First Impressions

By Yuyin Ning

The community center

The community center

The mini-bus drove away from Lilongwe airport. “So, here we are.” I thought. The building and the gardens in the airport were too pretty that I couldn’t believe it was the real Malawi.

Our destination was about 100 miles north of Lilongwe, near a town named Kasungu. I can see our mini-bus attracted people’s attention as we were driving out of the city. Since I’ve been told it is dry season at this time, I wasn’t expecting there would be so many green trees on the road side. I was surprised to know the weather was not humid or unbearably hot at all. I can feel the gentle breeze on my face. It was… quite comfortable.

Most of the villages we passed by were very small; actually only taking us less than one minute to drive through. I can see some apples, bananas, and squash were piled up on the street; some dresses, pants and sheets, hanging on the shelf. The big and fresh English letters of some advertisements were printed on the street’s shabby wall. I noticed that all women no matter how old were wearing dresses and man were wearing pants. Some women in pretty chitenjes were walking on the street, with a bucket of water or some bags of clothes or even a bunch of firewood on their heads!  I was so shocked at their excellent skills to balance it. Kids were running around with bare feet. They seemed healthy and happy. I was delighted that the people here were not as bonny-skinny as the African images shown on the television. I looked further, the view was more like the classic commercial pictures of travelling to Africa; the weeds are as tall as a human and the trees have very big trunks and twisted-shaped branches. I imagined there were giraffes or lions hiding behind the trees.

So, here is Africa. I thought.

After about 1.5 hours of driving on the paved road, the bus turned onto a dirt road. I knew we were approaching and became excited.  The striking and unique graffiti on the community center wall told us we have arrived.  We were all exhausted but very excited. When we get off the mini-bus, we were surrounded by a group of people. They were so friendly that they kept coming to shake our hands and some gave us hugs. I looked around. The campus is quite big and the buildings seems nice and clean. The yard is clean and tidy and covered by a layer of sand as all the weeds have been cleared.

We tried to walk around and then realized we were surrounded by a large group of children, whose ages ranged from 2-12 years old.  Some kids who can speak simple English kept asking, “Your name? How are you?” I said, “Hi, I am good. I am Yuyin. Nice to meet you.” Their English skills must be very limited because not many of them can answer me back. One little girl kept asking me, “My name? My name?” I realized that she was trying to know my name. I told her my name and asked her name as well. There was another group of children who cannot speak English and were just following us silently, sometimes laughing with the other ones. I guessed my Chinese name must be too hard for them because the little girl asked me at least four times “your name?”

Their eyes are so curious about us. They want to know everything about us. Dr. Stonebanks joked that we are the “walking TV” for them. We wondered how many of them know what is a TV.  There was a moment I asked myself, what is the influence of our arrival to this village? Will their life change even a little bit because of us? Will they study hard because of the desire to communicate with us? Do they even have a chance and money to study in the school?  If not, will they remember us decades later? Can we really do something “good” for them?

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