Since arriving in Malawi I have been part of many wonderful and meaningful experiences and have met many incredible people. Malawi and its people truly are the Warm Heart of Africa. One man has stood out for me so far. He is a carpenter who lives in the village of Jamali. During the previous day we had been conducting interviews and met other men with similar skills, but what set this man apart from the rest was the fact that he had his own wood working shop.
I began the day by interviewing thee villagers with Matthew, one of my group members. We sat together and talked for 30-to-40 minutes about what life in the village was like, the challenges villagers faced, and what their main concerns and needs might be. Once the interview was done we asked the Chiefs, through our Translators Alistair and Charles, if we could get a tour of the village and surrounding areas. The Chiefs agreed and off we went.
Our tour started off by looking at the main water source for the village, a borehole, basically a well. This was the only one in the area for roughly five kilometers, which is a very long distance to travel while carrying water multiple times on a daily basis. Water is just one of the many challenges these villagers face upon awaking every morning. From here our guides, one of whom is the carpenter, took us down a long trail towards a large hill in the distance. This was the same distance that the villagers had to walk throughout the day to retrieve their water. This gave me a whole new perspective on what it meant to walk a mile in their shoes. Matthew and I were literally walking the same path the villagers walk to get their water minus the carrying of full water pails. Eventually, we came to the home of the carpenter and I was very shocked when he gave us the tour.
The carpenter started out by first showing us his workshop. On the ground near his work table were piles of wood-shavings and discarded stool legs. Despite not having a proper shop, electricity, or multiple tools, this man was able to still hold on to the one skill that he was extremely proud of. What was even more impressive and amazing was that, despite the extreme drought, lack of resources, and seemingly constant struggle for food, this man was still very proud to show us what he had to offer.
His home and its surrounding areas were well kept. At one point during our tour, the carpenter slipped away to the backside of his property to what looked like a makeshift shed. When he returned to the group he came carrying a basket full of groundnuts, very similar to what we, in the United States, call peanuts. The six of us: the carpenter, our translator/driver Alistair, Matthew, the village preacher, another villager, and myself, stood there sharing laughs and ground nuts in broken English and broken Chichewa.
Before we left the carpenter once again went back into his shed area, this time to come out with a large bag full of groundnuts for Matthew and me to take home. I knew that the carpenter would be insulted if we did not take the bag of nuts with us but, at the same time, I had a hard time accepting the very gracious offer of food from this man who literally goes day-to-day wondering, “What’s next and where will I get food?”
In closing, I would like to leave you all with the picture I had taken with the carpenter in his shop. When I asked him if it would be alright to take a picture together his chest swelled with pride and he proudly said, “Yes.” I left that meeting with a greater understanding, or better yet, an abandonment of previous preconceived notions of the individual strengths and perseverance that many of these strong, proud, and talented people possess. These people, despite the harsh realities they face on a daily basis, still find time to welcome complete strangers, show us their skills, and allow us to eat their food. Amazing!