A Culture of Poverty

A Culture of Poverty

This is just an observation I’ve made after a few months living in Malaysia after nearly 2 decades in Malawi, and its based on my own personal opinions. Well, Malaysia is a country rich in culture. It has a majority Malay, Indian and Chinese people allowing for a rich and diversified populace with a shit ton of personality (the many uses of lah/can). In the beginning I thought that this was a Malaysia thing. It must be like this because its a melting pot of cultures, right? Well, I began to notice that other students had diverse cultures as well. I really noticed it during the Nowruz festival at my university, where the Central Asian student body converged to celebrate a popular holiday back in their countries. To some, it may have been a normal, almost boring occurrence, but for me it was a chance to see something new, and with my love of learning and the humanities, it intrigued me a great deal (and there was free food), but it also got me thinking. What did I really know about my own culture? Where were our festivals, cultural quirks and exciting oddities. Our many traditional foods, or street delicacies, and our tribal mysticism. I thought it odd that so many other countries, even our neighbours had such diverse cultures compared to Malawi’s. Such interesting histories and backstories. I almost felt ashamed that I could tell you more about the Aztecs and Egyptians than I could my own people.

This deep seated guilt found its way into my heart and greatly unsettled me. I tried to calm my heart by assuring myself that it was just a me thing. My knowledge of Chichewa is shaky, at best. It would be understandable that I barely knew anything about Chewa, or Malawian culture, but this did nothing to help. I am a history buff after all. So, I had to try and find answers, draw up theories and attempt to understand what my actual questions were, and what I know about Malawi. Maybe because Malawians are usually quaint to a fault, however my knowledge of any traditional…stuff falls to the Nyau culture, and even then only because of my Dad, the books he keeps, and my own personal experiences with them (don’t get me started.)

Remembering old conversations with my older sisters, I also realized that there are ab abundance of traditional stories and folklore, however people have simply seized to tell them, favouring perhaps the Christian stories from the Bible. A regrettable loss, in my opinion at least. After a lot of digging, I came closer to my final conclusion by realizing that the further down we go, the less people try to remember the things of the past. This is well documented in many places, but has occurred much too much in Malawi. Our traditional stories and history is replaced with Western stories and media. Is this a bad thing? No, but gradually forgetting your culture completely is terrible.  So, and bear with me here, why is our culture so nonexistent? Well, one of the things I realized is that we’re poor as fuck (no shit Sherlock). And many people around me in Malaysia don’t know how poor we actually are, but Hells are we poor. The wage gap has to be so big right now that there is probably no middle class. Of the 15.9 million Malawians, about 12 million are living below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day)  and the average student to teacher ratio for primary schools is 96:1. But how does this affect culture? Well, really, how can you be celebrating festivals, and basking in a prosperous and fortunate life when you’re so far in the gutter that you can’t see past your own hunger. With the state the country is in, even the wealthy experience a level of discomfort that ranges from irritating, to simply unbearable, whether it be water shortages, or electrical outages. There is nothing to celebrate really.

And when the celebrations roll in, they are usually the usual religious festivals that have taken root in whichever country you’re in, be it Christmas or Diwali.  And most well to do families shy away from the traditional aspects of their culture, instead filling it with Western objects that indicate wealth and prosperity. When you walk into a Malawian house, apart from the food and the language being spoken, there is so little about it that is Malawian. And who can blame them really? Adopting a Western stance can give your children, and your family a better way to live, with things that can make their lives better in a country so abjectly poor. So our generation sticks with other festivals and traditions, shying away from our own, because any attempt to truly connect with our own, means embracing a culture of poverty, corruption, stupidity and sickness. And when it comes time for us to either come home from studying abroad, or find jobs, the torrent of despair and hopelessness drives us away, leaving Malawi with a Brain Drain that will affect us for decades to come until something drastic is done. Daliso Chaponda, who recently received the Golden buzzer is a British-Malawian comedian with some hilarious jokes. But there was a reason he was joking about UNICEF in the UK rather than at the French Cultural Center in Blantyre. He understands true poverty, and he’s seen it, and the difference between poor, and not so poor.. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps chipping away at our cultural and personal identities until it may become truly difficult to really truly call yourself Malawian. Do I have a solution? No, I’m just a critical and broke college student writing blogs in class instead of paying attention to my lecturers, but I write because it hurts more when I stand by idly.

So now, when someone asks me whether I can show them my culture I say “sure, as long as you don’t mind a culture of poverty.”

 

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What it means to be part of Generation Z

What it means to be part of Generation Z

Juvenoia; which is the hostility, or fear directed by an older generation towards a younger one. The general belief that the current generation is better than the one to come. Remember this, ‘cause it will come into play later on.

But for now, you must be asking yourself, what is Generation Z? How do you know what generation you’re in? Well, I trust that you people are smart enough to do your own research, but Generation Z, for simplicity’s sake, is the generation following the Millennial Generation. You know, most of our parents and uncles, and some cousins. It’s a generation that is conservative in nature, being involved in major political affairs, such as the Cold War and the Iraq-Iran War. For Africans, it’s also a period associated with freedom! Independence! and the subsequent rise of incompetent, ruthless, and corrupt leaders. It’s no wonder many people are so mad at the Millennial Generation, they appear to have successfully fucked things up, almost to an irreversible state.  If you were born sometime between 1997 and 2004, good news, you’re part of Generation Z! As cool as it sounds, it doesn’t seem to be going well for us. I jokingly often write in my journal that we are the “Generation of Fear”, primarily being the ones scared. Before many of us could even experience fear…boom! The Columbine Massacre, which shocked the world, the Y2K scare, which many thought would end the world, the horrific 9/11 attacks, and the Great Recession. As we grew older, we witnessed the Iraq War, and more terror attacks than had ever been seen. And not just terrorism from Islamic factions, but gun violence and mass shootings too. The Garissa University attack in Kenya leaving 150 people dead, the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram, the Paris bombings, and most recently, the possibility that a racist and misogynist like Donald Trump might become president of the most powerful country in the world.

Yes, it seems we are a failed generation despite not having reached our potential. I, for one, am still not in college, yet I seemed to have disappointed the majority of my onlookers and relatives by becoming a rebel and not striving to be an engineer, doctor, or lawyer. I instead have a deep rooted love of quiet, books, photography, and technology. Maybe because of this, the juvenoia directed towards me is rather strong. I feel constantly berated by my elders for my own life choices, choosing happiness, and a little bit of money, over the money alone. Some people might argue that juvenoia is a good influence on us youngsters. It’d do us some good to listen to our elders for once. Wrong! And this is especially true for us Africans, especially considering that our elders are the corrupt and unreliable leaders who have contributed some part to the general state of things on our lovely continent.  I think that their juvenoia is terribly misplaced, considering we are more educated, well informed, and knowledgeable than them. We may not have their wisdom, but the ability to change our destinies and break the cycle of tribalism, hatred, racism and poverty is in our hands. Basically, what I’m saying is, stop giving us so much shit. This isn’t all our faults.

We may not be even near to perfect. The media makes us seem like a bunch of unruly animals, what with all the teen pregnancies, and drug abuse among teenagers, and the thousand other things said about us. But really, who can put all the blame on us? I’m not trying to make us unaccountable, but when you see what we see, you’d understand. Oh the glitz and the glam! The rappers with their jewellery and cars, the models marrying said rappers. The celebrities who sniff lines of coke and win Grammies and Oscars and the reality stars who are able to rise to stardom from saying, or doing things that would ordinarily warrant quite a lot of shame. We are the recipients of a world that has seen the most organised drug trafficking, human trafficking and crime…yet. Not to mention the generation that has been introduced to all sorts of new substances, all at reasonable street prices, and introduced to the worst sorts of radicalism, all accessible through your favourite media platform.

Cyber bullying, ebola, police violence, riots, child porn, drugs, zika, terrorism, radicalism, mass shootings, increasing suicide rate, anxiety, been there, done that. Fear, fear, FEAR stress, stress, STRESS….are you scared yet? Good, because we’re still here.

We’re not only hanging on, we’re becoming better for it. Our generation is the first to, for the most part, be alright with same sax marriage. We are the least racist generation in a long time. We’re independent, wanting to become entrepreneurs and carve our own paths. We’re the generation with the most friends outside of our sex, religion and race. More educated and open minded, we’re very serious about change for the better. At least, those who can manage to do so, even in the smallest ways. We’ve been exposed to the worst of it, and we’re moving forward. “Kids these days,” they say disapprovingly. Yes, kids these days. Us. We may be young, but we’ve got big plans. We dress differently, and listen to, admittedly, awful music(at times) and we think differently. But if we’re fixing some of the messes you made, and some you couldn’t fix, then it might be time to change that tone.

We’re the generation of Crisis, after the Unravelling, and we were born to not be just another statistic to scare the next generation into behaving. We’re the harbingers of change, and revolution, to inspire the next genration. It’s time to start moving.

My Religion

To put it quite simply, Music, is my religion.  Jimi Hendrix, quite possibly the greatest musician, if not guitarist, of all time, said the same thing. Many will call it blasphemy. Let them call it what they will. I am polygamous, and music is but one of the aspects of my Goddess, who takes the name Art. It was nearly a requirement growing up to be well cultured. That meant reading a copious amount of books, being at least simply versed in painters and artists. This foundation eventually led me on a road of discovery that I am more than happy to still be on.

Growing up with very few role model figures, I was actually left to my own devices. A starting point for music was actually old school hip-hop, mainly consisting of Cypress Hill and 2Pac as well as 50 Cent and Eminem. I wasn’t too into music at the time so I became familiarised with all the greatest Billboard hits from 2003-2005. My mother and her siblings were heavy advocates of much older music, mainly UB40 and Michael Jackson amongst many others. As such, I can comfortably say that I can sing along to Kingston Town and Red Red Wine.

Another thing to note was that I was being slowly influenced to adopt Gospel Music as my staple genre of music. That attempt failed miserably for numerous reasons I’m not quite sure I understand, even now. It is possible that it never reached me on a very emotional level. It was just something to listen to because my mother heaved it on me. I never grew an attachment to it, and that fact still remain

By the time I was seven though, I had become acquainted to rock music, and it was simply love. One might be appalled to find their child listening to System of a Down, Korn, Slipknot and the oh-so-dreaded Marilyn Manson, however these musicians connected with me in a way no other musician had. The raw emotion and nature of the lyrics gave me something to hold onto. A rebellious nonconformity and an open mindedness, as well as a path to pure emotion. As of now I am a lover of music who will as gladly listen to Beethoven’s Fur Elise as I would to as I would to Tyler the Creator’s Tron Cat. However rock is an integral part of me that I will never simply hand over. It doesn’t apply to everyone as it did to me, but I could look past the screaming and harsh instruments and find a surprisingly harmonious cacophony of sounds that in the end preached a much deeper message. Why, you need only listen to Snuff by Slipknot, or Toxicity by System of a Down.

From this rather bland explanation, it still doesn’t seem to account for my taking of Music as a “religion”. But to me, it makes more than perfect sense. You see, Music doesn’t judge, nor does it tell you how to dress or how to act. It makes you feel better about being you. And yes, music may influence you to act, or dress, or be a certain way. But isn’t that a trait of something powerful, as only something powerful can inspire someone to change so much. Music is healing and inspiration. It’s a gateway to the soul and a glimpse of the world. It inspires terror as much as it does reverence. It is the thing which gets me through each day and has kept me alive this long. Such is the power of music to me.

That isn’t to say that music is my only tether. I have fallen into philosophy and art. Goya’s prints show me the fragility of life and Aristotle taught me just a few virtues. Poetry has flooded my mind with beauty and images of war and destruction, and love. Literature, has led me to live a thousand lives, whilst children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Harry Potter series have perhaps taught me more about life than 12 years of school has.  I am a dreamer, and more than half of my waking days are spent exploring deep ocean trenches or mountain caves. Drinking wine with satyrs or pushing back a horde of goblin invaders.

I will never regret my choices on these points. I am as dependent on the arts as the earth is of the sun. And I don’t think that’s so bad. I will always have an ever changing source of wisdom, and laughter. And it may not be a doctrine followed by millions of others around the world, but it is my choice. And if I could go back, I would only recommend Epicurus to myself much earlier.

420

420

It is the 4th of April today, making it 4/20, aka 420, or as some people might know it, “World Weed Day”. A time for those who partake in the leafy green plant to roll a joint and chill. This is common knowledge for my fellow counterculture kids. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a massive smoke and chill session going on somewhere in this country. Marijuana itself has been around for centuries, and perhaps millennia. My own father told me that people were smoking it when his granddad was young, Malawi being a country where the cannabis plant grows wildly in some place. This coupled with media attention and a link with hip-hop culture and the western world makes it no surprise that to my estimation, about 70% of high school kids in Malawi have tried weed at some point in their lives.

 

To many, the topic of marijuana is a tricky one. You must watch your mouth or risk offending your more conservative peers. Many people barely know how dangerous weed really is and blindly accept any advice that their inexperienced friends or family may give. I should remind my kind readers that humans have a well-documented history with self-destruction. You name it and we’ve probably done it, been subjected to it and invented it. Sometimes, all three at once. However, one destructive legacy that continues to impact society today is that of drugs. Oh, you name it, alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and the more obscure types of drugs. A history of degradation that continues to this day and fuels a massive criminal empire billions of dollars strong. One that easily propels itself through the streets as well as through the big screen in various lights. You need only to watch The Wolf of Wall Street or Breaking Bad to see how far drugs have impacted society.

But I stand my ground in saying that out of all drugs that I know of, cannabis is perhaps the least dangerous. Now, I’m not saying that we should legalize weed. No, no, no, that would create another situation I don’t want to get into now. However, I am saying that out of all the drugs that people are so quick to try, this one is the least likely to have you tripping balls, spending thousands of dollars a week, and possibly overdosing. You may feel a sudden pang of hunger after a drawn out session, but you won’t shiver and shake in anticipation of your next hit.

On that note, weed isn’t for everyone. In fact, it has potentially destructive effects. However, is that not the same for the alcoholic who beats his family, or the smoker who inhales radioactive tobacco into his lungs? The difference here is that one is socially acceptable, and the other, feared because it might produce a lazy, and anarchistic society, thus government smear campaigns that run generations deep. In response to this, I would say to look around you carefully. If you fear being lazy, or stupid, remind yourself that there are those who end up like that without any external factors like drugs. Look to the other side and you will find the successful who have most likely tried a drug, (yes alcohol is a drug) and are in the top ten in your class, or own their own company. Look closer and you’ll find that these people still partake in the odd joint or two from time to time. Again, I am not taking any sides; I am merely asking you to broaden your views.

I will end by saying that humanity is a particularly fragile species. We wallow in misery, war and disease on a daily basis. Sometimes, the news is enough to make a grown man cry and a mother worry about their 16 year old son as he makes his way back from school. The world that we’ve created is a scary place, but it is all the more beautiful because of the good that sprouts out and defies the darkness. In my humble opinion, I don’t think cannabis, is a direct cause of a myriad of problems that the mass media announces. Those can be found anywhere with any set of variables, but it seems the blame needs to be put somewhere. As fragile as we are, I would not condemn the person who smokes a joint after a particularly stressful day at work, or to get out of a crippling writers block no more than I would the man who has been kicked out of his house and goes straight to the bar. Neither would I reprimand the casual stoner for smoking the occasional joint. We should be more tolerable of the fragile species and understand that not everyone has the mental fortitude to withstand all of life’s challenges.  And we should be more understanding of the self-destructive man who chooses his poison accordingly, and perhaps not judge the man, but perhaps the poison he takes.

But I will not ask that we do not judge because we don’t live in utopia. I will finally ask that before you judge, you look at the person with an open mind and sympathetic heart. We are fragile.

 

I hope you have a good 420 if you’re into that. My advice would be stay safe and don’t be too excessive. Until the next time.