I have now spent 5 days in Malawi, and already feel qualified to share some of the differences and quirks that I have noticed here. Myself and the other researchers I’m with are staying in the city of Zomba (which is more like a small town by British standards), and this might give a slightly skewed viewpoint of the country as a whole as it is relatively wealthy and the national centre for learning. Nevertheless in just a few short days we’ve all been thrown into Malawian culture and experienced a good insight into life in this fascinating little country.
#1 There is music everywhere
Malawians seem to love their music. It blares from cars and pick-ups, shops and houses. Where we are staying we either hear the gospel voices of the next door choir, the prayers of the local mosque or the radio playing from our pick-up or nearby houses. Even upon visiting the first of the villages in a rural setting, our driver did not turn down his blaring music and no one seemed perturbed by the sound. And during a tour we were given of the village the local houses played the radio through speakers.
#2 The people remain proud of their tribal heritage
Bringing up the topic of tribes to a group of Malawians is likely to ensure an animated discussion. People are loyal to the tribe that their family belongs to and each one seems to carry with it certain characteristics, for example fierce warriors or hard workers. These make for the same kind of friendly joking and rivalry that could be compared to what we see in Britain between the different regions and countries.
#3 The fruit and vegetables taste better
A disgusting volume of fresh produce in the UK is thrown away before reaching the supermarket simply because it does not conform to the ideal shape or colour. It is refreshing to wander through the market in Zomba and see piles of small and bent carrots, brown-speckled oranges and tiny gnarled potatoes. But even more importantly – they taste far better than in the UK! The oranges are sweeter and the carrots are more flavoursome.
#4 Bikes are used to their full potential
Travelling from the airport in Blantyre to our accommodation in Zomba demonstrated just how much the nation uses bikes in everyday life. They are everywhere, and often heavily and precariously loaded with firewood, chickens or charcoal. Along the roadsides were many bicycle repair stands and I saw countless people fixing various components. Whilst the nature to which they are used can be dangerous along busy roads, it made me realise how little we use bikes in the UK and how much more we could get out of them!
#5 The people are polite and respectful
Malawi is well-known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’, and I can certainly see where this description comes from. Greetings are a BIG thing here. Even the children we met in the village ran up and shook our hands saying ‘Nice to meet you’ and ‘Muli bwanji’ (the Chichewa equivalent). When meeting someone for the first time it is customary to give them a warm handshake and introduce yourself. And everywhere we go we are told that we are ‘most welcome’. We’ve yet to meet a village Chief or Headman but will do so this week as we begin our work in the villages.
I’m hoping to add to this list in the coming weeks that I’m here and look forward to discovering more of Malawi’s character and customs.