Though we were only in Malawi for a short two and a half weeks, my experiences there impacted me eternally. It was absolutely life changing to be among Malawi’s great people and to witness their humble way of life. In the two weeks since coming home, I have thought continually about my African “brothers and sisters” and what I learned from their examples.
Foremost, I was very much inspired by their friendliness. It makes perfect sense that Malawi is commonly known as “The Warm Heart of Africa.” From the moment we stepped out of the plane and into the Lilongwe airport, friendly Malawian strangers were enthusiastically shaking my hand and reeling me in for hugs. This amazing friendliness was especially evident among the people of Kapudzama. The Kapudzamans made sure that our crew felt like a group of celebrities; they thanked us copiously throughout their church services, crowded around us like paparazzi, and threw us a massive party. Every Malawian I encountered seemed to smile kindly at me and delighted in having a simple conversation. Oftentimes, people with whom I shared a handshake insisted on holding my hand throughout our conversation. This is an example of how easy it is to establish closeness in their warm culture.
Frankly, Americans are less friendly. In my first few days home, I was still in the mode of going for the “Malawi-style handshake” when newly acquainting myself with strangers. Somehow the Malawi handshake is generally awkward with people “in the states”; it comes off as exaggerated and insincere. I theorize that this is due to the sad fact that friendship is more conditional here. I have definitely been guilty of contributing to this culture of coldness. To some degree, I have always withheld some geniality until I establish common ground with others. Being among the Malawians helped me to understand the error of my ways. Ever since our journey, I have strived harder to be a friend to everyone around me. Since I’ve made this change, my life has been greatly enhanced and I have come to experience why the Malawians are continuously smiling.
The people of Malawi also inspired me to be more grateful. I can think of countless instances where the locals exemplified astonishing gratitude. I was impacted most deeply by the example of a mother who was tending to her son in the pediatric unit at the hospital. As I saw her clinging to her deathly ill son, my heart sank because I understood that the hospital’s limited resources probably wouldn’t allow the child to survive much longer. With my limited Chichewa, I hesitantly greeted the mother bys saying, “Muli Bwanji”, which means “how are you?” She smiled warmly and insisted that she was “doing fine”. As she said that, I immediately had tears in my eyes and chills down my spine. How could she be “fine” and how could she muster such a bright smile in the face of such deep adversity? She looked weary and malnourished, yet her smile lit up the entire pediatric unit. She then thanked me for coming and held my hand for a moment. She was simply grateful for my acknowledgement.
There were about a billion things she could have complained about, not the least of which being the fact that her dying son was seemingly forgotten by a busy hospital staff while sharing a putrid bed with 3 other contagious children. Instead of addressing all that was wrong, she simply thanked me and smiled. The Malawian people’s shining examples brought so much light into my life and I hope to pay it forward by being a light to others around me.
– Brian G. PA Student Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions