Moved by Malawi

Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
Trip End May 02, 2006

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Flag of Malawi  ,
Sunday, March 5, 2006

It was a matter of minutes after crossing the border into Malawi that I knew it would be special. Carly, our guide, had told us that it would be. Her stories about the people, the children in particular, the land and the lake, had me very excited to arrive there. And she was right. There are certain intangibles about a country that just make it special. This was one such place.

Went through the usual immigration rituals, hopped back on the truck and drove to the town of Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, for a shopstop. It was pouring down rain, the entire town did not have electricity. Turns out, both are not uncommon in Malawi. Stocked up on our usual essentials which included plenty of chocolate, crisps (that's chips or crackers)and a souvenir or two from the eager and relentless vendors outside our windows while we sat in the truck.

Our first day in Malawi was spent driving, a lot. And it was one of the most enjoyable driving days we had on our trip. It was during these hours I began to feel Malawi, as its beautiful countryside treated my eyes hour after hour I felt a warmth that is hard to describe. Malawi is very lush, very green. It is more hilly than Zimbabwe and Zambia. Twenty percent of Malawi is made up of its fabulous lake, Lake Malawi, and this lake supplies the country with 70% of its economic sustainability through fishing and tourism. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in southeastern Africa. Minimum wage is 50 cents PER DAY. Poverty is widespread in Africa. That is no secret. But Malawi started to show me a new kind of poverty, one I had never seen before other than on T.V. and pictures back home.

Malawi is a very rural country. Farming and fishing are the mainstay of life. Children and adults alike work the land. It is rare to see a pair of shoes on any two feet. These people are hard, unbelievably strong and warm. What I described previously about children running to the truck to greet us happened with even more intensity and regularity in Malawi. Their smiles were even brighter, their laughter a little louder. One of the things that struck me, and others as well, was the completely remote places from which curious little black faces would peer through tall grass or how groups of a dozen, sometimes several dozen children would appear suddenly out of nowhere on a tiny dirt road in the middle of some kasava crops. They would run their little hearts out in an attempt to reach our rumbling truck to simply wave and yell, "Hello! Howareyou...I'mfine!"

The images I am describing may sound sad and those of us back home who know another way of living, perhaps what we believe to be a more dignified way, in which we are well fed (sometimes too well fed), wear nice clothes and live in perfectly protective homes may pity these people and look at them with sympathy and concern. Don't get me wrong. I do too. And we should. It is so strange to me that we live in a world today where so many people live the way we do and so many more live this other way I am describing. But I must tell you, from my point of view these people are so much richer than we are in many ways. They do not know words like "stress", "depression", "boredom." These aren't feelings they experience because there is no room for them in their lives. I would bet that if we tried to explain some of our "problems" back home to them they would look at us quite puzzled. They live for "today." Life is hard. And I am quite certain they would appreciate it being a little easier but there is no room for complaining, for self pity, or giving up. Their happiness comes from each other, from family (whom they would do anything for), from good friends and their community, from music, from a good rain to feed their crops, from laughter...because at the end of the day THESE are the things that matter. What a gift this insight is...

Our first two nights in Malawi were spent in the town of Chinteche. Our tents were no more than 40 feet from the gorgeous lake. We woke up at 5:45a.m. our first morning and headed to the stables of English Johnny for a horseback ride. This was one of the highlights of Malawi for us. About seven of us opted to do the horse ride which consisted of about 2 hours of riding through mountains, a tiny village and ultimately end on the lake for a brief canter along the shore and finishing off with a bareback ride IN the lake itself, us on top of our horses, skin to skin, as they waded through the water. What a feeling. Unfortunately, this last and best part was brief. The last 30 minutes of our ride was in the pouring rain. This did not matter too much since the plan was to swim in the lakes on our horses anyway but the rain did make it quite cold and the horses didn't particularly care for it. I rode Annie and she was beautiful. Hungry, but beautiful. I had not ridden in a while but I really took to it this time, managed to get the trotting and cantering down just right and had a blast. The ride through the small village was awesome. Passed tiny shacks amid crops, kids running out from every corner to wave, a group of about 20 or 30 teenagers all dressed in choir robes singing as they walked through the fields. What sights.

That night we sat at the bar of the campsite, Bonnie and I, with Carly and had a wonderful conversation. This was the beginning of what would develop into a strong bond between the three of us. I did not know it at the time but Carly would end up being the coolest girl I met on this trip.

The following day we drove to our second campsite in Malawi and one of the best ones the whole trip. Chitimba would also end up being the town in which I felt the closest connection with the locals yet. A very special event took place in Chitimba thanks to Carly and her family. Carly had obviously been to the town several times on tour in months past. She has been guiding this very route for nearly a year. On one of her previous visits she had visited the local school of Chitimba and had come away completely moved and determined to help that little school in the future. The following string of events are a bit of a long story so I will just tell you that Carly and her family ended up bringing many gifts for the school, particularly netball uniforms (a sport I had not heard of but one that Carly played competitively in Australia and that these kids of Chitimba play as well.) Carly's parents brought three or four large suitcases filled with uniforms, school supplies and other things these kids would otherwise never have seen. The school's director had been in contact with Carly and knew that this next tour around (the one we were on) would be special as Carly's family would be with her. They prepared an absolutely beautiful day of presentations and gratitude for Carly's family and us, the other passengers on the tour. We were treated to songs, dancing, poems written by the children, speeches from the staff...Just thinking about it all brings back the emotions I felt as I sat there that day witnessing all of this.

The smiles, the unanimous, deafening cheers that came from that huge group of beautiful faces as Carly pulled out one item after another from the bags was an experience I will never forget. To witness the excitement and gratitude that these children expressed at seeing these humble gifts was nearly too much for me. I had to get up and walk off because I was so overcome (couldn't be in every picture sobbing like an idiot!). We danced and sang with them. We ate a beautiful meal they prepared for us.

That afternoon Bonnie and I went to visit the home of a wonderful young girl named Dolla. We had met Dolla and Shesta and a couple of other girls on the beach the day before and Dolla had asked us to come to her house. Dolla is 12 years old, beautiful and her English is amazingly eloquent. We followed the girls to their home and when we walked upon the tiny thatch-roofed hut several women started laughing and pointing, calling out "Mzungus!". White people in their parts, especially a personal visit by them is a bit of a rarity. We sat there for a little while, gave them a few articles of clothing we knew we could do without (probably could have given so much more) and did our best to talk to them as they did not speak English like their young daughters did. It was the perfect afternoon to top off our day at Chitimba School.

The last night in Malawi, surprisingly, was spent at the campsite bar enjoying drinks, laughter and watching Bonnie dance on the volleyball court (sand) into the wee hours of the night...
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whiteant on

Great pics of the kids
Well captured

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