“Let’s see who can balance the book on their head and walk the longest!”

This is a challenge I have attempted many times in my younger years. I’m sure many others have too. People have even used this as a means of teaching good posture. I am envisioning the posh  little girl learning how to be proper and polite.

Fast forward, and I am now 20 years old in the back of white pick-up truck in the mountainous hills of Malawi holding on for dear life with my fellow American friends and newly made British and Malawian friends. Crammed packed together with buckets filled with tree seedlings, we maneuvered our way off road down a mountain to visit a rural school. Surely,I thought on more than one occasion that the truck would slip at any moment and we would all plummet to our certain death. But more times I thought that this was the best adventure of my life. My heart flooded with joy as we drove by child after child who grinned at us with the biggest smile imaginable. My heart was elated as we yelled “bobo!” (hello for children) and they would yell it back and chase after us.

Another common scene when driving  is a woman walking carrying bundles of sticks on top of her head. I am talking HUGE bundles of sticks. Sometimes they didn’t even use their hands at all to balance it! I was shockingly impressed by that. How could they manage all of that?

I was soon given the chance to find out. Once we arrived close to the school, we hopped out of our truck and were told to carry the trees like Malawians. That meant on our heads, not with our arms. I relished the chance to immerse myself in this wonderful culture. So, by all means I carried the baby trees on my head. To my surprise, it was way easier!!! Like, why in the world have I been carrying heavy objects with my arms my whole life? I mean, there was a slight strain on my neck, but that was all.

In this moment with a bucket of trees on top of my head, I realized that Malawians( and Africans in general) were my heroes. What the rest of the world has thought of as a silly game to play, or a way to teach posture, is in fact, a genius means of transporting things! The fact that itty bitty children could carry 50 pounds of water on their heads was astonishing to me.

They are loaded with strength. They are so intelligent.

Carrying this bucket taught me to see the strength in others, to see the resourcefulness. In an instant the “white savior complex” that I had subconsciously been taught by my American culture came crashing down. You know, the idea that they need to be helped and taught how to do things the “right” way. In that instant, my heart understood that they have just as many valuable lessons to teach about how to live life, if not more.

Maybe the weight of the trees finally knocked some sense into me.



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