Footprints

I love the rain in Africa

I was always cautioned to not travel to Malawi during the rainy season, but it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences. I know that rain is life altering for Malawians. I know it can also cause destruction, devastation and death.

If you can ever visit Malawi in the rainy season, I highly recommend it. If you are prepared, the experience is a beautiful one.

I asked a friend in Malawi what they do when it rains, he said with a smile, “we get wet.” Those words keep me humbled.

Continuous learning in difficult times

I was traveling in Malawi assessing our next projects when the pandemic was heating up in the US. As I was flying home, the borders began closing. I was seeing so many social media posts on the mass purchasing of TP, bottled water, and Clorox.  I thought it was all just a joke, until I returned home.  People were literally buying everything off of the shelves in the stores. It was about a month later when the same mass shopping began in Malawi.

The pandemic has definitely slowed down some of our projects. The impact on my Malawian friends is heartbreaking. Many of them depend on the visits of people from other countries to support their businesses. They, like many around the world, have been left scrambling for work and food.

Life in 2020 has definitely had ups and downs. My sons both work in healthcare and I am always worried about the impact COVID19 could have on them and others I care about. I have had friends hospitalized with it, and have one son who tested positive and thankfully, with very little impact on him. My youngest daughter now shares my home office with me to do her online school work. I love being with her all day, but I know there are things she is missing out on. Our family works to make the best of it.

We have been very blessed in this chaos and have tried to find silver linings where possible. One of those silver linings is being able to take opportunities for additional learning. I am slowly learning to speak French.

What have you started in quarantine that you normally wouldn’t have done before?

BE KIND

Driving in Malawi

I have loved my road trips through Malawi and Zambia, but am always grateful I am not the one driving. These two African country’s are some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. When traveling with my teams, we hire large vans and mini busses to travel as a group. This works great to get the team into the villages together, even though most of the roads we travel on are not really intended for larger vehicles. When I travel on solo journeys, we travel by car.

Traffic is usually expected anywhere in the city. I try to never be in a hurry when going into the city, speedy travel is just not very realistic. The roads are narrow and usually not in the best of shape. They are crowded with pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles and street vendors. I do love that while sitting in traffic, you can make purchases en-route. My daughter snapped this quick photo when we were buying a mop from a street vendor. You will see many vendors selling snacks, vegetables, fresh fish, clothing and household items.

Visiting during political turmoil gave me the opportunity to travel through many demonstrations. I have never been in a demonstration before. I was a little nervous with this many people, especially when if I were given a choice, I would be opposing the leadership of the person this group was supporting. They were heading to the presidents house which was very near the lodge I was staying in. We were able to clear the crowd after about 15 minutes.

When visiting villages, we often travel some of the same roads the children take as they go to school. I know they are used to walking in the rain, but I am not going to deny that I felt incredibly grateful to be dry. We had just picked up a woman who had been dropped off on the main road in a nearby town after riding in the rain for a while on a motorcycle.

Walking to school in the rainy season

No matter where we go, we are always greeted by friendly smiles and waves.

Everyone is always so friendly

Dream

A love for learning

I love visiting schools! We were able to hear from the kids about what they love about learning. All of the schools we visit are teaching English which makes it nice for me to understand, as I have not completely learned the language yet. These 5 students were spending time on the front deck with their tangram activities. This is an activity I love to collect and take to schools when we visit. I have already started collecting these great learning tools to take on my next journey.

Some schools are very plain and in disrepair, but this one was a gem! It was brightly colored with great murals. The children and teachers all seemed to love being there. They were not expecting our visit, and welcomed us with open arms.

This school had a fabulous library! Probably one of the best I have seen. I use it as a model as to how I want to leave every school we come in contact with. The teachers at this school LOVE teaching, and it shows. Their love of teaching directly impacts the children and their love for learning.

I am always looking for great suggestions and ideas on other great learning tools and aids to take with us.

Dance

Caught dancing on camera

I am not sure who is teaching whom, or who is having more fun. I love finding team members taking time to connect with each other and with new ‘friends’ Malawians love to dance. I love the way music can help bring people together. I think we all should dance a little more, even when we are working.

Friends.

I find this to be true in Malawi.

Mvuu

On one of my early visits to Malawi, I took a team of 20 to Mvuu Lodge after our week long service adventure. Mvuu in the main tribal language in Malawi, Chichewa, means Hippo.

By the time we arrived we were exhausted, hot and dusty. We used a car/driver rental company that a friend recommended. It was the only trip I hired them, and probably the last, and I am usually pretty easy to please. I will share that story another time. But in a nutshell, we spent 8 hours in a hot van to make what we were told was a 4 hour trip.

Arriving at Mvuu, you can take a boat to ferry across the Shire River to the Lodge. I love this! It is one of my favorite things about Mvuu. I actually loved everything about Mvuu, but the boat rides were the icing on the cake for me. I remember feeling so embarrassed as the luggage was unloaded from the van into the boat. We had a lot of stuff.

Once we checked into the lodge the memory of the miserable ride began to fade. The staff and guides were incredible to work and chat with. One of the first things they told us as they pointed out the reinforcing signage was, “Don’t feed the monkey’s”. I think my team needed a few more lessons on how to do this properly, because I know of a couple of monkeys who took bacon off of a fork seconds before it would have been in the guests mouth. They were sneaky and fast! It would be so shocking to have them come right at you, and the defensive reactions were not always fast enough. I would not mind sharing the food, but the staff told us that if humans feed the monkeys, then the monkeys are euthanized. I could not deal with that pressure, so I encouraged the team to win every battle. 🙂

The lodges were beautiful, rustic buildings with thatched grass roofs. We could hear the monkeys and baboons run across the roofs at night. It took me a while to get used to the small lizards that lived in the room with us. A combination of exhaustion and comfortable beds allowed me to sleep and not care who or what was in the room.

The guides were wonderful. I loved how patient they were when questions were asked and they would provide so much detail. I thought they must have to answer the same questions day after day, but they answered every question with kindness. The game drives were great, but I loved the boat drives the most. It was a bit eery to know that a very large hippo might be resting right under the path of the boat. I think hippos and crocodiles are the animals I fear, and knowing we were floating with them made me nervous. But as always, keeping eyes on the horizon and knowing we were traveling to see the elephants, I managed to get past the fear.

It is always sad to leave a beautiful place, but I am grateful for the memories.

Harvest time

Growing up, fall meant endless hours of canning fruits and vegetables with my mom. I always swore that when I was an adult I would never make my kids preserve our own food. I spent my summers weeding row after row, and then autumn was all about canning. I wanted to be a ‘normal’ family who bought their food from the store. My poor mother. I wish I knew then how much I would love being able to grow and harvest and preserve my own food…not out of necessity, but out of pure joy. It has become one of my most treasured skills to use year after year. And yes, I do make my children help:)

Those endless summer days of weeding allowed me to explore so much in my head. I remember about the time I was 14 thinking I must be crazy because I started looking forward to all the time in the field to just think. To day dream, innovate and evaluate the world around me. I later learned this was one of the treasures of being an introvert. I long for those days filled with hours of just “thinking”.

As children, my brothers and I sold flats of strawberries that we had grown to neighbors and were allowed to use the money for our family to go out to dinner – something we would not have done without the strawberry money. My favorite parts about the summer work was opening the irrigation gates and playing in the water.

My days are filled very differently now. I rarely push work aside, but when fall comes around, everything becomes secondary to canning and preserving our harvest. As an adult, I love knowing that my food is pesticide free, preserved with limited ingredients and fills my shelves with beautiful jars of color.

One of my favorite things to do in Malawi, is to see how they preserve food. I just received a photo from my friend who had been spending so much of her time harvesting honey to sell over the past two weeks. This honey is usually one of my first requests when I arrive. Now I like to purchase the honey from her and then have it delivered to the families that I know are in great need in other areas.

I have spent a few minutes learning to harvest maize in Malawi and learned that my thumbs ache very quickly. I love seeing multiple women gather together and process the corn and laugh and enjoy each others company. I even enjoy the laughter when it is directed at me with my limited ability at keeping up with them. The unity and friendship among the women is something I will always cherish when I am there and one of the greatest things I miss when I come home.

I am so grateful to have learned so much from my parents about hard work, business models, work ethic, and self reliance. I just regret not understanding the value of it all when I was young.