One night in Malawi I cried myself to sleep because I felt like a spoiled brat: here I was whining about taking so long to get to our destination while we witnessed utter poverty; I just wasn’t enjoying all the endless driving and searching for the best place while I felt uncomfortable seeing all the poverty along the way. Malawi was and is still one of the poorest countries in the world and to see the poverty broke my heart. Malawi is also known for its friendly warm-hearted people with a big welcome and to see their happy faces spoke to my ‘western first world mentality’; their happy satisfaction in the face of all odds was glaringly different to my spoiled wealth and luxury of having a car, time and money to go on a trip such as this. It hardly felt fair.
It is easy to view such a country with romanticism and close one’s eyes to their plight but under the layers of the beautiful rural scenes and basic style of living the poverty was evident in so many different ways. Most people cycled or walked which to my environmental values sounds so appealing but it impedes the economy. We struggled to find petrol stations as a result. The shops in the rural areas were stocked with essentials only; essentials that we as first world countries would not relate to. We struggled to find an ATM as a result because people don’t have that kind of money.
As we left Pottery Lodge we were told that the only ATM we would find was on Illovo Sugar Plantation. It was a beautiful drive and a wonderful experience driving through the privately owned plantation looking for the ATM.
Illovo is Africa’s largest sugar producer; we have sugar in South Africa as well but not where I come from so I have never seen a sugar plantation before. The roads were gravel and smelled very unpleasant as they were coated with a sugar by-product much like treacle to keep the dust from lifting as we drove. We eventually found the ATM and Derek queued with all the farm labourers to draw money. He felt embarrassed because they each withdrew 2 notes while he stood and withdrew a whole wad of notes; it was apparent how little they had compared to him. He too felt the great divide of poverty and compared to his own wealth.
Visiting Malawi and seeing the poverty was as much a life changing experience as discovering that I had cancer the year before. I am aware of the blessing life has to offer me and it is not something I take for granted; not even the use of an ATM.
Peace and love till next time.