She was a pariah to her husband for the first eight years of her 29 year-old marriage. She rediscovered her worth after thinking outside the box, and today, she is almost a breadwinner. What is her story? Ephraim Nyondo tells it.
The first part of Grace Kikaâ€™s story is nothing unusual in Malawi. A woman without any tertiary qualification gets married to a driver in 1983, and becomes a house wife.
She has nothing but her husband as a source of her personal and family needs.
â€œIt was painful, quite hectic. You find yourself begging and often, you are not given because either your husband doesnâ€™t have money or he has other things to prioritise. You suffer in silence,â€ she says sitting on a mat outside her house in Matanda village, T/A Nsomba, Blantyre.
In the usual version of the story, Kika is supposed to persevere because, as our traditions puts it, an African woman of virtue is defined by perseverance.
But Kikaâ€™s story does not end that way. She chose a different path.
â€œOne evening in August, 1989,â€ she recalls in her slow and lazy tone, â€œI asked for K500 from my husband. I wanted to start mandasi selling business.â€
As expected, the husband resisted. And the husbandâ€™s resistance, too, is nothing unusual. Keeping a woman indoor is one strategy husbands use to control their wives.
But Kika, too, resisted, though, with tenderness.
â€œI kept coming back to him until he gave in. I travelled to Blantyre market and bought 2kg of wheat flour then at K60, 1 litre of cooking oil at K80, a packet of sugar, salt and yeast and began my mandasi business,â€ she says.
Great futures, surely, are born from humble beginnings.
â€œI would wake up at 12 midnight to mix the flour. At 2 am, I would start frying which went to around 4 am. By six, I could make my way to market,â€ she says.
Fuelled by frugality and determination, and also a fast market at Chazunda in her area, her business began to grow with years.
In two years, she changed from baking once in a day to twice and also from buying 2kg of flour to 50 kg which could lapse in a week.
The change was not just in her business. It reflected in her everyday life as well.
â€œI began to feel a sense of independence, especially on household decisions. I would go buy my clothes and that of my daughterâ€™s. I would go to the maize mill without begging. There are a whole lot of things,â€ she says clandestinely.
As her business grew, Kika started to get cautious of how to sustain it. She heard a number of stories of how businesses suffered and fell as they grew. By 2002, her worry turned worse.
â€œI thought of saving through diversifying into other businesses. As a result, I started asking around about how to manage pig farming. It worked. I built a shelter bought some pigs and the diversification took off,â€ she says.
Interestingly, as she kept pigs, her eyes were still on mandasi. She could hardly break from it.
â€œThe combined proceeds from mandasi and pigs improved my income. In 2003, a thought of building a house started to crop up in me.
â€œI did not like the two bedroom thatched house we were living in. It was not giving me comfort,â€ she says.
So she told her husband about her plans. As usual, the husband laughed it off. He even joked about it because he knew that the project was costly.
Kika, however, stood her ground. By then, she was buying four bags of flour which could lapse a week. As a result, she employed some boys to mould bricks.
â€œI intensified my business. By then I was baking thrice and again, I had employed a boy to help me sell. Little by little I could pay the boys and when the moulding was over, the building started,â€ she said.
As the foundation of the house began, she was laughed at. People, even her husband, thought she had gone crazy. They could hardly figure out how she would finish the costly project she had begun.
â€œThe project took off and by 2005, I finished building. What remained was roofing. It proved difficult to finish. But I intensified my business by increasing the bags of flour to five per week. In three months, I managed to roof the house with 24 iron sheets,â€ she says while smiling.
The building of a house was quite a relief. It meant she had some money to save. So, she, for the time, opened an account with Malawi Savings Bank (MSB).
The chicken business
In 2007, some of her friends whispered to her of fortunes that are hidden in chicken business. She listened to different voices on the issue.
â€œWhat I did not agree with them is their proposal for me to drop the mandasi business. That was difficult for me. To me, mandasi was my gold. There was nothing that could separate me from it,â€ she says.
With a little capital and massive training from National Association of Business Women (NABW), Kika entered the chicken world. But that did not mean leaving mandasi. In fact, her eyes were still on mandasi, the heart of her business survival.
â€œMy life had completely changed. Everybody, even my mother, looks to me. I support relatives in my family. This is something I could only dream of when I was getting married,â€ she speaks, joyously.
Having seen what the mandasi business can do if pursued with caution and vision, Kika, today, is on the forefront helping women in her area in running similar businesses.
â€œI saw a number of women in the business struggling to get flour to bake more. You know the flour can be expensive sometimes, and again, the price fluctuates often. Because of that, they end up buying 2kg on credit from hawkers who overcharge them. As a result, I thought of using my privilege to also give them a chance in life,â€ she says.
Last year, she retired from active baking and opened a shop where she sells flour, cooking oil, yeast, salt and sugar.
â€œI buy 10 bags of Azam flour per week which I give out on credit to these women. They reimburse after selling. I also do the same with all other goods necessary for making mandasi,â€ she says.
As she sits outside her well-furnished house, Kika has a word for all the women who suffer in silence as housewives: â€œDonâ€™t be afraid of beginning something, however humble.â€