Wednesday, June 29

Two months in Malawi: Give me my money

I like Malawians. If a secondary school student starts a conversation on the street, it doesn’t end with him asking for assistance in paying for school fees or in obtaining a visa out of their country. They just want to ask some questions about the United States. The stall owners don’t quote me prices three times what their countrymen pay when I ask. They give me the straight price and save us both a few minutes worth of haggling. The third time the chain slipped off my Humber, a Malawian ran up to show me how to use a stick to work it out of where it gets stuck on some screws. The thirteenth time the chain slipped off my Humber, a passing Malawian spent ten minutes tightening bolts to make sure it would stop happening and didn’t ask for payment in return. It’s a nice change from Kenya where we constantly wondered what was in it for them whenever a local showed us some kindness.

There is one respect, however, in which the typical Malawian is more irritating than the typical Kenyan. It comes, unsurprisingly, from the children. Where the Kenyan children were content to scream “Mzungu” and maybe run up and touch us when we passed, the Malawian children take it a step further into the irritating. Rather than ask “How are you?” they put their hands out and shout, “Give me my money.” “Give me money” and “Give me bicycle” are also acceptable and common variations.

I want to know who told them how to say that. I want to know who told them it’s even remotely right to say it. The adults, even the teenagers, don’t say anything like that. Is it a common line in their English language education? Have they all seen Jerry Maguire and understood Cuba Gooding. Jr., as its hero? It’s not a begging culture that I’ve found here. Where did they learn to ask that? And why do they stop saying it around the time they turn eight? I just want to know.

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