Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa because Malawians are some of the kindest people to strangers AND Malawi is safe. So I did some soul searching after visiting this Warm Heart of Africa. Honestly, compared to animal communication, I should find human communication easy, right? I mean, humans have speech, we’ve got Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Skype, YouTube, Whatsapp, email.
(When you get to 2:58 minutes, I JUMPED from that rock in Lake Malawi!! Not bad for someone in her 6th decade of life. There were cichlids everywhere.)
I wasn’t connected to my own community
But while I was in Malawi, I realized I never cultivated the art and skill of connecting with people in my own community.
Visiting Chembe (Cape Maclear), I felt the Warm Heart of Africa. I noticed people greeting each other as they walk through the village. My daughter, Andy, who lived there, emphasized, “It’s polite to take the time to ask people how they are! It’s expected!”
“How are you?” in Chichewa
Since the official languages of Malawi are English and Chichewa, I cheated and used English to greet people. But I did learn to say “Zikomo” (Chichewa for thank you) profusely. Belatedly, I am now practicing the Chichewa greeting in case I return. Want to try it? All vowels are pronounced like Spanish vowels.
- Moni. (Hello)
- Muli bwuanji? (How are you?)
- Ndili bwino, kaya inu? (I am well, and you?)
- Ndili bwino, zikomo. (I am well, thank you.)
Reconnecting to my village
Using the Warm Heart of Africa as my guide, I now consciously connect with people as I walk and jog through “my” village in the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria, Virginia. Most folks and their dogs enjoy the interaction, which warms my heart. Can I share a couple of good stories?
Pied Piper of Mount Vernon
As I was getting ready to jog, a beautiful, healthy orange tabby came out to greet me from under a car. He started our conversation with that playful “meow” you hear when cats are looking for affection. Well, I thought, “Who can say no to a request for affection from a cute cat?”
I thought I might know him. Two orange tabbies live in our neighborhood, so I decided to ask him to follow me back to his street, in case he was one of those boys. And he did!! He followed me slowly, cat-like, weaving through bushes and under cars, leisurely crossing streets. I had a couple of fun conversations with people on the street when they noticed the kitty following me.
I finally got him back to his street. That’s where he said, “I’m done following you, human. I’ll just hang out here.” So, I’ll check with the family to see if he belongs to them. If not, I’ll be keeping an eye for him to make sure he’s safe and well-fed.
Thumbs up of encouragement
When I meet people on my jogs or walks, I now initiate the hellos. I’m starting to recognize a few regulars, who warmly greet me back. I wave to joggers and bikers as we pass one another.
I got a thumbs-up of encouragement from one jogger. Did he somehow know I hadn’t jogged for a decade and needed encouragement to keep going? Maybe my tomato-red face as I jogged up Sherwood Hall Lane tipped him off. Anyway, many thanks, Mr. Jogger!
Now that I know where the trash cans are on my route, I pick up small trash to drop off in the next can. Hey, this is my neighborhood! As I picked up trash one day, a construction worker got out of his truck. He looked at me and said, “Give me the trash. I’ll put it in my trash bag in the truck.” Nice, right?
Can I meet your dogs?
When I ask, “Can I meet your dogs?” I get a resounding YES from the dogs before I hear a response from their human. Love it! Sometimes their people tell me fun stories about who they are. When I met Daisy and DJ, the man explained his wife is a New York Yankees fan. Yankees fans, bet you guessed that DJ is short for Derek Jeter. Cool connection, right?
She saw five deer
After I said a cheerful good morning to a woman getting out of her car for work, she exclaimed, “I just saw five deer on a front lawn! I thought they were statues, but then they moved! It was so wonderful!” I understood her enthusiasm and responded, “What a great way to start your day!” When Nature gives me an unexpected gift like that, I feel blessed. I was glad to be there for her appreciation.
And if you were wondering, I still say hello to the wild animals I see on my walk – mostly birds, squirrels and insects. They’re pretty busy living their lives, but many times I feel a connection.
Read more blogs on Africa
Bring the Warm Heart of Africa into your village
I invite you to bring this warm way of greeting strangers into your neighborhood. I’d love to hear any good stories from reaching out!