On Sunday we spent the day hiking up the Zomba Plateau. On the hike down we ran into five girls carrying substantial bushels of firewood on their heads. They wrapped chitenjes, an African cloth, on top of their heads to cushion the 40-pound load of firewood. The narrow trail down the mountain was steep and covered with slippery pine needles. The smallest girl walking at the back of the line slipped on a rock on the way down. She quickly picked herself up and replaced the firewood atop her head. Tough as she was, the little girl was crying as she rushed to catch up with the other girls. Her perseverance was impressive. This moment is one of those powerful travel memories that you know will stick with you forever. It dawned on me that this was the first Malawian person I’d seen upset in the three weeks I’ve been here. It reminds me that though the Malawians’ happiness is seemingly unshakable, underneath those smiles are serious struggle and hardship.
When I applied for the Students of the World internship, I didn’t know where the summer travels would take me. I was thrilled to find out we were going to Malawi, but I didn’t have a particular preference in regards to the country – I was just happy to be going to Africa, a place I’ve always wanted to go. At the time, I would’ve been equally content with any African country.
Now that I have spent almost three weeks here in Malawi, I realize how fortunate we are to be based in Malawi, “the warm heart of Africa.” The country could not be more appropriately named. They say Malawi is “Africa for beginners”; the harsh realities of Africa are soothed by the friendliness of the Malawian people.
While Malawi certainly has its fair share of hardship, the optimistic and sunny disposition of its people remind us that life can, and should, always be lived with a smile. The Malawians’ optimism and seemingly infinite happiness demonstrate the power of positivity.
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