Where residents never sleep

There is nothing better than to come home from a nagging boss and find peace; take tea at 18:00hrs if you can, find a good book or magazine to read as you wait for supper which is being prepared in the kitchen by the one you fondly love.

After dinner, for perhaps an hour or so, the norm is that you chat and talk about this and that with the person you are staying with in the house.

I normally retire to bed around 22:00hrs with a novel in hand, which eventually sends me to a long sleep that ends at 06:00hrs or thereabout in the morning.

That healthy sequence of my daily life ended a year ago, when I came to settle in Lilongwe.

Now, my first residence in the city was a lodge in Area 47, which is located in a fairly serene area.

Apart from the usual knock of “housekeeping!” around 08:00hrs in the morning, there was absolutely no disturbance, save for a few calls on my mobile from unruly friends phoning from various watering holes and asking me: “Uli kuti? (Where are you?)”

My style is not to switch off my mobile no matter what time of the day or night it is; there was an occasion when my life was saved after my car broke down in a very dangerous area where robbers would have actually killed me.

A friend I phoned very late in the night answered my call and was at the scene in less than 15 minutes. So I have taken it upon myself that I will never switch off my mobile in case something of a similar nature happens to a friend or relative.

Following pressure from my family and friends, I checked out of the lodge after spending three months there. They complained that they could not visit me and stay the nights because it meant paying for extra rooms.

I also had to pay for their meals and all that.

Besides, I was also getting tired of eating the same junk food, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The sweet candies even cloyed. Oh, oh, it can be hell overstaying in a hotel!

I missed my nkhwani, utaka, dry fish and all those traditional delicacies.

So I moved to Area 18, found myself a house, with only a houseboy to take care of my cooking and laundry.

Little did I know that was the beginning of sleepless nights.

The routine began; after working hours, it is an opportunity for me to find friends and get a drink or two before I go home to sleep.

First day in Area 18: After 17:00hrs, I go to a watering hole to while away before supper.

At 21:30hrs, I tell my colleagues I am retiring.

“This time?” asks one, looking at his watch. “This is too early.”

“I am getting old now, gentlemen,” I answer. “It’s not like in those days when I was youthful and would go all the way till the break of dawn. We are spent forces.”

“Not all,” protests another, “you are still the man about town that we know ‘ energetic.”

I insist: “No ways. This is why they call me the Manchild, wearing the face of a child, but with an age of a man!”

I take one more cold one on their insistence.

At 22.45 hrs I pretend to go to the gents and from there, leg it to my house.

After supper, I take my novel to bed and later drop into a sound sleep.

I am awakened at 01:30hrs by the barking of dogs. I think there should be about 1 000 of them! The barking is so loud that I cannot sleep anymore.

I jump out of my divan and ask the houseboy in the other room: “There must be thieves outside there. Why are dogs barking that much?”

The boy tells me a story about hyenas from the sanctuary.

“Area 18 is near the Nature Sanctuary, where there are so many hyenas. Because of lack of small animals there to kill and eat, the hyenas prowl on the dogs in the township.

“But the dogs now know it, after losing a few of their colleagues. To protect themselves, they have formed a ‘Neighbourhood Watch’. When one hyena or more come into the territory, the first dog on sentry warns the rest about the presence of the predator. So the dogs use that as a warning to others, at the same time challenging the hyenas to dare it.”

Now, I have lost my sleep and the dogs are barking like hell this time around.

“So what time will this howling stop?” I ask the young man.

“When the hyenas retreat . . .”

“Meaning all this time, the dogs will be yowling?”

“Yes, Bwana.”

At around 03.00hrs in the wee hours, the barking ceases; I imagine the hyenas have gone away.

“So, what do the hyenas eat since they can’t attack these dogs anymore?”

“They go to Capital Hotel,” answers my boy.

“What?!”

“You heard me right. I said they go to Capital Hotel.”

“Now, young man, stop the pranks. Since when have hyenas started checking in at the hotel to eat in the restaurants there?” I ask him.

“Let me put it this way: There is a dumping site behind the hotel for leftovers and hyenas go there instead to eat that food, after failing to strike on their prey in the townships.”

“Young man, if the hyenas know there is ready food at Capital Hotel, why do they waste time coming into the townships to try to maul these dogs?”

The houseboy this time comes out of his blankets and sits up.

“You see, predators want to slaughter their own prey. They want raw blood, raw flesh, not the spiced food at the hotel. They go there as a last resort.”

I realise it is now time to go back into my bed. I take a bit of moment to find sleep and turn back to my novel. Just as I am about to doze off, there is another disturbance. Very loud indeed. Time for morning prayers. One loud voice over some microphone, from a religious house about a kilometre away. And the time is 05:00hrs, the break of dawn.

“Do people in Area 18 ever sleep?” I ask the young man again.

“The residents do; visitors like you don’t.”

“But I am not a visitor, I am now a resident.”

I decide I will try to catch up with my sleep in the morning. The night has failed me.

“Rape! Chinese Rape! Nkwani! Nkhwani! Usipa wa fuleshi! Chikolopa! Chikolopa!”

It is about 06:46hrs and I look out of my window and see men and women selling different things. After those are gone, I retire to bed at 07:30hrs.

But then, that is the beginning of loud music from different systems in various houses. The house owners have gone to work and it is time for the unemployed youths, school leavers and houseboys to slam the beat at full volume. This will go on until 17:00hrs, when the bwanas and donnas are back.

I cant remember the last time I had a cool snooze.

November 2006
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