Early in the morning of the Mothers Day, October 15, I dashed to my office to finalise some unfinished office business before I could join my mother for a cup of sweet beer (thobwa). Sometime around 11am, I drove out to the nearest stationery shop for I had planned to buy the mother of my two sons a Motherâ€™s Day card. The shop was closed. I then went to the nextâ€”it was also closed.
Then a friend told me where I would find the cardsâ€”the nearest hotel. But alas! The hotelâ€™s stationery shop was closed too. I was now panicking, going to all places I could think of but I would either find closed shops or replies of â€˜we did not stock Mothers Day cards, but we have some birthday cards on the shelf, Sirâ€™. I went home with no card and wished I had bought it the previous day. I am not yet convinced if all the shop-owners had gone to entertain their mothers.
Later in the afternoon, to compensate for not buying my wife any cards, I had the children take her out for a meal. Who do I meet at the eating house? A friend of mine who runs a restaurant elsewhere.
My immediate question was “your place must be very full to find yourself here?” To which he answered, “Lero paja ndi Mothers Day ndiye tatseka.” (Today is Motherâ€™s Day; so, we have closed the restaurant). For fear of venting my anger at this â€˜foolishâ€™ friend of mine, I just excused myself and left for the next eating hideout. How does one close a restaurant on Mothersâ€™ Day when people are taking their beloved mums and mothers of their children out . What business model is this?
Why take the trouble explaining all this to us? You may be asking. Is it a crime for a business person to close shop and enjoy some time with their precious mothers during this day? Well, valid questions but your mum would even be happier if you bought them something from the Motherâ€™s day profits than just drinking some juice with her at home.
More importantly, this just reminds me of how far from prosperity Malawian businesses are. Talking to a friend who has just arrived from Uganda, he was equally shocked. Shops do not close during festivitiesâ€”it is actually the day when shops make a killing as all those who never found time to dash off their offices during the holiday-eve would come to buy on the actual holiday.
Malawians can be a funny lot. You go to shops at lunch hour (12.00 to 1.30pm), the shops are closed. If you ask where the shokeepers are, you are told they have also gone for lunchâ€”my foot! Why can they not give each other turns to go for lunch without closing the shop. It baffles the mind that when the people they target (those with money) are in offices working, that is when shops are open. But when these people with the money are on lunch break and wish to buy one or two things, the shops are closed.
Just to make the point, some Indian trader close to where I live opened his shop on the Mothers Day. I went in to buy a loaf of fresh-from-oven bread, but was forced to buy potatoes outside the shop because the shop had an unusual long queue to the tillâ€”a clear indication that there were not many alternative shopping places that day for the shoppers. No wonder, the Indian can boast that the country is for Malawians, but the money belongs to him.
While one appreciates the security problems, I am yet to visit another country where you will find almost all shops closed by 6pm like here in Malawi. So, when people are at lunch you close the shop, when they are knocking off and plan to get something from the shops, they find them closed.
Do these shop owners realise how much business they are losing? If they, for example, did a cost-benefit analysis of having a high-tech security officer or police officer to guard their shop during the late hours of
the day, they would be amazed at how much profits they are losing.
Have a blessed weekend!