Archive for September 13, 2008

Zomba on a Saturday

Today I went into town. We live in Matawale, a suburb just on the outskirts of Zomba town. A ten minute walk and a five minute minibus ride for K70 – 30p – gets me into town. I greet the locals with the brief opening we learnt a few days back, and it really works. The routine dialogue is followed pretty much verbatim every time:
“Moni achemwale/abambo/amayi/achimwene” – “Hello young woman/man/woman/young man”
“Moni …”
“Muli bwanji?” – “How are you?”
“Ndili bwino. Kaya inu?” – “I am fine. And you?”
“Ndili bwinonso.” – “I am also fine.”
“Zikomo.” – “Thanks. [And lets now move on to business.]”
This is cursorily rushed through, sometimes without even slowing down if walking past each other. I suppose it’s not that strange – we greet people like this in English also, but here it is done routinely.
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“You are most welcome”

Zomba seems to be a noisy place at night. Unable to shake my vague feeling of unease from the previous night, I slowly drifted off to sleep on my mattress on the floor, to the faint sounds of lively African music blaring from a tinny speaker somewhere in the distance. A short while later I was woken by a chorus of at least four howling dogs only a few houses away. They were almost synchronised, starting and ending within a second or two of each other, perhaps echoing the initial wail of their chorus leader. Each howl swooped up and drifted down in a mournful arc of sound, joining the other howls in closely spaced chords. Barbershop dogs, I thought. It was almost but not quite beautiful. Feeling sorry for the dogs, I drifted once again into sleep. Moments later I noticed a new sound, another mournful melody, too structured for a dog. A melancholic phrase was being sung repeatedly into the dark night, as if half-sung half-moaned through a shoe-box. I could not make out any words, but the tune was the same every time. Repeated again and again, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, always penetrating. Why? Had somebody died? Was this a very clever dog? Was I imagining it? I checked my watch in bafflement – it was 5am. And still dark. I tried to ignore the sound, and managed to get back to sleep. Read the rest of this entry »

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