109km. Corn Field Camp to Karonga.
The highway today took us through long stretches of agricultural land; mostly corn. Sounds like it could have been anywhere, but it could not have been anywhere but here. Along with crops came adults and children lining the road, cheering us on as though we are celebrities and shouting questions directed at where we have come from, where we are heading, how we are doing, and so on. It is quite sweet and the non-violent spectator enthusiasm is a welcome change from our prior dense-population experience; Ethiopia.
And when a stranger makes the effort to ask me how I am, I do my best to respond with an answer. Even as exhausting as it is to say 'I am fine, thank you' every 10 metres for 109km, I try my best.
Off the bike, when I'm in a village or town and there is time for more than one question, it gets a bit more difficult. I'm often too tired to talk to the other riders, let alone use the effort involved in a conversation with someone who only has basic english. I try to remember that they haven't talked to a thousand foreigners that day and, to them, I'm probably special. And, I figure, hey, maybe I'll learn something.
That was the theory today, when Carrie and I indulged two locals, Kingsley and Timothy, who approached us at the restaurant by our campsite. The conversation began with the common (at least in Africa) question of 'do you believe in god?'. I find this an odd question to come from people who are, so far, unprepared for an answer other than 'yes'.
Unwilling to enter into a debate on this particular topic, we respectfully asked to change to another. They responded with another favourite question, 'are you married?'. We dodged the question by asking why everyone asks us this question. The explanation went that marriage is how a woman gets her status in Malawi. Further, if a woman is not married by the time she turns 16, she is basically a prostitute.
Now, I am hardly a feminist; I won't even join woman-specific clubs as I don't see a purpose in ghetto-izing myself on the basis of gender. I was lucky enough to be raised in a place and time where I am treated as a person, despite my apparent chromosomal deficiency or relationship status.
I would also argue that I am a reasonably open-minded person; I wouldn't be on this adventure if I weren't. Yet, it was hard not to take issue to this other point of view. Part of me wanted to understand why they thought a man had any bearing on woman's worth; part of me felt compelled to enlighten our new friends about my way of thinking. Neither of these parts of me won out.
Kingsley and Timothy asked again, 'are you married?'. I promptly closed the conversation with 'I am 32 and I am not a prostitute'. I guess that I'm not as open minded as I'd like to think. And, while I still don't consider myself a feminist, it is experiences like this that I've had along this trip that have given me a greater appreciation for support efforts directed at women.