It’s time for another Monday travel post from me, talking about somewhere in the world I have visited and why I would like to be back there today. One of my goals in travelling has been to challenge the way I see the world and its people, to remind myself that the way I live is not the way everyone lives, and to consider what it means to be a global citizen, and in particular, one of the wealthiest 1% of global citizens.
And so one of my goals in sharing these travel posts is to challenge those who read them likewise. To challenge your perceptions of people and places around the world, and to challenge you in how you respond to your place amongst them.
Today, I’m thinking about a rural village I visited in Malawi. I’m not going to name it, and I’m trying to be very careful about which photos I share, because I am conscious of how easy it is for someone like me with access to this kind of platform to unthinkingly exploit those who do not have the same voice or opportunity I have to share their own stories. I want to be very careful because I know that I do not fully understand their stories, and I do not want to do them an injustice by misrepresenting them. I certainly don’t want you to feel sorry for them. But I do want to remind myself, and hopefully you, that there is much for us to learn from their stories, and to be challenged by, once we realise the privilege and power we don’t even recognise we have compared to them.
What did I love about this village in Malawi?
The hospitality and welcome of the people to an outsider like me.
Their willingness to share so freely what they have, not realising that their generosity with the relatively little they have puts me to shame when I think about all I have and yet how tightly I can hold onto it.
The food (or some of it)! Although I find nsima (maize porridge) itself a bit stodgy and tasteless, I am amazed at the flavour that can be brought to the relishes eaten with it with a few simple ingredients. My favourite was futali, a sweet potato and peanut dish that tastes so much better than I could have imagined combining those two things could.
The landscape. Wide open spaces, fresh air, glorious sunsets, a blanket of stars at night.
What did I learn from this village in Malawi?
The significant reminder that the way I live is not how most of the world lives. The stark reality of the fact that my life is privileged in a way that most people will never comprehend.
The everyday realities of living in a place where the average income is around $2 a day and more than 1 in 10 adults are HIV positive.
The huge difference a small investment of foreign aid can make, and the exponential difference people willing to live in this place and walk day by day with the community can make.
And most of all, that too many of the maxims my society seems to unthinkingly live by are actually lies. Having more does not make you happier. Waiting until you feel you have all you need to give does not make you more generous. Having a beautifully presented home does not make you more hospitable. Wealth is not the deserved reward for hard work. And saying “charity begins at home” does not absolve us from responsibility to care about people in other places, but rather calls us to extend the love and mercy we have learned in caring for our families to those most in need, however far away they may be.
As my government prepares to hand down its budget this week, with predicted cuts coming out of our already depleted foreign aid giving, this challenges me greatly today.