A day in Makata village (Malawi)

The neighbour baking mandasi early in the morning


Liza Koch
        My day starts at 5:15 because of the noise outside. The sun is rising and people are starting their day. My ‘host mom’ is already fully dressed and almost finished cleaning her house. She pushes her daughter to get ready for school. When I go outside I see the neighbour baking mandasi (comparable to our new year dough balls), she starts around 4 o’clock in the morning to sell them later at the small market 200 meters from here.

7 o’clock in the morning and everybody is on their way to school or work. I take a seat on the veranda in front of the house next to the main street of the village. The blue sky, orange soil and green maize fields give a bright and colourful atmosphere. Because the local school and health centre are located 300 meters from the veranda, the street is crowded with people passing by. It is very common that everybody greets everybody. I see groups of young children dressed in their uniform, age 4 to 10, walking to school without their parents.

The neighbour, and owner of the house that my family rents, takes a seat next to me. He is listening to the radio that he carries around. When time passes by, more and more men gather around me. Most of them speak some English and they are very eager to talk to me. They are surprised that I am unmarried and childless at the age of 24. Usually, the first questions villagers ask me is what kind of crops we grow in the Netherlands. Agriculture is very important here, as 80 percent of the people in Malawi live in villages and depend on the crops they grow.

Makata village

Every piece of farmable land in the village is fully covered, mainly with maize crops. Fortunately, the rainy season this year has warranted more success than the previous two years. As a result the maize crops have grown well and most of the houses disappear between these fields. In one month, when the maize is matured, it will be harvested and grinded into maize flower. This flower is used for nsima, a kind of porridge that people eat twice a day together with green
leaves, other vegetables, beans or meat (on rare occasions). Nsima is eaten with the hand; people knead it into a bowl with their right hand and make a dent in it to use it as a ‘spoon’ for the greens and gravy. Today, my ‘host mom’ came back from work during lunch hour to prepare nsima for her husband Deogracias, who assists me as a translator, and me. While Deogracias finished half his plate, I am still trying to eat the piping hot nsima without burning my hand.

In the afternoon, Deogracias and I walk on the small paths in between the maize fields to go to my informant of the day, to ask questions for my research about the rights and access to customary land for women in southern Malawi. As we walk, more and more houses pop-up. The houses have the same orange colour as the soil and the roofs are either made of straw or corrugated metal. We pass by two women carrying a bucket of water on their heads, that they just filled at the borehole nearby. I see two little feet popping out on both sides of the waist of one of the women, she is carrying a one year old child wrapped on her back with a colourful cloth. Even though it is school hour, there are lots of children around. As far as I can see, the ratio of adult/child in this village is around 1:3.

The (little) market place in Makata village

Judith, the woman I visit today is 38 years old and has 6 children. During the interview, we sit outside on a bamboo mat in the shade of her house. Judith inherited the land where she lives from her parents. This is very common in the southern area of Malawi where most of the people live in a matrilineal system, which means that in most cases women stay on the family-land and men move to the village of their wives. Together with her husband Judith works on the field, where they mainly grow maize and some onions and tomatoes. Most of the crops, especially the maize, are used for their own family. Only when they have a good harvest can they sell some of it at the market. This gives them the opportunity to buy clothes and pay the school fees of their children.

Before it gets dark, Deogracias and I decide to walk back home where his wife prepared another lovely nsima dinner for us. The evening quickly turns into night and as there is no electricity in the village most of the light we have is provided by the starry sky. Gradually, the noise of people is replaced by nature. It is 9 pm, time to brush my teeth and call it a night.

Liza Koch is a master student Anthropology at the VU. She is currently writing her thesis about the rights and access to customary land for women in southern Malawi

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