AMBUJE’S DIARY 2011 PART 2
Where have all the pangaboys gone?
Long time passing!
Where have all the pangaboys gone?
Long time ago!
Where have all the pangaboys gone?
Gone disappearing everyone!
When will they ever learn? 2x
– (Paraphrased from the lyrics of Pete Seeger (1955))
A few days into my vacation, I decided it was time to start looking for the identity of the youths who, on the eve of the July 20 demos, roamed the streets of Blantyre threatening all and sundry, sharpening their panga knives on the Victoria Avenue tarmac, singing: Onyoza Bingu lero sagona timpweteka! (anyone despising Bingu will not sleep today, we will hurt him)! The DPP high command, chiefly Hetherwick Ntaba and Vuwa Kaunda, vigorously denied any official link between the party and the thugs although they had used marked DPP vehicles during their prowl.
(In fact, a few weeks later as he inaugurated this year’s Agriculture Fair at the Trade Fair Grounds, President Bingu wa Mutharika himself dared his critics in Civil Society Organisations to a war on the streets showing every indication he was ready to fight — literally).
I thought Blantyre Market would be a good place to start my investigation. I decided to go there and asked Khenzo to drive me downtown on the pretext that I needed a haircut. Unfortunately, police stopped us on the way and discovered that the insurance, certificate of fitness and road tax documents stuck to the windshield of Khenzo’s car had long expired. According to Malawi’s road traffic regulations, that car should not be on the roads at all. Khenzo released me, assuring, “Sinkhani iyi, amwene, apolisi awa ndiabale athu. Tikumane cha mma thwelofu koloko pa People’s mtaunimu (Don’t worry about this, I will sort it out. These police officers are our relatives. Let’s meet at People’s at noon),” he said. Fortunately, I wasn’t that far away from Blantyre Market and was in a hairdressers cubicle within 12 minutes of being expelled from Khenzo’s car.
There were already several makastomala (regulars) waiting in line to have their mops mowed and I got in line. The cubicle was already buzzing with political talk centred on recent events. Folks were narrating their individual experiences during the July 20 demos. One guy claimed to have exchanged blows with a police officer and gotten the better of him. Another said he witnessed a demonstrator being shot by police. A third laid the blame for the mayhem on police incompetence and provocative actions. Another suggested police were now wiser and feared demonstrators. And on and on it went. In that atmosphere, I felt comfortable asking my hairdresser, when my turn came and as his electric razor buzzed and pressed on my scalp, “Ahem, achimwene, kodi monga anyamata a malupanga aja tiziti siamunsika mommuno (wouldn’t it make sense to assume that the panga wielders actually came from this very market)”?
He paused for a moment. I started to fear he might sheer off my ear with the electric razor. But he cleared his throat and said, “Ine ndikudziwa mmodzitu. Amakonda kukhala patsidyapa, pa ma bus stands apa. (I know one of the guys, he likes to linger at the bus stands across the stream).”
“Dzina lake ndani? (What’s his name)?” I wanted to know.
“Apo pokha bwana nde sindingakuthandizeni. (I can’t help you on that one),” he said.
But I had a funny feeling he was not telling me all he knew. Anyway, I chose to drop the subject fearing I might arouse unwanted scrutiny (and an electric razor right through the base of my ear). I paid him and walked leisurely towards the Blantyre Bus Stands believing I would recognise the face of any thug that was in the machette videos that I saw on Youtube. I walked through the throng of vendors and minibus callboys, surreptitiously scrutinising faces and builds but I recognised none. I saw only hundreds and hundreds of people, and stands and stands of merchandise being sold — from used shoes to fried mbatates (potatoes) and all manner of other foods cooked on the spot, emiting a potpourri of flavours. It was approaching lunch time.
“Eti msitikali uja wandilanda license. Sichina, akufuna dollar. Naye apeze ya bread ya lero. Wandipatsa nambala yache, iyi (The police officer has confiscated my license. No doubt he wants a bribe in exchange so he can get his daily bread today. He gave me his number, here it is),” Khenzo was saying as we rendezvous-ed at People’s on Victoria Avenue. He was late by 50 minutes. In Malawi, a date does not happen on time and those on Canadian time are often frustrated by impatience and hunger in the middle of the day. “I’ll drive you home for lunch.”
“How? You don’t have a license!” I objected. “Let’s just eat in town.”
“Ya licensiyo sinkhani imeneyo, amwene. Tauni ndiyathu iyi (the license is not an issue. This town is ours). Don’t worry, let’s go.” And with that he drove me home in the same car with expired road documents, showing nary a concern.
Onwards to Lilongwe
I was at the police checkpoint on the Kamuzu Bridge on the Mwanza Road by 9 o’clock the next morning and a chubby policewoman was asking me politely where I was going. “Ku ukwati mawali ku Lilongwe.” (to a wedding in Lilongwe tomorrow) I responded, fearing she might ask me for my license and find an excuse to confiscate it for a bribe.
“Abwana, ukwati adzachite ndi anthu awiriwo kwaokha, inu mukupita ku chikwati.’ (Sir, the marriage will be done between the two in their privacy, you are going to a wedding) she said smiling. I said I stood corrected, raising my hand in a police-style salute. I read in the papers later that HIV prevalence rates were highest among police officers in the whole civil service. But this was before I read that article. So considering how friendly this police officer was being, I thought I might take a risk and ask the sixty four thousand Kwacha question:
“Amai, kodi anyamata amene amayenda ndi zikwanje m’tauni pa 19 July aja, nayendetsa magalimoto a DPP aja, agwidwa ameneaja? Ndi ndani kodi anyamata ameneaja (Madam, have the pangaboys who roamed the streets of Blantyre in DPP vehicles, threatening people on July 19th., been apprehended yet? Who were they, by the way)?”
Clearly taken by surprise, the police officer hesitated for a few seconds, glanced over her shoulder at other police officers a few meters away and then said, “Sindikudziwa. Inu pitilizani ulendo wanu. Zipitani(I don’t know. You better get going. Go away).”At Bwandilo in Area 47, Lilongwe, roughly three hours later, they were discussing an American Government decision two days earlier ro withdraw roughly 53 billion Kwacha in grant money to revamp Malawi’s energy sector. “Ma blackout mpakana 2014 woo (we will continue having electricity blackouts until at least 2014)!” one patron was saying.
“MBC has been telling us that we need Peter to be the next President because his brother did well in the first term. Now that we will have blackouts until 2014, MBC should be telling us that we do not need Peter because his brother is doing badly in the second term,” another chimed in.
“Koma china n’china, abwana aja ndi mbava kwabasi (let’s be honest, the boss is a big thief),” a man frying pieces of meat on a makeshift pan and selling them to drinkers was saying. “Asanakhale President amamwa pano, akaledzera nkumasungitsa mini bus yawo pompano kuopa kuchita ngozi pobwelera kunyumba kwawo. Anakongola nyama yanga ya K300, mpaka lero sanabweze (Before he became President he used to drink here and store his mini bus here when drunk to avoid having an accident while driving home. He took meat from me and has yet to repay me my K300 for it).” This caused a great deal of laughter.
I asked him, “Kodi nkhani ya anthu amalupanga a ku Blantyre aja nde ili pati? Ndi ndani kodi anthu ameneaja popeza Antaba akuti sanali anyamata a DPP (what’s happening regarding the pangaboys who roamed the streets of Blantyre? Who were they, by the way, since Ntaba says they were not DPP boys)?”
“Dzimbalangondo dza DPP zimenezija, amwene. Kutereku pano dzapatsidwa-patsidwa dzindalama dzambirimbiri dzikudya ndazikazawo mwakachetechete kunyumba mpaka adzazifunenso kuti zidzatengenso malupanga nkulowa nawo mtauni (those were DPP thugs, am telling you. By now they have been given lots of money which they are enjoying quietly at home with their families, waiting to be ordered back into town with pangas to threaten again).”
(In hindsight, I realize that this meat guy presaged President Mutharika’s call for war a few weeks later as he inaugurated the Agriculture Fair in Blantyre).
The Goat Gonad Gourmet
The wedding went well (gave me a chance to shake the hands of the likes of Leader of the Opposition and veteran politician John Tembo as well as other dignitaries such as Mama Tamanda Kadzamira). But home is home and I was back in Blantyre two days later, still consumed by a desire to know the identity of the pangaboys. I went to the Blantyre Bus Stands again the very next day, talking with all kinds of vendors at their stands, hoping to catch the face of someone who might look like any of the 19th of July pangaboys in the Youtube video.
One vendor was roasting offals, flipping them around deftly while whistling a sprightly tune and generally looking eager to welcome his lunchtime makastomala. It was five minutes to noon and he seemed ready to serve the crush of noon diners. He was in high, talkative spirits. Among the meats he was roasting were some whitish looking bulbs, seemingly organs, almost the size of lemons. “What are these?” I asked him, pointing at them.
“M****nde ambuzi, achimwene (these are goat gonads, my brother),” he said loudly, without missing a beat. A woman roasting green maize in the next stall was listening. She saw the shock and embarrassment on my face and smiled bashfully, with sympathy.
“Where do you get them?” Was the best I could muster.
“Amenewa ndimapikula ku Lirangwe, ku Balaka, Ku Ntakataka ndi ku Golomoti. Mukufuna kulawa? (I buy them wholesale at Lirangwe, Balaka, Ntakataka and Golomoti. Would you like a taste?)”
I said no and was still struggling to recover my composure when an akastomala showed up and ordered – guess what? – precisely those things, immediately starting to munch them with gusto. I looked at his powerful mandibles at work, and that’s when I saw his face. Dumbstruck, I thought I recognised that face. I was looking straight at one of the pangaboys I saw on Youtube.
I am usually a reasonable baritone. But my attempt at asking him his name came out a tenor. He likely didn’t hear it. Or if he did, he ignored my question. Traumatised, I left immediately and didn’t return to Blantyre Bus Stands for the rest of my vacation..
*Tom Likambale is a Malawian writer based in CanadaFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :