I was at Bembeke in Dedza the other day. For me, Bembeke is special in many ways. My older sister went to Bembeke Teacher Training School many years back. I visited once and appreciated the effort the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology makes to ensure that basic level teachers are trained, and deliver in very difficult circumstances. Bembeke is also the place where, when going to Lilongwe (from Blantyre where I stay), I get the assurance that Dedza is the next town I am reaching. Bembeke is just seven kilometres from Bembeke.
Bembeke’s offerings do not just stop where I described above. Once in a while, I stop by and buy vegetables at the roadside market. Bembeke has tomatoes, cabbages and “traditional vegetables” such as bonongwe (Amaranthus species) and chisoso (Bidens pilosa). Yes, I was a biology student at Chancellor College 25 years ago but I still remember the “scientific names” of some of the plants we were dealing with then. Bembeke is also a place where about seven years ago colleagues from Bunda College invited me to see their potato farm. Yes, there was, and it may still be there, an experimental farm for Bunda at Bembeke.
Bembeke, just like many other parts of Dedza and Ntcheu is that place where Malawians and Mozambicans mingle. I do not know to what extent one’s nationality matters to people of Bembeke. What I know is that, once in a while, the District Health Officers of the two districts raise concerns that their health services are overburdened through provision of services non-Malawians. I do not know to what extent the District Health Officers also complain that almost all the cabbages, tomatoes, maize and many other foodstuffs in their houses come from across the border. There is no way for me to tell. Take Angonia out of Dedza and Ntcheu and you have starving Malawi.
Allow me, if you would, to go back to Bembeke. I was at Bembeke buying cabbages. “Your wife will like these cabbages..” The seller prophesied. “She will not be ashamed to cut these cabbages while sitting pankhonde.” We talk about what is the meaning for the khonde. Pakhonde, depending on the context is also pasiwa, pazovuta, at the funeral.
We go on talking and then one of the men complains that I have not bought his cabbages. The sellers do that all the time. They want you to feel bad. Buy their stuff. If I bought all the stuff from all the sellers what will remain for the other buyers? He says he has the largest cabbages. I do not buy the largest cabbages. I like the small ones, young and soft, not mature and tough. And he says, “During the campaign period, Peter Mutharika bought cabbages from me. He said I have the best cabbages in the country. He said he will not forget me, ever.” I agreed with him and I promised to remind His Excellency to visit Mr Joseph Yassin at Bembeke. A promise is a debt. The cabbages are waiting for you, Mr President. To not forget him, means to buy from him all the time. Forever. n