Sunday, July 25, 2010


Catching mice is a common activity for rural boys in much of Southern Africa. In Lesotho for example is a seasonal tradition and here in Malawi it appears to be quite common. I caught up with a few boys digging for mice – Mbewa- the other day. They were keen to show me their haul which they dig out of the rodents subterranean tunnels and pound them with cupped hands before the mice can make their escape. These are then roasted on sticks and enjoyed, although not yet by me....

These guys were quite keen to get their photograph taken with their prize. The gang was led by two feisty little guys who were clearly the ones making the decisions’. While taking some photos one grabbed my arm sharply and then indignantly said “Hey, I am not an orphan!” I must have looked confused at the his proclamation and he boldly restated “I am NOT an orphan!” to which his other precocious ring leader buddy said, “yes, me too, I am not an orphan...I have TWO parents! OK?”. Looking a bit annoyed with me I answered, “well I wasn’t here to know if you are orphans, I wanted to see what you were catching. I am also a hunter and want to see what you are hunting.” This seemed to impress them at which time he asked to have my camera... So I had my go at digging for mbewa, much to their amusement.

This orphan story got me thinking and was further highlighted by a second orphan story some 2 weeks later. I was returning from a short evening hike, near my house when I guy in his late teens/early 20’s shouts “hey mister, hey there”. He is dressed in what looks like a guard’s or watchmen’s uniform so i think that perhaps he works on campus, has seen me at the guesthouse and wants to walk the last few hundred meters and chat. “Hi, how are you?” I reply. “Orphan care” he says, pointing at me. “Huh”, I didn’t understand what he was saying. “Orphan care, you, give me orphan care for trousers”. I declined and we said goodbye and he went smiling on his way.

After these events I wonder if many rural Malawians think foreigners see most young people as orphans? There a lot of foreign volunteers here and I fear that too many think of every rural personal as down and out and rural people are getting used to being treated as such. I am not down down-playing the severity or rural poverty or the incidence of orphans, but I have often questioned the relationship between short-term foreign volunteers and rural communities. Mutual misunderstandings’, relative depravation, cultural dogma and the ‘received wisdom’ of what the rural poor want and need seemed to have shaped a particular relationship between each of these parties that I don’t think is helping the rural poor in the long run, but more on this later...

©Brian Joubert

1 comment:

  1. I would blame the fixation with Orphans and orphan care in Malawi on Madonna and her adoptee