Traveling west from Majete, we head to the densely populated Zomba Plateau, an area seldom visited by tourists. We have come to experience village life. The Responsible Safari Company (RSC) has eco-tourism at heart and works in close collaboration with a few community-based organizations along a model that Kate, the founder, likes to describe as #tradenotaid.
Yodep is RSC’s partner in the Zomba plateau. In return for feeding and hosting the two of us for the night, Joseph, who works at Yodep, and his young wife Fanny will receive US$80 incorporated into the cost of our itinerary, while RSC gets a small fee.
This specialised travel agency started the initiative 18 months ago and tells me it doesn’t go without massive challenges, from selecting the right partners to making sure that travelers will look beyond the lack of comfort.
Indeed, Joseph’s home has no running water, the electricity is out during most of our stay and the toilets outside are intimidating. But that doesn’t deter us from enjoying the warm exchange with our hosts. Joseph explains how permaculture has improved the output of his small allotment. He walks us through the mechanism of the village bank that we attend together. We seat on the floor and participate with 10 women who use the village bank scheme to lend money to each other’s.
The evening comes slowly. I help Fanny prepare dinner on the burning stove, a basic meal of maize flour mixed with warm water and some stir-friend greens.
This is the staple meal in Malawi, everyday for lunch and dinner, with a few tiny dried fish added to the mixture on a good day.
We wake up at dawn to help Joseph plant mustard seeds in his small garden, the soil is dry and doesn’t seem very fertile, but what do I really know about planting seeds. We go fetch water at the wells, carrying two buckets each that we bring back clumsily.
And it’s time to say good-bye, with mixed feelings that we would like to do so much more to help, but knowing that life goes on for them, and for us. These twenty hours are some of the most humbling I’ve ever had.