Killing Kwacha

Rosby in actionA good deal of my work involves zooming up and down a thin ribbon of new highway that runs alongside Lake Malawi, talking to this farmer and that farmer, prodding and persuading them to sell their baobab fruit to our company. I know my way around the national language, Chichewa, and half of my success lies is just being able to speak in their words. (The other half is good ol’ fashioned woo.)

Still, I’ll never be a match for a native speaker, and that point was humourously made clear during a group training last week. Rosby, our chief field trainer in TreeCrops, was teaching a dozen or so Malawians the rules and procedures of collecting a particular natural forest fruit, strophanthus kombe. Its seeds, once ground to be used as an arrow-tip poison in hunting, are highly valuable for medicinal use as a heart stimulant. Rosby was in the middle of cautioning the group not to store the fruits in a place accessible to their children, and to make this point abundantly clear she asked,

“Kodi mukufuna kupha ana anu, kapena kupha makwacha?”

Or, literally translated, “Do you want to kill your kids, or kill some Kwacha?” A Kwacha is the unit of currency in Malawi: our dollar. So figuratively translated, what Rosby asked was,

“You don’t want to harm your kids, but don’t you want to make a killing?”

She used just the right amount of rhetorical flair, just the right touch, to elicit all the laughter, head nodding, and agreement she was looking for. Me? I’d rather not go anywhere near turns of phrase that insinuate mortal danger for Malawian children.

She’s the pro, I’m the student, but I’m learning. Pang’ono, pang’ono as they say in Malawi: slowly, slowly.


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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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