Why rural Malawians are not banked

Abiti Joyce Befu, also popularly known as MG 66 and Most Excellent Grand Achiever-MEGA 1; Alhajj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePOisson, SC (RTD), the Most Paramount Native Authority Mzee Mandela, Nganga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD) and I, Malawi’s only Mohashoi, are still here in Nkhota Kota, our beautiful cosmopolitan land.

Each time we are here in Nkhota Kota; when we go and stand on Sani Hill; when we stand at the Chia Bridge to marvel at the serenity of the mighty Chia Lagoon; when we stand on the Bua bridge and watch the mighty Bua River snake its way from Ndawambe Village in Mchinji through Dowa and Kasungu and Nkhota Kota to deposit its liquid cargo into Lake Malawi; when we stand at Ngala Hill to face the imposing Kuwirwi mountain; or when we allow ourselves to drift with westerly winds in small dugout canoes into the depth of Lake Malawi only to turn and admire the rolling landscape that serenades into Mabilabo to join Malambo country, we feel Michael Sauka knew what he was talking about when he described Malawi thus:

“Our own Malawi, this land so fair,

Fertile and brave and free.

With its lakes, refreshing mountain air,

How greatly blest are we.

Hills and valleys, soil so rich and rare,

Give us a bounty free.

Wood and forest, plains so broad and fair,

All-beauteous Malawi.”

However, we feel jealously convinced Michael Sauka was here in Nkhota Kota when he composed that anthem and actually merely generalised what he had experienced here in our Nkhota Kota.  Why this second verse or stanza of our national anthem is avoided, we do not know but we can only guess why the first verse is sung and memorised.

Three weeks into our stay in the all-beauteous Nkhota Kota, we are happy to report this week that although the over 15 year-old permanent temporary bridges erected by the mighty Malawi Armed Forces are still there, temporarily, the gaping hole at Chia Bridge has finally been fixed.  So, we stopped to admire the place and buy some really good and succulent fish from the fish stalls.

“Kaka, this large sundried kampanga is good for you; it really fits you!” one of the fish hawkers shouted.

“Why have you singled me out, Kaka?” I asked, smiling like a president who has just lost an election.

“Big fish for big man!” the fish vendor said poetically.

“And small fish for small man!” Jean-Philippe commented, laughing.

“But you are also the biggest man!” the fish seller went on praising us into buying his sundried kampanga which had been prepared to look like a bakayao from the Republic of the Lower Shire.

“Okey,” Nganga said, “you have invested enough effort in marketing your product. We are buying your fish. How much is it?”

“K10 000 only!”

“What?”Abiti exclaimed, “K10 000?”

“Yes. Big fish; big man; big money!” the fish vendor answered zelezally or naughtily.

“Don’t play games,” Abiti said.

“Married men don’t play games!” the vendor said.

“Is K10 000 for one or all the fish in that basket?” Mzee Mandela asked regally.

“All the three cost K10 000 and I honestly don’t understand what big madam is whining about. What does K10 000 buy today?” the vendor explained.

Abiti picked a few other things-onions, tomatoes, usipa, vegetables, and even chillies. Jean-Philippe bought some bangles and other artefacts.  The total bill came to K55  000. The vendors had by now surrounded our Aford Neverest, the best all terrain vehicle.

“Guys, do you have cash on you?”Jean asked after going through his pockets.

“I have K5 000 on me,” I declared.

Abiti, Nganga and Mandela simply shock their heads. The vendors stood mute. The atmosphere was slowly getting tense.

“Okay folks, where is the nearest National Bank or Standard Bank around here?” the Jean-Philippe inquired.

“Salima, maybe Dwangwa, but surely Mzuzu!” the kampanga vendor answered.

“I need to convert a few Euros and pay you because with the banks so far apart, I am worried we may get stranded if I give you all the money I have!”Jean-Philippe reasoned.

“Banks? You want banks here among the poor vendors? You must be joking. Banks are for urban people because they think we rural people smell badly, are disgusting, illiterate and therefore cannot be banked. So, here we keep money in our houses. How much do you want to change, biggest man?” the kampanga vendor asked.

“100 euros!” Jean-Philippe said tenderly like suitor meeting his prospective parents-in-law for the first time.

“No problem. I will convert that.  They don’t call me bank m’nyumba or Mr ATM for nothing!” the kampanga vendor challenged, to our relief. n


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