A warm welcome

Weather forecast: clear skies and 30 degrees centigrade. Summer had truly begun in Holland.

With little beads on my forehead and clammy palms, I was ready to board the plane to Malawi. For the last couple of weeks, me and my IWitness partners had got ready for this trip. I got my proper vaccinations, studied the supplied reading material and packed all the essentials. But not only essentials; thanks to gifts from our stores and colleagues, we also packed over 60 kilos of toys and other gifts for the children we were going to meet. For a trip like this, there’s no overdoing it.

The boarding went smoothly, and before I knew it the plane was soaring through the sky. With all the business and preparation beforehand, I had not had given myself time to truly think about the journey. Once aboard my mind started racing with questions and expectations. What will the schools look like? Do I have to explain why we’re there? Will I be able to have a chat with the children? What do I really expect to get out of this? I decided to give my head some rest and watch a movie. Malawi will come soon enough.

And it did. Our flight brought us to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. On the ground we were welcomed by two local members of UNICEF, Mackfield and Dayton. Within minutes we were having a friendly chat while driving to our hotel. Their hospitality immediately made me feel at ease. It was after midnight when we arrived, so we said our goodbyes and went to bed. So in the morning, after a quick shower, I walked through the hotel looking for a place to eat some breakfast. A clerk walked up to me for a friendly chat while guiding me to the dining area. I remember thinking: “These people are really nice, but that’s their job, right?” I joined my group at the table and we discussed our plans. For today, a short trip to Lake Malawi to ease into Malawi culture and see some UNICEF projects.

Our driver today has been with UNICEF for about 10 years and was able to answer all our questions, be it about Malawi culture, UNICEF or his own experiences. On our drive to Lake Malawi, we passed a lot of villages. These villages were nothing more than clay huts with straw roofs on them. He remarked on some more modern additions to these villages, like water wells and latrines. These were built with the help of UNICEF and the former president of Malawi to help the poorest people with their basic needs. Their value was easy to see; people could clean their hands and wash their pots and pans. The latrines are still the most effective way of reducing the spread of certain diseases.

Water pump in Monjedza - ©Johan Klep
Water pump in Monjedza – By Johan Klep

Another remarkable sight was the difference between women and men in the villages. A lot of women were walking around with wood on their heads, a child on their backs and gardening tools in both hands. The men on the other hand were walking around empty-handed, dressed in their nicest outfits. Education on gender equality has not reached everyone apparently, but at least the children will be taught differently. In the coming days we will see exactly how the children will be introduced to social issues such as these.

For all the questions and expectations I had, Malawi had a beautiful answer. The people of this country truly have the sun in their hearts whose warmth I could feel in every encounter. But also my fellow IWitness travellers, some of whom I had met only once or twice, show such love and passion for everyone around them that I can’t help but smile.

It’s good to be in Malawi.

    Johan Klep