Malawi, Africa is an amazing, beautiful land. “The warm heart of Africa” has captured my heart in just a few short days. There are myriad aspects of this community that draw my attention and emotion. While the people in Malawi struggle, their vast strengths are immeasurable.
Charles, who is roughly 65 years of age, is one of the drivers hired by the program to assist us in transportation. He lives in Malawi, outside Blantyre, but does not have his own vehicle. Annie’s Lodge allows Charles and other employees to sleep at the lodge during the week while they work. Charles works for the lodge as a driver and mechanic; he performs other tasks as needed.
Charles also speaks Chichewa, the native mother tongue. While he transports us from place to place, he also translates conversations for us. Although he and the other driver were not initially hired as translators, they were both eager to support us.
Yesterday, we decided to stay in and catch up on written and planning work, as well as much-needed sleep. When Charles was informed his services were not needed for the morning, I inquired if he would also sleep. He has a deep, disturbing cough and told me he is not sleeping more than three-to-four hours each night. After driving us, he waits to drive all the other employees home. Just last night they woke him at one in the morning to go purchase electricity.
Charles said he would not rest, that he planned to do his laundry and go to the market. When I pressed him to consider resting, he said that he has to work, to make the most of his time earning money due to the eight orphans he adopted into his home. He and his wife lost two out of three children to the HIV/AIDS epidemic; his other children were orphaned due to this disease as well.
In the face of such tragedy and responsibility one might expect an individual to show an array of negative emotional signs. Charles does not. He is incredible. He smiles and laughs; he tells us stories and describes all of Malawi’s attributes; he shares the struggle the country faces from his perspective and educates us about his community through a wealth of indigenous knowledge.
Charles stated, “You cannot take anything with you. You are born with nothing and you leave with nothing. You are far better off doing for your people than worrying about collecting things.” This statement affected me profoundly. While so many stress about how much money they make, this man, who works so hard to ensure he and his family eat, is carefree and kind. He is thoughtful, considerate, and quite funny. He is positive and proud of the commitments and endeavors he undertakes and of their success. Charles shared that he would have his life no other way.
I am not only grateful to know him; I will remain in touch with Charles and his family after we leave. He is very near and dear to my heart already and I trust the feeling is mutual. The positive strength and kindness he shares are infinite; Charles is an incredible example of what I hope for in my own life.