Soldier Lucius

Last day in Malawi, went to check out the Lucius Banda concert. Soldier Lucius is the biggest music star in all of Malawi. He only puts out CDR’s and has a few DVDs, but in Malawi that’s a huge deal. He’s amazingly well loved. There were over 2000 people at the show, with another 1000 or so standing outside because they couldn’t afford the $3.00 entry fee. Lucius was awesome, by the way.

He used to be an elected member of parliament, but got caught using forged education credentials and was sentenced to 7 years hard labor in Chichiri Prison, which is kind of like Auschwitz but without the gas chambers. I’ve seen it from the outside. There’s a room where they pack nearly 2000 men. They are so over capacity that the men have to sleep sitting up. A person dies every single day in there and rapes and violence are commonplace. It’s not the place you want to go, EVER. TB is rampant there due to the cramped quarters and poor circulation. It’s said that the Chichiri Prison increases the overall TB rate in Malawi by up to 10%.

Fortunately, Lucius got out early and only had to spend 3 months in there. Lucius was well known during the dictator Banda’s reign for singing highly political songs criticizing Banda’s policies and thus is known to the people of Malawi as a protector of the poor and marginalized, basically everyone. Hence, the name “Soldier” Lucius.

I had an interesting conversation with a man (named Precious) who sells Irish potatoes and tomatoes in Chikwawa, south of here. He spoke flawless English and graduated from high school but can’t get a job doing anything but selling produce. He makes about $40 a month and spent $10 of it getting to the Lucius Banda concert and could buy one beer. He told me that “In America, everybody rich, yes?”. I said, no, there are many poor people and unfortunately a large number of them look like you. He said “No, everybody rich. They all have their own car, electricity, water in the house, and a solid place to live that don’t leak when it rains.” Honestly, I couldn’t argue with him. With the exception of the homeless, the poorest of the poor in America are better off than many “wealthy” people in Malawi. This guy lives in Chikwawa with his parents, with no power, no water in the house and a leaky roof and no hope for the future, though he’s educated and bright. He hopes to make it to South Africa so that he can find a job. I think that he would be happy to come to America and would be ecstatic to even do something mundane like bag groceries for $7.00 an hour. Shit like that really puts things into perspective.

Lucius put on a fantastic show, but the sun started going down so I had to rush home to get there before the zombies come out. At about 5, you see people hustling to get home. Noone wants to be out after the sun goes down, especially women. White people are prime targets for muggings since unemployed young men know we have money, phones, etc. I’ve never walked around past dark, but I’m sure there are zombies.

On the way home, I had my first ever Chichewa conversation with an old lady. She asked me how I was doing, where I was from and where I was going. I answered in a clumsy fashion, but somehow she seemed to understand. She was very kind and thanked me for speaking with her. Then I had to start bolting as the sun was going down. I then proceeded to run into 5 people I know, who greeted me like I was their best friend. These are truly the kindest, friendliest people I have ever met.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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  1. Malawi Update: Lucius Banda « Freewheel Burning - July 12, 2010

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