January 28th was a girl’s night out and certainly a night to remember. One thing on my mind: Releasing stress with laughter. At 7pm, as we jumped into a taxi in direction of Robins Park Hill, none of us, including the driver, knew where that was located. No thanks to Google who kept telling us that this place simply did not exist.

After a few phone calls, we finally manage to find Robin’s park, an average size building next to a poorly lit and empty boulevard. Slowly but surely the parking lot was filling up with cars while vendors were getting ready to sell us various candies and warm alcoholic beverages.

It was about 9h15pm when Malawian comedian Daliso Chaponda stepped on the stage. The “antisocial commentator” started roughly talking about how he was deported from Canada in 2004, the country where he took is very first step in the stand-up business.

As he carried on and on joking about gender relations, religion and racial issues, Chaponda didn’t stop himself from speaking openly about the ongoing fuel crisis and the controversial flag change that was adopted in 2010.

“We changed the rising sun to a full sun because we have developed, but with the current economic hardships we should replace it with an eclipse.”

Laughter was coming from all over the place and when he ended up, people were asking for more.

“Easily one of the best nights I’ve had entertainment-wise in Malawi!! Daliso was just insane, I loved every single line! Fantastic writing, great rapport with audience!” commented Taweni Gondwe Xaba on the Facebook event page later on that night.

Thinking back about all these jokes that were made about fuel, I couldn’t help myself wondering how people could possibly laugh about a situation that has been paralyzing the country for about three years now and for which the head of state, Bingu wa Mutharika, admits still not having a solution.

“The government is not in position to pay for supply because of the foreign exchange problem. President Mutharika supply the forex at a very high price and sales them at a very low cost.”, Explains Christian Sidande from the Malawi Human Rights commission.

In Lilongwe, only three to five stations out of 34 will have fuel to provide to the population and people are laughing. Cities could go on for two days without gasoline, making their consumers wait sometimes up to eight hours with no guarantee that they will be accessing the supplies but those buyers are laughing. Individuals will have to buy oil out of the black market paying from 700 to 1000 Malawian kwachas (about four to six Canadian dollars) each liter and yet, they are still laughing.

I couldn’t imagine this type of situation going on for so long in my very own city nor could I see my surrounding laughing about it. That’s when I remembered that Charlie Chaplin once said: “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!” Great man. Great thought.

Most developing countries are burdened with daily situations that we, as westerners, couldn’t even deal with. Our delayed plane and uncharged cellphone batteries cannot slightly compare with lack of resources, sickness and poverty. Mourning your fate won’t change a thing but laughing helps you play down a situation that was imposed on you.

Daliso, son of Minister of Education George Chaponda, surely applied that rule after being censored by the Malawi censorship board (MCW) regarding the joke he made about the Malawian flag.  After receiving a letter from the board stating that three of their officers will attend his show free of charge to make sure he wouldn’t go overboard, the comedian turned that situation into his own advantage and joked about it: “They didn’t care about what I said, they just wanted free tickets!”

President Muthakira’s administration has been highly criticized for its poor application of human rights particularly in terms of freedom of expression.  If people can’t laugh anymore, the fuel queues will get longer as people get angrier. Because, after all, laughter is definitely a universal free of charge effective therapy.

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