Sale of a Deathsman

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

Kistemakerne har gode tider i Malawi selv om aids-raten er på vei ned

─Business is slow these days, Happy Mkandgwire complains and leans against one of the coffins he has stacked up outside his workshop.

─Before everyone was dying of AIDS, but now they all get anti retro viral (ARV) drugs which keeps them alive. It’s good for them of course, but bad for business.

Malawi has a staggering HIV/aids-rate of 12 percent. It’s a scary exercise to count people on the street, knowing that more than one out of eight is infected. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, HIV, 1, 2, 3, 4, – get it?

Fortunately all HIV-positive Malawians are guaranteed ARV-medicine, drugs that will prolong their lives significantly.

Happy is the owner of Atate Coffin. He makes money every time the Malawian health care system fails to keep people alive. The workshop is situated at the bottom of Kamazun Procession Road. Small carpenter workshops are dotted along both sides of the road that runs up to the old town of Lilongwe.

─The street is divided into sections, Happy explains.

─The beds are made at the top of the street, then comes the sofas and chairs, the tables, and finally the coffins. It’s like a reflection of life itself. It starts up there with the beds in which new Malawians are conceived, and ends down here with the boxes we make for eternal rest. Happy smiles. Death, he tells us, doesn’t create such a fuzz in Africa as it apparently does in richer parts of the world.

─People are born and people die. Sure it breaks my heart when parents ask for caskets suited for children, and surely it’s sad when a breadwinner in a poor family passes away, but death is the only certain thing in this life. Happy’s buddy, Justin joins in to the existential discussion.

─Death is indeed the only thing we all have coming, he says and knocks the rough wood of an unfinished coffin. Therefore ARV-drugs, all kinds of vaccines or mosquito nets, for that matter, is no threat in the long run. People die, and when they do their relatives become our customers. The only thing we have to worry about is population growth.

Justin is right, and has nothing to worry about. The Malawian population is growing rapidly. Last year the growth rate hit 2.76, almost double the figures around year 2000 when the HIV-epidemic peaked and medicine wasn’t accessible for everybody.

─We are close to 16 million Malawians these days, and every one of us will eventually die, Justin argues.

─Sure, you are right, but what good does that do me and my business today, Happy sighs, fearing that prolonged lives of his countrymen might mean the death of a coffin-salesman.

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16 Responses to “Sale of a Deathsman”

  1. Google US House Bill 15090 to learn the truth about the creation of HIV/AIDS in a lab.

  2. […] You will find the story on Øystein & Otto’s Blog. […]

  3. A tribe in Ghana has gained notoriety for producing a varied cornucopia of specialty coffins which reflect the life of the deceased. Here you can see a few of them–they’re quite fantastical. http://readbetweentheps.blogspot.com/2006/03/tradition-marketing-fantasy-coffins.html

  4. This is a booming business. As with all aspects of life we must accept the inevitable. Sadly so.

  5. Wow quite a post.

  6. I found it ironic that the owner of the coffin shop’s name is Happy.
    The ARV meds have made a tremendous change in Africa, everywhere for that matter.

  7. Powerful post, both in words and images. I hope business stays slow for Happy.

  8. Such a different life than my own. Thank you for allowing me a glimpse into Happy’s life work.

  9. artblablablablog Says:

    sad & enterprising.

  10. A haunting post dripping with black humour and blacker truths. Those are vivid images men at work, men at assisting that great sweeper of lives.

  11. The article reveals the cold vision that comes from dealing with the honest eventualities of life. It’s a pragmatism that most of us don’t like to dwell on for very long. Photojournalism like this takes us into the lives of people and opens our sense of perspective. Well done!

  12. As a young girl, I spent a lot of time in a funeral home here in Canada. This meant I got to see a little bit of what went on behind the facade that is presented to the public. I’ve had this post open on my desktop for several days now trying to figure out why it effected me so much. Here we say “there is nothing certain but death and taxes.” But it is not really considered part of life. I love how Happy can explain that the businesses are laid out like the circle of life. First the bed…last the coffin. The way these craftsmen embrace what they do and make each piece a work of art out in the daylight for all to see. Sitting on them. Playing games on them. They could just as easily be making a dresser. It is such a contrast to the whispering and mystery created here when someone passess. Don’t peek behind the curtain! Of course here it is also a multi billion dollar business. The cost of dying is such that most people can’t afford to, and yet they know it will happen.
    Somehow I prefer Happy’s way.

  13. John Chrisrensen Says:

    My father died from cancer. He knew for about a year the ETD (Estimated Time of Departure). He had for him a few important things to be arranged. One of them were to unsubscribe from the Norwegian State-Church (not having a gravestone errected on the lawn outside our church). An other thing that was important to him was to give away his two old boatengines to the right people (those who could take best care of them). It was also important that the the local flourist (and funeral agency) “Grønnhaug Gartneri” should not make money on his behalf. We hav a saying in Norway: “Den enes død den andres brød”. (The death of one person give bread on the table to another person.) I don’t know how many families in Malawi, would have escaped starvation, from the cost one single funeral in Norway?

  14. Happy makes beautiful coffins by the looks of things. On the other side, sad about Aids and the decline of their business. Such hard ways to make a small living. This is a great reminder to be grateful for everything we are given.

  15. Powerful post! Loved your story and Otto’s pictures.

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