By: Feston Konzani
Inter-country travel and conducting business across borders is seen as a luxurious way of earning a living. But the hidden stories and horrors behind such seemingly pleasant lifestyles are never disclosed.
While travelling and conducting inter-country business is seen as luxurious for many people, not the least women, The Malawi Star has established that there are hidden dangers and destructive habits which are never disclosed.
An elegant looking woman walking out of Inter-Cape office having booked and paid her MK 38,000.00 one way ticket to Johannesburg, South Africa is an envy to many Malawian women who can only dream of having such an opportunity.
But speaking to her of her experiences of travelling across borders to order goods that she then supplies to Malawian shops and traders, one cannot but feel sorry for her. There are stories of abandoned children, prostitution, alcoholism and drug abuse as a result of depression associated with such business women.
“It’s not as easy as what people think it is. You get harassed on every side mainly as a woman. I was not the kind of person that I am now but this business has told and changed me into a person that I am today. We normally have to meet some things that normally you can just dream of.
We are considered as successful but there are so many things that many women cannot afford to go through. I have boyfriends at every border-crossing from here to South Africa and that helps me cross without paying any required taxes,” Explained Mercy Bwanali, a Mangochi-based business woman.
Another woman who frequently travels to South Africa and Tanzania to import cosmetics and hair extensions echoed the sentiment by saying that she is now HIV-positive because ever since she started travelling across borders, part of the business involves sleeping with men for favours. I have to find ways of making it so that I can have a profit from my small business.
“I started travelling in 2009 and I thought it was the most exciting opportunity to go to places and meet new people while conducting business but I soon discovered that it was not what it was hyped up to be. No one tells you what this business involves until you get into it. It is a poisoned chalice.
Yet once you get in so deep as I have now, you get used to the money, the travel, the envy of your friends who thinks that you are successful yet behind the facade are many untold, hurtful stories. I drink like a fish nowadays and it is something that I never used to do. The only people who know about what I go through every day are my children because they have seen me at my lowest when I am at home.
Yet to many people, they simply see me as a successful business woman,” Said Patricia Chipande, a Blantyre-based business woman.
When asked as to why they still do what they do, many of the interviewees said it was because they only wanted to continue living the lifestyle which was the envy of many of their friends but the pain is endless.
“To many people, I am a success. Men want to have me as their ‘girlfriend’ while women want to be like me. They envy me and if you try to explain to them what I normally go through, many of my friends simply brush these aside saying, look at you. You have a good house, a nice car, and your children are going to expensive schools. What else can a woman want?” Said Mervis Chinkhunda, a Lilongwe-based business woman and a frequent traveller to South Africa and China.
Patricia Kamwana who hails from Mulanje also a frequent traveller to South Africa and Tanzania revealed how she got into prostitution and drug abuse because of her frequent travels.
“It all started in 2013 when I went to South Africa where I was supposed to get some cosmetics but somehow I miscalculated the prices and when I got there, I discovered that the prices for the goods were much higher than I anticipated. I was already in South Africa.
I did what every woman could have done and that was to go round the bars and clubs where I met some men with whom what happened there is not something I would want to talk about. When I returned after some months, I decided to go for a test and I was told that I was HIV positive which came as no surprise because I knew where it all happened.
Right now, I am a secret drug addict. From that day, my drinking worsened and now I drink heavily almost every day but when people look at me all they see is the ‘success’ but the story behind it is more horrifying that anyone can ever believe. This is not the life I envisioned, it is so bad that many nights I simply cry myself to sleep,” Patricia said.
Meanwhile, many Malawian women still wish they could be among those frequent globetrotters and travel across borders to conduct businesses but the stories behind such travels are never revealed.
Recently, the Malawi Government has warned people travelling to South Africa to avoid using the Tete-Beira route in Mozambique, citing it was unsafe due to continued instability since the Renamo and Frelimo have resumed fighting, therefore, increasing the insecurity of travellers including some of the women interviewed by this publication.