I started this blog to preserve my memories of the experiences I have had in Malawi. I have been blessed to be able to take 3 of my kids me. This is one of the experiences written by my son. Thank you Mason for sharing your story.~Andi
Written by Mason:
As an introduction, my name is Mason and I am a guest on this blog. I am a senior in University and I am about to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, with a minor in Family Science. My career goal is to obtain a Master’s or a Ph.D. degree in counseling and to conduct therapy full time. Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, let’s get into what you’re here to read about: Malawi.
In 2018, I was fortunate to go on a two-week journey to Safi, Malawi, a small village just outside Lilongwe. Before this journey, I felt as though I knew everything. In Psychology, it is known as a personal fable. I was just about to turn 20 years old and felt that I had experienced everything. I felt that this trip would be a fun vacation for me and would be something that I could humble-brag to my friends about, as most people in their 20’s do. I was going to Malawi to take pictures for the “gram,” to write heart-wrenching stories about poverty and how I was lucky it missed me where I am from, or to add it to my ever-important Curriculum Vitae so I can look competitive amongst other applicants. Luckily, this was not what this trip turned out to be.
When I arrived in Malawi after a very long plane ride, (filled with lots of watching “Ratatouille” and getting bloody noses whilst everyone else slept,) I felt as though I had entered a new world. I am from a small town in Utah and the furthest I had traveled away from home was a one-hour plane ride to Oregon. Like Dorothy in the over-quoted classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” I knew that I wasn’t in Utah anymore. There were lots of people staring at me, street vendors selling anything and everything you could need, insane roads with buses next to motorcycles next to bicycles, and then me, a 20-year-old white kid from Utah. I stood out like an NBA player waiting in line at a Subway sandwich shop. For the first time in my life I was a minority.
After a few days of adjusting to this new world, I felt as though I had settled in. “This isn’t as bad as they said it would be,” I repeated over and over in my head. I hadn’t seen the great poverty that shows and the media had portrayed this beautiful country. I felt that I had seen normal-people going about their normal-lives. Nothing out of the ordinary. One morning, I was told that I would be going to small villages and handing out items to village children. I was really excited, as the children in the villages love white people. Often, you hear, “Azungu! Azungu!,” which means “white person,” when riding in the bus. I was excited to feel like a celebrity at a Denny’s. However, little did I know, that day would stand out to me more than any other day in my entire life. This day would change me more than anything else in my life.
As we were leaving, I was told that before going to the villages, we would stop at this one village to hand out “Vitameal,” food given to people to help with the starvation problem that rampages all of Southern Africa. I thought, “No big deal. We stop, hand some stuff out, then hit the road. Easy-peasy.” As we got to the village, I saw seemingly hundreds of people all sitting on the ground; women, men, children, all sitting on the ground in a very straight line. There were two trucks in front of the big group of people, filled to the brim with Vitameal. My heart began to sink. This was the poverty and hunger that I had heard so much about.
The most amazing thing about this situation was how patient everyone was: no pushing or shoving. In America, every black Friday, many people are killed over televisions marked down a few dollars. These people were literally starving to death, yet had the patience of an old fisherman. Rows and rows of people waited for their food.
They all held tickets that would be exchanged for the food on the trucks. One ticket would get them the food that they needed. This is when the trip became real to me. I realized how incredibly selfish I was to think that this would be a vacation for me. I now knew the reality of the situation in Malawi and so many other parts of the world. Without this food, every single one of those people patiently sitting on the ground would die a slow, starving death.
I then was told that I would be helping pass out the food. I would be taking tickets from people and giving them their food that they needed. I felt sick. I cried as I took the tickets from them and handed them their food. I felt that I knew nothing of true hardship, and I was right. I went from row to row with other volunteers handing out life-saving-sustenance. I was getting sicker by the minute. I could see these people’s pain. Often, it is common in Africa to see many of the residents and locals smiling constantly. Here, there was no smiling. There was no hiding of the pain and suffering in their eyes as they gave their ticket to me. Here I was, a “rich” white kid from Utah who knew absolutely nothing about what it means to struggle, handing out food to people who work harder than I ever have in my life every single day of their lives, yet still can’t afford to put food on their table.
By the end of the handout session, I wiped the tears from my shirt and hugged my mom. I had no idea that this form and level of suffering existed. I was sheltered in Utah. I didn’t know what it meant when people said they were struggling, but now I had seen it first hand. This was the hardest thing that I ever have had to do. I felt so bad for these people. Not one single person waiting in that line asked to be in their position. None of them deserved this, and I could tell that they didn’t as soon as I saw them. They all said thank you. They all smiled when I handed them their food. They were so grateful, even though they had nothing.
The only thing I hoped was that they knew how much I cared about them. I hope they saw my tears and were able to tell that this meant something to someone. That they meant something to someone. This day taught me so much about life. I knew that their struggles were more than my struggles. I knew that I would never be able to look at food the same. I will never forget each and every one of their faces. Often, I replay this memory over and over in my head, making sure that I don’t forget it. This day changed me forever.
So, why am I sharing this story with you, the reader? This experience is not one that many get to have. Especially now with COVID-19 running rampantly throughout the world, it is impossible to go to Malawi right now. I feel that it is my duty to not only change from this experience, but to share it with others. The stuff you see on TV with starving children in Africa is real. As much as I wish it wasn’t true, people are starving to death and most of us in America are not. I learned that I must donate my time more to help people in need. I am currently working on this in my life. Often, it is the little things that we can do that will mean the world to someone who is struggling. Not everyone can go to Africa and hand out food, but everyone can help someone around them in need. You the reader can do this too. Donate your time and money to people in need when you get the chance. From my experience, I learned that you have no idea how much it will change your life. One ticket can be the difference between life and death, go and find the person that needs it.~Mason