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The Life of Tobi

Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Limbani Kumanga

Reposted from Tobiyasi in Chiradzulu
“What do people do when they appear not to be doing something?”
– Paul Theroux
Now that I claim to be fully insured in my community, a few friends have been bugging me to describe common shenanigans on a typical day here in Chiradzulu. As a gentleman with a penchant for offering succinct answers, responding to this question comes out as an onerous task given that the intensity of my daily schedule varies for various reasons (maybe a topic for a different day). There are weeks when I feel like I have a lot on my plate and there are weeks when I feel under-worked. For a guy who prefers to be occupied most of the time, slow days have stood out as one of the biggest challenges here. During the first few months, I spent my slow days sitting on my veranda with a sullen face, watching the day wear off. But when it hit me that hectic days are not a daily occurrence here, I decided to devise and keep an eye on activities that I could rely on to spice up my slow days.

So here we go. Since, all my previous posts have focused on describing my official engagements, I have decided to bring in a tad bit of change this time around. Change is inevitable, huh? In this post, I highlight some of the memorable shows that I have encountered or partaken in my effort to overturn slow days. Consider this a public service.

BANKERS FC: For people that know me, it is no secret that I am a soccer maniac. I love soccer. Playing it, watching it, discussing it, thinking about it, betting on it – you name it. I mean, I am no Yannick Bolasie nor Gabadinho Mhango, but believe me when I say that a soccer field is my heaven on earth. Funny enough, the ecstasy I get when I step on the pitch has nothing to do with the quality of the pitch nor the standard of play. As long as I can run on it and be able to kick that ball, all is good with me. At least then, I take a much craved respite from thinking about my most dreaded daily activity – setting a charcoal burner.

What does a self-professed soccer fanatic do when he finds himself in Likoswe Village? The answer is simple. He joins Bankers FC, formally known as Likoswe FC (Don’t ask me the idea behind the “Bankers” name because surely there is no formal bank in my community and there won’t be one anytime soon. All I know is that the name switch has strong politics behind it between the current crop of players and former players, mostly those that emigrated to South Africa in search of employment). Upon joining the team, I was nicknamed Nakamura by the lad who used to coach the team then. Apparently, in an effort to draw parallelism with Genk Nakamura, a Japanese footballer who has signed for Be Forward Wanderers FC – one of the giants and mainstays in the national football league. Personally, I don’t like that nickname but at my age I know that unwarranted nicknames tend to stick when you protest them. So I had to let it go. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Bankers FC is mostly known for shipping goals than banging them, I like the camaraderie here. The team has interesting characters with a great sense of humor. So whenever we get thrashed on the soccer field, we usually find a bright side of it and joke about it. Meanwhile, the team’s administrative set up has shaken up a bit. Yours truly has been assigned the role of a coach-player (yes, what a meteoric rise) and surely our results should start improving hence forth.

THE FUNERAL: Sticking with soccer, have you ever wondered if it was possible for a grown up person to experience a culture shock in their own native country? Well, it happened to me. Last week, a neighboring team lost one of their players and, as per tradition here, surrounding teams had to go and render their support to the grieving team and – most importantly- family. Support is rendered in form of cash or attending and doing manual work pertaining to the funeral. Tasks such as carrying and burying the coffin, for guys, and faking emotions, for girls. All this looked normal to me except one aspect. Throughout all these activities we were meant to put on our respective team uniforms. Some guys went to the extent of dressing up as if they were really about to play soccer. Stuff like cleats, shorts, socks, and even chin pads! I was stunned. In Nkhata Bay, where I am from, we don’t have that. Throughout the funeral proceedings, I kept encountering such interesting shocks that the entire ordeal turned out to be a remarkable experience for me. The good thing about participating in this tradition is that you get to leave the funeral quite earlier. Once the actual burial is done, those wearing uniforms are free to leave while the rest of the attendants remain at the graveyard for a final religious sermon. This experience got me thinking about the nuanced ways in which soccer has intermingled with culture in our respective localities.

MOUNTAIN HIKE: My house is located on the fringes of Malavi mountain, the biggest mountain you see on your right as you exit Blantyre heading toward Mulanje through Midima Road. I had made it a case that I would hike the mountain before the end of my service. But I had always found reasons to postpone my hike the second the thought of this personal challenge came to my mind. Procrastination. Two days ago, however, a friend from them old days paid me a surprise but brief visit and we embarked on a postprandial hiking escapade. The entire trip, back and forth, took about 4 hours. On my fledgling list of mountains to have hiked, which currently includes conquering the massive Chongoni Mountain in Dedza, hiking Malavi mountain involved the steepest hike. As I write this piece, my thighs still ache from the experience. Despite my mild acrophobia, I am hungry for more hiking expeditions.

PIM: July 6 marked 52 years since the dawn of independence in Malawi. As usual during this period, an aura of nationalism reigned throughout the country, especially on local radio stations. In Malawi, you can’t talk about nationalism without talking about John Chilembwe. And it is inevitable to talk about Chilembwe without talking about the Providence Industrial Mission (PIM), one of the earliest organized black churches in this part of Malawi. It is at PIM where earliest elements of nationalistic insurrections began in 1915, even though it required 49 more years of relentless bickering before the nation gained official independence. Enough of history. As a way of celebrating independence, I went on a lone peregrination to PIM that involved walking a total distance of 12KM on a hot day. But at least I got to munch on sugarcane throughout the way. It was a priceless experience.
THE UGLY: Not all slow days are free of vicissitudes. For those of you that went to public primary schools, you remember the ignominy and amount of disgust that came with cleaning school toilets? It was a horror show. Last week somebody, with one move, made me reminisce vividly all those horrible things that you encountered when mopping school latrines during those olden days. This inconsiderate individual left a few soft ones besides the hole in a latrine that I share with my neighbor and his family. Interestingly, my neighbors had gone to visit their village on this fateful day, meaning that among those that are supposed to use this latrine, I was the only one around. I was forced to clean up somebody’s mess – literally.

Anyway, I could go on and on narrating amazing experiences that I have had on my slow days here. But we both don’t have the whole day. The point is slow days are a real life phenomenon and it is incumbent on a every individual to find their special panacea for slow days. Go out there. Get involved in something. That way, you observe a lot of interesting stuff that make you appreciate the essence of life. FORGET IT. I am not good at this whole philosophical gibberish. But I am sure you now have a better understanding of what I do when I am not out there with my ladies or.. never mind. I am out of here. For now.

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