We get to her house a few minutes before 11 in the morning to meet her, and only her granddaughter, Gladys is home, washing clothes for her three-year-old who is out for play.
“Ayaya went to the field in the morning; she should have been back by now,” says Gladys while calling at her cousin Blessings to go and call the granny.
In no time at all, Ayaya, noticeably a jovial old woman whose real name is Elizabeth Gadama gets back home, ordering the granddaughter to take the maize she got from the field onto the sun to dry. She apologizes that she has kept us waiting.
It is apparent that this 70-year-old from the area of village head Mondiwa in Blantyre is a busy bee despite her old age. She has to work hard because she has no one to rely on for financial assistance. The two sons she has left from the five children she previously had, are also unemployed and therefore cannot provide for their mother.
Daily, she goes to nearby Lichenza River to mine sand and sell to people in the environs.
“Whenever it rains, I go to the river early in the morning and mine the sand. I then leave it in a heap on the river bank. From there I take it home using a small bucket. I mostly take home five trips,” says Gadama.
Those that have building projects in the area then come to her house to buy the sand for K100 per bucket.
“When customers negotiate I bring the price down toK80. Others like to have the sand delivered to them, and I do so upon request,” she says.
The Global AgeWatch Index 2015 report ranks Malawi last in income security. The Global AgeWatch Index 2015 is aimed at capturing the multidimensional nature of the quality of life and wellbeing of older people, and to provide a means by which to measure performance and promote improvements.
It looks at 13 different indicators for the four key domains of income security, health status, capability, and enabling environment. The report notes that it is through lack of choice that over 95 percent of older people in Malawi still work.
Gadama is probably one of the elderly people working, not because she wants to, but because she does has no choice as she has no source of income.
She says she has been doing this for over thirty years now, initially with the idea of complementing her husband’s efforts in providing for the home as she believes it is not right to rely on one person to provide everything in the home.
“The little I get from this, I buy food and we all eat together. Apart from that, we buy other things such as soap, clothes and even writing materials for my great grandchildren,” she points out.
Her husband left a long time ago, to work in Lilongwe. She says he asked them to move with him there, but says she could not move with all five children to live in a rented house.
Says Gadama: “This is our own house. Why would I go and live in a rented house in Lilongwe where I can be asked to leave any time? Where would I go with my children if we were told to leave?”
So she stayed behind, and although a lot of years have gone by, she still believes her husband has not remarried.
She observes that some people her age would rather stay at home and do nothing. They wait for others to fend for them but she stresses that she will carry on with her business until her strength fails her.
“Even if I have to carry the sand in something as small as a pot, I will because I have to find money,” she says. n