Many say that Malawi is the warm heart of Africa and I can now understand why.
Tucked down south between Mozambique and Zambia most people arrive via Johannesburg and step out onto the rich orange earth of Malawi and into the hearts of the local people.
I stayed at the Kumwamba centre which is run by FOMO – Friends of Mulanje Orphans who were hosting me whilst I volunteered at the local secondary school. After travelling for over 27 hours Willie Pimba fed me with warm beef stew and continued to do so throughout my time there. Willie made me feel very welcome and always met me with a smile at the end of the working day and answered my questions about his country. He was keen for me to see the beautiful mountain and tea plantations so would often organise a local boy to walk myself and a colleague around the local area.
Meeting the local ladies washing their clothes in the river I could see that this was very much a community as they sang and watched each other’s children whilst they worked banging and rubbing their weekly wash against the wet rocks. Despite having a load to clear they stopped to have their photos taken and listen patiently whilst we practised our one or two Chichewa words. They laughed at our accents and posed like supermodels for us whilst we laughed back.
Children ran after us babbling and laughing as we blew bubbles from tins brought from home, for many this was the first time they had experienced this simple game that our children take for granted.
Working in the school we were met with eager learners, always asking questions, always offering to carry my bags and always saying please don’t forget us, please come back to see us. These are children that might not have a pen or paper to take notes with so were very grateful with our donations of educational resources. I wish I had taken more.
The staff were keen for us to try their daily lunch of nsima (made from maise flour and water) and beans and they brought us in donuts especially made for our last day. As they and their pupils bid us farewell they dressed us in local costumes and I knew that I would not forget their warmth. I felt that I had done so little for them.
Whilst taking a break for lunch one day, I wandered behind the school down some little tracks and was met by Alex and Felix, uncle and nephew who farmed the land producing just enough food for the handful of houses that made up this small ‘hamlet’. Smiles wreathed their faces when they realised they had an unexpected visitor and they were keen to show me their potato patches, their homes and to meet Alex’s wife. They asked me about England and our premier football teams and said they hoped that I would be back again some day. It was clear they didn’t have much in material possessions but what they had they were proud of and they were rich in gratitude and warmth and it was then that I knew I had clearly reached the warm heart of Africa. I was sorry to say goodbye to Malawi but with memories that I brought back I know that I will be there again one day.