“Chikondi” was just one new word of many that we learned from our new friend, Alex Mkabe, today. Alex is an orphan from outside of Lilongwe who is assisted by our community organization of the day, Mwana Wamzako. They pay the school fees of Alex and 53 other orphans between the ages of 14 and 18. As we all know, these years can be full of confusion and angst, especially when, like Alex, the most impressive fourteen year old I’ve ever had the privilege to meet, they are being faced all alone. As a result, Mwana Wamzako also works to offer their kids not only some financial and health support, but also psychosocial support.
I do not think the importance of such support to these youths can be overstated. Alex, who shared his story with us, became an orphan at only five years old. After the death of his parents, he moved in with his uncle for a period of time. His uncle, however, did not place much value on education. So, at seven, Alex left his uncle’s home and began picking up odd jobs for places to stay, until he created a home of his own at only age eleven. This fourteen year old man takes his challenges in stride; meanwhile, a B on an exam crushes me until a weekend pick-me-up. He hopes to go to university to be a doctor or a politician in Malawi so that he can help others in his country. I hope he goes too.
After seeing all the good Mwana Wamzako and its affiliate, Lukuni Parish, do for these kids, the group gained a second wind in its fight against ESCOM, the evil electric company that has been screwing Mchenga and Mwana Wamzako out of their much needed and already-paid-for electricity. Unfortunately, much of our energy wained over the course of the hour we waited for one copy of a receipt to be made. The six of us and our translator of anger, Mirriam, ate peanuts and napped as we sat alone in the manager's office. Upon his return, I wiped the drool from my mouth and excitedly asked to see the receipt that would prove ESCOM inadequate and mismanaged. However, he instead brought us a copy of the wrong receipt, and they were closing, which can apparently be done at any arbitrary time of the day. Frustrated, I informed this manager that ESCOM's customer service is "the worst," to which he could only passively respond with, "yes, I know."
We left with a new passion to defeat ESCOM and their terrible inefficencies, but first we needed to regroup and find some peace. We found said peace in the boxed wine of a local Italian eatery, where we also refueled with pizza and sandwiches.
While our interactions with ESCOM have been less than pleasant, they stand a stark contrast to the rest of our Malawian experience. The chikondi in Malawi is palpable. The people here not only express a refreshing level of affection toward one another, but have also been completely welcoming of us as visitors.