365 Days in the 3rd Poorest Country in the World
Posted on 07 October 2017
Donkeys bringing my water, due to no running water
I have officially been living in Malawi, Africa for over a year. It’s hard for me to even begin to explain what it has been like. I have become so used to my everyday life here, that I’ve forgotten what is “normal” and what isn’t. The first thing I do in the morning is get out of my sanctuary of a bed. It’s not just any bed because I have a mosquito net that covers every corner of it. This not only protects me from mosquitos that carry malaria (which is one of the top causes of death in Malawi), but it protects me from giant spiders, cockroaches, flying ants (in hot season), grasshoppers (in rainy season), and crickets. To be honest, the list is never-ending. I can’t even imagine lying in a bed without a mosquito net. It wouldn’t be “normal”.
Mosquito nets are a must!
The next big thing is the fact that I haven’t had electricity or running water for over 60% of my time here. I have also learned the Chichewa words for – no electricity – which is, “Magesi Palibe”. Keep in mind, everything I am living through is by choice. If I wanted to, I could live in the big city, buy a generator or use solar power, and live a comfortable life with constant electricity and running water. Most expats and elite Malawians choose this option. As for me, I chose to live in one of the poorest areas of the country. I live in a basic house, which has a small combined kitchen/living room, 1 bedroom, and a bathroom. It’s less than 400 square feet, and has a door which is warped and lets all the creepy crawlers in at all hours of the night. Thank goodness I have my mosquito net!
Cooking on an “mbaura” because there was no electricity
Houses in the village are usually even smaller than the one I am currently living in. I have the luxury of electricity (even though it doesn’t work most of the time). In the village, you can judge someone’s economic status based on the type of roofing they have. The poorest households still have grass roofs that often leak or break in any harsh weather conditions. Villagers will save for years in order to afford iron sheets for their houses, which is the next best thing. When we talk about a Malawian family, it’s rare to be talking about two parents and a child, these houses are usually cramped with parents, cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews. I could write a whole blog post on the structure of Malawian families, but I’ll save that for another time.
Room #1 of 2, kitchen and living room all in one
There is a small market outside of the compound where I live. You can almost always buy tomatoes, onions (which is part of their staple food in the villages), maize flour, beans, and stale bread. I do most of my grocery shopping in Blantyre, which is a 45-minute drive from where I live. At times, I don’t mind getting out of the village and going into the “big city” for groceries, meetings, and to escape the dreadful heat. And by “big city”, I mean the tallest building is the Reserve Bank of Malawi, which has about 20 floors.
At my friend Lillian’s house in her village with her kids
The hottest month of the year (October) is quickly approaching. Of course I happen to live in the hottest part of the country. It will get up to 46 degrees, and some nights it won’t cool off below 33 degrees. To say it’s unbearable is the understatement of the year. I was forced, yes, forced, to buy a $125 USD rechargeable fan that lasts 6 hours without electricity. Now, I can have 33 degree heat blowing on me rather than just lying in a pool of my own sweat.
You’re probably wondering, “Why is she doing all this?” Why I am choosing to live in a place where I wake up every day to a new challenge? I live in a place where I have had to learn how to live differently, and how to communicate with people in a totally different language than any other that I know. I can’t really explain it, but I do know…
My heart is happy. I feel at home in unfamiliar places. I wake up not knowing what will happen today, I wake up not knowing what I will see, hear, or smell. I wake up in a country that most people don’t even know exists. I have many homes around the world, and Malawi has been added to that list. I’m happy to say, I’ve committed another year to living in one of the poorest countries in the world. Year 2, here we go!
Co-Founder Global Citizen Designs