“It nuh good fi stay inna white man country too long!”

This is the theme from the poem “White Man Country” by Mutabaruka – the inimitable Jamaican dub poet  which has inspired this write-up.

News and reports that President Joyce Banda has re-invented “Theba”; after others before her had promised to deliver something similar and failed, is welcome news for the youths of Malawi.

It is good news because this seems to be a timely though somewhat temporary and unsustainable intervention with which to address the increasing plight of youths in Malawi.

The background, it should be written, is that there is increasing unrest and hopelessness amongst the youths in Malawi as a result of unemployment and scarcity of options.

The increasing unemployment can be narrowed down to roots:

  • a shrinking job market (the industry can no longer absorb school finishers) and
  • insufficient training (some of Malawi youths just happen to be unemployable due to the archaic curriculum pursued by the country).
Mutabaruka - Jamaican Dub Poet
Mutabaruka – Jamaican Dub Poet

There are others. I could, for instance, make a case that some old people who should have retired sometime back are clinging to jobs, and hence denying youths their rightful role, but I will not go in this direction. For now am content to let Mlaka Maliro’s civic educate such veterans with his “Gologolo mu Mtengo” hit.

Whatever the root cause, this lack of gainful employment is resulting in increasing delinquency and crime. And both these, are high on the list of ingredients that cause social unrest, anarchy and chaos.

This “Theba” is therefore, for the time being, a good (but temporary) solution as the country waits for a miracle that will see Malawian youths leaving the country out of their own volition; not obliged by dire circumstances.

Having said that, there is need to pause and reflect why the poet Mutabaruka – someone who knows about life in the diaspora more than all of us, having been born there – courtesy of the slave trade that ravaged Africa – is advising against staying in foreign lands for too long.

To be more specific: what are the hidden traps in this expedition to the east?

This is the question that Wise One, having some experience of life in the east, seeks to answer, to forestall surprises for the prudent of the Malawian youths who will be making their maiden oriental voyage.

East, West, East is Best

Of course this is total baloney; the real proverb says east, west, home is best. There are basically two categories of difficulties that anyone venturing beyond the borders of Malawi for a while has to ponder and come to grips with. I will call the first, “psychological” and the other “physical”.

Both these, have a bearing on one’s state of bliss or despondency in the diaspora.  And while there are studies by “experts” on this subject, I will not make any reference to research because I have been there and have seen people contented or miserable, depending on how prepared or unprepared they were when they set out to embrace the “American Dream”.

On one hand, we have many Malawians who have quit well-paying jobs in the diaspora because of failing to adjust and come to terms with the psychological detachment from the mother land; and on the hand we know many Malawians who are living in abject poverty in the American Dream, making the Biblical prodigal son’s suffering look like a picnic.

Whenever I meet Malawians that have stayed years and years in foreign lands, I lift my hat to them. Why?

Because even after years and years, and even when I am enjoying spectacles, functions or happenings that in Malawi I could only watch on TV, my sub-conscious inevitably wanders to  thoughts like: “had this been back home….?” “If so and so were here….?” etc.

This is just one of the things that require a lot of effort and inner strength to surmount. Failure to overcome means you will be on the next plane home, or worse you will fall sick.

You have to remind yourself constantly why you happen to be where you are, how hard you worked to get where you are, and move on. To someone who has never been away from mother Malawi for over a year, what I am describing here is difficult to comprehend.

But believe you me, those who have been there, and are there, know what am talking about. And you know what? This psychological torture happens to be the easiest to handle because all it requires is you to stay focussed and goal minded.

The second psychological torture comes about when you think in terms of the African (Malawian) extended family and in diaspora you realize what the song “Some guys have all the luck means” when it says: a person can be alone in a crowd. In fact when you come to think of it, even for a whole family in the diaspora, time comes when they feel alone in a crowd!

The overwhelming feeling of isolation that can swallow you when you are – for a long time – in a crowd of people on their homeland; celebrating and living their own culture can only be understood by a diasporan.

The family, the immediate family and a few Malawian or indeed African friends surrounding you; can never replace the feeling of belonging that one feels when at home in Malawi celebrating let’s say a joyous family gathering or even when mourning.

What can one do when faced with these psychological tortures of feeling “alone in a crowd”? The answer is = stay focussed. Although this is easier said than done; the youths trekking east need to learn to be mentally strong, very strong. And since I am as a brother warning them beforehand, they will have no excuse if after a month they start crying for Mama!

Failure to be mentally strong results in sickness which inevitably negatively impacts one’s productivity. When this happens to our footballers for example, this is when they spend more of their time warming the bench, before eventually being relegated to watching their clubs’ game from the stands; before being offloaded, one way or another.

I will now move on to the easier of the problems and this is the physical discomfort or risks. There are several catalysts and I will dwell on two: when you encounter racists or have financial problems.

I will, first, dispense with racism. Awareness about racism has been raised in almost all countries. And generally people are now accommodative of people of other races in their societies.

But no one should make a mistake about it: if any Malawian ever told you that in their life abroad: in America, Europe, the East or even South Africa they never once ever experienced racism of some sort, they were cheating you.

Once in a while, and when you least expect it, you come face to face with racism, either subtly or very violently.

How do you deal with this?

In most countries, on paper, there are laws. You can report to the police. My advice however, is that unless it is life threatening or becoming too frequent, you are better off learning how other people in your situation have dealt with these than reporting to the police. Once you report to the police, you become marked – I will clarify on this later.

If you attract attention in a country where your difference (skin colour) makes you stand out in a crowd of thousands, where by implication there are bound to be some hard-core racists, life can become unbearable if not outright dangerous.

I will dwell on this for a while because this involves physical danger although it is easier to deal with when compared to the mental torture.

They key, the way forward to surviving in a foreign land is to become anonymous. The question is how can an African become anonymous in South Korea?

The answer is by avoiding actions, speeches etc. or anything that makes you more prominent than you already are. The second is to learn the host language, as fast as you can so that you can be aware of what people around you are saying.

This is why on how to deal with racism I strongly recommend using the police as a last resort; and an option to use only when you are leaving or about to leave or when the racism is getting to life threatening proportions.

On finances, the one thing that living in the diaspora does is either to spoil you – with the credit cards, or teach you discipline. While personal fiscal discipline means after a couple of years you can return home to Malawi much better off, financial indiscipline could see you deported or worse. I will leave this at that.

I know that I have not exhausted all angles; I will happily provide free advice via my Facebook or blog to those who want more or specific help or references.

When all has been said and done, the bottom line is that a stay abroad can be very rewarding, both financially and professionally and is worth taking a risk for.

How else would you know what you are capable of if you do not undergo the extreme test, in foreign lands? Come to think of it, the temptations of Jesus Christ, if I remember correctly, did not happen in Bethlehem!

A trek to the east is manageable and worth it’s while. Mungo Park did it, and before him the Biblical three wise men from the east did not go east, but rather trekked west and made it in a more hazardous era, on donkeys or mules or whatever.

Why should our youths fail to do it in the twenty first century when “home” and “friends” are within a Blackberry’s reach? And more, why should they be intimidated when they have brother Wise One from the East  to mentor them?

At your service, go for it Malawi youths! And welcome to the diaspora, “in the east”!

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