Along this journey in Malawi our group was fortunate enough to have two wonderful men in our lives for the majority of our trip: Alistair and Charles. These two men were our drivers for the trip but ended up in the role of translators, travel guides, and teachers of Malawian culture, traditions, and ways of life. Most importantly for me, these men have become friends who will always hold a special place in my heart and life. They were both so generous with their time, enabling our group to have experiences a normal traveler or tourist may not have. For this blog I want to give you two personal experiences I had with these men.
So there I was at Annie’s Lodge after a day of field trips with the children from the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) when I saw Charles walking through courtyard. I stopped like I usually did to say hello and asked how his day had been going. Our conversation turned into a lesson about Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, introspection, and prayer that he was observing. I asked Charles what Ramadan was and what it meant as I knew very little about it. What I learned was not by a text book version of what Ramadan is and I know there is much more behind it than what he told me but the way he explained it to me made sense.
Charles told me that people observing Ramadan fast from four in the morning until six o’clock at night and then they could eat and drink until four the next morning when the fasting started again. The purpose behind this, he said, was to cleanse; a renewing of mind, body, and soul. He used the analogy of a snake shedding its skin. When the snake sheds its old skin then it is new again, much like a person after a month of fasting. Though there is more to this holy holiday than what Charles explained to me I now have a better understanding behind Ramadan, the ninth month of the 12-month Islamic calendar. I know now that when I hear things regarding Ramadan that are anything other than than fasting, introspection, and prayer I can easily dismiss them seeing as how I met a kind, warm-hearted man that told me the truth.
The day started very early for me and three of my fellow group mates as we made our way to hike Mt Mulanje, a massive formation of granite with over thirteen different peaks rising more than 3,000m high. We had a good day and once our fun on the mountain was finished it was time to head back to Annie’s Lodge but not before Alistair took a detour to the home of his aunt and uncle. We had no idea that he was going to make this stop but I can say that it ended up being one of the best experiences of the trip. These folks welcomed us into their home and made us feel as if we were part of their family. We visited for about an hour relaxing, talking and eating grapefruit, papaya, and guava, fresh off the trees and vines growing in the yard.
Alistair’s aunt explained to us how papaya could be used to help ward off, and prevent, cancer and how the leaves and seeds of the Moringa tree growing in their yard were packed full of healing and nutritional benefits. Of course, Alistair’s aunt had us try both. This was a side of Malawi many visitors do not get to experience, made possible by the kindness and generosity of a man that started out as our driver and eventually became a friend who shared his family with us.