Being a geek in Malawi sucked. It was the absolute worst thing growing up for more than one reason and I absolutely abhorred it. It wasn’t just about movies and shows, I mean we had DSTV, our cable provider who had a pretty decent library available for subscribers, and I was lucky enough that my dad invested in the premium service even though he pretty much only watched news and the occasional TBN (does that still exist?). The fact that there was, I think a 1 year waiting period to me was horrible back when I was young, but now something I can understand due to my knowledge of the film industry and Box Office. But on top of this, there was pretty much a lack of everything and, anything that was in the country was horribly expensive. When i was growing up, only one place I’m aware of sold comic books, and they were from the 90s, and judging from my Mum’s reaction to me pulling one off the shelf, they were damn expensive. And don’t get me started on videogames. We didn’t have many games growing up due to the steep price of the disks of wonder, although I did have a chipped PS2 and the price on chipped disks was always cheaper. Unfortunately we had a PAL TV, so every NTSC game was black and white, so you win one you lose one…moving on.
Videogames now at Game, the Southern African equivalent of AEON are 90,000 MWK…that’s about 124 USD, double the price of a retail game at its release price. It’s pretty ridiculous right now. As for tech, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus which retailed unlocked for 824 USD was selling for an easy 1300-1600 USD as ridiculous as that sounds. But that is more of a topic for shitty IGCSE econs grads and not a geeky blog. However, by now you must get my point. When there’s a monopoly and the pricing is grossly exaggerated, we can barely enjoy anything of value. And I know you might say read a book or go outside, but most of us never lived in safe white collar neighbourhood-I didn’t for sure-and books were astonishingly hard to come by as time went on. Expensive as well. The size of the most popular bookstore in my hometown could have probably fit in Malaysia’s Kinokuniya 20 times at the least. Into Dubai’s Kinokuniya at least 40 times. There was a scarcity of books, and It was only after I left the country that I could truly diversify my library and include more interesting genres. There was definitely a lack of material to work with unless you were lucky enough to have family abroad or you were wealthy enough to travel outside of the country and buy what you pleased. My brother and I used the latter to our advantages as best as we could when on the rare occasions we traveled to Joburg. Because it was the only way to fulfill whatever hobbies we had.
It ultimately felt extremely shitty having to resort to wiki pages with whatever paltry internet we had at the time (both data and WiFi were expensive and we didn’t have WiFI until 2015 I think). All the info I received was from a computer screen and that’s probably I’m such an avid collector and hoarder of merchandise and the like. I try to take care of my stuff as much as possible and it pains me when a beloved figurine or a disk falls into disrepair. To that effect I have a massive library of games and books, a growing collection of collectibles and figurines, and a massive 2TB library of digital media from anime to comics to series. That doesn’t change the fact however, that growing up all of these things were in extremely short supply, which is forgivable in this day and age, but it strikes me as unbelievable that they are still in short supply now. Recently after having outrageous mobile data prices inflicted on the populace, the CEO of Airtel, the network company said something along the lines of “Internet is a luxury that only a few (the rich) can afford)”. Meaning a lot of people won’t have access to the ease of use afforded by the digital life. No music streaming, online gaming, or video streaming, not to mention the bare trickle of information from around the globe that would follow. For geeks who have to constantly be on the lookout for the latest news or stories, this is almost like a death sentence, basically condemning them to a life of old news.
To top it off, Malawi’s economy was doing extremely badly in the years before my departure. It was almost impossible for most people to order things online because of that reason. In fact, there are no real, reputable delivery services in Malawi. A few years ago, most websites, streaming services or online stores didn’t offer their services in Malawi, Malawi being omitted from the drop-down list. If it was there, you’d have to put your zip code, something Malawi doesn’t have, or provide credit card details, which a lot of people have, simply because it is rather difficult to obtain a credit card inside of Malawi, although it should be fairly easy to get a debit card. To add the icing to the cake, most people aren’t able to subscribe to most of these services or do anything legally because of this. We live in a place that’s so disconnected from the rest of the world that even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t be able to buy or subscribe to certain objects. Both Apple and Google don’t have a Malawian store. Neither can you subscribe for Spotify Premium or Playstation Plus, and many more. Only recently has Netflix support reached Malawi as well as many other countries, but it has come very late for some people.
I say this, and it saddens me to say it, because due to the way the Malawian government and economy is structured, there are far too few ways to legally acquire anything for your media. That challenge increases for geeks who will on average be drawn to more obscure these things. This means that Malawians are faced with a dilemma that they don’t really consider. You can either enjoy your favourite series, movie or artist’s music, and not pay for it, thus not supporting their favourite creators. Or, they can try to support their artists by not pirating their content, but in doing so, not enjoy media. I write this in closing due to the fact that I am becoming more and more of a creator, and understand very well the pain of not having your hard work realised and appreciated. Whilst I neither support nor condone piracy, I do understand that there are some places that are so cut off from the world that there is no other option.
However, at the end of the day, despite the challenges, I’m glad I managed to pursue my hobby, even if only to a small degree before travelling. And that hardship kind of motivated me to pursue it further and find new and creative way to further my hobbies. Now that I’m taking game development and looking back on the damn struggle, I can truly contemplate how difficult it was.