Malawian Village Life

Chikwawa District – Kampomo Village

We meet the local Water for People (WFP) staff for orientation. Elias, Joseph and Ephrone welcome us and give us our schedule for the week. First we’ll be visiting two villages approved for a well and sanitation, but not yet installed.

A few numbers:

100% – Target of WFP water and sanitation facilities in 50 villages (out of 500) in the Chikwawa District – Achieved – 50%

400,000 – Population of the largest city, Blantyre

13,000,000 – Population of Malawi

$176 (US) – GNP per capita

43 – Life Expectancy (half the pop. is under 15)

11 per 1000 – Maternal mortality (highest in world)

15% of pop. – Adult prevalence of HIV AIDS

25% of pop. – Malaria

50% of pop. – die before reaching 40



We drive out of the city into the dry barren bush. Malawi is in the middle of a long drought and the air is thick with acrid smoke from the constant outdoor cooking fires. Soon off the paved road, a swirl of dust mixes with smoke, making us close the windows. Now we have a choice of  breathing or sweltering in the 90+ degree heat. We watch the steady trek of people and animals up and down the road, mostly on foot, an occasional bike-rider, few cars. We don’t complain. Women in colorful cloths carry heavy loads on their heads held high, necks straight, posture perfect, most with babies wrapped on their backs.



After a couple hours the road ends. We get out and start walking. In the distance we see a gathering of women and children bending over a muddy trickle. They are either filling bright plastic containers with water or washing and spreading raggedy clothing over the dry brush. The children rush over to see these strange white people with funny hats and little silver boxes in front of their faces. They want to touch our wispy hair and mottled veiny skin. They don’t speak English though it’s the official language. Joseph translates, “You can take photos here.” The women and especially the children have rarely if ever seen white foreigners with cameras, and are amazed at the miracle of seeing themselves on screen.



We follow them for another kilometer as they carry the full containers on their heads (sometimes ten to twenty times a day), past the few skinny cows and cowherd standing in the very same bit of water, to the remote village of Kampomo. A welcoming committee waits under the only shade tree, surrounded by huts of mud and straw. We tour the village: thirsty gardens, women cooking, one remudding her hut, the arbor loos (non-eco latrines) – just holes in the ground surrounded by thatch. Joseph explains, “the children are afraid to use the loos, especially during the rainy season. Sometimes they slide in, sometimes they die.”



The drums begin and a crowd gathers quickly on the natural incline of a huge old termite nest that surrounds the tree. There are very few elders or men because of high mortality rates and strong gender inequality. Joseph speaks in English then Chichiwa. “These are the people who will bring you clean water.” The chiefs greet us with, “Mulli bwangi? (How are you?) and thank us for the coming project.

The people cheer when we answer their greeting in Chichiwa, “Diri Bweno.” (Very good). We are given chairs (the only ones in the village) to watch the celebration. The young male drummers set the beat as the women with babies tied to their backs, dance and sing. Children weave in and out of the circle. They’ve forgotten their empty bloated stomachs, mangy heads, infected mouths, crippled legs. They’ve forgotten for a moment that life is about getting enough food and water to survive the day.


As we prepare to leave, two little girls who have been following Cindi and I, latch onto our hands to walk us back to the bus. We could just lift them into the bus and take them home with us. Instead we wave, “good bye Salima, good bye Fanny,” and watch these beautiful people disappear.