunchtime, scores of people from poor backgrounds move around the city begging from shops and mosques in the city.
Among them are the elderly, men, women and children who target shops owned by people of Asian origin.
Margaret Malison stays in Chiuzira on the outskirts of Area 23 Township. She says she has no one to support her and that is why she goes begging.
At 47, Malison considers herself too aged to do piece works for a living.
“I am old. I do not have a husband or children to help me. Friday is an ideal day to beg from shops,” she explains.
The woman appreciates the little she and her colleagues get from Asian shop owners.
“Little as it may be, it is enough for our survival,” she says.
Her colleague, Esther Amos, stays in the populous Chinsapo Township and comes to town every Friday.
She says she used to sell mandasi (fritters), but was left penniless when city rangers confiscated her commodities.
She believes begging is not a dependable way out of poverty.
“A small business can help, but I have no capital,” she says.
Unlike her, Martin Benson, 14, has been on the streets of Lilongwe since she was born.
“My mother used to take me everywhere she went begging. When she died, I did not have anywhere to go, and anything to do apart from begging from shops and passers-by, especially on Fridays,” he narrates.
The begging syndrome has also hit the men-folk. Some of them walk long distances just to beg in town.
Mainga Chibweza, in his early 50s, walks over 30 kilometres to town.
“I do not have food at home,” he says. “I did not harvest anything due to lack of fertiliser.”
Sometimes, he gets as little as K25 from shop owners. Surprisingly, he pops back every Friday.
Goodmat Jeke, a security guard at one of the shops in Area 3, is a part-time beggar.
“My salary cannot see me through to the other month,” Jeke says. “I beg on Friday because it is a prayer day for Muslims and Asians who belong to this religion give out a lot of money as alms.”
Almsgiving is one of the pillars of Islam.
The beggars that crowd doorsteps of shops and mosques in Areas 2 and 3 take advantage of this rule to earn a fortune.
Begging may be a nuisance to society, but those who give cite compassion and religious demands.
“I feel sorry to see an old woman or a child suffering. So I am always compelled to assist them and anyone in dire situations,” says Rafik Mohamed, who owns a shop in Area 2.
He reckons his religion and culture compels him to share his wealth with the deprived.
“This does not mean that giving encourages begging. We just need to come together to help these people. They are our brothers and sisters.” he says.
In Lilongwe, generosity has a price.
Some shop owners assist multitudes, with up to 40 beggars taking turns.
“I cannot manage to give everyone K500. So, I give them K20 or K10 each,” Razin Moura says.
Surely, the money is peanuts considering the distance covered and time spent by the beggars.
But the major worry is on children who, like Benson, are shunning school in preference for street begging.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Jean Kalilani says there are better ways of helping children begging in the streets than giving them money.
“Those who are enthusiastic to lend a hand must do so by placing these children in school, either public or private, so that they can have a good future,” she says.
As givers keep giving, it seems just a matter of time before the brains behind Google realise that Friday is a day of begging in Lilongwe.