It’s easy to see how people can get stuck in Malawi. People are friendly, food is cheap (60 cents for a pineapple, 12 for an avocado or a mango, 2 – two! – for a banana, and 3 dollars for a huge plate of rice, beans, vegetables, and an entire fish.) and the landscape is stunning, with verdant hills dropping into lush valleys all along the shores of a beautiful lake, the third-largest in all of Africa.
I asked a local guy I met, Gibson, why Malawians are so friendly, and he gave a two-pronged answer. First, he said that there has never been a war in Malawi. No war for independence, no civil war, nothing. The people are peace-loving. Secondly, and more of a harsh reality, they are poor. And because of that, he said, there isn’t tons of competition among people like there is in the US. It made me think. Were Americans once that way, before the industrial revolution? Before the Civil War? Not to take anything away from our culture: one of the most interesting things I’ve learned on my travels is that Americans are some of the friendliest, most open people on the planet, and that’s with war and competition everywhere. Maybe that makes the US a really special place. Malawi certainly is.
One of the hardest things to do on this trip is to ration our time. I know, I know, we’re traveling for a year. But there is so much to see that even a year begins to seem short at this point. We already made the decision to skip Victoria Falls, one of the marquee destinations in Africa, and this morning decided to skip both Ruarwe and Likoma Island, two beautiful places in Malawi, so as not to rush our upcoming time in Zanzibar, Ethiopia, or jeopardize a chance to go to Djibouti. All that means is that another trip to this part of the world is on the horizon, and Malawi, with its relaxed, decidedly Carribean feel, is definitely a place I’d love to come back to.
For all you people out there for whom the name “Africa” inspires a fear of the wild, unknown, and dangerous, I invite you to read more about Malawi, often described as Africa Lite or Africa for Beginners. It has certainly won me over in a very short time.