Sunday, April 29, 2012

Software of the Mind - Part 4: Verbal Expression

A few months ago, I was sent to a meeting on gender and HIV. The group was trying to decide upon the next steps required to launch their coalition.

I had (what I thought to be) a great idea, and decided to share it. I structured my argument in the same way I would in Canada:
I stated my point concisely (I think we need to do X first, followed by Y and then Z) and then provided the necessary rationale (because it would be more challenging to do Y before  X first for this reason, and it would be in our best interest to do Y before Z for this reason).

After what I thought to be a pointed intervention, everyone in the room looked at me perplexed, it was as if I had been speaking another language.

I listened as the conversation continued. It was clear that they had either completely disagreed with my recommendation, or I had failed to communicate it in a way that my colleagues would understand. 

I listened to how my colleagues formed their arguments. They didn’t actually directly say what they thought most of the time – rather they indirectly brought their colleagues to certain conclusions by asking questions and speaking around the answer.

After about half an hour, I decided to try again, as we were still on the same topic.
Instead of stating my point and then backing it with facts, I took my time.
I posed a question to my colleagues, then asked which task needed to come first, eluding to the reason why I thought one thing should come before the other.

My colleagues listened intently, and gave me the time I needed to finish. At the end, instead of the perplexed looks, tongues started wagging! ‘I agree with Chifundo’s (Chifundo is my Malawian name) point!’, ‘Let us proceed in this way!’…

I realized that it was the delivery, rather than the content of my message that was lacking.

Malawians communicate in a way that seems indirect to many Canadians.  Oftentimes the answer is not contained in an explicit statement of facts, but can be found within context, verbal and non-verbal cues and proverbs.  I find myself missing a lot and feeling very simple minded because of my difficultly in decoding proverbs (my mind feels lazy and seems to require explicitness and directness to understand things).

Proverbs roll of tongues here and are a great way of communicating and receiving consensus. I accidently dropped the old ‘Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ once and was surprised at the positive response and solidarity it rallied.

Another facet of Malawian communication is that although ‘no’ is technically in the vocabulary, it is rarely used.  As a direct Canadian, I have found this confusing when the actual answer to the question you are asking, if it were to be stated directly, is ‘no’.  If your ‘no’ detector goes off, you need to re-pose the question in a few ways to get to the root of the answer and determine if there is a ‘no’ at the bottom.

For example, if I ask my colleague if they are available to discuss something that day, they may say ‘yes, let’s discuss later today’. When I ask when they are available, they may indicate that they have a meeting that afternoon. If I then ask if they can meet that morning, they may tell me that yes, we can meet, but they have a report to write. It becomes clear that the meeting isn’t happening that day.

I may then ask if another time later this week would be better, and they will say yes and recommend a time when they are actually free to meet.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Software of the Mind - Part 3: Malawian Greetings

 When I started working in Malawi, I didn’t understand why everyone needed to constantly greet everyone else in the office.

A colleague would walk in, go to EACH PERSON’s desk to ask ‘Mwadzuka Bwanji?’ (have you woken up well?), to which each person would reply ‘Ndadzuka bwino, kaya inu?’ (yes, I have woken well, and yourself?), the greeter would reply that they had also woken up well, before moving on to the next person. At first, this seemed like a whole-lotta o’ hoopla, and I failed to understand the importance of the ritual.

The Malawian morning greeting tradition is very different than in Canada where I would walk into work and say a quick hello to the group before turning on the computer and getting to work.

In Malawi, walking past people and starting work without greetings is unthinkable.

The reason?

Greetings are a very important part of Malawian culture. For many, the greeting is more important than anything that is discussed after. To not acknowledge a fellow human being in your vicinity is an abomination.

If there is someone (Malawian) that I have never met before, I make sure to greet them properly – extend my hand, put my other hand to my elbow (done to show respect and demonstrate that you are not hiding anything) and then bend my knees and bob down slightly (also a sign of respect).

There are many different types of greetings. One for meeting someone new or who you haven't seen in a number of days, another for the morning if you have seen the person recently, one for the afternoon or if you have already greeted the person that day, informal greetings, questions as greetings... My first pages of the Chichewa book are all about greeting and acknowledge your fellow human beings!

After being here for 6 months, I have wholeheartedly embraced this tradition.  If someone fails to greet me, it actually hurts my feelings. Yes folks, I have adapted.  I don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings, so I take my time and acknowledge people with a smile and a greeting.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Software of the Mind – Part 2: Expecting (and accepting) the Unexpected

Imagine this.

You invite a friend over for dinner. You plan what you will prepare and write a grocery list. You are scheduled to work until 4:30 and plan to pick up the ingredients at the store on your way home. You should be home at 6, giving you an hour to prepare before your friend arrives.

Easy, right?

It is 4:25 and you are getting ready to send the final e-mail of the day. You wait the 5 minutes it takes for the attachment to load and hit ‘send’… you watch the bar move across the computer screen and wait… after a few minutes, instead of the ‘message sent’ screen you get the ‘Your Internet is Not Connected Page’. You ask your colleagues if their internet is working. It is not.

You pack everything up while you wait, but the internet doesn’t start back up.  It is now 4:45 and you are running late. You decide to try to send the e-mail later in the evening from home, after your friend leaves.

The commute home (a combination of public transport and walking) takes an hour and you need 30 minutes at the store. You know that it will be pitch black by 6 p.m. and it is unsafe to walk in the dark. You decide to call a taxi – he greets you warmly but tells you that he can not pick you up because he is lining up at the gas station waiting for a fuel delivery. It has been 10 days since he last bought fuel at the pump. You call the other two taxi numbers that you have in your phone (there isn’t a central company, just individuals with cars) but they are also queuing for fuel.

You have no choice – you left your bicycle at work yesterday because someone offered you a ride home. You are wearing a long skirt but decide to tie it in a way as not be revealing. You can make it home and to the store before dark as the bike ride is only 30 min.

Transport in Pick-up
 You start peddling hard, propelling the one-speed bike up the hill. Things are going well until BOOM you hear a bang and your back tire goes flat. You don’t have time to push the bike all the way before it gets dark. You stand at the side of the road and wave down a pickup truck. You offer him some money to drive you and your bike to the store. You lift your bike into the back open area of the truck and hop in beside it. He drops you at the store and you rush in to buy your ingredients.

Empty Shelves
When you get to the sugar isle, you see that the shelves are empty. Last week you heard a rumour that sugar would be scarce soon, but you wanted to finish your  home supply before buying more. You ask an employee and are told that the sugar is ‘finished’ (aka all sold out) and that they don’t know when another shipment will arrive. Tonic water, your friend's favourite is also no where to be found. You improvise with other ingredients instead.

It is 5:30 and you have just enough time to get home before it is dark. You unchain your bike, tie your groceries onto the back rack and push it, squeaking and flat-tired up the hill.

You get home just as dusk is settling and start preparing dinner.

Prep is going great – you have prepared everything and now dinner just needs to bake in the oven.  You slide the pan into the preheated oven. You did it! Only 15 minutes before your friend arrives. You can even send that e-mail…

Then you find yourself standing in the dark and silence… The lights are out and the hum of the freezer has stopped. The power is out. It may come back in 5 minutes or it could be 5 hours. Crap! You try to call your friend to let her know the situation, but the phone network has also gone down.


This is a slightly extreme but not unbelievable example of the unexpected surprises that are part of my daily life here in Malawi. Each one of those ‘unexpected’ surprises has happened many times in my 6 months here. In fact, the above scenario demonstrates my privilege – I have power, internet, a bicycle, money to shop at the grocery store… Most of these unexpected surprises wouldn’t be possible for many of the 80% rural population of Malawi, as well as many living in urban areas.  

I recall the famous blackout of 2003 in central Canada – the shock and fear that I felt when the power went out as I was lifeguarding at a small community swimming pool. What happened? Was it a terrorist attack? What will we do? Driving home there was mayhem on the streets as drivers were unaccustomed to not having traffic lights. People panicked! How could the power just go out like that? The region shut down. I imagine what my Malawian brothers and sisters would have thought of our hysterical reactions?

Malawi is developing, and its infrastructure is different from back home. This means things that never crossed my mind at home surprise me all the time here. These include commodotity shortages (fuel, sugar, medicine, foreign currency), power and water outages, phone and internet network problems and random stuff breaking all the time (e.g. vehicles, bicycles, electronics...).  

In my adjustment, I have developed a two-tiered strategy:

      1)    Expect the unexpected. This includes a number of techniques to minimize the impact of ‘surprises’; and,
     2) Accept the unexpected. Equip yourself with a sense of humour and get over it.

      1)  Expect the unexpected
·       For commodity shortages:
o   Often rumours of a shortage come before the actual shortage. If someone tells you that sugar will soon be unavailable, go stock up.
o   I don’t have a car, but those who do try to stock up on fuel when possible. They also buy it on the ‘parallel market’, although this is much more expensive.
o   If you will need foreign currency, ask people coming into the country to carry some for you. Every time you leave the country stock up.

·       For phone network and internet problems:
o   Always carry your dongle (also known as an internet USB stick).
o   Most Malawians have at least 2 phones on different networks.
o   Having a phone with internet capability really helps.
o   Call far in advance if possible. If your phone is not working but internet is, you can skype call instead.
o   Carry a USB stick so that you can share documents without internet.

·       For water issues:
o   Although the water is generally safe to drink in Lilongwe, always look before drinking. Sometimes it comes out brown (pipe problems), and then it should not be consumed.
o   Always have extra water and a bucket nearby. Become well versed in the art of bucket bathing.

Things breaking:
o   Stuff breaks – if you absolutely need to be somewhere on time, give yourself lots of time in case your bike breaks and the pick up truck carrying your broken bike also breaks.
o   Avoid using a mac computer in Malawi as this country is where Apple products come to die. If you must use a mac computer, do so with both feet planted firmly on the ground to avoid electrical shock.

Aggression and theft:
Hiding $
o   Malawians as a whole are incredibly gentle and friendly. It is rare that someone will try to rob you, but like anywhere, it does happen on occasion. Just in case, I always hide extra cash on my body and don’t carry anything that I don’t need to.
o   Be alert when in public places, especially bars where fights are common.

o   I always carry a chitenje in case something happens and I need to be covered in traditional clothing (for example the trouser stripping day). This is also useful in case you need to attend a funeral unexpectedly (you should wear a chitenje or long skirt to a funeral), or go into a village where traditional clothing is the norm.

Tying Chitenje
      For power outages:
o   If you are having frequent outages at a certain time, you either plan dinner before the usual outage time or prepare something in advance that can be eaten cold.
o   You make sure that you always have candles and matches close by.
o   I have a ‘home’ headlamp and a ‘purse’ headlamp (and spare batteries!) so I am never without a flashlight. You would think that having a flashlight isn’t always necessary, for example when you go to a bar or concert. Trust me – never leave home without a headlamp: Try being at a night-time concert without a flashlight when the power goes out. 
o   Ensure all that all devices are charged at all times. When you have power, make sure your stuff (especially cell-phone and computer) is plugged in.
o   When working, save documents frequently!
o   For meetings and presentations, make sure to have documents in hard copy and a flip chart and markers.

2) Equip yourself with a sense of humour and get over it:

Sure, it can be frustrating to wake up and find that you need to bathe with cold water out of a bucket or when you have to be at an important meeting and the minibus breaks down. That said, one doesn’t choose to come to one of the world's poorest and least developed countries expecting to live in the lap of luxury.  In my case, part of my reason for moving here was to experience a different way of life. It would be exhausting and completely ridiculous to expect the same comforts as back home. Most of the time, these unexpected malfunctions are completely outside of my control. Freaking out, feeling frusterated or trying to control these obstacles is a waste of time and energy.

After half of a year, I find myself much less shocked by these daily ‘adventures’ (although sometimes you come across a ‘good one’). Oftentimes, they make for a good story and laugh.

They are also a reminder of how lucky we are to have water and power and access to food, internet and medicine.

I admire how my Malawian colleagues and friends take everything in stride. There is usually a solution, and if not, it is usually not the end of the world. They have a sense of humour and a creativity that allows them to move easily through precarious situations. I take my cues from them.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Software of the Mind - Part 1: Time

Geerte Hofstede, a famous Dutch researcher in the field of organizational culture describes culture as ‘The Software of the Mind’.

In computer terms, software is a set of programs and instructions that direct the operations of the computer system. If culture is indeed the ‘software of the mind’, it is our programming and instructions that serve to direct our physical machinery, our bodies.

Of course we are all humans first and foremost, and personality certainly has a large role to play on how we act, think and interact. This said, living here in Malawi has made me think on more than one occasion that perhaps my cultural programming (which I obtained in an English speaking suburb outside of Toronto, Canada) differs at least a little from that of my Malawian brothers and sisters.

The idea that our software is influenced by the societies we grow up in has helped me understand why I find myself scratching my head at certain actions, expressions and activities here in Malawi. More importantly, it helps me understand why I sometimes unwittingly puzzle the people who have so graciously allowed me to stay in their country. In short, living here has made me acutely aware of certain aspects of my programming.

I can say that after being here for almost 6 months, I have noticed that my software is running increasingly in Canadian-Malawian compatibility mode.

Sometimes it is an unintentional adaptation. For example, when I find myself squishing nsima into a ball with my hand, dipping it in relish and popping it into my mouth like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Other times, I have consciously switched into compatibility mode upon encountering a ‘bug’ as I try to operate in Malawi. An example of this is a training session I delivered to my Malawian colleagues. I worked hard to prepare the training - I knew the content, set up interactive activities and carefully prepared the agenda. During the training, my colleagues seemed preoccupied despite what I thought was a dynamic and interesting opening. The problem? I forgot that every meeting opens with a prayer. I haven’t forgot prayers on the agenda since.

Many people have asked me about what it is like to be a foreigner in Malawi. In response, I will dedicate my next few posts to sharing some observations and experiences as a Canadian trying to adapt to life here in Malawi.  The purpose of this is not to highlight differences, but to reflect on differing perspectives and attitudes on the things that bind us all in human experience.

Before sharing my observations, a quick disclaimer: In no way do I believe that my observations are absolute or representative of all Canadians or Malawians. Indeed, each human being has various lenses including culture, personality and experience that form the way they view and experience the world.
Malawi is a very diverse country with many ethnic and linguistic identities and I certainly do not claim to write with any authority on Malawi or Malawians. 
In the same way, my home country of Canada is made up of many different cultures. It is a country populated largely immigrants (including descendants thereof) who settled at different times in its history.  I descend from European immigrants, and by no means purport to represent even that demographic of Canadian culture.

Disclaimers aside, here is my experience. First on the agenda (after the opening prayer of course!) is time.

Part #1 - Time:

In Malawi, things move at an entirely different pace. One telling indicator of this is a 2006 experiment by psychologist Richard Wiseman that looked at walking speeds of people in a spread of 32 cities.

Thousands of unknowing pedestrians were timed on the same day during the same window of time as they walked 18 metres on an uncrowded strip of pavement. Average walking speeds of pedestrians in each city were recorded and ranked.
The findings? Singapore came in the fastest at as 10.55 seconds. My home city of Ottawa, Canada came in 20th at 13.72 seconds.
Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial and financial hub, came in slowest at 31.60 seconds. The experiment says that people in Blantyre took 3 times the length of time as those in Singapore and almost double the time as the second-slowest city (Manama, Bahrain) to walk 18 metres.  

Yes folks, I am living in the country that boasts the ‘world’s slowest walking city’!

When I first arrived here, I found myself speeding past everyone on the side of the road. People would call out to me and ask me where I was going, why I was walking so fast?
I thought it a bit odd, because I didn’t feel like I was rushing.
Then a funny thing happened. The other day I was walking to work and counted a number of people (including a mother walking holding the hand of a small child!) passing me on foot. I realized that no one had commented on my pace for months. Gone are the days when I was walking fast enough to warrant questioning… I have adjusted and slowed down!

Walking speed aside, it seems that Malawians have a very different perspective of time than we do back home.

 In his book ‘the Shadow of the Sun’, the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski compares European (which he uses to refer in a broader sense to ‘Western’) and African perspectives on time:

"The European and the African have an entirely different concept of time. In the European worldview, time exists outside man, exists objectively, and has measurable and linear characteristics. According to Newton, time is absolute: “Absolute, true, mathematical time of itself and from its own nature, it flows equably and without relation to anything external.” The European feels himself to be time's slave, dependent on it, subject to it. To exist and function, he must observe its ironclad, inviolate laws, its inflexible principles and rules. He must heed deadlines, dates, days, and hours. He moves within the rigors of time and cannot exist outside them. They impose upon him their requirements and quotas. An unresolvable conflict exists between man and time, one that always ends with man's defeat – time annilhates him.

Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm (man acting, of course, with the consent of gods and ancestors). Time is even something that man can create outright, for time is made manifest through events, and whether an event takes place or not depends, after all, on man alone. If two armies do not engage in a battle, then that battle will not occur (in other words, time will not have revealed its presence, will not have come into being).

Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it. It is a subservient, passive essence, and, most importantly, one dependent on man.

The absolute opposite of time as it is understood in the European worldview.

In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking, “When will the meeting take place?” makes no sense. You know the answer: “It will take place when people come.”

This is certainly something I can relate to. On more than one occasion, I have showed up for a meeting (panicked because I am 6 minutes late) to find the room empty. Is the meeting going to happen? Inevitably it starts when people show up (and if participants are missing, consensus must first be reached that it can start). In the same way, the power outage stops when it stops, my bicycle is fixed when it is fixed, my visa processed when it is processed and the bus leaves when it leaves. 

Needless to say I’ve taken a more relaxed view of time. I don’t try to control it and I have few expectations of it. It would be pointless and stressful to get worked up by something so far outside my control. I do my best to hold myself accountable to my own time commitments but it ends there. I’ve also noticed that something happens to me when I am waiting. I used to fidget, trying to find something to occupy my time – read, e-mail, philosophize, count in my head… anything but idleness! Here, when I wait, I have started going into a passive state. I don’t know how much time passes or what (if anything) I have thought about. It is like I’ve hit the ‘pause button’ while waiting for things to happen.

I sat in on a very eye-opening presentation by a Malawian on ‘Managing your Canadian Volunteer’. At one point, he said that ‘Canadians are very punctual and they will text or call if they will be more than 5 minutes late.’ It is (well, was) true for me. If I was running late and had committed to being somewhere at a certain time, I would let the appropriate person know!

The Malawians were chuckling at this and looking a bit bewildered. The trainer explained that in Canada, time is much more of an absolute. It is considered disrespectful to not honour someone else’s time, as we believe that time is limited. He contrasted this with the mentality he grew up with - in his home village people wake up to the rooster and schedule meetings for ‘when the sun is high in the sky’. This also helped me to understand why the man who repairs my constantly breaking bicycle uses the position of the sun to tell me when to pick up my bicycle. 

Instead of always rushing off to the next thing, I am enjoying taking 'my' time. When I get home from work, I chat with the guards at the gate for a few minutes instead of rushing home to make dinner, I meander down to my colleague’s office in the middle of the day to share some snacks and stories, I enjoy my coffee while writing my blog. Maybe this is why my entries have become less frequent?

Time slips by and I often feel like I am living in a parallel reality, a vortex where days disappear. After a number of such days, I come to and I wonder what has happened. I used to panic about this– 'What is the matter with me?' 'Is it the anti-malaria medication?' 'Do I have a psychological disorder?' 'Will I blink and realize that I am an old lady on her deathbed who slipped and fell butt-first into a time vortex?'

After panicking, ‘reason’ would kick in and I would try to ‘take control’. What is my action plan to ensure that the vortex won’t spit me out an old dying lady with a bruised tail bone? I resolve to develop an action plan to prevent this from happening… and then print it on fluorescent paper and glue it to my ceiling as a reminder… then ponder tattooing it on my arm so I don’t forget...

I have finally stopped the silliness (for the most part).  Things do happen - I go through productive spurts where everything seems acute and sharp. I don’t worry about the vortex anymore. I am part of a bigger system and things happen when they happen. Time will continue to ebb and flow, with me along with it.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Malawi Makes History

Malawi has made history. During this 4-day Easter long weekend, a truly improbable thing has happened.

Malawi has a new President, Mrs. Joyce Banda.  

Not only is she Malawi’s first female President (and only the 4th President since colonial rule ended and the 3rd since Malawi became a democracy)...
She is Africa’s 2nd Female President EVER, the FIRST lady Head of State in both the SADC and COMESA regions, AND
The world’s 60th female president since 1940.

There are many reasons why this event was improbable (which I will touch on later), but first let me provide you with a bit of background on Malawi and tell you how one of the least developed nations in the world came to have a woman at the helm.  

After achieving independence from Britain in the early 1960’s, Malawi became a one-party state under late President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, an autocrat who ruled for 30 years. Following a referendum, Malawi became a multiparty state in 1994.

Since then, Malawi had 2 elected Presidents. The first being Bakuli Muluzi for 2 terms, followed Bingu wa Mutharika.

Mutharika’s first term was highly successful, seeing rapid growth of the Malawian economy and making Malawi the sweetheart of many foreign donors. This began to change during his second and last term, set to end in 2014.

After expelling the British High Commissioner for a leaked diplomatic cable which called Mutharika increasingly ‘autocratic and intolerant to criticism’, relations with Britain, one of countries’ biggest donors, cooled.

In July 2011, Malawians took to the streets in peaceful protest over the country’s increasing economic woes, including rising prices and a shortage of fuel and foreign currency. Police opened fire and at least 19 people were shot dead.

Since July, donors have been pulling Malawian government aid funding due to poor governance and economic mismanagement. This has aggravated many problems in a country where historically 40% of the country’s budget comes from foreign aid.

Not having foreign currency makes it very difficult if not impossible to import items into a country, and in landlocked Malawi with little in terms of natural resources, this has had a devastating effect. The fuel crises has worsened, and on days when fuel arrives at a filling station, people queue for blocks in hopes of getting some before the pump runs dry. Prices of bread, soft drinks (and you name it!) have gone up and businesses are suffering. Most recently there has been a shortage of sugar (hundrends line up around the store if a shipment comes in) and medicine (do the math in a country with an HIV prevalence of 11%).

In the same way Malawians joke that a meal isn’t a meal if it doesn’t include Nsima, a conversation here seems incomplete if it doesn’t touch on the unavailability of fuel, forex, sugar or medication. 

Now back to the Presidency:

On Thursday, April 5, the phone networks were overloaded by phone calls and texts containing rumours about the President having a heart attack. Around mid-day, I saw a low flying grey plane overhead. Seeing an airplane over Lilongwe is pretty uncommon (most airline carriers have stopped flights due to the forex and fuel problems) and it raised some eyebrows.

The rumours continued – ‘the President has died’ / ‘the president is alive but has been taken to South Africa for treatment’/ ‘the president is dead but in south Africa for confirmation of cause of death’… and many variations thereof.

By Friday morning, the BBC was reporting Mutharika’s death due to heart attack, but the Malawian government hadn’t made an official announcement. The country held its breath and waited… then people started getting angry ‘the president apparently died on Thursday morning and the nation isn’t confirming to it’s own people?!’

Fears mounted that a ‘constitutional crises was imminent’ (direct quote from BBC article) and that officials were buying time.

Here’s why: Joyce Banda, Malawi’s (former) Vice President was appointed by Mutharika in 2009. He soon expelled her from his ruling party for undefined ‘anti-party’ activities. Despite her party expulsion and the exclusion of the Vice President from Cabinet, she retained her post as per the Malawian constitution and formed her own party, the People’s Party (PP).

Although the Malawian constitution provides that the Vice President will carry out the President’s duties if he/she become incapacitated or dies, media was reporting that government officials were arguing behind the scenes that she should not become President given that she wasn’t a member of the late President’s party. 
I felt nervous about the growing power vacuum (as such a vacuum means that those behind the scenes have time to vie for power). The President’s death was finally announced on Saturday morning amidst rumours that the constitutionally defined succession process would be thwarted by insiders wishing to place the late President’s brother into power.

I was thrilled to be proven wrong on Saturday evening. Sitting around a crackling radio with a mix of locals and expats, Joyce Banda was appointed President of Malawi.

Sounding confident, strong and compassionate, Africa’s 2nd female president called for 2 minutes of silence for the passing of ‘the nations’ father’. She then said that it is time for the nation to heal and that she was not interested in revenge. She asked for peace to prevail and indicated she would further address the nation at a future and more appropriate time.

I feel so grateful to be in Malawi during this exciting time and have tempered optimism about the near future of this beautiful country. Malawi has some very severe gender inequalities, making this all the more remarkable. The smoothness of a power transition where so many have so much at stake has floored many of us and proved foreign spectators wrong in their predictions of ‘constitutional crises’.

Malawians have been dancing in the streets and wide smiles are stretching across countless faces.

Congratulations and good luck to Malawi and Joyce Banda!

 A little aside: 

Speaking of predictions… For those who are interested in the supernatural or who fancy the inexplicable, here is a parallel tale worth mentioning as it has set many a Malawian tongue a-wagging…

On February 5, 2012, TB Joshua, a Nigerian televangelist and self proclaimed prophet addressed an audience at a sermon in Lagos.

He asserted that an old African leader would fall ill and die in 2 months. ‘I’m talking about April… seeing a head of state, by that I mean a President. He is not feeling well. He is very old. What is this I’m seeing… sudden death. I’m seeing the death of an old African President in two months.’

This set speculation rife among his followers: is it Mugabe (Zimbabwe)?, Sata (Zambia)?, Mutharika (Malawi)?… the list of older African Presidents is quite long. Speculation become so intense that the b ruling party issued a statement against the prophesies and opposition parties in many countries started using the prophesy to promote their popularity.

On March 18th, TB Joshua again addressed his audience on the matter at another service, prophesizing that the death was coming on one of the next 3 Thursdays. He asked his audience to pray and then said that the death - ‘is it Thursday of this week, or next week or in three Thursdays coming’.

The last prophesy on the issue was on April 1, 2012 when he said that the death was ‘very close’ and ruled out West African leaders from the prophesy. ‘The time is very, very close now… pray for your leader, the head of a nation, I’m seeing a sudden death from the result of sickness… the person is in Africa… but not in West Africa. ‘

Exactly two months after the first prediction, on Thursday April 5, 2012, Malawi lost her President due to sickness. Everyone of course will have their own thoughts on the prophesy, but it has created quite a buzz here and therefore deserves a mention.