I never finished telling you how much I loved Africa, specifically our overland from South Africa to Tanzania. We traveled 7,697 beautiful kilometers, literally. Every stretch of road was flanked by landscape so breathtaking that I felt like I was missing something whenever I looked away to read. I spent hours staring out the “Impala tuff”-brand windows of our overland truck, adjusting the shutter speed on our camera to capture the images I had become so fond of looking at — mountains rising in the distance, mud and straw huts surrounded by lush grass and children running around, playing and waving wildly with pure joy. I’ve never waved so much in my life. Finding people to wave to became a new way to pass the hours we spent driving across the continent. Everyone was so friendly that they always waved back.
When we walked through villages in Malawi, we’d amass a crew of curious locals. The teenagers wanted to play tour guide and show us their school, home and introduce us to other locals. Meanwhile, children ran up to say hi and get a better look at us white strangers. We never felt unwelcome. They didn’t ask us for money, though a few dropped hints that a pair of socks would be nice, if we could spare one. It’s hard to say no when you see how little they have.
Mike and I bought our first souvenir in Malawi. It’s an East African game called Bao. We got it because it’s something we knew we’d use on our trip and because Malawi is known for its wood-carved wares. For $10USD, three books, two batteries and one t-shirt, we became the owners of a custom-carved Bao game. They told us they actually prefer to trade their products for goods since the items are more useful than cash in their village, but they need the money to buy more wood. Mike and I had more in our packs to spare and donated socks, a t-shirt, books, batteries, paper and pencils. Seeing how so little goes so far made me wish I had more to offer. It hurt to see children running around in threadbare clothes. But somehow they all remain so happy. I wanted to capture their joy and bring it along with me.
The young Malawians were thrilled to get their picture taken and then see themselves on the screen. The kids jumped with excitement and filled the air with laughter. Mike videotaped them singing and doing action hero moves, then played it back for them to watch. That really made them happy. Tourists probably come through and show them photos they’ve taken, but I’m sure that seeing video of themselves is a rarity.
Malawi is a country I’d love to volunteer in. The people are so warm, and as one of the poorest countries in the world, they definitely need help.
Before Malawi, I experienced one of those ah-ha moments in Zambia. We were driving along when our not-so-reliable overland truck broke down next to a small rural village. A government health worker had set up a little station and was administering free malaria tests to the locals. We watched while the children and adults braved finger pricks from a lancet for blood to test. As I stood watching, I thought about how much this man was helping this remote village. Through a simple test, his work could save the life of a parent or child. I was really moved by the whole experience and at that moment thought about how I would love to be a nurse (first time that thought ever crossed my mind) or work for an organization that develops and administers international aid projects (this I’ve thought about before).
I love how eye-opening this trip has been. I’m not just discovering and understanding new places, but I’m also learning so much more about myself and broadening my interests as well. After seven months of travel, I know this trip has changed me, and Africa was a big part of that.