There are many cultural differences between Malawi and any other place I’ve lived in so far. One of the most visual variances is in clothing.
These amazingly colourful and vibrant dresses and skirts worn by local women are made using a fabric known locally as chitenge (also spelt chitenje). It is apparently made across southern Africa, an initially coarse material which softens over time. A chitenge is a rectangle of fabric (generally 2 x 1 metres) worn by women around the waist or chest.
|A colourful example of chitenge in our house|
Many places sell chitenge in Lilongwe but a popular location is a market on the right side of the city’s stream (it’s nowhere near full enough to be allowed to be called a river at this point). Hidden away down a back alley in Area 2, far away from any international chain or plush restaurant, is a narrow lane which sparkles with all of the colours of the rainbow.
|After this road, you squeeze through a few narrow alleys to reach the chitenge section of the market|
Many sellers have similar stock on their tables. Who you buy from is up to you. We struck up a conversation with an older lady who, like many at this market, acquires her chitenge from neighbouring Zambia.
|The vibrant colours of chitenge on display|
The fabric is very versatile. We use it as a tablecloth and it can also be hung from the wall to display.
Chitenge fabric is also used by mothers to carry their babies!
The main reason we ventured into this hot, stuffy market, however, was to purchase fabric to transform into clothing. Tailors are available in the market but we used the tailor who works in our school to create some lovely clothing.
|Christmas presents for my niece|
And…well, when in Malawi…
|Yes, I have taught in this shirt...|
I don’t want to generalise people or paint all Malawians with the same brush. Some are reserved, others are very outgoing. Many of them express themselves, however, with vivacious and vibrant chitenge.
|Which colour should I get next?|
Love you all,