By Kassandra Norrie (Acadia)
I sat as a guest today in a circle of chiefs who were meeting outside under a tree to discuss Praxis Malawi. As I waited for the discussion to be translated to me from their native language of Chechewa I watched the faces of the men. I knew the topics being covered and I could follow along if I paid close attention because English words were often added into sentences when there was not an equivalent Chechewa translation. By watching the faces of the men around me I could see which chiefs were agreeing or questioning the points being discussed.
Beyond the men in the circle there was a well that women were occasionally coming to use, and then continuing along their paths with a heavy bucket of water balanced on their heads. After a few women caused me to look up from the meeting I noticed that they always came and left with the same pail, yet maybe twenty or so buckets and pails were strewn across the ground around the well.
Some time later the after school program being led by Praxis Malawi members across the road from me finished and a group of young girls ran up to the well. I continued to focus on my meeting, but I was distracted by what I had just realized. The buckets and pails had not been abandoned at the well, but rather these girls had dropped them off on their way to school that morning. These girls had gone to school all day, participated in the after school program, and now as the sun was setting they had to fetch water before going home.
It took close to an hour for all of the buckets and pails to be filled, but the girls all stayed and worked together as a team. They took turns pumping the well (sometimes three at a time for the youngest), shuffling the pails under the waterspout, and playing off to the side. Girls could have easily taken their pail home once it was filled but they remained a team. The first girls to leave were the few with babies tied to their backs. Three girls lifted the heavy buckets onto their friends’ heads, then waved and sang usiku wabwino (goodbye) as girls expertly balanced buckets and walked away. Once all the pails were filled, they worked together again to lift all of the pails onto each other’s heads before walking away in all directions of the many paths.
All of these girls were elementary school aged. When I was that age, my only responsibilities were to do homework and play nicely with my siblings. These girls spent their day at school, did extra work in the after school program, and then worked as a team to fill pails of water to carry home. It took more than an hour of labour after a long day to bring home an element so natural and vital that we get so simply by turning a tap.