Saturday, 29 June 2013

The first village and my first encounter with a Nyau

Another pretty long day today (or at least it felt like it). After an early start, doing final touches to today's interview questions and then getting them printed, my colleagues ran some errands at the bank. Word of advice for anyone considering visiting a bank at the end of the month on a Saturday in Lilongwe - just don't. The queues in all the banks were absolutely crazy. Some people would literally be waiting there for hours. Anyway, eventually we got to where we needed to be but the person had left so we had to go back some miles and meet them.

Along the way we saw a person on the road who was dressed up in a mask with a stick - it was a Nyau. The Nyau are part of a secret society who are thought by villagers to come from among the dead. They can often be found attending funerals and take part in dances. They often scare many women and children and tend to make a living by going around certain rural areas asking for money from people. Our driver thought it would be funny and entertaining to wave and slow down to let the Nyau chase the jeep, so he did, and he let the Nyau run after the jeep and catch up. The driver wound the window down, greeted him and the Nyau, growling in the way they do, asked for money (this sounds worse than it was and we weren't ever in any danger - we didn't need to stop but it was quite entertaining). Smiling all along the driver gave the Nyau 500 kwacha (about £1) and we drove off. It was a very strange experience indeed! I think we probably wouldn't have stopped if the Nyau was one of the ones carrying a panga (a huge machette used for cutting crops). (

We got the information we wanted and set off to find the first village. It took a great deal of time and lots of asking as there just aren't signposts or anything like in the UK - it's all dirt tracks and village after village.

About 2km off the main road and you start to see life changing; mud huts with straw roofs; everyone looking as the car goes past, people wearing very simple and often ragged clothes, and many small children with swollen bellies and/or ribs showing. People on the whole appear fairly happy, but obviously life is very tough and many of the children will grow up stunted and with irreversible mental damage from lack of an adequate diet.

We eventually reached the village and as my colleague went to check for the village head some small head appeared down below outside the car; a group of little children wondering who this strange white person was coming to their home. I go in and meet with the village head who is also head of a number of neighbouring villages (a group village head) and, also, a woman. This is not uncommon in the region among certain ethnic groups. She has a very nice house by comparison with an iron sheet roof, sofa chairs, tables and a bicycle.

The interview lasted over an hour but she seemed very happy to answer and seemed to enjoy the discussion (so too did her chicken that was in her living room that kept clucking and seemed to enjoy nestling in behind her on the sofa chair). Lots of good information came out and, as with yesterday, an opportunity for revising the format of the questions for the next interviews (e.g. removing some questions which are clearly not necessary in order to reduce the length).

Unfortunately after the long day we don't have time to do the first farmer interview but it does mean that when we go back on Monday we won't need to try and squeeze three farmer interviews in and can do two then and two on Tuesday. Wednesday we should start with the second and final village for Lilongwe District. After all interviews for there are done it will be down to the South of the country - to Zomba District.

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