Last week we promised to follow the unelected president of the United Transformation Movement (UTM) and witness UTM’s third launch this weekend at Mzuzu Upper Stadium. Those who follow our expeditionary exploits know that we deliver what we promise. However, we are not going to Mzuzu, not because we are tired of the launches, but because we want to stay in Ntcheu and suffer in solidarity with our Mangonian brethrens until the Mpira Dam, or whichever alternative water source there is, is activated and water flows again right down to Balaka.
We were on our way to Mzuzu when we decided to stay here. We stopped here, the capital city of Mangoni, to have lunch and check oils in the Toyota Misfortune, a car a well-wisher has given us to use until we are tired. We parked near the bus depot and walked to a nearby open-air restaurant.
“What are you having, sir?” asked a young man wearing a white shirt.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“Rice and chicken, beans and vegetables!” the food server responded.
“Give me a charcoal-grilled chamba,” Jean-Philippe ordered.
“That’s haram! We don’t stock, touch and sell chamba here,” the food server protested.
“He means chambo; not chamba,” corrected Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66 and MEGA-1.
“My apologies,” Jean-Philippe said, “Can I also have a beer, any beer. I am thirsty!”
“This is a halaal place. No alcohol. No drugs. No smoking. No coughing. Only halaal food is served here.”
“OK,” Mzee Mandela said, “give me a bottle of fantakoko!”
“Same, here,” I said.
“Here, too,” Nganga and Abiti said in unison.
The young food server left and some minutes later came back with plates of rice for all of us. He left for the kitchen and came again with plates of beans and green vegetables. He went away and on his third return, he brought cutlery.
“Are you through?” I asked the food server.
“Yes, but your braii will come from the grill master,” the food server said pointing us to another man who was busy turning pieces of chicken from time to time over his smoking grill.
Mzee Mandela could not stomach the time-wasting. He stood up and went to the grill master. We did not hear the words they exchanged. But Mzee Mandela came back in silence and sat back in his chair in silence.
Like philosophers in cogitation, we sat there in silence watching the political flags fluttering from every electricity, telephone and banner pole. The symbolic dominance of the political party at Ntcheu, the capital city of Mangoni, was clear as no other political party had its symbols so prominently dominating the sky. The PP was nowhere to be seen, MCP was represented by one flag. Aford was not there. UTM was not there. The UDF, whose flags used to dominate the same poles, was not symbolically represented.
“Tell me,” I asked the grill master when he came to give us our grilled chicken, “Mangonians love the party. Don’t they?”
“I am not interested in that topic,” the grill master dismissed me.
“Why?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“This is the second week we have had no water; not even a single drop of water for two straight weeks,” the grill master responded, “We often have dry taps here in Ntcheu but they last a day or two but this time around we have had no water for two full weeks. But nobody is saying anything sensible about our situation. We need water; not party flags. Don’t you, government people, say water is life?”
“Point taken,” Jean-Philippe. “Although we are not government people, we will talk to the Vice-President of this country to talk to his Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to ensure Mangonians have their water back immediately!”
The grill master laughed in disbelief as he retreated to his ‘office’.