What Mayeso Chirwa was to me+
For the first time since Friday morning, I can think and accept reality that Mayeso Chirwa, the Information Specialist at the United States Embassy, the Sports Journalists at MBC and the Basketball player at ABC and later General Secretary of the Basketball Association of Malawi is indeed dead, gone and buried. I give glory and honour to Lord God Almighty for the life of Mayeso.
He was one of the biggest critics, followers and editors of this blog, he never took time to call me if I delayed my update, missed a spelling or if I criticised the Americans or some Western powers. I will miss such guidance for so many years to come.
But that is not what Mayeso was to me. I write with tears as I remember one morning, alongside with Kondwani Chisasa at MBC Broadcasting House at Chichiri they came into the reporters office on the down floor. He said point blank, your report this morning was awful, it did not come from you what was wrong? I had just been seeing him in corridors of MBC and never paid attention to him. We engaged in a heated debate but he ended up inviting for a beer at the Polytechnic Students Common room. We became critics to each others work since then.
He went to join the United States Embassy and when I was transferred to Lilongwe, he asked me to see where he used to stay, we drunk for the next four days. Later I was to meet his brother Vita of Kalimba and I can say, they together become good and reliable friends.
In 2006 I was awarded Journalism most prestigious fellowship, the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. I was young and did not know the significant of the the award. After all two years earlier I had been a Chevening Scholar at Cardiff in Wales and thought that was the pinnacle of it all.
But the Nieman Fellowship is something else, all major media houses published my name in Europe and the United States, Mayeso picked it up, he went and did an article which he posted in the United States Embassy page, he interviewed me like we were chatting, I told him that I never wanted people to know I was travelling to the USA for 18 months, the same African superstition that someone may bewitch me. I never said it, but he answered "but this has to be known, you are going to be among the best in the World and I am proud of you."
Later when I learnt that I had to pay for my own ticket or apply for an advance in the USA, I told Mayeso and the then Public Affairs Officer, they gave me a grant to travel to the USA.
As I always cherish my stay at Harvard and the doors it opened, Mayeso will always remain part of my life.
I came back from Harvard and we discussed extensively what I wanted to do, my other thought was to pursue a career as a Public Health Specialist in Communication, my stay at Harvard had opened to me great works of people like Paul Farmer and Jim Kim, whose Partners in Health was just opening in Malawi, then Management Sciences for Health who deal with health data and also Professor Richard Cash and Max Essex who are pioneers in their own feild. I explained to Mayeso how Dr. Elizabeth Burling mocked Journalists in my first day of Principles of Epidemiology and how she seemed shocked that a Journalists fellow was in her class at Harvard School of Public Health that fall of 2006.
But Mayeso said, how many Journalists Kondwani will ever go to Harvard and learn what you have learnt. Stay five years and write more on Health as you say, it could change a lot. I said I will be in media for five years and go into health as a profession. That was seven years ago.
When I heard Mayeso was in hospital, my heart sank and registered unknown fear.
I recalled one day morning at the peak of fuel crisis in May 2011 as I walked to work, he drove up in his small Mercedes Benz and said let me give you a lift. We started talking a lot, I had always criticised him for excessive drinking though he had a surgery, he said 'life is very short Kondwani" have fun while it lasts.
I told him that I had been appointed by the American Cancer Society as a Global Journalists Fellow on Cancer, he kept quite and parked the vehicle near the Assemblies of God and said- congratulations it means you have an important job to tell the World that Malawi does not give a damn about cancer. I shared to him the pain of loosing two aunts and some closest members of my family to cancer, I said without thinking that the biggest pain is knowing that "we could have saved this person had the diagnosis been done early."
He never commented much but drove in silence. When I needed assistance to travel for a trip I included several meetings on Press Freedom in Malawi, Mayeso and this time Benjamin Canavan his boss, were happy to dip into American tax fund and provide subsidy for the trip.
I returned on July 10 and most people I had met in USA never thought we were going to be worse off in terms of issues, but I said most people were angry and something could erupt anytime. 10 days later we had July 20. When I was beaten by Police, Mayeso was among the first to call me and check how we were doing and if I needed assistance. He raised alarms across the World on behalf of Journalists in Malawi. It was his passion to care for others.
After I posted an article on Cancer in Malawi recently, he called me and told me he was touched that I was working like a Cancer ambassador but he never said anything of his condition until he gave me a lift in December and said, you know I know you are emotional, but know that I am not very well now.
I quizzed him, he said he will tell me after the Holidays, I should not think about it.
On Friday in a black hearse, while rains dropped, I thought I could be a Journalist and take a picture of Mayeso in his final home, a white casket with gold rims. I was the first to see him lying as if he was sleeping in a dark grey suit, blue shirt and rimmed glasses, it could not be true that he was dead.
I tried to take the picture, but the real stuck in my mind, I left the hearse and went out behind the mourners. Reality sunk that Mayeso Chirwa was no more and those morning and late evening phone calls on hundreds of articles I write here or in the Nation or elsewhere, will never come again.
I saw Kusali Kubwalo and Lewis Kulisewa who found me near Madisi with a tyre burst, I saw Mayeso again and again and someone who touched all he came into contact.
I asked a question, why do the good ones not last?
Mayeso for Journalism, especially those starting up in Lilongwe as Freelance, will all agree alongside Edith Tsilizani of Airtel are very rare gems, who welcome everyone with open arms and provided guidance and skills to the freshmen in Journalism.
Mayeso went further, each training, international telephone calls or press release he shared with everybody without looking at the prominence of a media house. To him a Journalist was a Journalist.
Mayeso opened the Kennedy Library to the media and alongside Allison Liwanda and successive Public Affairs Officers, guaranteed that today, the only Foreign Mission in Malawi with a computer is its library with high speed connection is available to any Journalist when they need it. Mayeso loved Journalism and offered alternative views to some who held contrary views.
He taught me one value, that of treating everyone in the profession as equal and worth your criticism if you want them to move on in the career. He used to say if you cannot accept my criticism, better join politics and live in a lie. People critique your work everyday and they pass judgement even when it is not justified. He used to remind me days of working at MBC and people thinking that you all belonged to a particular political grouping yet there was diverse.
Mayeso, stood up for me, my work and contributed immensely to my professional career. I am not ashamed to say without Mayeso Chirwa's open spirit and care, I could not have been a Journalist who walks tall and proud today.
I could not look at Benjamin Canavan or Lisa Vickers, the two people Mayeso introduced to me and freely I can talk to on issues, I cannot look at Kusali Kubwalo or Vita Chirwa, for the image of Mayeso will always come back as someone cracking the next joke after a heated debate.
But each life has an end, Mayeso's time has come, as much as at unacceptable time for some of us, we have to live to honour his courage, dedication, love and passion to the profession of Journalism in Malawi. I know several media bodies got funding or support from his insistence.
To Mayeso Chirwa- my brother, mentor and critic, fare thee well
Your work and zeal remains with us forever
Your love and friendship eternally valued
Your commitment and words ringing every hour
Till we meet again
Till we sing again'
Till we play again
Tears bring a soothing pain'
Knowing you are watching me from above
Knowing you are following this blog in spirit
Knowing your spirit forever will guide me
You lived a life of honour'
Your battle with cancer well fought
Many lessons you have left with us.
You were a great man comrade
Rest In Peace Mayeso Chirwa!