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Leftovers to the Dogs

Shopping, Troubles and Crocodile Meat, Malawi 29 January 1996
Our nineteenth day in Malawi, this follows-on from The Market at Lilongwe. Hilary goes to do some work at the SOS Children’s Village while I go shopping to buy crocodile meat, Penny and John have another difficult day, then we eat the crocodile.
Hilary is teaching at the SOS Children’s Village this morning so I go into town to do the shopping. I walked into town rather than driving because I wanted to try being invisible. No one notices a very ordinary-looking person like me, I have the privilege of being able to stay incognito, a fly on the wall. Usually. But could I do that in Lilongwe. I give it a try.
There’s a technique to being invisible, you just walk about. And I thought I was being pretty successful, since no one seemed to be giving me a second look, or even a first look. But I stopped at a stall selling tapes, to buy some more music to take home, and the boys on the stall said: we know you, you’re SOS. That was why no one was giving me a second look. I wasn’t invisible, I was known. Ho hum. I mentioned this to John later and he laughed and said you’d never be invisible in Lilongwe, especially you! Whatever that meant.
John and Penny returned from their meeting with the social services ministry. The next paragraphs are yet more about the politics of aid, and the narrative continues after.
The social services ministry called the meeting after having circulated a letter among themselves complaining that SOS gets its children from the mission which is run by whities (Spaniards, Indians and Columbians count as whities) hence whities helping out whities and this is reflecting badly on social services who have nowhere to put the children who are referred to them.
John and Penny say OK, we’ll get children from you, send them along, we still have thirty places to fill. Social services say that in order to do that they require money from SOS to cover the expenses of their social workers, use of vehicles to transport the children, and the assistance of the SOS Village manager, a Malawian, to help obtain the children.
An impasse is therefore reached. SOS will continue to get most of its children from the mission, and the social services will continue to cry racism. And Penny and John will get more and more summoned to be shouted at.
Has this problem not occurred in other countries? Yes, especially in black Africa, it occurs all the time. In Namibia, the SOS Children’s Village was at the point of being closed, and yet the chap in charge is a reasonable, calm, clear-thinking, responsible human being. Perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps you need someone who will say: that’s not how we do it. I got the money, therefore you do it my way. The received wisdom is that this simply leads to a cry of racism and demands for the white person to be deported. But this is the old story: I cannot be too firm because the men will go on strike, my customers will go elsewhere. Both of which might be true, but if you don’t do it . . .
The SOS Children’s Village, Lilongwe in 1996.
In this case it must be a bit galling for the social services, who are bust, to see this organisation with its Lanzarotte-style buildings and functioning vehicles telling them what they should do and providing them with nothing in the way of financial support to enable them to do it. From our western perspective it might seem reasonable to negotiate an amount per child produced by social services, with penalties if the child does not materialise within a determined time. The cries of racism and threats of deportation would be from a much weaker position then.
But Penny and John do not want to take this on – they just want to try and see that some children are given some much-needed help and they want to do an efficient job. It needs a hatchet-man, someone who will relish the battle. [Next political . . .]
We cooked crocodile meat for Penny and John for dinner, with potatoes and vegetables. The crocodile did not taste of much; a white meat with a bland and not especially pleasant taste.
We all tried the crocodile and were not particularly horrified by it. But James the houseboy was. Absolutely horrified. The custom with the leftovers after dinner is to give them to James. We are all uncomfortable about this custom but not to do so would be worse in the sense that James would feel it curiously demeaning if they were chucked in the bin. So James takes any leftovers to his family in the shed in the garden. But he wouldn’t take the crocodile meat, and there was quite a lot left over. I think, madam, we should give it to the dogs, with an embarrassed look on his face.
The story continues with Embarrassed by the Masai.


Miss Footloose said...

Crocodile meat! I had a slice of crocdile tail, as a first course, in Zimbabwe in a tourist restaurant and it was quite delicious, possibly because of all the garlic ;) It tasted like pork to me. The story is here:

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