The instant my foot makes contact with the ground outside my house, it begins.
“Khiiiiriii! Khiiiirii! Khiri bo!”
One sole child emerges from behind a mango tree and scampers towards me, hollering and thrusting a thumbs-up sign in my direction. Her voice carries down the road, alerting the other neighbors that the azungu (white person) whom they have nicknamed “Khiri” has indeed emerged from her house. The news is then conveyed from household to household like fire in a medieval beacon system used to signal the approach of an enemy. My treatment, however, is far from hostile. Instead, as I make my way towards the market, I am bombarded with greetings like:
“Wawa” (Hi), “Bo-bo” (What’s up), “Azungu,” “Hello Madame,” “Muli bwanji?” (How are you?), “Hello Sister,” and “Mwaswela bwanji?” (How have you spent the day?).
Although I pass by them everyday, the children are thirsty for my response, often exploding with laughter or joyous shrieks when I reciprocate their greetings. Adults too, will often approach me to impart a formal salutation, ask me where I’m going or gesture from their homes that I should come see them. Through these interactions, I’ve learned how to cook khobwe (cowpeas), received a bag of the biggest tomatoes I’ve seen in Malawi, been taught two different styles of Malawian hair braiding, practiced the art of denying marriage proposals, been invited to eat nsima and fish, and been scolded for not wearing a chitenje over my long skirt. As is evident, I never know what a five minute walk to the market will entail. I’m always flattered and thankful that the community is eager to learn more about me, but simultaneously find their curiosity hilarious. My favorite moment regarding this curiosity was when I was approached by an older woman while walking to the market one afternoon. She had been seated with a group of other amayis about 50 yards away but hastily arose and began jogging towards me when she saw that I was nearing. With urgency, she said (in Chichewa),
“Hello Christina. How are you?!”
-“I’m fine. How are you?”-
“I’m fine also,” She promptly responded. Then, with great concern and wonderment, she implored, “Where are you going and why?!”
Upon hearing my response that I was going to the market to buy sugar, she thanked me and withdrew contently, turning back towards her friends. I stood there confused at our short but seemingly grave exchange as I watched her jog back towards the other women. Then, as if she couldn’t wait to share with her friends the highly important and enthralling information about my intentions, she shouted at them,
“SHE’S GOING TO BUY SUGAR!!”
Her friends nodded in ostensible acceptance and relief, beginning to discuss the news as another neighbor across the way yelled,
Again, the woman cupped her hands over her mouth and shouted,
“SHE’S GOING TO BUY SUGAR! AT THE MARKET!!”
Who knew that my life would ever be found so fascinating.