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A men’s conference

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

This is not even better imagined. It is repulsive, with rough edges and jagged ends that might bite into the hands of the brain that seeks to contain it:

A man, 30 or 32. Maybe done with life. Or he might have lost his wife, or just hopes of love, or just hope. And, that is everything. So, a man with nothing. Not even shame. Not a conscience. Nothing.

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Or, he is just evil.

But, most likely, he is the former. With nothing. It is a witch doctor who tries to bring him back to life. Promises of money. Success. Beautiful family. All he has lost coming back to him.

So, his mother, at about 72, with a failing body, becomes his target. It ends badly. That is how we come to learn of the story. The police get him, file a hasty report.

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“A 32-year-old man is in custody after raping his biological mother.”

When the media pick it up, another random detail of violence attracts jeers and comments. However, beyond that, there is that torment to the imagination: One’s own mother?

Not that it would make sense if it were someone else’s mother. Not that it is forgivable when it is underage children. Not that it is understandable when it is just the sheer violence of rape. But this, the mother episode, leaves a terrible aftertaste on the mind.

Then, comes the figures:

There is death everywhere these days. Facebook stories, WhatsApp statuses and Twitter feeds have become notice boards of horror. You see a photo, your heart skids. Then, confirmation. Death.

In communities, people are dying and being buried in quick succession. Deaths that could have been mourned in paragraphs are being announced in phrases and long before they are punctuated, comes another.

In some families, it has been a disaster: Father today, mother three days later – or, brother today, nephew after a week. It is a war.

The other day they did a breakdown of the deaths. Majority have been men. It is not the first time. The Aids pandemic also claimed more men than it did women. It is not only in Malawi, it is global: more men are dying than women, from Covid.

The question is the obvious one: Why? Then, various theories. Bottom line: Men are perishing more.

“It could be health seeking behaviour,” a colleague opined, “Men are more likely to be late in seeking help. They always assume themselves to be too strong, they project themselves like that too…”

But in my random conversations, it is that almost everyone is afraid of the hospital lately. Struck a conversation with a friend, 20 and female, who had a cough. Hospital?

“No, I don’t want to be tested for Covid…that positive test is killing a lot of people.”

The gender does not feature in being coy on health seeking lately, yet we, men, are still dying in more numbers than women.

“Might be stress, it weakens the immune system. Men go through a lot, with no one to talk to, their friendships are superficial, they hardly talk about real issues…,” posted one on social media.

On the same social media, days before, in Dedza:

An old woman, just bidding time waiting for her last day, was stoned to death. Her crime? Witchcraft.

Both women and men were there but it was men mostly who competed in pelting stones. There was a video. Watched it briefly then stopped, deleted. Too horrible to have it imprinted on memory.

Before that is processed comes another video. A girl. Chikwawa. Defiled.

Elsewhere, reports keep filtering. Police have arrested a man for defilement. Another for indecent assault. A man in for rape. A man sentenced for murder – or rape, or robbery, or violence.

“This is a war,” a colleague remarked on the rapes. “Maybe spiritual, maybe physical. But it is a war…”

“You think this is new? People have just been awoken to the reality, they have been emboldened but, men, this country has always been at this war…”

In the midst of the discussion comes another. Zomba. 30-year-old man. 5 months girl.

A loss for words.

The other day the newspaper screamed on suicides. Then, people were jolted into action. A poster was shared. Mental health counsellors and their contacts.

A breakdown of the suicides? No need to guess. The news has been having the reports.

The other day a man hanged himself because he could not repay a debt. The other time it was due to poverty. We deliberated on the poverty suicide with a friend.

“It can take away your humanity. You would have kids coming to you, hungry and angry. Your wife. Your parents sometimes. Even the community. And, it’s not as if you have not been trying…”

The community, when the suicide happens, rallies again. They say we should talk, open up, discard all that men should be strong cultural mantra.

Then, quietly they shift. Another goes. No letter. No sign. Nothing. Jovial fellow. A community guy. A church person.

“Is it really hard for you, men, to open up?” A friend asked. I said this and that, no tangible response. I am not a spokesperson for men and, really, it is a private journey this one whose experience is deeply personal.

A young friend the other time asked for some money. He is unemployed, like the thousands for whom the promises of education materialised into nothing. It was his girlfriend’s birthday.

“A K50 should be enough, I will repay when I get something…”

Said girlfriend is equally unemployed. You would think she would understand that not all of us can have our birthdays at 3 star hotels with HD camera photographers coming to capture us and our friends in matching attires.

He said she would not understand. He had to get the money and do her something. For her birthday. And, of course, for Valentine’s Day.

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