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The Warm Heart of Africa

Whenever I told someone I was going to Malawi, I inevitably got one of two responses: "Oh . . . where's that?" or "Oh! That is a beautiful country. The people are all so friendly. It really is the warm heart of Africa."

Both responses are very accurate. I found the countryside to be lush and beautiful. We were there during the rainy season and the rolling hills are green with the maize crop, tall thick reeds and mango trees. Malawians are warm, hospitable and willing to share what little they have with anyone they happen upon. Passing by on the road, complete strangers will stop you just to greet you and shake your hand. And in the pub, Malawians are quick to buy the first, second and third rounds. Malawians are extraordinarily happy with their freedom. Many different people told us "Feel free here" or "You are completely free here." Much of this has to do with the end of Dr. Banda's 30-year presidency in 1994. He held a tight grip on every sort of communication and anyone speaking against him was likely to disappear. Since that time, the United Democratic Front (UDF) has been in control, running a corrupt and economically tragic government. On May 18, Malawi faces a crucial election to determine who will reign for the next 5 years. Despite the corruption, Malawians are still happy to have the freedom of speech not afforded to them under Dr. Banda's iron fist. While they are quick to criticize the current government, they never forget the value of being able to be critical.

But the other response I got when telling people of my trip is equally valid while in Malawi, such that you ask yourself, "Where the fuck am I?" The culture, the sights, the smells … they are all polar opposites from what is familiar in the States. So that everywhere you go, you are reminded that you are in Africa (most of the time prompting you to say, "Holy Crap, I'm in fucking Africa!!!")

And since the people are so friendly, warm and giving, you get the sense Malawi really is, as all the travel brochures describe it, the Warm Heart of Africa.

Malawi aside, Ronit and I are now in Senegal, and we are heading into the bush for a few weeks. Since electricity is hard to come by out there, I'm pretty sure they don't have their wireless-internet connection all configured quite yet. Hence, emails from me will be scarce. Along those lines, please don't send me any unnecessary emails, as my in-box will inevitably be filled with enticing offers for low interest rates, chances to meet my soul mate on-line and free prescriptions for Viagra.


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