We have been unable to meet Alfonsinaâ€™s senior family members to finalise Jean-Philippeâ€™s intention to marry. He has been very angry and disappointed.Â I have cooled him down and impressed upon him that the circumstances which led to the postponement of the discussions were culturally sound, understandable and acceptable.
Since Monday this week, all senior villagers from around Chididi have had to attend funerals of close relatives, two of whom were killed by crocodiles on Sunday and Tuesday when they went fishing near the Nsanje World Inland Port, which some people suspect was built to breed crocodiles so as to decimate the Lower Shire Valley population.
Â â€œWhy should the whole village shut down for a funeral? Are you surprised that your country is poor?â€ Jean-Philippe complained.
â€œFuneral attendance is a social obligation. Those who donâ€™t attend funerals are deemed pompous, self-centred, stupid or outright mad.â€
â€œMalawians are in a permanent state of holidaying. But I guess I must adapt,â€ Jean-Philippe said before suggesting that we forget about Alfonsina and concentrate on gathering material for the International Geographic TV Channel documentary.
â€œBut your assignment was about John Chilembweâ€™s death.â€
â€œI have convinced headquarters Mbonaâ€™s martyrdom is more intriguing than Chilembweâ€™s death.â€
We settled to meet Chief Ngabu, the guardian of the Mbona cult. Later we would talk to the Tate of the cult, who resides in the Shire Highlands.
We drove to the filling station. Jean-Philippe asked the diesel attendant to fill the tank because he had heard rumours that Malawiâ€™s petroleum cartel was plotting to raise the prices of fuel soonest. I asked the attendant if he had also heard the rumours. His answer was equivocal.
We passed by Tumwe-Tumwe Entertainment Centre to get one for the rough road to Chief Ngabuâ€™s headquarters.
â€œIs this a TAâ€™s house? Surely, some TAs are less equal than others,â€ Jean-Philippe wondered as we parked in the chiefâ€™s yard facing a reed-walled, virtually windowless grass thatched rondavel whose rooftop was covered in a dark clay pot.
â€œThe last time I was here, I was told each time a brick-walled and iron-roofed house is erected here it is blown away by Mbona who comes in the form of a storm. Nobody ever locates the debris.â€
The chiefâ€™s assistant brought two reed chairs and asked us to sit down. Jean-Philippe engaged his Smartphone camera and started filming the surroundings. The chiefâ€™s assistant commanded him to stop immediately. Jean-Philippe obliged.
Â A few moments later, the chief, a tall and handsome man in his late sixties, emerged from the house.Â He greeted and welcomed us to Nsanje, which he dubbed the real Malawi.
â€œMalawi derives its name from that range of mountains,â€ the chief said, pointing to the west. He explained that once upon a time, Mbona dwelt in and defended his people from the Malawi Mountains where fires burned day and night.
â€œBut in school, we learned that Malawiâ€™s name comes from heat waves our predecessors used to observe around Dedza or Salima,â€ I said.
â€œCountries are named after more prominent structures than mirages. Have you ever wondered why the paramount chief of the Chewa people in Malawi is in the Lower Shire Valley?â€