He is unbanked. But, he might actually be. In a village bank.
It is in a village bank that people do not ask you your name. Then, ask evidence for it. And, when you bring all that evidence, they ask of where you come from. Village? They say yes, and urban dwelling. You tell them it is a rented apartment. Then, they shove a form in your face: draw the map to that rented apartment here.
When you scrawl through, and think you are done, then they tell you to come with receipts as evidence. Of a rented apartment? Yes, that one.
And when you bring it, thinking the ordeal has come to an end, then they come again: one section left.
You gasp – in near breakdown and try to pepper that with a joke:
“Will you ask for a heart of a lion this time?”
The person assisting you, shuffling between ten different roles in the bank, then forces a smile. Her face knitting into a caricature looking nothing similar to the name across her chest.
“A heart of a lion? No, banks cannot ask you of that. But, bring two giraffes, an antelope – a female one that has never given birth before, a gazelle and – of course this is not very relevant – a talking hyena…”
“You mean like a photo from the internet with all those animals, a photo-shopped image?”
“No, live animals,” the something like a smile on her face disappears, then she shoves the form in your face, points at the occupation section where you filled that you are a game ranger at some remote reserve:
“We need evidence for this. Those, in their original form, will serve as the evidence.”
No, village banks have no time for such mundane irrelevancy. You come expressing interest in a bank that has monthly contributions hovering the triple-double of your monthly income, they still welcome you while joining you sing that God will make a way tune.
So, I think he might be in such a grouping.
He avoids conflict. And, confrontation. Anything that will involve the law. Like, if you stole from him within that village bank setting, he will just be coming to pester you about the money and when he realises that nothing will come out of it, he will tell you about God and how sometimes God can become karma.
He is an Adventist. So, the God factor hangs very close. But, also, it might be that he is helpless. And you know how God loves the company of the weak and the infirm – or vice versa.
When you meet him, his eyes are kind – and almost always moist. There is no point he tells his story without needing to clear some few drops blocking his vision around his eyes.
He is not from here. And, here means this geographical space we call a country.
That time, when there was that senseless war in the Rwandese region, he was a victim – or a survivor, the angle you can take does not matter greatly.
He took his family, joined some neighbours and relations, to trek to far away countries where they could find peace. Malawi. They ended up here.
A lot has been documented on the war. There are testimonies of those journeys of despair. So, allow me not to detail that.
They arrived through the legal channels that took them through to the camp.
“Have you ever been there?” his first question. He is one who tells story without needing the positive affirmation of his audience.
I say no, not yet, but I intend to visit some other time.
He says now things are better – only when compared with what they used to be. Not when compared with how things should be better in the world, even in the poorest country.
But, he lived there – when it was a hell-hole worse than now – for years with each and every passing day waning his resolve of having to return back ‘home’. He resigned, not into the fact that the camp would remain home, in the fact that this country will become home.
But, sometimes, here can be volatile.
He struggled to get absorbed in. Each time he pushed, there was a push back. Then, someone told him he was being too legal. There were other routes.
He took those ones: short, risky, yet result-oriented, routes.
They delivered him here. In Malawi. With all its glamour. Valour. Clout. Beauty. Suffering. Resilience.
“It was different. And tough.”
He learnt that he had to work his way through, and quickly.
As a thief would not tell you the nitty-gritties of his trade, an honest man also refuses here to tell the actual routes that had him in Lilongwe, with a stable trustworthy business.
But, he was there – a businessperson.
And his shop, he established a small one, kept thriving. Until the neighbours became jealousy. Then, started all those smear-campaigns and witch-hunting him. He had to leave. Blantyre was home.
And, he wore a new identity. Picked any familiar Malawian name. Like Banda. Or Phiri. One of those names you just choose to scare someone.
No, this story does not have such a sad ending. Or, maybe it is because this story has not ended yet.
Because, now, he lives here. In Malawi. With his family. Like a Malawian family they are.
Of course, it is when such exercises that need a national ID and all the legality appear that he remembers that this really is not home.
I start with all those niceties before eventually asking:
“Now that the war is over, why do you not go home?”
He says this is home. That, here, it is where he found shelter. Where his children have been born.
That despite those frequent reminders that here is not home, there is no place he can talk of with a maddening passion than here.