each night at supper, but at least it was the start of something good. I started taking long walks to see how Malawi was doing, to see who’d survived and how they were getting along. With dowe now ready in the fields, people everywhere were drying it in their yards and making chitibu, which is a sweeter kind of nsima. People were regaining their strength, and smiling faces now greeted me along the roads. The same people who’d wandered weak and feeble now headed home carrying children on their backs and great bundles on their heads. But with the famine still fresh on my mind, I expected them to ask the same question I’d been hearing from every stranger for months: Ganyu? I’m looking for ganyu… Instead, it was our normal happy greeting. “Muli bwanji!” How are you? “Ndiri bwino, kaya inu?” Fine, and you? “Ndiri bwino!” Fine. “Zikomo!” Thanks for asking. “Zikomo!” No, thank you. At the trading center, people now walked around shaking hands with their neighbors, as if they’d all returned from a long, hard journey. “Good to see you, friend,” they said. “You’re still around.” “I’m around. How did you manage yourself?” “God was on my side.” The blessing of dowe allowed us to return to our lives, but it also brought thieves. Many farmers who’d traveled to Wimbe from other districts weren’t benefiting from the dowe and pumpkins because they didn’t have their own fields. So instead they took it from others. The people living in Gilbert’s blue gum grove waited until it rained at night, then stole the ripe dowe. After two weeks of this, most of their fields were gone. The same happened to us. Each morning we walked the road that bordered our field and found it littered with green leaves and dowe gnawed to the pith, as if a battalion had feasted all night. Horrible stories of revenge soon began circulating in the trading center. One day, I heard some boys talking about the crimes. “I heard some farmers in Kenji caught some men in their fields,” one boy said. “You know what they did? Took pangas and chopped off their arms, asking, ‘Long sleeves or short sleeves?’” “No!” “My cousin caught a young boy stealing his dowe, ” said Gilbert. “He put a metal pole in the fire until it became red hot, then told the boy to grab it. He did!” All this talk about revenge made me wonder about our own fields. Later that night, I asked my father how we should punish those who stole from us. “Should we kill them?” I asked. “Perhaps call the police?” My father shook his head. “We’re not killing anyone,” he said. “Even if I called the police, those men would only starve to death in jail. Everyone has the same hunger, son. We must learn to forgive.”
CHAPTER NINE M OST STUDENTS AT K ACHOKOLO Secondary and Wimbe Primary stopped going to school during the famine. After I dropped out, Gilbert continued to go to classes, and he told me that each day fewer and fewer classmates showed up. The teachers would call recess around 9:00 A.M., then disappear themselves into the fields and trading center to search for food. By February, there was no school at all.
- Spring '18
- fake name
- Boy, old man, Malawi, chief