Well, we have officially been in Malawi for 19 days. I recommend you never visit a place for less than 19 days. It takes some time to get fully immersed, and I’m not totally sure I’m at that point, but I know for sure I’m closer than I was a week ago.
It takes several days just to figure out where you are.
The buildings all look the same, the signage is the same. The streets are not marked, and if they are I can’t seem to find the street signs. You’re overwhelmed by the newness of everything. Just walking around is a task. Don’t get hit by a car, don’t fall in a ditch, don’t get hit by a bicycle, don’t walk into a person, dog, pole, fruit stand, mail box… You get the point. Thank goodness people don’t try to steal from you here. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. Everything is a bit blurry at first.
The one thing that does stand out here in Malawi is Airtel. It’s red signage is plastered on literally everything. Whole buildings are devoted to this signage, all to sell a little stamp-sized piece of business card stock paper worth a few precious minutes of texting, calling or internet. One of the things about the third world is that the simplest things get complicated because people don’t have a lot of money. You don’t go to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes; you go buy 3 cigarettes, or 2 or even 1. It’s the same with this phone money. You buy 12 minutes or 40 texts for 100 kwacha, and when that runs out, you buy 100 kwacha more, which is 25 US cents. It’s a whole different economy, which takes some getting used too.
The people are the interesting part.
In all this newness the people are the thing that you miss. Walk through a typical American mall and you can size up almost every person that walks by. Why is this? It’s because whats around you is familiar and safe. For example, if I’m walking by Foot Locker, who cares? I’ve walked by Foot Locker a million times, not interested. There is time to see faces and read expressions because you are not occupied with your surroundings. When you first arrive in a place like this the faces are all blank. I’ll add, this is not unique to Africa. At first, you don’t see expression, and you can’t read the emotion in a person’s face. Are they happy, hurting or perhaps angry? It takes time to see past the veil. The bride’s veil is lifted to reveal her face. So the veil has to be lifted to see people as they are. This takes time and a desire to want to see what is under the veil.