People have said that Africa grips you. It wraps itself around your limbs, embracing you, leaving an imprint on your soul. My own experience was no exception. I've always had a pull to go there: An almost obsessive fascination with its people and its culture. Once there, this feeling intensified. I felt as if I had come home. There was an innate sense of familiarity; of ancestral heritage that I couldn't explain. My origins stem from Europe, so why did I feel such a strong connection here? Personally, the cultural heartbeat of the country. I felt it wherever I went; with every exchange. Not in all my travels had I come across such lovely, warm, compassionate, openhearted people.
One exchange stands out in particular: My visit to the local witch doctor in Malawi. Our mix-and-match band of mzungus walked through a village near Lake Malawi and began to collect some local boys in our herd as we went. Each had a Western-world nickname: 'Cappuccino', 'Mr. Vegemite', 'Samosa Sam', 'Morgan Freeman'. The boys had clever quips about the reasoning behind their names, but most interesting was their honest, innocent curiosity toward our presence in Malawi.
Smiling, they asked when we'd arrived, how long we'd been there, what our favourite part of Malawi was, what our countries were like. They were thirsty to know more but not to exploit, to learn. After our conversation they thanked us sincerely, saying they didn't get opportunities to practice their English. Cappuccino, the younger boy, gave me an African name Chimwemwe, meaning happiness. He said I'd made his heart happy sharing with him. He shook my hand, smiled, and went on his way. I was touched. All this of course, happened before we even got to the witch doctor.
As I sat facing the doctor, my heart was full and open. He could tell. He looked deep into my eyes for ages, then leaned to his translator and spoke. "You have great love in your heart for Africa, and though you've never been here, your soul has been to this place. You will return to Africa again and you will pass this joy to whomever you meet. You are Chimwemwe. You are happiness." I was speechless. Cappuccino hadn't joined us at the witch doctor's house and hadn't seen him in months. I knew these two separate exchanges weren't coincidence. They were serendipitous, and a memory I'll treasure.
*mzungu is the Swahili word for ‘white person’. When I asked the locals about the use of this word and whether it held any derogatory connotations, they said not at all. That it was simply a word describing a point of fact. (ex. “Look! There is a white person!”)
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