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Vincent Simbani

September 3, 2010

Vincent Simbani, Age 30 – Alik Ndawandewa Village, Mzimba District

Today I was sitting with Vincent, waiting for his village water point committee members to arrive so I could ask them some questions for a little research project I’m working on. His English was the best by far that I’d come across so far outside of town, but we’d already exhausted pretty much everything we could discuss borehole-wise that his English could encapsulate. I thought I’d make use of this great opportunity and make this my first attempt at a little project that’s been floating around in my head.

“What do you love about Malawi?” I asked.

Vincent laughed, and told me it was a tough question, because there were so many things. “Do you mean food? Or other things?”
“Anything” I told him, “Tell me more than one if you’d like.”

His first response was that he loved that it was a peaceful country. Makes sense, definitely not something to be taken for granted. I wasn’t completely happy with that though. I’m not sure exactly what I was looking for, but I think it was something a little more personal, with a bit deeper reflection.

I thought I’d throw one of my own out there to get things rolling a bit more. I was thinking something a little more tangible.
“Something I love about Malawi, are the beautiful views, the big sky” gesturing to the rolling hills laying out in front of us. Vincent didn’t agree. “That’s not a great view, its bare” he countered. “You should look that way” pointing over my shoulder, “that way is more beautiful, it has lots of trees.”

“So do you love the trees in Malawi then?” I asked. A pause, a laugh, a “yes, I love the trees.” Still not exactly what I was hoping for, but that got Vincent rolling.

His next response took a little more thought, “I love that we’re doing things for ourselves. We might be a poor country, but its Malawians doing things here. We’re working hard.”

My co-worker, an extension worker who was also waiting with us, jumped in here with a list of how Malawians aren’t doing things for themselves, or working hard, but I wasn’t going to let Vincent get distracted. I asked him to explain further and he told me, with a healthy dose of pride, how he loves that he can provide food for his family. “We don’t have everything like some other rich countries, but we’re doing things. We are making it work.” We chatted it out a bit more, and what I arrived at, was that Vincent loves that he can support his family without relying on anyone else directly. He’s knows that there’s no electricity, and they have to walk a bit to the borehole (its far better than the 2km trek they had to the river before it was installed last year). The borehole may have been paid for by UNICEF, but arrived in their community because they applied for it through the District Water Development Office. He’s providing for his family, and he loves that he can do that.

I really wasn’t sure what I would find by asking this question, or exactly what I wanted to get out of it. What I think came from it, was a really enjoyable discussion with Vincent, that had us both thinking about things slightly differently as we walked away. So I think I’m going to try it a few more times with other people I meet. See what else I can find, learn. I’m never going to be able to see Malawi through the eyes of Malawian, but at least I can ask for a description of what they’re looking at.

PS Somewhere through that discussion, I also found out that he loves his favourite food: Nsima and chicken or nsima na nkuku (one of the few things that I actually have managed to learn and remember to say in chitumbuka so far).

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 2:02 pm

    oops, I didn’t actually mean to post this yesterday, I’m going to try and find a separate location for these types of posts. I guess I’ll leave it here for now tho 🙂

  2. September 4, 2010 3:51 pm

    It’s interesting that his eventual answers ended up pretty close to the kind of stuff aid organizations want to see on project proposals, initiative and self-reliance, while his initial answers were what aid organizations really should want, peace and trees.

    • September 26, 2010 1:36 pm

      hmmm… Yaacov, you’ve got me thinking.

      I wasn’t content with Vincent’s ‘peace and trees’ answer either…. I continued to dig deeper.

      there’s a coaching principle that asking ‘what else?’ can help people draw out their real thoughts and feelings, helps them to discover new things about themselves, etc. The idea that what first comes to mind is what’s already been processed and decided on. The thoughts that come down the line have taken some serious consideration and personal reflection to develop.

      the flip side of that theory is that by asking ‘what else?’, you’re digging for something that you want to hear and not really listening to/taking full value of what’s being said. A person’s first answer might be the most natural and therefore most important.

      So how do you know where to draw the line? Why was I more contented with the final answer rather then the first two? I thought it was because it was something that was produced from greater thought and reflection, but was it really because it was just more aligned with what I was hoping to hear?

      oh questions!

  3. minashahid permalink
    September 4, 2010 4:37 pm

    yo dude! great idea! i think i’ll try it here in Ghana!
    much love!

    • September 26, 2010 1:37 pm

      sweet! can’t wait to hear how it goes.

      asking lots of questions, like whoa!


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