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Deschamps talks DD Phiri

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By Luc Deschamps, Contributor

REST IN PEACE —DD Phiri (left) and Deschamps

I will miss DD Phiri. I will miss his friendship and his words of encouragement – his warmth and his smile.

I will miss his weekly columns in both national newspapers – his astute points of views on current events in Malawi, strongly based on the lessons world history and economics have taught us – and on his incredible knowledge of Malawi.

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I will miss visiting him at his office at Trade Fair grounds in Blantyre. I will never forget my astonishment when he gently explained to me that he only writes by hand, before giving his manuscripts to his secretary who types them using a typewriter, and then sends the copies for proof reading to the newspapers.

I will miss meeting him by chance on the street, as he loved walking to work. One could spot him from afar, with his large hat, glasses, coat and umbrella.

I will miss his greetings when I brought him visitors – and the anecdotes he would share with them – mentioning Winston Churchill to an English man, Charles de Gaulle to a French man, or Thomas Edison to an American visitor. Here we were in his tiny office, talking about world history and sharing news on the latest books published on a wide array of subjects.

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I will miss his deep love for history, for books, and for culture in general. And his constant encouragement to the youth and to all of us at Jacaranda Foundation. Professor DD Phiri wrote a beautiful column in 2008 when I met him for the first time, telling him about Jacaranda’s founder Marie Da Silva’s nomination to CNN Heroes for her work for the orphan children of Malawi: ‘For Malawi, self help is better than self pity’, was the title he wrote that captured it all. Years later, when we launched our outreach program of libraries for primary schools, DD Phiri was our guest of honor in two occasions and then wrote a column called ‘Libraries are indispensable’. He summarized the history of libraries around the world, from Ancient Greece to the European Renaissance and then to Andrew Carnegie, the American philanthropist who built thousands of libraries. I cherish DD Phiri’s words and advice.

I will keep on reading his books – notably the short novel Diniwe in Dreamland – a gorgeous variation on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. DD Phiri wrote history books, biographies, novels, short stories, drama plays, while also constantly writing about current events. He advised students, scholars, journalists, and discussed national issues with every president of Malawi. Should we call him Malawi’s Victor Hugo, as he loved to mention to me with a smile the great men and women from France?

I will never forget DD Phiri’s joy when we honored him in September 2017 at the Jacaranda Cultural Centre in Blantyre – he even performed a few steps of traditional Ngoni dance, using his umbrella as a spear!

DD Phiri inspired us all to keep on reading and writing, and to encourage the youth to read biographies of great men and women from Malawi, from Africa and from the world.

He worked hard during his entire life. As a civil servant, as a diplomat, and then as an entrepreneur, launching his own distance education school – while writing a total of 20 books, mostly during sleepless nights and weekends – and also publishing three weekly columns in the national newspapers… What an example! Telling us loud and clear that yes, it is possible to keep on working and writing, even in your 60s, in your 70s and in your 80s! He believed in hard work, perseverance, consistency – and he deeply valued culture and history as guiding lights for our understanding of today’s events.

I had never met anyone like DD Phiri. He was a true intellectual and a true eccentric. His knowledge, his passion and his talent will keep on shining through his books and his articles’ compilations. Youth across the country should be reading his works. He should be remembered as one of the great people of Malawi – as a pillar of Malawi’s culture and history. Who will be writing DD Phiri’s biography?

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