Call him John. I knew him a year ago. The man, who insists on anonymity because his sexuality often makes him a victim of rampant scorn and stigma wherever he goes, does not trust many.
During the meeting, he came out of his house and looked in all directions.
“Enemies, my friend, enemies. They are everywhere,” he told me.
John and I first met when Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) brought together senior police officers to discuss the availability and treatment of lesbians and gays.
At the training opened by Deputy Inspector General Rodney Jose, John appealed for protection.
Recently, I tracked him to get to the bottom of his life story. It was not easy to get his contacts. He refused to give me. His friends feared I wanted to betray him. Getting him to grant an interview was even harder. He was not interested to talk to me, he said.
He constantly cut the line, asking: “Where did you get my number?”
I did not give up. When I called again, he told me to leave him alone.
I kept trying my luck until he opened up at last.
But he demanded that the meeting should take place in his home.
When the agreed day dawned, we were nesting in a two-bedroom house owned by Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC). He looked relaxed and calm unlike the man I encountered on phone.
I explained myself, and my motives.
“I believe you,” he said. “I have no problem with you publishing my story without my real name.”
His wish was my command.
The first question was whether one chooses to be gay.
John was loud and clear: “It just happened that way. I discovered when I was 12 years old that I was sexually attracted to my male peers.
“In fact, when I saw a female, nothing happened to me. When I saw or met a man, I felt some strange attraction to him. You cannot choose to be that way.”
John says he feels more at ease with girls and women than his male counterparts.
He disputes the belief that behind any confessed gay in Africa are Western bankrollers stage-managing these same-sex acts.
“How can I be so cheap to do that? It just happened to me and I have tried in vain to change the situation,” he explains.
Like many, John faces a lot of resistance to be accepted in his society.
He shared two incidents that show how gays and lesbians in the country are being haunted by discrimination.
First, he was drinking with friends in a popular joint at Kamba in Blantyre when a stranger came, stared at him contemptuously.
The stranger reportedly exclaimed: “Bartender, why are you selling beer to this man as if you don’t know he is gay? We don’t want these people here.”
They detained him in the bar and assaulted him mercilessly until police officers arrived to quell the scuffle and took him to Soche Police Station.
Ever since, he chooses places to go and has come to know there are many places where his kind fear to tread.
Their freedom of movement and association is restricted.
Even supermarkets can be as risky. He was buying groceries in a shop when someone shouted that he was gay and a police officer on patrol picked him. John recalls being detained in a foul-smelling cell for three days.
He may have been given bail, but he is not happy with a female police officer who tells his friends that he is gay every time they meet.
“It’s unprofessional, but that is the life I am accustomed to in my own country,” he says.
Cedep executive director Gift Trapence urges Malawians to treat gays and lesbians as people like any other. He wants law enforcers to protect all Malawians regardless of their sexual orientation.
He says: “Like any citizen, they should be equal before the law. No one should be discriminated against before the law.
“The police are supposed to help victims of injustices. Cedep will work with them to ensure that sexual minorities are assisted when they lodge complaints.” n