How the poor are surviving: lessons from 12 year old Jabesi: Leviticus 23 verse 22

Since December 2012, for reasons beyond political logic I have opted to live in quite rural areas. There are two places that I have stayed quite long, Mzimba boma but daily travelling 40kms into rural village, where I would with a group of 45 or 60 villagers enjoy bonya lunches, bananas and sugar cane while working on a certain project. These villagers, who are so hard working and spirited took me as their own and even when my employers would bring me nice lunch, they always wanted me to share their "mmemo". But behind all the jokes and smiles and talk, there were signs of pain.
Food was running out and they kept asking if I could extend the project until "we harvest". Everytime I prayed for that to be true. God answered that each time my boss visited the project he would demand more work, therefore at least 50 or so families really did not hit the lowest of food shortage. I could ask for maize in lieu of payment, my employer, even when maize was selling at K10,000 he never took advantage of these poor workers, we still sold them at K3500 which at times for those women who looked desperate I would never deduct and he trusted me so much that he never asked me many questions. I always believe that prayers from such grateful souls will always bless him and his family.
But the pain was visible in the eyes of the men, women and the school going youth who worked to raise food, fees and some even fertilizer. Every price adjustment of sugar, soap and salt was duly discussed and alternatives shared. I slowly became a sort of grocer, as local hawkers were exorbitant and since I lived at Mzimba boma, I used to get a list of items to be bought and many would promise to pay when I bought it, your guess is as good as mine if at all I ever received the money back.
The determined Malawians have survived the food shortage, how they did it, they reduced food intake, went days without food and some ate sugarcane or sold masuku to passerby through out the season.
An old woman told me she survived by prayers. "I pray everyday and sometimes eat mushrooms alone but God takes me to the next day." I imagined many friends in town who used to tell me in my face that they could not eat mushroom as it is tasteless.
From Mzimba in February, everyday when I am in Lilongwe I visit a certain village in the outskirts of the Capital City. Here I have learnt a lot about urban poverty. These are villagers whose parents never went to school or married at a young age and their gardens were sold to the rich men of the city who are scrambling for housing plots as nobody except the corrupt and rich few are being given plots by the Lilongwe City Council, Ministry of Lands and Malawi Housing. If one wants a debate on this one, I am available.
The story is, the families live in dire poverty and rely heavily on piece work or selling seasonal vegetables at wholesale to those that will resale in the city.
The land is gone, they can no longer afford to feed their children or clothe them to send them to school.
I have a 12 year old friend Jabesi, whose father died at least when he was 26 according to his elder brother and his wife-Jabesis mother remarried. The step father said he does not want any kid.
Jabesi, and his two siblings live now with their crippled grand father who cannot fend them. Jabesi's brother dropped in Standard 3 and now is Donkey shepherd, while Jabesi works with adults tripple his age in piece work like 'kupelekela matope" and sometimes selling plots for others and claiming commissions.
This morning I was inspired to write this article when I went to visit the project. Jabesi and his family were all carring huge sacks, they came to where I packed and asked me if I wanted to buy maize for "mmemo" for my workers. I was stunned. I asked him where is your farm where you got the maize" he laughed just like the rest of the kids.
He told me of "nkhunkha" how after the rich and powerful that bought off their fathers land grow maize, these school going children who cant be in school go around and carefully sweeps the gardens collecting all left overs, which they eat and most of it sale to other people.
I was shocked that a 12 year old has learnt how to make a living and deny him all his childhood. I was shocked with all the talk of billions of kwacha in child welfare.
I wondered if Jabesi who is 14 kilometres from Capital Hill has to fend for himself and his siblings, what about the girl child in Marka, Nsanje, Makanjira, Mangochi or other places.
There is too much poverty especially near urban areas, but our Leaders who live in mansions, dont pay taxes and demand-for MPs K10 million each do not care or have any feeling for little Jabesi.
Actually though they spend every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Mosques, Temples and Churches, their hearts are so hardened against the poorest of the poor and sometimes one would wonder which God they are serving.
Perhaps after 50 years of independence we need to reflect more on these little Jabesis who are surviving on prayer and own innovation while our taxes and hard work subsidizes the rich and affluent.
Let us start dreaming of a Malawi where everyone is equal and every child has access to same opportunities.
Let our political, religious and corporate leaders read and practice the Lords command on Leviticus 22 verse 23 which reads, " “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”
It time we do not ransack everything, let us remember the 8 million Malawians living in poverty. Blessed prayerful weekend!

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