Author: Hope Makwali

I remember growing up we used to be afraid to eat at the neighbours’ house. I know you probably do too. Our mothers had put the fear of God in us that we would shudder at  the thought of a beating if you kept playing until lunch was served at the neighbours’. The plan at this point was to find the most polite way to excuse yourself and quickly dash home – the chapatis on the table notwithstanding! And if your friend’s mother was like your mother, she would probably insist that you stay as it was not polite to leave food on the table. It was always such a minefield! If your friends were at your house, your mother would want to feed them all and be cross if they didn’t eat. But, she would kill you with a look if you succumbed to similar wiles at your friend’s house where their mum did the same thing! So trippy!

Years later, we know that the choice to eat or not to eat in and of itself is not a bad thing – kids eat, all the time, like termites. The ‘problem’ of whether to eat at the neighbours’ or not always began with a very simple code; anyone in your home at mealtime should be welcome at your table. It did not matter whether you had much or little, if you were laying out the table for a meal, everyone under your roof at the time, was welcome. In fact, even passersby out on the way to the market would be diverted temporarily from their journeys into the homestead by a greeting at mealtime. To be selfish with food was akin to witchcraft; pure evil.

There was no glory to be had if you lived in abundance and that did nothing for a person around you in need. There was no celebration if you were safe, and the rest insecure, full, as everyone was starving; rich while everyone else wallowed in poverty. When the village sent you to school, they expected you to bring the fruit of that labour back to the community. You gave and it came back to you; in the measure that you gave, it was measured back to you. Charity began at home, but was not to stay there.

You could not claim to be part of a community and not be generous with all its people in this and other ways. It was expected that you would participate and contribute to the welfare and well-being of all around you, not just of your home.

Slowly we started feeding on a staple from and of successful people whose success came by shedding the fetters of community to enable them to go faster, further, alone. This was admirable; this was what to aspire to. That our parents worked at a ‘dead-end’ job for years to fend for us and see their siblings, a random cousin or two or even a neighbour’s child through school was so uninspiring and lacking in ambition. Unfortunately, the backhand of that is the broken society we have today.

We grew up loathing the ‘inconvenience’ of generosity and kindness. Why would someone visit at lunchtime if they were not expected? In fact, it is failing at parenting if your spawn eats at a neighbours’ house. The said neighbour would sneer and turn their noses up at you if your children frequent their homes to play and seem all too happy to share a meal with them. Somehow somewhere, someone in need was suddenly inferior, shunned; even sinful.

We are frustrated that nobody seems to care that this country is being robbed blind by corrupt politicians. We wonder if people are blind to the things that are happening around them. Injustices abound and the masses seem to care about addressing that as much as a rotund man on an afternoon siesta, under a shady tree, after a hearty meal, swatting a fly resting on his fat, full belly. We wonder why we do not see public outcry and boycotts when leaders abuse power, pilferage public funds and divert relief funds and food to their already stuffed mouths. We forget we are a generation that is averse to the ‘inconvenience’ of addressing injustices. There is nothing to be gained from all that ‘meddling’ – after all, my home is secure, my children fed and safe and tomorrow, I have a job to go to. My neighbours’ poverty and troubles are not mine, thank God. We care for nothing beyond ‘our own’ – whatever that means.

They lied to us when they convinced us that our responsibility is to our families alone and no one else. It is why we have no problem stealing from another’s child’s mouth to feed our own. We permanently silence those who dare call that out; we arm our keyboards and fire mercilessly at them; we murder them in broad daylight, their blood flowing on the streets, chaperoned by filthy sewage into polluted rivers; their bodies dumped in whatever is left unlooted in National Parks – where only the hyenas pay them any last respects.

It is why our blood does not boil if there is injustice ‘out there’- after all, it is not at my home. It is why we don’t care if the police are corrupt if we have money to bribe our way out. We have no problem if services are denied those who need them because we know someone on the inside. We have no problem creating private solutions to public problems; ‘private’ healthcare, ‘private’ cars, ‘private’ schools – after all your insurance policies and your upwardly mobile job has you covered.

Ignoring these issues won’t spare you or your loved ones the effects. Shaking your head in dismay won’t either; neither does waiting to address these ills only when they come to your doorstep. It will be too late. They lied to us, they did.

Asanteni sana to those of you that have supported this initiative of providing food and sanitation packs to the most vulnerable. We are still looking to support more families and would really appreciate your financial support in this. Details are on the flyer

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  1. Seleyian June 2, 2020 at 09:55 - Reply

    They lied to us when they told us to when they said don’t start what you cannot finish, they lied to us that we are powerless and whatever small effort we put in will yield no fruits…they lied to us butwe are seeing through the lies….
    Thanks Hope for this powerful piece

    • Msingi June 2, 2020 at 13:32 - Reply

      Amen!!! We are seeing through the lies!!

  2. Oscar June 2, 2020 at 10:20 - Reply

    Interesting read! I can relate to this story because it seems to be an experience in other parts of Africa. We only start living when our concerns are beyond our individualistic needs… Thanks for sharing!

    • Msingi June 2, 2020 at 13:33 - Reply

      Thank you Oscar for reading!!!
      We are made for each other and we cannot go on being individualistic

  3. Cecilia Maina June 2, 2020 at 14:22 - Reply

    Started way back. It was an gesture and kept the family in check ….oh yes,good manners… until it became toxic. Did they know where they were taking us?

  4. Trezer June 6, 2020 at 10:25 - Reply

    This is a heart breaking read – calls for self introspection and ridding self of the “everyone for themselves and God for us all.” That’s not how God works. If your neighbors pain, which pains God more than you can ever imagine, does not cause you to seek justice and do better, why are you here? What good are you in the space you occupy? Thank you Hope for articulating this so well ❤️

    • Msingi June 9, 2020 at 11:15 - Reply

      Pertinent questions and reflections Trezer. May we through reflection and repentance be turned back to being part of society as originally meant

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