To those who grew up in Ndirande, we have come a long way…we have so much to share.
1986, when I was only five, is as far as I can tout my brain to remember. The images in my brain remain a vivid colorful testimony. Ndirande, which every inhabitant proudly called by its westernized name, Ndix Ville, or by its youthful sanctification, Ndix, is a place I can write tons about.
Ndix was well ahead of many townships in Malawi in various ways, and the diversity it offered in activity and mix of middleclass and its more inferior sects made for all the dynamism a five-year old could ask for. Like most townships, Ndix was serviced by city line buses that took off and arrived on time, and were identifiable by some orderly numbering. You only had to read the bus number (say, 151 - Mlangeni) to know travelers would be arriving in Mlangeni that day.
The Blantyre City Council (BCC) seemed to know its raison d'être. The Mayor was always a revered figure - always a man - who was answerable to the heavy hand of the ruling Malawi Congress Party, and that seemed to work. Beyond making our generation the first to be aware of dump trucks in its childhood, the BCC keenly collected our garbage on a well-defined schedule. During Christmas, children could either go for a fun ride on the train or the buses, a feat that allowed us to encounter an Afro-Santa whose dark skin nature seemed to have denied itself of some make up. But in an era when probably Dr. Kamuzu Banda may have been the only Malawian privileged with television, dark skinny Santa appreared just as magical. All this made life in Ndix worth the living, and with its well laid out neighborhoods, with labelled streets and houses (especially in ‘Newlines’ where I grew up), we loaded our young memories with street names, house numbers and most of their inhabitants.
Though at the heart of the city, the lifestyle in Ndix was a deeply entrenched communal one. As a child, you could get lost in the maze of the large and small streets that sewed the township together for a day, and our parents would go about business with full assurance that the invisible eye of Ndix Ville would trace you back home safely at dusk. You could attend school in the morning, go to a friend’s house after school, where you usually participated in a meal, and play your lungs out until you heard a famous melody from the radio, the only radio station then, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). The melody preceded the 6 o’clock news. Or you could play hard until it became dark. Whichever came first. In fact, there were times you could conclude play with a bath at the friend’s, just so you walk straight to dinner or sleep once you returned home. People lived like humans, and children belonged to communities, and not just to the confines of their parental homes. For me, I had two besties. One lived just close to our house, who I had not met in 12 years since leaving Ndix, but with whom I remained in constant touch. The other lived near Southern Bottlers (Ku Nsungwi), a 2-kilometer endeavor that was nothing to me, even though transport was always at the endurance of my two little feet.
Growing up as a child, each season had its own games that went with age and kept kids entertained and out of trouble. The youngest would play with dongo (clay); and then graduated to chibisalilano (hide and seek), where the unwritten rule was you hid with girls (or boys) you liked; then magalimoto a mawaya (model cars made out of corrugated wire), which deprived many houses of diamond mesh fences, much to the annoyance of many landlords; to more dangerous games like ma back-sama (whose authentic sound really aligns with back flips). And then there were times we played football trophies at Pa Kadanzi (our local Stadium) and played it the whole day. Games started in the morning, continued after a lunch overload, and only finished when it rained or got dark. We would be affiliated with teams and would not play for any other team anyhow. In other words, we were quite organized.
In between were a variety of dangerous games we survived like chandamale, ulimbo and others. Having no Television was never the restraint, although a time quickly came for watching movies at showrooms as video players started making appearances on the scene. We would walk kilometers to Goliwo, ‘ku ma plot,’ at a place known by its owner’s name, Uncle Thom, to watch Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Ninjas, and Rambo. Repetitive watching meant you could literary recite the movie as it played, the thrill remaining intact. There were meaningful conversations in some movies, but there was also incessant violence in many others. Once we grew and tasted enlightenment, it amazes me how we made for the words we never understood, with stitches of laughter at how we murdered the scripts in ways screenwriters would have had us arrested. And likewise, we butchered lyrics to famous songs with similar resolve. Ignorance that can only be celebrated now!
In the 80’s, Malawi’s Independence Day, on 6 July, was one of the annual prizes children my age and youths of Ndix Ville (ok, and other townships) looked most up to. Under BCC coordination, the youth would be rallied and taught different stunts and games to display during the commemoration events, which usually took place at Kamuzu Stadium. Buses picked us up to attend rehearsals for a week or more. Some of the best times of our lives! Normally, we camped at the stadium the day before, a schedule whose logic I have not quite understood. I can only fathom it made sure nothing went wrong on the day and that every participant was accounted for, for you could not afford to mess up an event that, by all intent, was designed for the Ngwazi’s attendance. Our meals were packed for the night, rice with eggs or beef were the usual candidates. A bottle of fanta, a rare item on the everyday menu, made for the special occasion to escort the rice. Thousands of children laid their tired little bodies all over the stadium…no tents. And we would sing:
Mutipatsile ma banzi, folo!
Akhale angati ma banzi?
Folo…folo folo folo…!
This song apparently did not make Mr. Magombo, one of the MYP leaders present, a very happy man.
The Youth Week, which came at the end of the rainy season school term, was another high moment. After the exams, school children were organized to engage in community service. Though this depended primarily on manual labor, the fun transcended the labor. We cleaned school premises, roads and the foot paths we used to get to school. We had the opportunity to be naughty too. We wiped clean sugar canes and fruits from people’s plots. Despite the excessive damage to sugar cane, fruit and ripe maize in gardens, many Malawians still wonder why such a beautiful program was discontinued, in spite of the political changes. Regardless that it was led by the MYP and was viewed as a form of socialism in other quarters, the program taught youngsters to be responsible citizens and augured well with the subject called Civics.
But Ndirande also lit up every time Bata Bullets won a match. Now, everyone in Ndix was a Bata supporter. Bata’s number one fan in Ndix was Osman Chipojola. Mr. Chipojola owned the trademark fan’s car, and it had a horn capable of noise-polluting several towns. It was the secret weapon Ndix possessed to help with raising the jubilation to a proper Ndix order. And each time Popopipopi!!!! sounded, people would respond, “Bullets!!!” This was so much fun.
Living in Ndirande came with an identity. You were never from Ndix Ville if you paid for a game at a stadium. The proper terminology was kuvencha (I guess English speakers would appropriately sense the word venture). As kids, we knew which corners of the stadium to sneak our minute bodies in to watch a free match, at all stadiums in Blantyre City. It was either Gate H or G at Kamuzu Stadium that were weakest points, and we mapped similar routes at the ESCOM Grounds, BAT Grounds, MDC Grounds, you name it. Although our feet took us to these places, let us just say not all of them were in the vicinity of Ndix Ville. And getting into the stadiums illegally wasn’t always because your parents did not give you the entry fee, it was just one way of promoting identity.
You never grew up in Ndirande if you never went to Utuchi, or Kudipi or if you had never tried being part of some gang. If you never shop lifted, hopped on a free bus ride, or rode on trucks, you must have emerged from someplace else.
Bringing back the old days would bring back several cherished memories. Beyond these, however, are the treasures of security and discipline that seem to have eluded us in our present, a future we had not looked forward to. The dynamism that currently characterizes society in Ndix is no longer a desirable one, and in many ways, I am sure those growing in the township have less fondness than many of us will ever bear.