Finding Love in Malawi


Your not so typical love story, of finding meaning and home in the most unexpected places.

I travelled to Malawi during the December holiday and as soon as I arrived I dreaded the experience. I was hoping there would be WIFI everywhere and that the roads would not be as bad as in Zimbabwe, but as soon as we left the tarred road on to the path to my grandmother’s house the reality that my holiday was not going to be as luxurious as I had hoped it would, sunk in.

In that moment I realised that I was a fraud. I always tell people about how I want to work in the human rights space and how I love working with people, but here I was in the centre of the place that requires the most help and knowledge in terms of rights and I couldn’t wait to leave even before I arrived.

And so the first night I was extremely bitter and upset with myself at the realisation that I am sell-out. My parents laughing at me for it, only increased my depression as this would mean that they would have more reasons supporting their inclination for me to go into the commercial industry, which I did not want at all. I tried to debate with God to make myself feel like a better person. I don’t necessarily have to be in the horrid place to make a difference, do I? (asking myself)…

Two boys and a goat in the village.                                                                                      Photo: Lars Plougman

During the second day, I stopped being in denial and accepted that I felt how I felt and that was the reality of it all. As soon as I did that my mind immediately started trying to figure out how to make Malawi work for me. I began to realise that although the place was not ideal, the reason I was not up for it was that I felt going was not worth my time. If my brother was there and he needed me I would have taken a bicycle on that dust road if needs be and gone to him.

A second thing that I realised was that I was still overcoming the trauma from losing my friend a few weeks before, in a car accident. The road she was on did not have rocks and bumps at every corner but she still did not make it through. And I think being on even worse roads made my anxiety about travelling heighten and I kept thinking about how I would not survive if I had to lose anyone in the car with me at the time.

Having my eyes wide open the entire road trip constantly praying that we don’t collide into another car or hoping we don’t rummage off the road and fly out on to trees or fall down under one of the badly made bridges really ruined the entire experience. I just didn’t want to be there at all and the people around me not understanding the reason why, made the entire trip depressing for all of us.

Once I understood all of that and forgave myself for my horrible reaction I finally gave Malawi a chance. Even though I strongly felt like it was not home and it never would be and I didn’t get why anyone lives there, I began to see the happiness in many of the children’s faces, like they did not want to be anywhere else. I saw men, multiple times, holding hands with one another whilst walking in the streets, which I never see back home. I saw couples going to school together or eating lunch with one another when they were supposed to be at work. At the market place, which smelled really badly and had just rained and was damp everywhere, the guys selling apples, who were definitely at the smelliest place of all and had their fruits rained on, were not bothered and kept the business going with smiles on their faces.

Children playing on the edge of Lake Malawi. Unesco World Heritage Site: Lake Malawi National Park.                                                                                                                                                              Photo: Kevin Walsh

I still wanted to go home through seeing all of this but it made my heart warm to see Black people making it work through the hardest of circumstances. It was amazing to see people still moving and still happy even though they have to walk back home at the end of the day with their many goods on that dusty road with rocks and literal twists and turns. And one of the things that made me happiest of all was when, in the middle of the night, we had to ask a random stranger into our car with us to show us where we’re supposed to go. That man took us right to the doorstep of our destination without harming us or asking for a thing in return. He even walked himself back home because he knew how long and difficult the drive was for us and he didn’t want us to get lost again.

Down South the spirit of Ubuntu nowadays is a bit deadly and one might argue, more theoretical than practical but up there it is still very real. You can risk parking your car out on the street and when you wake up in the morning the windows will not be bashed in.

It was extremely refreshing to not have to be anxious about my safety at all times and in terms of that, I am extremely grateful to Malawi. But I still felt like I had to hide my gadgets every time I left my grandmother’s house. “Old habits die hard” I guess. I am just really happy that I managed to find love in Malawi. The love that people can still have for each other even through such a hard life and the love that people have for their work regardless of how unappealing it might be.