The river cruise
We were exhausted after the 30 hours of flight time and finally checked in at the Waterfront Lodge in Victoria Falls, Zambia. We were happy to learn there was a Sunset River dinner cruise available that night and it sounded like the perfect way to feel like we were doing something without having to worry about being tired.
We met some really fun people on the boat and enjoyed a fun dinner. Drinks were also served during the cruise. I got a little chilly and was grateful I had grabbed my jacket to have just in case. We learned a Zambian song and had a great time. We didn’t see very many animals, but the sunset was incredible!
It was a perfect way to kick off the week!
I have always known my family uses a lot of water every day, and for many years I took that for granted. Everyone has water, or so I thought. Before I went to Malawi, we would spend many weeks every year camping. When our family of 6 would go camping, I was constantly reminding them to not waste water. I wasn’t worried we would run out, sadly, I was more concerned with the amount of time it would take me to refill the water tank on my RV. We would have to take our ATV’s halfway down the canyon with our 20 gallon barrels to the water pump and then drive it back up to the RV to refill the tank with an electric pump. It would take us a couple of hours and we would have to repeat the process about every 4 days. It is painful to admit that. After going to Malawi, I gained so much appreciation for water and the work others go through to even have access to it. It was a really good feeling to sell those great toys and purchase water wells for villagers who desperately needed clean water.
I have seen a variety of water sources in Malawi. These range from a hand dug well, a stream or river and drilled water wells.
The women and girls are generally tasked with getting the water. Sometimes girls are pulled from attending school so they can stay at home and complete the task. They will walk often over a mile and carry the water home in a bucket, only to be sent back for another. This is a daily task, and usually multiple trips each day.
Drilling a well is out of reach for most villagers …they live day to day, hand to mouth, and rarely have enough money saved to drill a well. We love being able to provide wells for villages we visit. We make drilling a well a partnership by not drilling the well until the village has gathered the sand, quarry and bricks. Once they have gathered the materials and molded the bricks, we schedule the drill. Their hard work pays off and as a village, they get to reap the reward of having clean water more easily accessible. A well will usually provide water for about 2000 people.
Visiting with the families after the well is one of celebration., singing and dancing. Villagers from all around join in the celebration to share their appreciation for the gift. We leave with a longing to return to the place where we witnessed the blessing of clean water.
I called my friend who is an incredible chef in Malawi to let her know I would be in town for a couple of weeks. She insisted I join her family for dinner. I was very excited and when she asked what I wanted I said, “just mushroom soup.” I asked her to keep it simple and that I just wanted to see her and catch up. She agreed.
When I arrived the house smelled amazing! I knew it was way more than soup. I left feeling like I would certainly not need any more food the rest of my visit, especially with the treats she made me take with me.
She usually cooks for the US embassy, but when I bring my teams over, all of her attention is on us.
I am not a big meat eater, but if she cooks it, I will eat it. Everything she makes is delicious. Over the years, she has learned my personal favorites and spoils me rotten.
She makes sure there is nothing wasted. When my team and any other guests we invite to eat are finished she takes any leftovers into the local homes and shares. She also sources most of the ingredients for our meals from the local community. It is a win-win situation.
One of my team members is a chef in the US, It was such a treat to watch the 2 of them share their trade secrets with each other. In the video below they are making nsima, the staple food in Malawi, a maize flour porridge. I am grateful that I can have my American chef friend make this as a treat for me in between my trips to Malawi. (*the maize flour we purchase here is not as good as the original in Malawi)
I cry when I have to leave her and crave her cooking until I arrive at the next trip. I think we are a rare team that travels to Africa that worries about gaining a few extra pounds during the trip.
While waiting for the headmaster of a school to see what kind of work needed to be done, I was distracted by a sign on the wall.
Most schools I visit have handwritten posters and signs all in every classroom. I love reading through all of them and capturing their messages. But this particular sign caught my eye and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. Working on plans for our 2021 experiences.
I hope we can all join hands to end violence…
I love learning how animals are taken care of in villages in Malawi. We visited an agriculture school campus where I was able to visit with a man learning to start his own chicken business. He was actually sleeping in the pen and traded every other night with another student. They sleep in the pen to look after the newly hatched chicks to protect the chicks from any danger and to see that they have constant access to food and water. Their dedication was inspiring.
In one village I was able to check out a newly built rabbit hutch. The rabbit hutch housed the female and the babies up to a certain age on one side and the males were moved to the other side. They sold the rabbits for income, but also used them to provide protein for the families. This was my favorite one to tour. The droppings fall below and they add them to their compost to add to make fertilizer for their crops.
In Northern Malawi, my friend took me to his home village to visit his sister and mum. His sister showed me her newly built goat house. She lets the goats roam free most of the time, but since goats will eat almost anything, she keeps them put away when she needs to protect her crops. When I was visiting, the goats were in the pen, but one of the babies had found a way to escape. It was crying for it’s mom and was so happy when we reunited it with the others in the pen. They were all very happy when we were able to let them out.
This Pig Pen was located in a different village. We had been visiting another farmer and seeing how well his crops were doing. As we were wandering through a different part of the village, I noticed a group of women taking care of a pig so I stopped to visit with them and learn a little more. It took a little coaxing, but they were finally able to convince the pig to come out for just a few minutes…it was very happy inside it’s little shelter.
They all vary their methods a little, but they all seem determined to provide the best environment for their animals
Planting trees is always a favorite activity on our trips. There is just something so satisfying about giving back through sustainable efforts. We try to plant hundreds of trees on each visit. We focus on planting fruit bearing papaya and mango trees that do very well in the area. They provide shade and are a great source for fruit for the families who live there.
We partner with local community members who make these wonderful goat barrier baskets to protect the trees from the goats.
This part of Malawi used to have plenty of trees, but over the years they have been cut down for fire wood. I am so happy we are teaching more sustainable ways at the school to preserve and replenish the trees that have been lost.
We planted this tree on an earlier trip and were so excited to see that it was already providing fruit. The shade that it will eventually provide for the student home will be a blessing. I can’t wait to return and enjoy the fruit and shade. I love seeing the number of trees increase in the area and hope we can continue to make progress in replenishing the resource.
Two years ago when we were in Malawi we visited an orphanage. We spent time visiting and playing with the children. One team member brought a “magic” trick to teach to the kids he met there. It was a huge reminder of how sometimes the simplest of things can bring great joy. I loved watching him teach everyone how to do it. It was so much fun!! I think what I loved the most was seeing how something so small brought people together. A simple toy removed social barriers and opened doors for communication.
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
Before traveling to Malawi I was advised to not go during the rainy season because the rains can cause cancelled flights and I could end up stuck there. After my first trip to Malawi, I learned that being stuck in Malawi would be a dream come true. I scheduled a trip to Malawi in January 2019 and decided to stop and go on a safari in Zambia and to test the driving route from Zambia to Malawi for my team to have as an option that summer.
I remember saying out loud every day, “please let me get stuck here!”…hoping that by putting it out there in the universe it could help make it happen. One of these trips, I hope it does:)
The lions were very active. We saw them everywhere. They would nap in the middle of the road and did not care that we were so close…they slept and looked so peaceful. I have gotten to know some of the guides now and know that I am in really good hands, so I am never worried.
Safaris in the rainy season, or emerald season, are incredible. I really didn’t know that safaris could be any better than the ones I had already been on….I was wrong. Yes, it rains; it rains a lot! Yes, you get wet…there are some really cute rain boots I can recommend to help you get beyond that concern. It is cooler on the drives…I am freezing if it is 65F, but I always pack for being cold to prepare for the 24 hours of flight time on freezing cold planes. The skies are gray, but it helps create perfect lighting for photos, especially for beginners like me.
Driving around in a vehicle that feels like it is designed for military travel eliminates my fears. Many of the roads have been turned into rivers and we had to take alternate routes sometimes for safety reasons. I am a lot more cautions when I take my daughter, and on this trip she was not with me…it allowed for a little more adventure.
The animals are so much more active and they really stand out with the beautiful green backdrop. We were almost plucked out of the back of the jeep once by an elephant, ok, I might be exaggerating a little but it would have been a very cool story to tell:).
I can’t remember the name of these small antelope. On my first safari, the guide told me they were lion “fast food” and that I would always be able to recognize them by the subtle “M” marking on their backside. Since then I have not been able to recall their actual true name…but I always recognize the “M”.
I am so ready to go back and see them all.