Zachi and Ng’ombe Villages – Chikwawa District
Nelson is a wonderful storyteller. We take turns sitting next to him in the front seat of the bus to listen to his lively Malawian tales. One of my favorites, though not based in fact, gives a real understanding of why the people of Malawi are just emerging from the darkness of poverty and disease.
Nelson’s body language is as much a part of his story as his words. I paraphrase. “Malawi declared independence from Britain in 1964. Hastings Banda, who had already been educated as a medical doctor, was sent to Britain for leadership training. A conspirator from Ghana searched out Banda, murdered him, took his identity and returned to Malawi as president. The original Banda’s parents saw photos of their alleged son and cried foul. They were brought before the new president to make amends. Instead the mother said, ‘Take off your left shoe,’ which he did. ‘You are not my son,’ she cried. ‘He lost his toe in a childhood accident.’ The president, in a rage for being made a fool of, beat and imprisoned the real parents. He became ‘President for Life’ over a complete police state for the next thirty years until his demise in 1994.”
We arrive in Zachi to rousing greetings then walk with the women and children in the burning sun for what seems like forever (but is only a kilometer) to see their water hole. And hole is the right word – it is at least eight feet deep and so steep-sided the children are afraid to climb down. The water seeps in so slowly that a small bowl must be dipped in over and over to fill one bucket. It takes many trips to get enough water for cooking and drinking with maybe the dregs leftover for washing clothes.
When we return we are again given chairs of honor under the one shade tree. The woman chief, Ednafred, greets us with, “Zikomo gwambiri!” thanking us and presenting two young masked boys dressed as chickens for a traditional dance. They scratch, jump, squawk and peck in perfect rhythm with the crazed-eyed drummer until other dancers encroach on the costumed boys. A fight breaks out as the drummer throws down his sticks, and bodily tries to clear the stage. We breathe a sigh of relief when the women restore order then take to the dance floor themselves. Though Malawi has strong gender inequality most of the men are dead or gone from the primitive villages, and the women take over.
We arrive in Ng’ombe to view a village with both a well (bore hole with hand-pump) in the village center and new sanitary latrines. The people look cleaner, healthier, happier. “Water For People now focuses on how to make sanitation a productive or income-generating activity that people are really interested in. Families with an “ecological sanitation” (eco-san) latrine—a specific type of toilet that creates compost out of feces and fertilizer out of urine—can either sell their fertilizer or use it to produce higher-quality produce themselves.” Joseph shows us the thatched arbor loos and the clay brick latrines. “The people are educated in construction and use first, and become more accepting of the eco-sans if they are separated from their huts.”
Everyone is gathered in the square as one of the school girls shows us how the pump works. Here the women and children gather to chat and play while they fill their containers with clean water. One of the few men, trained by WFP, demonstrates making a sealed concrete top for the eco-san. Joseph announces, “The incidence of cholera has dropped by 50% in Ng’ombe since the additions of the pump and latrines!” Everyone cheers, gives thanks and the dancing begins.