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What is it like in Malawi?

Jul 28, 2020

“What is it like in Malawi?” I hear the question as I lay my head back into the sink, ready for my hair to be washed. A professional hair-cut is one of my favorite ways to start a furlough, which only comes around every two years. But we hear the question more often than that. After seven years in Malawi, it can be difficult to answer. Things that once stood out as memorable no longer seem to paint a complete picture. So, what words can best describe the place that we call home?
During my college days, I was given a "three word challenge" to use upon re-entry into the United States following a short-term missions trip. The challenge was this: find three words that capture your experience, then have several versions of your story ready to share.
The first version uses three words that would best describe my experience, without going into details.
The second is the elevator version which includes a few sentences to explain each word.
The last is the five-minute version which includes more detail for in-depth conversations.
While there is no shortage of material to pull from,
My three words are these;
1. Beautiful! This is always one of the first things that comes to my mind. Images of the lush, rolling hills during rainy season, the views from the top of Zomba Plateau, its waterfalls, the diversity of wildlife and the open space within a few minutes’ drive from anywhere in the country.
2. Rural! This helps to give an idea of what the majority of the country is like, with just a handful of cities as an exception . There is generally a quieter pace of life in the villages, and a simpler lifestyle than in big urban cities, particularly in Thondwe (where the Mission is located) or in the small town of Zomba (where our families live).
But for the last word, how can I describe the layers of a culture that we have come to love living in - the subtleties of the verbal and non-verbal language, the high emphasis on respect, honor and hierarchy? How can I put into one word the unique challenges Malawians face economically (in a society based on agriculture), spiritually (in a culture dominated by fear and superstition), and physically (with the prevalence of various illnesses and diseases that challenged hospitals to keep up with, even before COVID hit)?
3. For now, I choose Connected! During these challenging times, we have gained a deeper understanding of our connectedness. We see that the actions of one individual cannot be separated from the community, despite the way our own Western culture places an emphasis on individualism. Though we are currently oceans apart from the place we call home, we are still inextricably connected with what is happening. Though many of you may never visit the Namikango campus, through your prayers and partnership with our families and the Mission, you too, are connected. Malawi is a place where communities and individuals depend on connecting with one another in order to survive.
I share my three words, and the conversation moves on. These three words may not capture the entirety of a place, but hopefully they can help to give a glimpse into the people we love and the land we have come to call home.
by Justine Hayes