At first no one noticed the boy standing beside the road to Lilongwe. Then all of a sudden just as they were passing the spot where he was standing everyone did a double take. “What was that,” seemed to erupt from nearly every voice at the same moment. The question really did not need to be asked. Everyone knew what it was that they had seen. The question came because no one believed what their eyes and their minds were telling them. Almost all of them had heard it when they attended training sessions back in the states before coming to Malawi. But in all of the information overload that was flooded on them in the months before the trip to Africa it had seemed to be one of those things that wasn’t true until you really saw it first hand. Well, first hand had arrived and everyone was craning their necks to see behind them and see the boy with the group of mice on the stick that he was selling along the road.
The driver turned a little in the seat, slowed as he rounded one of the final curves that would give entrance to the sight of the capital off in the distance. Several times on the way from Lumbadzi they had seen the smoke trails snaking skyward and around some of the curves they could see the small boys off in the nearby fields standing around small fires. They had erroneously thought what they were seeing was the clearing of the earth for the soon to come crop planting. But most of the scenes were not the scenes they thought they were observing. What they were actually seeing were the mice hunts.
In order to catch the mice in the bush country the small boys build a ring of fire in the surrounding dry bush, then one of the boys jumps into the center of the circle in which the ring of fire is advancing. The fire causes the mice to run toward the center of the circle to get away from the flame. There they run into the small boy who usually has a club, a stick or some other object with which he can kill them. After they have killed a number of mice they build another fire and fry them, yes, often tails, heads and all.
After they get enough mice cooked they impale the fried mice on a long sharpened stick and head off toward the highway or nearby village in order to sell them as a snack before the next meal, or for some the mice will be the major source of protein they will take in during the course of the day. One of the most popular sales locations is along the main north south highway M-1 north of the capital. It is a good place to catch those workers who are exiting the capital for the commute home. An occasional bus also offers the chance to have multiple sales.
The American team cringes and grimaces as the small boy’s hopes for a quick sale to a group of Azungus (white people) fades with the disappearing taillights. The team turns back to the road in front of them and the trip to carver’s corner where they will be able to trade and barter with the wood carvers in Lilongwe.
The driver is not surprised. After all, he has been traveling this road for a number of years and anyway, what is so strange about boys selling mice or for buyers purchasing them? In America you eat pigs, squirrels, birds and cows don’t you? What is the difference between the west and Africa? Really not much!