John Padoko is one man who believes that age is only some insignificant number that you can ignore. Even at 101, he is strong enough to earn a living through borehole drilling. Caroline Somanje visited him at his Padoko Village, T/A Machinjiri in Blantyre. Of course, before hearing his story, Caroline had to endure some tongue lashing for sticking her neck too far.
John Padoko sits next to a round hole in the ground soon after lunch on a Friday. He immediately unleashes his anger on one of the two guests that walk into the compound for taking an unauthorised peek into the deep hole which he guards jealously.
â€œAmayi siinu obeleka inu? Mundiyankhe, ndati siinu obereka inu? (Woman, are you not still bearing children? Answer me, are you?),â€ he retorted while staring piercingly at the surprised lady visitor.
At 101 years old, Padokoâ€™s energy and strength were surprising as he continued inquiring from the woman and insisting for a response from her despite one of the colleagues extending an apologetic gesture to the old man. He was obviously not amused and was disturbed by their unwelcome invasion of privacy to his work of art.
A few minutes passed before Padoko regained his composure and reluctantly welcomed and greeted the visitors. He deliberately spoke with the male visitors and chose to ignore the woman until he was informed that she was the one who was looking for him.
The visitors were Nation on Sunday crew that had paid Padoko a visit on invitation from the owner of the house where Padoko was drilling a borehole. The bone of contention here was the very borehole that was â€œinspectedâ€ without a seal of approval.
Said Padoko: â€œI guard the hole in case someone falls in it. Any woman who sneaks a peek into the hole automatically becomes barren. I only allow a few chosen men to look and it all depends on their approach. Those who come politely are my likely candidates.â€
He picked a handful of the soil scooped from the 20-metre hole and called the lady to his side. He spilled part of the soil onto her palm and quickly licked some of it from his own hand before dropping it back to the ground. He instructed the lady to do likewise and then invited her to take a closer look at the hole as the interview progressed.
Asked what the ritual was all about, he explained: â€œThat is to defuse the curse of barrenness for having gone to the hole unauthorised. Without that, the lady would never have been able to conceive again. That is why I inquired at the beginning because I knew she was still bearing children.â€
Padokoâ€™s actions left the few spectators mesmerised and convinced that the old man could be involved in witchcraft. His next response to a question on how he detects water on the site raised eyebrows further as people curiously listened and exchanged glances.
Medium built and standing at an average male height, Padoko confidently explained that his long arms are the machinery he uses to detect the presence of water before a manual drill.
He flapped them and said every time they felt heavy during inspection, that is all he needs to commence a 50-metre or 60-metre drill dependent on the type of soil.
Said Padoko: â€œI learnt this art from white experts I worked with from way back in Zimbabwe where I started my trade surveying mines. It takesÂ about 15 minutes to detect the presence of water. It has nothing to do with anything but science.â€
He claims to have a total of 120 boreholes to his name. Padoko uses no machinery either in the drilling and proudly displays a long flat metal bar, a hammer, a hoe, a bucket and rope as his weapons.
Clad in a pair of Bermuda shorts held in place by an improvised belt and a knitted hat, the barefooted granny of 32 grandchildren said he had been drilling this particular borehole for 5 days. He said the process takes two weeks and four days if the area has no rock and could take longer on rocky surface.
He gets up at 6am and drills until 3pm. The only help he gets is from a young man when he is lifting the soil from the pit to the surface.
Born on January 1, 1911 in Zimbabwe, Padoko has 16 children. Eight areÂ from his first Malawian wife who passed away in 1970 and eight from his estranged South African wife.
However, the devout Catholic lives alone at Padoko Village, Traditional Authority Machinjiri in Blantyre.
He makes between K60 000 and K100 000 from each borehole and says people from across the country seek his services.
His diet includes rice with any type of relish, Irish or sweet potatoes and tea. He said he has never eaten nsima in his life as he has always reacted by vomiting heavily at every attempt.
Said Padoko: â€œI am still going strong as you can see. I can lift that man over there (points to a middle aged man within his view).â€
He said all his Malawian born children are currently in Zomba with his grandchildren. Padoko also said four of those born from the South African woman are in Zomba and they visit occasionally.