This fictitious letter from a young rural Malawian was written by us for a Scottish friend to use at his secondary school Christmas assembly; a school with strong ties with Malawi. We based the letter on information gleaned from conversations and observations concerning Christmas and rural life in Malawi over the last two years. But our Malawian friends will probably be able to pick some holes in it, and add their own anecdotes. Nevertheless we thought our wider friends and supporters might be interested in a typical Malawian Christmas.
My name is Precious, but that isn’t important – I could be one of many millions of young Malawians this Christmas.
You ask: What is Christmas like in Malawi? Well, not very like Scotland that’s for sure! Apart, perhaps, from the rain at this time of year – although ours is warm and yours (I hear) is so very cold!
I live in a small village of very small mud-brick and grass-thatch huts with my mum and dad, four sisters and three cousins – because my mum’s sister and her husband died from Aids several years ago. My mum was keen for me to go to school and, unlike some in my village, I managed to finish primary school but there was no way we could afford the secondary school fees so I help my mum in the maize garden now.
That is, when there is a maize garden, because the last two years have been terrible. First year there was too much rain and most of our crop got washed away, and last year there was not enough rain and most of our maize withered and died.
So the ‘hungry season’ that normally arrives in January and lasts to the March harvest has come very early this year. But thankfully we have lots of mango trees around so for the last month or so, with none of our own maize left and the poor harvest making maize so very expensive to buy, we have been surviving on mangoes, mangoes and more mangoes. It is no fun I can tell you, but at least we are not starving – just.
However, we still get excited about Christmas because we have gone to Sunday school at our village church since we can remember, and we love to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. But tinsel and Christmas lights? Forget it. Only the village chief’s house has electricity and that is solar, so we tend to go to bed soon after it is dark and get up as soon as the sun rises. And any money we have has to go on essentials like salt and soap. So no baubles, or tinsel, or shops stuffed with glittering stuff.
Christmas party? Christmas dinner? Christmas presents? Well we will probably visit our friend’s house in the next village on Christmas day as he has an old television and – if the electricity is working – their might be a film on. And, if dad gets some good work this week at the local timber yard, we might actually have cash to get some rice in our bowls to mark the special day. Perhaps we will even kill one of our two chickens and have meat to eat for a change.
And all us kids are really hoping for the most special of treats: a bottle of Fanta! It is not going to be easy, because inflation means a bottle is getting very expensive, but come Christmas morning – after church – I hope you will see me and all my mates proudly walking round the village, having a laugh, with a bottle of Fanta tucked in our back pocket. Oh we won’t drink it! Well not all at once that is. We will be savouring it through the whole day until mum moans at us and we have to finish it off.
But, the really big thing we are all hoping for is a green Christmas! I know you all sing that you are dreaming about a white Christmas, but I have never seen snow. And I know you all moan about the rain and dream of the sun. But what we really really really need this Christmas is a proper rainy season where the rains come steady and long, so that by Christmas it has turned our fields and mountains as lusciously green as your Perthshire glens in the spring. And then we can finally look forward to a good harvest and a full belly.
So please join my village in praying that God will give us that most special of Christmas gifts and, my new Scottish friends, don’t feel too sorry for me as you tuck in to your Christmas dinner and rip open your presents. For – despite the lack of ‘things’ around me – life has already taught me to be so grateful for life! And I have all my family and friends around me. And I reckon my life isn’t that different from that little baby Jesus who was born in a stable, chased into being a refugee, and for so much of his life had no place to rest his head. So I think he probably knows exactly how we feel this Christmas time.
Anyway, have a good Christmas, I will certainly be praying for you.
Your Malawian brother,