Monday, May 31, 2010

Beauty of Grey Hair

We live in a generation whose lifespan is half that of our fathers—and mothers, of course.

The poem is powerful.

We dared to think... that (he'd) live to comb grey hair. But like his
father, he had every gift but length of years.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats crafted this thought-provoking, all time relevant poem almost a century ago. Yet it remains powerful in our years, the 21st Century, confirming, again, that poetry lives across space and time.

We dared to think…that (he’d) live to comb grey hair. It is a lament for a friend, it seems, a model or a brilliant, important person who people wanted to live long, to share his knowledge for decades. Yet he died young.

The society in which Yeats lived held grey hair as some kind of honour, the ideal, and the norm—what everybody expects: that a person should live long and the visible symbol of old age being grey hair which is easy to comb; meaning that the abnormal is to die young before growing grey hair.

The man mourned in the poem, like his father, was talented and died young. Sad that people we want to live long, die young.

Long life is an honour not just to one person but to society because it benefits from wisdom that comes with age. Or put in Yeats’ language, the wisdom that comes with grey hair.
Isn’t the world full of people we wished to live long, to comb grey hair, so that we enjoy their talent for decades?

Consider Bright Nkhata, Allan Namoko, Daniel Kachamba, Robert Fumulani, Du Chisiza and, well, it is a long list, this one. But we can add Professor Kay Chiromo (that extraordinary artist), Nixon Khembo (that brilliant academic who died before completing his PhD), and Charles Severe (that broadcaster and drama guru).

Do you want us to add university professors who have died? We wish Professor John Chiphangwi was with us to see the growth of the University of Malawi's College of Medicine.

What about brilliant politicians who passed on, leaving behind unsolved puzzles? We wish they had lived long. We wish they had grown old to comb grey hair. We wish Du Chisiza had lived long to keep writing, directing and performing great plays.

We ask: If Du was living today, what play would he have written on homosexuality? If Bob Marley was living today, what songs would he have written about the war in Iraq? What would he have sung about the Tsunami that killed nearly half a million people in Asia? What would he have said about Africa?

We really wish they had lived long, grown old to comb grey hair. But life isn’t what we wish. Often, it is what we don’t wish to happen.

We wish all parents lived long to raise their children. But sometimes—perhaps often nowadays--it does not work that way. I have attended burials of young people in recent months, young men survived by wives and children. I have known about young men and women who have died, leaving children hopeless; children gazing at the sky, a symbol of nothingness, a blank future.

Now stories about life can never be impersonal for they are about all of us, about our parents, brothers and sisters and everybody else.

I feel blessed to have both my parents living. My father, Willias Nkolokosa, a great primary school teacher is 77 while my mother, Anne, is 74. They have lived to comb grey hair, to see their children grow up with the last born, yours truly, being 34.

My paternal grandparents died in old age. My grandfather, Desert Nkolokosa, was the first Malawian Seventh Day Adventist pastor, preaching in Makanjira, Mangochi, in 1939 after his missionary work in Zaire where my father and his elder brother, Stewart, were born.

My maternal grandmother died in January this year in real old age. The pastor who led the service challenged us all to live up to 90 years and we laughed in disbelief. We know we may not live that long because we are in days that long life is not fashionable.

You may have a similar story or a different one. Perhaps you lost parents long time ago and you don’t know how pleasant it is to have them grow old. It may be that you don’t know what it means to have a father or a mother because, as was the case with Harod Takomana, he was two years old when his father, 26, died in a road accident.

Such is the pain of life. It is not what we wish it to be, always. We dared to think... that (he'd) live to comb grey hair. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.

Consider yourself lucky if your parents have grown old to comb grey hair. The honour you can give them is to comb their grey hair: buy them a comb. But they need one after a bath, so buy them soap and pails. Well, in the rural corners, they bath after lunch, so make sure they have food and blankets at night.

This is combing our old folks’ grey hair. It is easy, just as easy as combing the real grey hair. (I know how easy it is because dad used to ask me to comb his grey hair.) It is a source of blessings as well, one of which is long life for ourselves that we may live long to comb our grey heads.

Cost of Prosperity

The wedding of two young men, Steven Monjeza and Tionge Chimbalanga in December last year was a foreign body in the cultural flesh of Malawi.

Some of us knew there was homosexuality in Malawi. Some of us chose not to talk about it because it largely happens in places that are kind of outside ordinary life: prisons and boarding secondary schools, especially those that are not co-education institutions.

We also knew, or somehow thought/believed, there are same sex relationships outside of prisons and schools. There is homosexuality in our towns and cities and villages.

What we never thought was that two people of the same sex could declare their love for one another in public. That wedding (engagement is a wedding, remember) has corrupted our society—and for a long time to come.

We have talked about homosexuality as being foreign, alien to Malawi’s culture. True. But we haven’t discussed one question: Why did Steve and Tionge come out in the open, knowing pretty well they would end up in prison?

Part of the answer lies in the enormous support the two have received from NGOs and international bodies, including United Nations whose Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to Malawi on May 29, 2010, and resulted in President Bingu wa Mutharika’s pardon of the gay couple on “humanitarian grounds”.

Support for Steven and Tionge seemed well coordinated as if there was a central control centre. The kind of courage—or put correctly, arrogance—that Steve and Tionge showed by marrying each other cannot just come from within themselves.

It was from some people who hold power of some kind—economic, legal, cultural, religious or political. The international community is spreading a “global culture” and homosexuality is part of that exercise. Steven and Tionge were sent by some of those who supported them to instill this strange seed of same sex love among Malawians.

But why now? If at all there is a time people accept new ways of life, new cultures, it is when their economic status changes. Malawi’s economy has been growing at an average of 7 percent per year for the past five years.

Economic growth makes people, perhaps not accept, but view new appetites and new approaches to life differently. The international community has noted our prosperity and knows that if at all there was a time Malawi can begin to struggle with and somehow soften up to alien cultures, it is now.

Three things have happened to Malawi as a result of our prosperity. One is same sex love.

Two, the registration of the Association for Secular Humanism, a group that, in a nut shell, does not believe in the existence of God. This, too, is a symptom of beliefs that come to a growing economy. When people are full and do not worry about the next meal, they begin to trust secular approach to life.

Three is Urban Music, a genre that has come from almost nowhere and invaded the airwaves. Five years ago, there was no Phyzix, Theo Thomson, Tigris, Heart Beatz, Tay Grin and Mafunyeta. Yet they are household names today.

I drove by the French Cultural Centre (FCC) one Sunday afternoon at about 5 on my way to the office and met hundreds of young people walking out of the FCC. They were in large numbers, coming from an Urban Music Party.

This music has come to stay, at least for now. Urban music is about joy and happiness. It is not about sorrows and tears. It is a kind of music that can be enjoyed by people on a journey towards prosperity, people that are hopeful.

The young people of Malawi are living in hopeful days of a port at Nsanje, five universities on the cards, nice roads, DsTV, mobile phones, Facebook, and eating out.

What is more? Beliefs of some small sections of the world are being pushed across the globe, starting with prospering societies like Malawi, especially because we have a President that is a global figure as well.

These thorns in our cultural flesh are part of the of our prosperity.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tough Questions

These questions have bothered me of late. What is the function of the media in a developing country like Malawi? Are journalists participants in development or watchdogs of those in power?

Should we stick o the old adage that we doubt everything and trash all hopes that come with the first steps of a journey towards prosperity?

I intend to answer these and other questions in a piece I am working on.