Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Lusekelo Simwela
The name Lusekelo is hard to pronounce. So her choice of names for me was either, ‘inu'(you) or ‘abatchala’ (bachelor). I particularly hated the latter, but as she said it, I was way too old to not be married so the name was so that I get to. Strange logic, I know. Her name is Berthia, and she was my neighbor’s daughter in the house that I was renting when I got to Mwanza for the first time in March 2016. She is 16. She and her little sister Tadala used to draw water from the village borehole for me. I liked the arrangement, I paid them 100 kwacha per pail and I always had water. Even though I was paying them I felt like they were the little sisters I never had.
Between those water deliveries and the many lunches and suppers their family invited me to, we had discussions about life and school. They told me that they stopped going to school. This had me perplexed, the parents are not rich but they were not so poor that they couldn’t afford to pay the school fees. Berthia told me that she dropped out in grade five and Tadala in grade three. I talked to them about going back to school and for a moment I thought I had gotten through to them but next day I saw them selling their school uniform. It was almost to say, “we are never going back.”
I moved from the house a few weeks later and fired them because apparently the going price per pail was actually 70 kwacha. Apparently “abatchala” should pay more so they feel the pinch of not being married. Even stranger logic. . . a few months passed by and I got comfortable in my new house. Summer was back and Frozy (a soda from Mozambique) hadn’t been banned yet, so I asked a boy to sell me the very sweet Mozambican drinks and bottled water. A month on the boy asked me for a 2000 kwacha advance. When I asked him why, he said he wanted to rent a house for himself. I was paying him 8000 kwacha per month, so this didn’t make sense. After asking him further I found out that he was moving in with his new but also pregnant wife… Berthia.
I was surprised, but 16? Didn’t the law at some point say if parents allowed it it was fine? So I met the mum and jokingly asked her when the ‘chinkhoswe’ (engagement celebration) for Berthia was going to be. And she said if Tadala had been married for three months without a chinkhoswe why should her big sister want a chinkhoswe for? She said this without an ounce of shame, she said it with a huge smile and even let out a chuckle. I laughed with her as a deep sadness crept in within me. The girl who, when I was her age would not be born for another year is now married, I am 26.