Usually people say that there are two seasons in Malawi: the rainy season and the dry season. From Nov - March it's the rainy season which means: planting crops, mangos, flooding and the slipperiest mud you've ever seen. From April - October the dry season means: harvest, temporary wealth, tradtional ceremonies, cooler weather, fires, smoke, dust and respiratory sickness. Being here in late Jan/early Feb this trip, I'm reminded that there is actually a third season...the hunger season.
The hunger season starts at this time of year and can go until April/May. The reason hunger season strikes now is that some 80%+ of the population here are subsistence farmers meaning they grow their own year's supply of food for their families. Problem is that their supply of maize (the staple food) often starts dwindling dangerously low this time of year. A family may have had a bad crop, maybe rodents got into the homemade silo of reeds and grasses, thieves could have raided it in the night or some of it could be lost any other number of things. Fact is, that come February many families must supplement their supply of maize by buying it at market. Because demand is high and supply is low this time of year, prices skyrocket. Add to this the global economic recession and the current economic crisis in Malawi and you have the hunger season.
The silver lining in this for my Dsenyo trip is that we are able to provide business to a vast number of people at a time when they need it most. We often mention that Dsenyo works with more than 70 women and artisans here in Malawi. Well, that's only part of the picture. We actually contribute economically and support many many more families. We buy chitenje (the African textiles) from over 30 women at the fabric market providing a boost to their businesses, we buy lining fabric from the local textile mill, and notions from local shops and second-hand denim from vendors at the open air markets. We purchase phone units from the women with mobile businesses moving around on the streets. And this list goes on. It's really fun to shop for materials for Dsenyo and it's really rewarding to see the excitement of the vendors when we make large purchases. With giddy excitement they thank Tamara for being a good "sister" and bringing them business from Dsenyo. There are lots of hugs, special Malawi handshakes, smiles, dancing and singing. It's nice to be able to be a small bright spot in the middle of the wet, muddy hunger season. In the vendor's words "it's a miracle" for them!