Malawi, VUTO: a novel about Africa, women & the Peace Corps0 Comments

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Posted on 14 Apr 2013 at 10:09am

Project by A.J. Walkley


Vuto is my third book and the premise was inspired by my experience as a health volunteer in the Peace Corps, stationed in Malawi, Africa. As a member of the Peace Corps, I was exposed to many cultural traditions I had never even heard of before, like the prospect of puberty rites and wife inheritance (when a husband dies and leaves behind his wife, she is usually “inherited” by his brother or another male family member).

A.J. Walkley with her homestay family in Malawi.
A.J. Walkley with her homestay family in Malawi.

One of the most astounding traditions I encountered, however, was the “two week rule” of birth — when a child is born in the village, it must survive for two weeks before its father will acknowledge its existence. If the child dies before the two week point is reached, the mother and women of the village bury the child and the father will never know he had a child at all. This tradition forms the basis for my book, Vuto.

Vuto has already been accepted for publication by the publisher Rocket Science Productions and just needs funding for printing to commence!


Vuto is only 17 when her third child dies, mere days after birth. Malawian tradition prevents men from considering a child their own until it has survived for two weeks. Frustrated at not being able to speak to her husband, Solomon, about all three of the children she’s had to bury alone, Vuto forces him to acknowledge the dead baby.

Her rejection of tradition causes Solomon and the village elders to banish Vuto from the only home she’s ever known. She seeks refuge in the hut of U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Samantha Brennan, where Solomon discovers his wife has not left as she was told. When Solomon arrives in the night to attack Vuto, Samantha disregards her oath to remain uninvolved in village politics and interjects herself into the center of the conflict, defending Vuto and killing Solomon in the process.

The women go on the run from Vuto’s village and the Peace Corps, encountering physical, ethical and cultural struggles along the way.


I knew the pains in my belly and what they meant. I had already done this two times before. That did not make it easier.

“Mama! I want my mama!” I cried, knowing that she was not there, knowing that she would not come and knowing that I should not be calling for her.

I whipped my head back and forth as another pain ripped through, staring for a moment at the white girl in the corner, looking at me as if I was some mzimu, some angel.

“Aaaaaagh!” I screamed and she flinched, but stayed just the same.

A familiar face was better than none.

I could hear her whispering in broken Chichewa, “What does she say?” to the nurse, Leoni, who was helping me along.

“She is calling for her mother,” Leoni told her.

“Then we should go get her mom,” the girl replied. I would have laughed if I was not being torn apart from the inside out.

“She cannot. She must do this alone.”

I pushed hard, the chitenje I had wrapped around me coming unfurled and falling to the ground. I laid, naked, for the world to see.

I felt the head between my legs and knew it was only moments before I would meet my baby.

“One more push, Vuto, just one more big push,” Leoni told me.


I felt the pressure ease and heard a tiny wail.

No more words were spoken, Leoni taking my baby, cutting her cord with rusty scissors and wrapping her up tight in two chitenjes. After passing the placenta, I got up myself, the soreness something for me to overcome and not linger upon. I cleaned myself and took my baby, not even five minutes in the world, looking over at the girl in the corner before leaving.

She had tears in her eyes and I could not understand why.

This was every day.

This was life.

This was Africa.

Please visit this LINK to know more about this project.

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