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Nkhutwika maji pa mutu.

December 10, 2010

Nkhutwika maji pa mutu.  I carry water on my head.

I hesitate to write about such a stereotypical African representation, knowing that the continent is composed of such diverse backgrounds (many Malawians have never carried water this way, and have no need to on a regular basis). That being said, over the last little while, this has become a pretty significant phrase to me, and those around me, in a number of ways.

It’s the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up.  Now that I’ve moved to the village, I stumble out of bed at 5am, stand dazed and confused on the front porch.  Once my eyes adjust to the early morning light, I locate my little green pail, and head off to the borehole.

It’s my incapability to match my Malawian friends in skill and strength.  The sixty something year old mother of my family, who is a fraction of my size, carries a bucket twice the size of my small pail with ease; while I struggle to avoid spilling and pray that my aching arms don’t give out.

It’s the goal I work all day to create.   At the district office we work to create the opportunity for each person in the district to also carry buckets of clean, safe water on their head from a borehole or other improved source (protected shallow well, gravity fed tap, protected spring) not just today, but for years to come.

It’s a lesson learnt from my family; the carrying technique as well as the phrase itself.  Since moving to the village, we have been doing a solid hour of focused chitumbuka practice each night.  Unlike my formal weekly lessons with my chitumbuka instructor, who focuses on grammatical structure, sentence construction and verb tenses; these sessions focus on constant repetition of phrases and vocabulary that we can mutually understand, until they are stuck in my head.   “Nkhutwika maji pa moutou” was one of the first of these phrases, on my very first night in my new home, and perhaps the most memorable.

It delights my friends, co-workers, and most people I meet.  One of the first questions I’m inevitably asked when someone finds out I’m now staying in the village, is whether or not I carry water.  When I reply that I do, the response is usually peals of laughter and/or congratulations.

Nkhutwika maji pa mutu: an activity, a challenge, a goal, a lesson, a source of enjoyment, a pretty simple little phrase, with so many important inflections.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra permalink
    December 10, 2010 4:40 pm

    Congratulations on your water carrying ability! Well, congratulations for everything you’re doing and getting done. Clean water is so often taken for granted. Lately I’ve been a bit frustrated with the state of my own well and it’s non potable water. But your post made me appreciate that at least I can load up the car and don’t have to carry the water jugs on my head! 🙂 How far is it to the borehole?

  2. Pat Dunstan permalink
    December 10, 2010 7:03 pm

    I hope we get a picture of you practising your new skill, Alyssa. Will write more soon. Love, Pat

  3. Karen Forgrave permalink
    December 10, 2010 8:39 pm

    You have such a talent for writing, Alyssa. You could be printing these posts in a newspaper! I really enjoy reading them!

    How far do you have to carry the water?

  4. December 21, 2010 4:37 pm

    Alyssa – You have painted such a vivid picture that I can see you and your determination clearly in my mind and feel that I am walking beside you giving encouragement. I know that with your usual 100%+ dedication you give to whatever you undertake you will soon move up to a bigger pail with no sweat. Nkhukutemwa! Mom xoxo

    • December 22, 2010 7:57 am

      Nkhutemwa chomeni! Where’d you learn to speak Chitumbuka?? that’s great 🙂 you’re going to know more than me soon! (hopefully not, but who knows?)

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