Stories of Africa I – Afrobloggers WinterABC2022
“Nyumba nzuri si mlango, fungua uingie ndani”. – Swahili Proverb
(A house is not just its door, open it, and go inside.)
Nana, remember when we moved to Malawi, and it was such a culture shock? The language, the food, the people, the weather, the school, the church! The first few months were such a rollercoaster of events!
I remember so vividly our first month or so there, before Mama and the kids joined Pa and I. Way before you came over too. Uncle Ali forgot to pick me up from school. It was quite the traumatic experience that could have turned any which way. As a precocious 9-year-old, I really should have known the name of our house and street. It’s just it was so new; we were still adjusting and none of us was expecting that kind of experience.
I know I’ve told you this many times, often very dramatically… but today, let’s tell it as it was.
School closed at 2:00PM. At around 4:30PM, the only other person who’d also not been picked – Jon, asked me if I wanted a ride from his mum. For him, 4:30 was the usual pick-up time. For me, 3:00 was the latest I’d ever been picked. “I don’t know the address to home. But my Pa will come to get me soon.”
As at 5:00PM, Uncle Ali still hadn’t picked me up. By 5:30, it was getting dark, and I was getting anxious. Maybe they’d forgotten about me? I was hungry and exhausted, and having been at the school barely a month, I didn’t exactly know what to do. Funny thing was that Pa had changed his phone number just two or so days prior, and I didn’t know the new number.
By 6:00PM, the evening security guard was in, and was looking at me funny. He attempted to speak to me, but I knew no Chichewa at the time, and he knew no English. Out of necessity, we ended up using sign language to communicate. If he could get me onto the main road, I could attempt taking a taxi to the city center where Pa worked. I didn’t have an address, but there was a signboard that I’d seen so many times. If I found it, I’d know where to go.
He walked me to the main road, still trying to help me understand what he was saying in Chichewa. Needless to say, language was the least of my worries. I just wanted to get home. The first car that came by was a huge construction pick-up, that had about seven or eight workers in the back. They had clearly had a long day, and were coated in dust, carrying their tools, and staring between me and the security man. He spoke to the driver and the men in the local dialect. After about two minutes of explaining, he asked me to get in the back of the truck with the workers.
I still wonder what exactly was going on in his mind when he made that suggestion. My thoughts must have translated to the look of shock on my face because he started to laugh. He wanted a 9-year-old me, in a strange land, to enter the back of a pick-up that held eight men I did not know. None of whom spoke any English. That was not going to happen, and I told him exactly that. There was some back and forth between him and the driver, while I desperately prayed that Uncle Ali would somehow miraculously remember me and show up. That did not happen either.
A red car pulled up just when I was close enough to tears. It stopped right behind the truck to ask what was going on. My relief at the fact that he spoke English brought me to tears.
I was bawling and still attempting to speak “I’m not from here…” Sniff. “And the driver forgot to pick me up.” More tears “I live in Area 9, but I don’t know the address.” He asked me if I could show him any landmark that was close to my house. I remembered Crossroads and steers, but those were not exactly close to my house.
“Sir, if you can get me to the city centre, I know what my Pa’s office looks like. There’s a large billboard there.” He spoke to the security man and put me in the back of his car. His wife asked me to stop crying and asked if I’d eaten. I hadn’t, but I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to be home.
We drove to the city centre and spent about twenty minutes driving around looking for my tell-tale signboard.
When we finally saw it, I couldn’t hold back my tears! I cried out, pointing frantically. The man and his wife laughed at that and took me inside, where Pa was apparently in a meeting. They waited the fifteen minutes till Pa came and told him what happened. I sat down quietly, my tears of relief silently running down my cheeks.
We thanked the couple, and Pa called Uncle Ali, giving him a very stern talking to. Pa has always been a melancholic man, often showing more disinterest than anger. That evening, I saw his red-hot anger, and for some reason, that pacified me and made the whole experience worth it. Contrary to whatever I had thought before that evening, I realised he did care. Pa loved me.