Saturday, October 27, 2012

Malawian Proverbs

Sitting in the office with my colleague Eddie, I learn that the Malawian government has made a commitment to phase out a toxic compenent of HIV treatment. This response was partially triggered by an advocacy letter that Eddie himself signed.

Laughing, he say's 'I'm glad for the result. I thought I had burnt my fingers signing that letter'.

I sit dumbfounded for a moment, trying to understand what he is saying. After a second I realize that he is saying that he thought he had made a career limiting move by signing the letter, a very political act of advocacy.

After congratulating him oncemore on such a huge victory, I start thinking about the use of proverbs here. What a simple and beautiful way to express himself. It gives the listener an image, ignites the mind and accurately conveys his message. Burning ones fingers is much nicer than saying 'I thought I screwed myself over'

Malawians use a plethora of proverbs in daily life. These are used for expressing thoughts and feelings as well as imparting lessons.

Coming from a very direct culture, these mind twisters are oftentimes lost on me. Its a shame that I can't seem to wrap my head around more because they are one of the parts of Malawian culture that I appreciate most.

After a year here, I've managed to learn a few that I apply to my experience in Malawi.

Being that I'm leaving this week, I wanted to share the proverbs that have helped me understand this experience.

1) Proverb: 'Walira mvula walira matope.'

Translation: 'He who cries for rain cries for mud.'

In a country where over 80% of Malawians engage in subsistence agriculture (growing their own food to eat), the rains are fundamental to life. Mud being a byproduct of rain, the proverb reminds us that if we ask for something, we have to also be prepared to take what comes along with it.

I came to Malawi because I desperately wanted to learn about a different way of life, to develop as a person and to hopefully to make a difference. My time here has allowed me space to do these things but hasn't been without challenges. The proverb reminds me to suck it up when I'm taking a cold shower, sitting in the dark or craving cheese - because these challenges are the mud to my rain.

2) Proverb: 'Zidze pano ndi zatonse'

Translation: 'That which befalls one of us befalls all of us.'

Child in Rural Nkhotakota, Malawi

Follow the leader! Nkhotakota, Malawi

This translation apparently doesn't capture the full meaning behind the proverb. When asking colleagues to translate, they would say things like 'if the ship is off course, we are all going in the wrong direction' or 'when the rain falls we all get wet' – not direct translations, but they were trying to convey the actual meaning.

Coming from a culture which prioritizes individuality, this type of communal mentalitiy has been a pleasant shift in my way of thinking. It is true that events that have occurred during my time here have help bind me to the country. I felt afraid along with Malawians when the president died and a new leader wasn't announced for days. I felt angered alongside my fellow women at the trouser strippings and joyful at the coming into power of Malawi's first female president. Devaluation of the currency by 50% and the subsequent inflation was felt by all of us. The HIV virus impacts our workplaces, relationships and communities. When someone gets married (however distant the relation) we all go to celebrate.

Oftentimes when walking here, people come and walk beside me. Sometimes they speak and ask questions, and sometimes they just silently keep pace and provide company. There is a sense of community and connection to fellow humans here. Zidze pano ndi zatonse.

3)  Proverb: 'A child who doesn't leave his family compound thinks his mother is the best cook.'

Typical Malawian food: Nsima, chambo, soup and rape (green leafy veg).

First off: Mom, I love your cheese and brocolli casserole.

This said, trying new things allows us to experience more of the beautiful flavours and textures that life has to offer. Coming here and trying something different has allowed me to experience new music, different types of food, words in a new language, and a different approach to time to name a few.
I'm grateful for these experiences and have no doubt that they will continue to enhance my life after I leave.

The use of proverbs in language is something else that I have come to appreciate being here – something I wouldn't have gotten if I'd stayed on the family compound.

Eating typical Malawian food with my friend Happy Joe.

No comments:

Post a Comment