Many times, men, as heads of the house, try their best to put food on the table and hope for the best for their children. However, some women work even harder and achieve so much with the little they have. For Linesi Bongololo, getting through the harshest times in life has taught her to work hard and provide for her children so that they may get educated, although she is a primary school dropout. In this interview, Paida Mpaso talks to her about her dreams and how she will make them a reality.
Tell us about yourself?
I come from Majanga Village, T/A Nkalo, Chiradzulu in southern Malawi. Basically, that is where I grew up until I was 19, then I came to live in Blantyre. However, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really remember the day I was born but I am 30 years old. I went to school in Chiradzulu up to Standard Six only, I had to drop out after seeing that life was becoming harder by the day.
How did you start your business?
I started doing business when I was in school back home in Chiradzulu, as one way of trying to survive and pay for my school fees. I had to work, so would do some piecework then invest that money on my fritters business. But when I came to Blantyre, I started off by selling cabbages, then tomatoes.
Any distinct memories of growing up?
The memories I have are not quite memories per say but I just loved being young and free, I loved the life back then as it had only few problems. Growing up and realising the need of life is a burden on its own. I have doubts about my children, their future and my future, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very difficult. I have to think of other ways of finding money in case I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sell and make any profits. When you are young, life is so much better.
What dreams did you have as a child?
I wanted to become a nurse.
What kind of business do you do?
I sell tomatoes, onions and depending on the season and the price I sometimes sell vegetables.
What are some of the challenges that you encounter as you are doing your business?
Tomatoes are very perishables and very seasonal so depending on the season, we may lose out or make profits. On average we are constantly making loses, because we buy the tomatoes at very high prices and when we try to sell them at such prices people rarely buy and they end up going bad, we have to survive and go with what the market wants.
Why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you just stop and start something else?
Like what? What am I going to do? ( she wonders and sighs) I do this business because there is nothing I can do, much as it varies when it comes to profits I know it brings food on my table.
Describe your day to me?
Basically, when my tomatoes are finished I go and buy them at Bvumbwe and that means in order to make it back at the market to sell, I will be required to wake up as early as three, I will sweep the house, lucky enough I have a fifteen-year-old daughter who prepares the breakfast for the other people at the house including my husband. When I get back from Bvumbwe, I go straight to the market and start selling. At lunch time, I go home to eat the lunch prepared by my daughter, my husband also does the same.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â However, when I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to go to the market I do the chores then at around seven, I have to go to the market. Normally, the market closes at six and I head back home around seven. Then, I prepare the food for the family.
Leaving your family and in the early hours does not seem to be what most mothers would want to do, how do you feel about that?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sad but at the same time it is okay considering that we all have to survive. I feel sad but times have changed and I need to do what I am doing right now, the children will take care of each other all I have to do is to make sure that I have left a little something at home for them to buy charcoal.
How does your husband and children feel about this arrangement?
They had problems with it in the beginning but they have come to believe that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the only way we can survive out here.
Do you spend time with your children and look at their homework at all?
If I had time, I would do that, but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so I rarely do that. I mean I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even read English, how am I going to help them, unless of course itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Chichewa.
If you were given some money, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s say a hundred thousand, how would you divide it?
I would put the money in the bank then invest some of it in my business. I would also build my own house.
How much money do you make on average? And how do you spend it?
If business is good, I take home MK1 000 but if it was not good, usually it is less than K500. Everyday, we spend at least K200. From my husbandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s business, he is also able to help out with the rent and other bills.
How often do you eat meat?
At least twice a week.
Have Blantyre City Assembly scouts ever grabbed your business before? If yes, what happened and how did you feel?
Yes, they have, I just left my tomatoes on the bench and when they came, they did not find me and they assumed that I had run away so they took my tomatoes and demanded that I pay K30 to get them back. However, I did not.
What do you hope for your children?
I have three children and would like them to be teachers, nurses and have good husbands to take care of them and be happy.
What are some of the hardest times that your family has had to go through?
Not making money, such that we had to boil vegetables and go to bed. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard but what else can we do, we did not go to school and we have to pay rent. I just wish I had finished my school or was at least able to speak English so that I can get orders to supply tomatoes in hotels. I have been trying to ask around for schools which could provide me with free English classes but they are all expensive. I never want my children to go through what I went through and that is why I will do anything just so they stay in school.
How many children were in your family?
My father was once married and from his first marriage, he had seven children, when his wife died, he married my mother and had five children, so in total there were 12 children. I was the second born in his second marriage. As time went on, five of my stepbrothers and sisters died and there are just the seven of us now.
What were your parents doing? Any work?
They had a small hawker and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how they earned their living. All twelve of us were relying on earnings which came from that business.
How was it like living in such a large family?
Life was hard I guess as we had to scramble for food, it was a village life and we did not really care, we ate what was prepared; if there was no food, we just had to sing lullabies and go to bed. We went to school while taking care of our fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s business. As one way of generating my own income, I would do piecework, I would clean peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s houses and wash clothes. It was not an easy life but we managed to get through it and I am happy we survived.
How did you find yourself in Blantyre, Kachere?
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really remember the exact dates, but I think I was 19 years when I came, I had just been separated from my first husband and I realised that I was giving my parents a hard time, I just had to leave. When I arrived in Blantyre, I went to live with my auntie for a week, and then moved out again. It was easy for me to start another business as I had left the children back home in Chiradzulu. By the time I was in Blantyre, my first-born child was three years and the other one was one-year-old.
Why did you move out from your auntieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s place?
I was thinking of my children, I wanted to be close to them and take care of them. I knew that if I stayed with my auntie, I would probably give her a hard time that is why I had to take care of my children on my own. Besides, I had started selling vegetables.
Was the money enough?
Money is never enough, it was just enough to pay for my rent and some food for my children. The most important thing was survival. After some months of living alone I met my husband, we have two more children and the last one is two years old. My husband is a tailor and has just opened a small hawking business.
What happened with your first marriage?
He just abandoned me. We had a lot of problems in Chiradzulu including sickness and my business was not working. The situation was just bad, so, I had to leave.
WasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it tough being a single mother and raising two children?
It was, but then again for all those who did not go further with their education, life is even tougher but we have to get used. There was nothing I could do, literally nothing. However, when I met my husband, things kind of changed and he was very supportive of me and my children.