Malawi.

We have visited a lot of countries, some of which have been fantastic, some have been not so fantastic. It’s all very subjective, what one person enjoys another can dislike enormously. For example, neither of us are fans of Portugal but we meet many, many people who love it. But in almost every country we have visited we have found something we have enjoyed. It could be an iconic building, a particular geological feature, a buzzing city, amazing wildlife or maybe some sort of thrill seeking adventure you had there. Malawi had non of these in comparison to other countries and yet both of us absolutely loved our time there. The reason? The people are just soooo friendly. Malawi is known as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, and having visited, we certainly wouldn’t dispute it.

Probably the friendliest people ever!

OK, we will admit getting through Border ‘Control’ was a slow and frustrating process. It was only after three hours we learned that providing the Immigration staff with a few ice cold Cokes would dramatically speed up the return of our passports. We didn’t figure that out on our own either. The Immigration staff actually told us that it would speed up the process!

Once clear of the border we never looked back as we crossed the Country to what seemed like a never ending line of smiling faces and waving hands. Malawi is a very poor country, even by African standards. We knew we would see more poverty on this trip than we have been witness to in the past. It had been evident as we had travelled through parts of Kenya and Tanzania. Villages comprised of buildings built from wood, mud, and straw. But in Malawi that was all it was. We didn’t visit the capital city Lilongwe, so we can’t comment on how modern or wealthy it is there. But we spent five days crossing the country, driving almost the full length of Lake Malawi before leaving at the border with Zambia and almost all we saw were small, basic villages.

Part of a typical village in Malawi. Where there is always a friendly wave and a smile.

We saw people, often children, walking several kilometres to collect water from the nearest well. Children were walking several kilometres to school and back. The most noticeable thing was that they always had a smile and a wave as we went past. As the truck approached villages, adults and children would run to the roadside to wave. In Africa there always seems to be someone on the side of the road walking, wherever you are, someone will be walking, this is especially so in Malawi.

Small children walk to school in Malawi

We camped for a couple of days in a small village on the shores of Lake Malawi. It was a regular stop for the truck and in the past it stopped there every couple of months or so. However, this was only the second time it had stopped since Covid-19.

Our campsite was on the shores of Lake Malawi.

We were invited on a tour around the village where we would visit several places including a birthing unit and the local school. It was done on a free basis with donations gratefully accepted. Tourism isn’t off the ground in Malawi, there are only faint glimpses of it along the lake, with most places having not reopened since the pandemic. They have bigger things to worry about here.

Even on an Overland trip in Africa, Steve was managing to get a bit of fitness done. Cycling was impossible as there were no bikes to hire, and swimming was all but impossible without taking unnecessary health risks. But you can run almost anywhere. He was out one evening on the tracks around the village when a young boy aged about 11 years old, in school uniform, started running alongside him. This happens quite regularly around the World but usually only lasts a few seconds, but the young boy kept running and running. Steve wasn’t hanging around, but the young boy just kept going. His name was Emmanuel and he was telling Steve how he had been playing football with his friends on the way home from school and he lived near the campsite. They ran together for well over a mile, Steve in his lycra, and Emmanuel in his school uniform. Bizarre!

The following day we did the village tour. It was both heart warming and sad at the same time. We went to the village well which had been funded by an EU charity and we spoke to locals. We visited the guide’s house which was so sparse and dark, but he was emensely proud of it. We visited the hospital/birthing unit where Florence Nightingale would have been at home with old, torn mattresses and really old and basic equipment. Malaria is a massive problem in Malawi and this is especially dangerous in infants which contributes to the high infant mortality rate.

Sarah with a new friend.

The final stop was the school. We walked into the grounds and were immediately surrounded by hundreds of children, all wanting to touch us and hold our hands. It was an unbelievable experience.

A great welcome at the village school.

Steve became aware of one child making a real effort to stay close to him and when he looked it was Emmanuel. “Hi Emmanuel, are you running home again this evening”, he said. Suddenly Emmanuel’s ‘Street Cred’ sky rocketed as he knew one of the visitors. He stuck tightly by Steve’s side for the whole visit.

We went into one of the classrooms with the school principal. There were 141 children in that one class that day. It was noisy but the children were so disciplined.

A pretty busy classrom

The village tour had been fantastic. It was not just a highlight of Malawi, or Africa, but a highlight of all our travels so far.

On the way back to the campsite Steve got talking to one of the older boys in the village who was football mad. He said his grandfather was the only person in the nearest three villages who had access to Premier League football. No running water or sewage system though. Priorities? He invited Steve to watch a game the following afternoon which was an opportunity he wasn’t going to turn down. He turned up the next day, a couple of minutes before kick off, and walked into the dark, crudely built one room home to find the most comfortable chair reserved for him at the front in a room which was packed full of the boy’s friends. These are the things that make travel amazing.

Another great experience happened while we were walking along the sandy shores of Lake Malawi and wandered past a cluster of houses effectively built from twigs and branches. The young girls and women were washing clothes and sheets in the lake and drying them in the sand. The girls were fascinated by our white skin and began giggling and then putting soap suds on their legs and arms to make themselves white. Steve went over and put soap suds on one of their faces and they burst into hysterical laughter. We then joined in, wringing out the sheets and clothes and putting them out to dry.

We could write for hours about our experiences in Malawi and its wonderful people. We had such a happy experience there and as we moved on to the border with Zambia it was definitely with a certain amount of sadness.

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