Slice of life: ‘If I can put a bit of colour’

A spotted pink suitcase with a hairline crack makes its way by bus from Randburg to Beitbridge, and then through Zimbabwe to Mozambique. From there, the suitcase takes a winding route to Malawi.

It is strapped on top of the bus, and sometimes it sits in the trunk.
For four days the suitcase’s contents bounce. The blankets and slippers cushion the tinned food, the money for private school fees crinkles. Until a small man unpacks the suitcase in his home of Mzuzu.

The man is Alan Ngwira, who has spent the last year, one of 10, working in Johannesburg. It is his first day off, his first holiday in a year. He will spend it with his wife and two children.

“They are growing”, Ngwira says of his children. “You can imagine, if you are not there … then you just see them. They are growing fast like trees.”

Ngwira knows a lot about trees. He was born into a farming family before training as an electrician. But the shortage of jobs in Malawi led him to South Africa to find work to give his family a better life.

Out of the seven days in the week, he tries to work all of them. Each day, after delivering the morning papers, he will cut, trim, water and sweep gardens in the suburb of Blairgowrie.

He doesn’t limit himself to mere garden maintenance though. “When I look around, then I see, I just see if in this area I can put a little bit of that colour or a little bit of this, then maybe it can look beautiful,” says Ngwira, who finds new homes for plant cuttings among his clients’ gardens.

Ngwira no longer uses the pink suitcase. He has given it to his daughter, who is starting standard eight at a private school in Malawi. — Alan Ngwira as told to Gemma Ritchie

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