Rainbow Valley

Rainbow Valley

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Malawi Parents Worry About Their Kids

I looked up from the page at the clucking brown speckled mother hen, as she jumped up and away from her seven chicks. Counting heads, I thought, while she stood on the two-by-four that David had put there yesterday, after stacking five rows of bricks to make a temporary home for the young family. Just seven of the original nine chicks chirped today; the board had fallen onto two as he built the wall around them to protect them from the dangers lurking in the grass and overhead.

A ripe mango or an avocado pear could fall from a tree and crush a feathery warm body.

A guard dog, each of his ribs countable, could quickly snatch a curious chick before its watching mother could squawk and flap her angry wings in warning at the fluffy yellow innocent vanishing into the pink hungry snapping jaws.

‘Skus’ (crow-sized, magpie coloured scavengers) could lurk in the straight, thirty-foot tall, blue gum tree, eyes trained on the yellow and black chicks before fluttering down to the grass beckoning an invitation to the baby birds to come have a game of tag. There would be high-pitched chirps of excitement as the chicks ran to chase the tantalizing tail feathers of their new black and white playmates, not realizing they had been lured into a circle of hen-sized enemies. The skus would peck at the black shiny eyes and the short wrinkled legs of the chicks, with beaks no longer teasing but urgent, the scent of raw flesh, spiced with fear, and bits of salty blood feeding their lust to kill.

Downy feathers would float like soft light butterflies on the breeze past the prickly, white, scented rose blossoms, the first fresh blooms of the season, bobbing heavily, nodding wisely, and agreeing with Darwin’s theory.

As David stacked the red clay bricks into a wall, then laid the two-by- four piece of wood along the top layer of bricks, he clucked at the two motionless chicks with the broken necks, quiet now.

David’s workload was increased these days. John, the night-watchman, had taken most of the week off to be with his wife and family as they buried their six-month-old baby back home in their village. The young girl was dead of malaria after a short stay in hospital. Neighbours and family gathered with offerings of food, bits of money, sympathy, wailing. John’s employers had gone to the home, with their donation, and stayed four hours with the family. As many as were available travelled by mini-bus to the village for the ceremony and the burial, with the baby, its small weight wrapped in a blanket.

David and John both worried, as all parents must, if their children would survive the dangers lurking throughout Malawi. Now, one more was dead by the tiny insects who carry death in their bite.

The water grows parasites, and during the rainy season, the streams, rivers, and ditches where the women and children wash laundry, turn into muddy brown roiling torrents. Last week two adults had been swept away, drowned while crossing a river. Luckily neither had carried a baby tied in a chitenje around their back or there’d have been a third or even a fourth casualty.

If a child grows to school age there’s be the concern of affording an education. Primary schools to form eight are government funded and these are legally available to all children, though some stay home to look after disabled relatives, and some villages are too isolated for kids to attend school. For some, the raging river waters make the trip to school too dangerous and it is safer they be kept at home where there is always a floor to be swept with a branch, goats to be herded, peanuts or potatoes to be sold at the roadside in season.

Forms nine and higher are privately-paid and so less well-attended although almost everyone agrees that the only way to improve oneself and one’s family is through education.

David and John discussed these things often as they cooked their nsima over the charcoal grill provided by their employer in the workers’ quarters. They work six 12-hour shifts every week tending the gardens, and the lawns, guarding the gate, washing cars, and carrying. Manual work is the destiny of those who didn’t receive an education and if they are fortunate they’ll find a full-time job rather than begging on the streets for piecework or for food.

David kicked away the guard dog sniffing at his bare foot. He missed the nightly discussions with John.


  1. Just caught up on your last two weeks of posting. This is adventure on a grand scale.

    Your new place sound quite luxurious and your empathy for the people around you (not to mention the electrical situation) brings back memories for me.

    Hang in there.

  2. thanks, Brenda. Been enjoying your blog 'multo bene'. As we say in Malawi, "Tiamwere"
    Any advice on how to lose the html errors would be appreciated.

    Pauwpeepough blog is wonderful and funny.

    congrats on the book signing. been toasting you every chance!