The Desire for a Promising Life

By Muhango Innocent Amani

One morning in July, Buki decided to register three of his children in a school that does not charge money. Buki is the father of six children, and he has no job, despite holding a university degree in pedagogy and having been a school teacher before the war displaced him. July is the cool dry season in Malawi. Buki lives in a community of extreme poverty, a refugee camp called Dzaleka, located near Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It is a multicultural community encompassing people from different counties around Africa, such as DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, and Ethiopia, who have access to very limited community resources. The life people are living here is doubtful.

On a Monday, in the early morning, Buki and his family members woke, and he got three of his children ready to go to the school that does not charge money for registration. Two of the kids wore sweatshirts while Buki and another kid wore fleece because it was cold and windy. Before going to school they ate the bread that was remaining in their home, but without tea or milk because Buki could not afford it. The children were unhappy because there was not enough. They walked to school because the family had no other means of transport. Only an insignificant number of community members can afford any means of transport. The number of those who afford bicycles is greater than the number of those who afford cars but Buki has neither a car nor a bicycle.

While going to school, they met with other children who were already registered in different schools around the community. The streets were very noisy because of the children who were shouting. Apart from other students, Buki and his kids saw and heard the sounds of cars moving along the main road and hand mills pounding maize. At the hand mills, they could see that the majority of people who had their maize there to be pounded were women. They cleaned the maize before the millers poured them into the hand mills. To pound the maize into flour, the millers lifted and dropped their heavy mortars. Buki and his kids also saw women going to wash clothes at the boreholes, cyclists looking for luggage to carry, vendors shouting the prices of what they sold, and passengers at the station waiting for the bus to Lilongwe.

Buki hoped to get at least one of his kids into a school and felt he would be happy to have at least one educated child. He worried about the future of his children if they were not educated. While Buki wanted to register three children, he prioritized one boy, Endi, the youngest because he was talkative. He thought the boy could do better in school than others. One day the boy said he wished he became a doctor or physician. Buki wanted to help him reach his objective. They reached the school at 7 am and found that it was too full. The head teacher told him that there was no place for his children.

Buki knew he had no money for the other schools, which were private, but his children did not want to give up and return home. The children would like to be in school, any school around the community, for their academic growth. Buki’s middle boy, Musina, reminded him, “You are required to register us in a school. You know that. If you have to pay for it just promise to pay them later.” Bulimbo, his older kid added, “We will be playing with other students and having fun with them.” The father could not argue, and he didn’t want to. He wanted the kids in school as much as they did. Nearby was another school for primary kids, with fewer and nicer classrooms than the one that did not charge money. It was also less crowded because the head teacher was serious about collecting the fees, so Buki led his children there, thinking he would convince the head teacher to enroll at least one of the kids, Endi, the talkative one.

The private school was smaller than the public one that did not charge money. They walked slowly to reach the school because Buki’s last son was not as fast as the others. On the way, they saw a crowd leaving the open area called Tuesday Market and people going to work. Some use their bicycles to reach their workplace, others walk to be there. They also saw students attending Madrassa School for Muslim kids. Musina talked about the football game he played yesterday with his friends, the neighbor’s children. He enjoyed football and hoped he would be doing the same with other children at school.

Once at school, the head teacher welcomed Buki into his office where he explained the school requirements, including the monthly fee. Meanwhile, Buki’s kids were visiting classes, admiring the desks, erasers, and chalkboards. Buki smiled and spoke with confidence, and he convinced the head teacher to enroll his three kids by promising to pay the required monthly fees for all of them, “when my paycheck comes in.” Buki felt optimistic and hopeful when making his promise. The children smiled and cheered! They were happy to hear that they were enrolled in the school and could stay. Only Buki knew the tragedy that lay ahead when he couldn’t pay, and so he brainstormed sources of income to fulfill his promise.

While walking home, Buki thought about the additional expense and care for the other kids who awaited him back home. He worried about finding a part-time or full-time job to address the expenses of food, clothing, and now school. He has no job because so few organizations hire people in the community, even the schools. Some of the managers seem to hire people with whom they share ethnicities or countries. Buki thought about getting a part-time job as a shop assistant or a full-time one as a teacher. Either would help him generate income to fulfill his promise to the school’s headmaster but he was not sure would succeed. The family needed an average of 4,000 Malawi Kwacha each day for food, apart from flour, an amount of money which is less than US$4. How could Buki earn that much?

Along the way, Buki felt hungry. He hadn’t eaten yet, letting the kids have what little food was at home. Buki stopped at a shop to get a soft drink and biscuits with the remaining small amount of money in his pocket, and he consumed them all by himself, free from the hungry mouths of his kids. He’s also able to negotiate for a sack of maize flour. He bought 25 kg to take home for the family’s consumption. On his way home, an old woman aged about 60 years asked him for some of the flour. Buki gave her one kilogram, for she was poorer than him. Even though the quantity was small, the woman was grateful and thanked Buki for his assistance. Soon a group at the shop, three women from the host community and two cyclists from the Dzaleka community, surrounded Buki, offering to transport his sack of maize in exchange for payment. Transporting luggage is what they do to survive or generate income. Unfortunately, Buki had no money, and so he decided to carry the sack on his head and go home on foot. The cyclists and women continued on their way to find other opportunities.

Buki arrived home and found his older children there, the ones who wouldn’t ever be in school. Meli welcomed her father and took the sack of flour into the house. She took water in a bucket to the bathroom for her father to take a bath and started preparing food using the maize flour. While she was preparing the pap, her brothers, Nasubi and Nabi, were washing some clothes. Before they started washing them, they had to fetch water. They spent not less than three hours in a queue at the nearest borehole to wait for their turn to fetch ten gallons of water in two jerry cans. At the borehole, Nasubi and Nabi witnessed a fight between two women. Each of them wanted to fetch first. They had been fighting for about five minutes before two men from the nearest market came to end the fight. One of the women, called Ngora, was wounded in her leg and the other one’s face swelled because of the punch she received. While the fight was going on, Nasubi and Nabi watched with fascination. Because of their lack of attention, their buckets were stolen. They tried to look for them but in vain. Their father and sister were angry because of the loss. Buki told them to do their best to find or buy replacement buckets. On the other hand, Mali advised them not to be distracted by something while working. After fetching the water in their jerry cans, they returned home.

Their sister, Meli, was washing the clothes and drying them on the family’s drying rack and on the fence. The clean clothes dried easily because it was a sunny day. Meli then shifted from washing clothes to her daily routine. Meli is a courageous and hard-working girl. She is a skilled tailor and generates some income that way to support the entire family. She works at home from Monday to Saturday, and her father built a room for her work. Now Meli learned that she has an additional expense—she must help her father settle his new debt for the three youngest kids to stay in school. She cannot think of marriage now, but focuses on helping her father support the family. On one hand, Buki was proud of his daughter because she cared about other people, specifically family members. On the other hand, he thought about how to use his education level to be more productive and helpful to every family member.

It’s noon! Buki told Meli, “Look, I am really proud of you because of your sacrifice for our benefit. You work from the morning to the evening to generate money that you use for the good of everyone. You help me in my duties of providing food, clothes, etc., to the family. Thank you for helping me pay the school fees for your young brothers. Your efforts are not in vain,” he promised her. Buki told Meli his plan to get a part-time job as a shop assistant, or a full-time one as a primary or secondary school teacher. The daughter did not disagree with her father, but wished him good luck in his search for a job. Then Buki headed off to school to fetch the three kids he left there in the morning. Along the way, he met with other parents who are going to fetch their kids. He felt proud. Some had bicycles and others were walking to school.

At school, Buki revealed his plan about finding a job to support his kids in school. He told the head teacher that he had mastered the English language and planned to find a teaching position in one of the schools in the Dzaleka community. The job could help him generate income to feed his children and pay for their other needs. While walking home the children shouted, ran, threw stones, etc., but their parents forbade them from some of the dangerous activities, including throwing stones. The families separated from one another as each one arrived at the path or doorway to their home.

27 January, 2023