Friday, June 13, 2008

Village Life

The Chisemphere trading centre consists of a cluster of shops a few kilometers from the main road. Beyond this, the area is instantly rural with small clusters of thatched roof houses and fields stretched out along dirt paths for kilometers in all directions. My previous conception of rural Malawi was mainly a montage of images sewn together from World Vision photos and shocking TV commercials painting a deprived and almost horrid existence. Everyone always looked so depressed!

My time in the village directly challenged this. I find it difficult to brand anyone as being “poor.” Sure, the number of people with flat screen TVs is exceedingly low here, but did we ever really need them in the first place? Are the children that wave to me on their way to school really the same crying children from the TV commercials? As a volunteer, can I really judge anyone’s life, declare it deficient by my western standards, and seek to “develop” them?

Though often masked by the warmth of the people, I began to discover some very real challenges faced by the community. I realized one, several days after I arrived in Chisemphere, when Mafayo and I were visiting cassava farmers in the area. We were walking along a small path when we emerged in a clearing on a small hill. It was a field of maize, withered, and knee high. I asked Mafayo about it.

“Yes,” he replied. “These are failed crops. These people will suffer from hunger.”

It hit me pretty hard. Perhaps in the nearby group of houses lived the same people the media had previously urged me to pity. But when I later met them I realized that the images had failed to communicate something important. There is a sense of humanity, resiliency, and richness of life here that I think is sometimes forgotten when we talk about “poverty.”

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