Last Thursday, our leader of delegation, the Genuine Professor Abiti Dr Joyce Befu, MG 66 and MEGA-1, commanded that we have lunch at the Msundwe Barracks Restaurant, Gateway Mall, in Lilongwe. Alhajj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC, and I, the Mohashoi, did not hide our excitement at our leader’s command because, according to our delegation rules, “whoever decides where and what to eat or drink pays.”
As soon we sat down at the khonde facing the restaurant, a young-looking waitress with a finely polished face, approached us with the menu.
“I will have charcoal grilled quarter chicken à la Msundwe with Lizulu frites,” I said.
“Thigh or wing? Hot or mild?” The waitress asked.
“Wing. And make it hot, with natural tomato sauce. Please,” I said.
Jean-Philippe and Abiti laughed like Siamese twins.
“What’s funny?” the waitress asked, tagging down her brown apron.
“Why does the menu have to read like we are in a French restaurant somewhere along the Seine?” Jean-Philippe asked nobody in particular.
“Well; every profession has its own specialist language. In gastronomy school, we are taught that using French, Italian, or Portuguese names on menus makes food more appetising and exotic,” the waitress said, professionally.
“I agree with you,” Abiti said, hardly holding back her laughter, “lawyers and medical professionals use Latin and Greek to make their professions sound a difficult fortress. Kamuzu insisted on students learning classical or ancient European languages like Latin so as to easily decode legal and medical language.”
“Madame”, the waitress pleaded, “What are you taking? I have to serve other customers.”
“Same,” Abiti answered, “but I am not Madame but Professor Dr….”
“Apologies Madame, Professor Dr,” the waitress said, cutting Abiti. “And you, sir?”
“Ditto,” Jean-Philippe answered, “but I am not Sir but Alhajj Mufti…., SC”
“Koma lero ndaona malodza,” the waitress complained in Msundwean Chewa.
“Ndipo sunati,” Jean-Philippe replied in francophone Chewa.
Surprised, if not shocked, to hear a White man speak the local language perfectly, the waitress tucked in her tongue and walked away into the restaurant from where the aroma of fried pork wafted into our noses.
To while away time as our food was being prepared, we decided to tour the mall, one of the best anywhere in the world. If the Gateway Mall was transported to Chileka, our oldest international airport would wear an attractive look. In the mall, we noted that the famous Food Lovers Market was closed and its shelves empty. Three or four other shops in the mall had closed and the rooms they once occupied were empty and ready for rental. Shoprite was still there.
“Signs of the times?” Jean-Philippe wondered.
“Meaning?” Abiti asked.
“Elsewhere, say in Europe, shops closing down is an indication of tough business times,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Could be,” I said, “but while South African and munthu-Malawian businesses are closing down, the Indian-Malawian businesses are booming.”
“Interesting. Why is that the case?” Jean-Philippe wondered.
“I once read an MBA thesis in which the researcher explained what makes Indian businesses tick,” I replied, adding “One strategy is the Indian businessperson’s readiness to reduce or increase the prices of his or her goods depending on the customer. You, a mzungu, would pay a different price from what I, a munthu, would.”
“Makes business sense,” Abiti agreed. “Profits come from rapid turnover more than from fixed high prices. This is something munthu-Malawian businesspeople must understand. A shop is not a warehouse to keep goods forever.”
“Clever….why is the Indian-Malawian community so aloof?” Jean-Philippe wondered, changing topics. “Rarely do you hear of an Indian-Malawian running for public office. Do Indian-Malawians even vote?”
“We should find out from the Malawi Electoral Commission if it ever registers any Indian-Malawian voters,” Abiti proposed.
“I doubt that any Indian-Malawian ever votes,” I said, “although I hear they sponsor main presidential candidates, main political parties, and candidate-MPs expecting to earn business contracts from the winners. Sort of investment in politics. That is why we hear all these allegations about this leader or that leader having received bribes from some crooked India-Malawian businesspersons. But let me emphasise that not all Indian-Malawians are crooked. Some are quite nice and umunthu-filled.”
“We should meet the Minister of National Unity and Civic Education to advise him that the mindset change should target the Indian-Malawian community first. Instead of making money in Malawi and externalising it to the European Union and other safe havens, it should reinvest in Malawi to develop Malawi. Instead of wanting to live in an exclusive enclave, the Indian-Malawian community should spread out and mix with and freely intermarry or inter-love munthu-Malawians to ensure the Indian-Malawian becomes genuinely Malawian.”
“Good proposal,” Abiti remarked, “but does the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Education even have a social and behaviour change strategy to achieve the much touted mindset change among all Malawians?”