Ligwangwa Njobvu village, Liwonde.
Chimwala shows me the interior of her house. Inside a cane fence, there are four small constructions built with bamboo and a framework of rods and twigs packed with clay. One is for storing dry wood. Another is where they keep their two goats. There is also a “kitchen”; a round space with a fire in the middle, two pots and a shelter to keep the fire lit in rainy weather and to store the beans where the smoke keeps the bugs away. The last building, slightly bigger with a thatched roof, is the sleeping area. She invites me in to have a look. There’s not much to see. A tiny and gloomy room no more than 3 metres long, with a small flash light connected to some rusty batteries, a calendar from a few years ago hung on the mud wall, and a straw mat with some blankets on the floor. I ask how many people sleep there. She answers that her five kids and her, and then says “my husband sleeps outside, in the garden” I get a bit surprised and dare to ask “did you have a fight or something?” “No” she says laughing, “It’s because of the elephants. They come at night and eat all our vegetables. My husband sleeps there and if they come near, he tries to scare them by shouting and making noises with a tin bucket”
Since farming started in Africa, humans and elephants have been in direct competition; both needing fertile land and plenty of fresh water. The balance didn’t start to drastically tilt until well into the 20th century with the massive introduction of the rifle in Africa. Elephants are nowadays protected, but even if they could shoot them, Chimwala’s family, like most of the population of Malawi, are subsistence farmers, depending entirely on what they produce to survive and too poor to buy any commodity, let alone a rifle. So at the end of the dry season, when hunger drives elephants to villages, Chimwala’s husband has to face the biggest animal that walks on the earth armed just with a stick and a bucket.