So…. I am a bad person and have not updated this in a long long time but we live in Africa so sue me :) Right If you want a overall update about what Tina and I have been up to jump over to her blog ( tinaandzebinmalawi.blogspot.com ) and you’ll get caught up on our live. I on the other hand am going to regale you with a story of epic proportions emotions frustration, etc.
It all started on a sunny day in Africa (interesting because it had been raining for the last several months). We had just gotten back to the village from our little vacation to America and after the obligatory small chat and greeting I asked one of our students how things were while we were away.
“Oh, things were very okay.” Zondweo said, “and the students went on strike for a day.” He adds as though this is only slightly bigger news than it is sunny this morning.
After talking with some of the teachers and headmaster I find out that the students did indeed go on strike over something to do with sports and asked for the head teacher’s (Singini’s) removal. Of course the sports thing they are complaining about is not anything to do with the head teacher but if you’ve read Tina’s blog you know that there were some higher ups trying to push Singini away. We assume they kinda started the whole thing.
Any way I sat and chatted with Singini for a few hours that day (I hadn’t seen the guy in a month and we’ve become fairly good friends) and went home frustrated that things had deteriorated so much over the last few weeks. Little did I know that more was to come…
Besides finding out about school and what not we learned that Singini had a son die as well and the funeral was only a day or so ago (not a real son it’d be like Uncle Dan calling Uncle Sam’s kids sons, so not son but still close relation) and people were upset. The next morning we find out that people have accused Singini of killing his brother using witchcraft! Witchcraft! It shouldn’t surprise me I have yet to be to a funeral where witchcraft wasn’t blamed, of course people die from treatable diseases but no one cares about that they just yell witchcraft. Of course why wouldn’t they. Lets say you’ve had several young children die all of them had diareah. Some dude with minimal training comes in sees what is going on mixes some salt and sugar in water and has the parents start giving this to the kids. Poof no more dieing kids. How is it not witchcraft, he just made a solution, a potion basically, and completely eradicated this thing that was taking babies; if the cure comes from witchcraft then why wouldn’t the cause be witchcraft. Try and get your head around that one!
Back to the story.
So again I find myself talking with Singini and he is looking awful his ‘son’ just died and now people are saying he is the one who did it. We go home. Next morning. We find out that he went home and there is a mob of people there at his house waiting because the witch doctor has been called from Ekwendeni to see if it is witchcraft.
Now realize that I was not there and this is my interpretation of events after asking several people from different sides of the story but this is what happened…
They called the witchdoctor. At her house she predicted that there was a bottle wrapped in cloth and that the spell was found there. Then she come to Kacheche to Singini’s house and starts to look for it. It was found on top of the roof to his pit latrine. She said it was not Singini’s but his fathers and had been around for some time.
“But, Singini, have you ever seen a bottle on the roof of your chimbuzi (toilet)?” I ask, thinking that I’ve use that chim and never seen anything on the roof.
“Well, no. Its magic. You can’t see it until the witchdoctor makes it appear!” he explains as though I am someone asking about why grass grows green.
I am thinking at this point I should become a witch doctor because they’ve got a fabulous racket going. I make a prediction that a yellow ball is where the spell is at and bring one with me. Throw it somewhere on my in and then find it later and say that you couldn’t see it before because it was hiding with its magic.
Anyway…back at the ranch…or village rather everyone hears that the witch doctor ‘proved’ it was witchcraft that killed this guy. Now no hears that the ‘spell’ was put there by his father, they just hear Singini did it. Now Singini is like hating his father (who has been dead for the last 10 years) because he has brought on all of this. Of course he is also saying that he doesn’t believe that witchcraft is real (this only means that he doesn’t practice it) and the village is going crazy about all this and Tina and I are sceaming into the wind that witcraft is not Freaking REAL!!! but we don’t know what to do. We also find out that the guy who died had TB, had been kicked by a cow and was in and out of the hospital for several months, but not a disease, no, must be wafwiti. So the next day it is decided that in order to break the curse the body must be moved from the graveyard of the father to the graveyard of the mother. SO that night another mob shows up at Singini’s and forces him to dig up a corpse that has been in the ground for the last week. Everyone is arrested. EVERYONE. For trespassing in the graveyard. At this point Tina and I were in Mzuzu because we also found out that people in the village were saying the Singini was cursing us so that we were not seeing his true colors, so people were pitying us. They were also saying he had bewitched us to make us pay for his daughter’s private school. And well we were all trying to explain witchcraft is not real and blah blah blah. We were afraid we might be hurting and not helping, and we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t want to be used as a pawn for anyone and so we ran away into town. Basically the more time that we spent in the village the more frustrated we got.
He is in jail for a few days and then released on bail. Then basically transferred to another school and we haven’t seen him since.
Icing on the cake; while we were in Mzuzu we took our computer so that we could just chill watch some movies play some games. I was sitting in a room with bookshelves when they decided to fall over directly onto our computer. It happened so fast I didn’t know what happened. I just saw our computer flying in the air and landed all closed up and carefully lifted the lid to see, yup smashed screen. At that point even I was starting to wonder maybe there is something floating around in the air.
So now what. Now we start again. Singini was the guy I was working a lot with. He was our main connection in the area and now we start again. Its tough because it leave a bad taste in you mouth. My other friend in the village was one of the guys that made Singini dig up the corpse, but how can he say no when the head chief is pushing you. I mean we always show respect to people in authority here, always. And it would be disrespectful to not do something he wants done, even if there is a chance of being arrested. And it doesn’t matter that we all know that the chief doesn’t want Singini around and has been trying to kick him out for the last 6 months. So we are picking up the pieces. Students are still there (it took a few weeks to get everyone back and in uniform and learning again), teachers are starting to teach again, we have a new headteacher, and we are finding ways to move ahead.
This has really forced us to think a lot about what our job is here. We are suppose to be here to learn and understand a culture not change it. Its just this idea of wafwiti is not something I get, at all. So we should be trying to understand and not change. But at the same time we are teachers and isn’t it our job to teach about treatable disease and differences between illusion and magic, and generally truth and non truth. And we are also seeing this ruin our friends life basically; people are stealing his tobacco and he is now living away from his maize so how is he going to harvest and have enough to feed his family for the year? And he is my friend so just as a human I want to be supportive of him but it seems that it is not culturally acceptable and our heads are still trying to grapple with the whole situation.
Well it is 9:00 and we are still trying to get back to site today from Lilongwe which means a 6-8 hour ride to Mzuzu and then an additional bit to home so I’m going to post this as is and next time I’m around if you all have posted questions and thoughts I’ll do a post trying to answer all those and one that maybe is more about our thoughts and what is happening and how the pieces we are picking up are working out. Until then eat some seafood for me but don’t tell me how it is; you’ll just make me jealous :)