Malawi Day 2

This country is in full soccer fever mode. The power keeps going on and off almost hourly because the entire country is watching football on TV or listening to it on the radio, creating an incredible drain on the power grid. I passed by a wooden shack in the Blantyre Market here today where you could sit with other soccer fans and listen to a Chichewa broadcast of the Argentina – Korea game for a mere $.25 and the place was packed to the gills. Everywhere you go, all anyone wants to talk about is the results of the previous day’s games and it’s not hard to get minutely updates of the status of whatever game is going on. I am normally not a sports fan, but the enthusiasm here is infectious.

Last night, my friend Henry invited me to a local bar to watch the South Africa – Uruguay match, which led to an embarrassing loss for South Africa, almost as bad as the punishing results of the Swiss – Spain match earlier in the day. Aside from the game and the raucous support of the local Whitey’s for Uruguay’s team, I had the opportunity to eat an excellent dish of marinated cow’s hoof, apparently a Malawian delicacy and the first proudly “Malawian” food that I feel that I’ve eaten so far.

Coming with us to see the game was Henry’s younger brother from Zimbabwe, Godfey Macheso. “Brother” is used very liberally here, as they would actually be cousins in our world. Apparently, the Bantu languages do not make the distinction, and cousins are brothers, and uncles and aunts are mothers and fathers, making the southwest African family a connected and complicated group. This, of course, goes a long way to explain the incredible societal complexities of African cultures, where an age old tribal and village awareness leads to a deep and multilayered fabric that connects everyone, for better or worse. I am even impressed at how Malawians who I had only a small amount of contact with, remember my name like yesterday and readily recollect even mundane events that we shared together.

Godfrey. Godfrey is a young Zimbabwean political activist, who has recently been forced to move to Malawi. The bankrupt Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe has discontinued support for college students in Zimbabwe, and requires that students pay more than $1000 US per year to remain, an incredible sum for even the well off in SSA. Godfrey protested through online blog posts against the government’s spineless unwillingness to invest in its own future and against Mugabe’s crony government. He found himself arrested and tortured in a Zimbabwean prison as a reward for his online willingness to exercise his human right to speak out against a miserable and backward totalitarian government.

My exchange with Godfrey reminded of the extent that politics pervades throughout African cultures. In contrast to countries like the United States, Africans that I have met consider themselves to be deeply connected to their countries, much akin to connections to their complex families or home villages. No one here can say that they are unaffected by politics and everyone, in any situation will freely express complex and nuanced opinions on the wide range of political problems these countries face. Malawian political conversations are extremely civil, with each side making sure that everyone’s opinions are heard and understood. In America, we treat politics as a taboo subject to avoid argument and conflict. Here it is assumed that everyone will at least give others a chance to be speak. Most educated people here are invested in their countries and do not have the option of retreating into fantasy or of packing up and leaving to go somewhere else. Everyone wants to see their nation develop for the benefit of the nation as a whole, as the welfare of the state implies the welfare of the people. Unfortunately, leaders on top, like Robert Mugabe, only seek to exercise control and show wide displays of power and wealth, at the expense of African people.

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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