I had to rush here, on this space, to write this.
Once, not so very long ago, I found this land to be beautiful. Despite all the shortfalls. I had read Alan Paton's Ah, But Your land is beautiful and had seen beauty everywhere. If Alan Paton could see beauty in an apartheid South Africa, I could as well see it in Malawi.
So, with all the poverty and hunger and envy and tribalism and crime and nepotism and everything bad that can come to mind when you hear Malawi after experiencing it as a disadvantaged citizen, I still thought it is beautiful.
I thought of the safety of traveling from home to distant places without being stopped by a suicide bomber in the tracks of my life and, I said, this land is beautiful too.
I am not the only one.
I was, minutes ago, reading some literature on something and something. As luck would have it, I chanced on a dissertation by one foreign student who did her research in Malawi. I was impressed. I like to see myself from the prism of another. This was an opportunity.
Her opening remarks to the acknowledgments are heart-warming and lovely. They say a million positive things for our tourism industry than all the adverts we have tried to put across advertising our lake we now are intending to defile.
She captures our poverty yet in the same breath, in equally fascinating beauty, she captures our spirit. And the resilience we have.
She says Malawians are nice and good people. She says we smile a lot. She says we are happy. She says we are religious and respect the word. She says we are this and that, this and that, this and that. All those rolling into one adjective of nice.
The way she writes about Malawi, you would be forgiven to think that she is writing about one big bar of chocolate whose only mistake is to be found on the toilet sink.
She is not the only one.
I once met a person. We talked about a lot and when she pressed to ask where I was from and I said Malawi, her eyes popped out.
She had ever been to Malawi, she said.
A beautiful country, she fell over it again if her expression was anything to go by.
With lovely and nice people, she said.
I was kind of happy in some sense. It is encouraging to be placed among the lovely and nice people. I know of people whom once they mention their countries of origin, uneasiness settles in. If there was laughter, there come in mirth of mockery. If there was niceness in the air, hostility comes in. It must be sad to hold a citizenship that is such.
I was, therefore, happy to be associated with smiling faces that are used in adverts made by donor agencies celebrating of their success stories.
But, now, I have come to question that narrative of niceness. I am not only questioning it but I am actively seeking to disagree with you if you think that narrative is correct and it is nice. I aim to hold that we, Malawians, are not nice people. We are not lovely people. We are nowhere near to being that bar of chocolate on a toilet sink.
Do you know, under all this niceness we exude to the world we have fathers that rape their children? Now, that is nowhere closer to being nice. That is outright crooked, disgusting and criminal. However, the worse part is that we have a whole system and structure that aims to shield and protect those vultures. We have families and communities that have decided to live with the everyday violation of young ones. Nobody says a word. Everybody sees nothing, hears nothing and says nothing.
It is still under this same veil of niceness and smiling faces that we have people (read: beasts) who are butchering albinos. These beasts apparently live with us and congregate with us in the same gatherings. They can easily pass for a smiling face for a TV advert of some NGO proclaiming insurmountable successes in Africa.
The worse part is that these people, evil and shrewd as they are, are not lone criminals. They have dragged the entire country with them. Thus, owing to our silence and half-hearted condemnations when an albino gets killed, we are conspirators to the crime committed. I believe that for our ability to carry on living as if everything is normal while right before our noses a genocide to purge off albinos is happening, we are actively participating.
I could say more about our inability to be nice to ourselves yet highly able to be nice to someone who is not from a similar context with us, but somehow I have to stop.
It is evident, it is clear, we are not a warm people. We are a people so unkind, cruel and evil that we actively participate in genocides or keep quiet as it rears its ugly head. That, my friends, I would not say is a mark of niceness.
No, we are not nice. This land is contaminated by our evil nature.