Malawi, Central Africa … Early on our first trip to Malawi we realized there were expressions or terminology that did not translate well into another language or culture. I don’t mean the language itself; English, Chewa, French, Tumbuka, or German, I mean what words or expressions mean. Here is an example.
During those first years our teams were scheduled to make trips, on weekends, into the bush country to attend and teach in small, rural congregations. Each week I would ask “how far will we be going?” (I needed to know in order to advise our teammates what kind of trip to expect and how to prepare). Repeatedly I was told, “It is just near,” even though some trips took 2 hours or more over the harshest terrain. The teams were often not ready for the conditions they encountered. By the third year I was determined to confront this, get it corrected, and move forward with a more realistic report on what to expect each weekend. What I learned would be a lesson in cultural norms much different than anything I had encountered in the past.
Let’s start with the fact most Malawians walk a number of miles every day, some reports indicate an average of 10 miles per day. Most Americans, even when they are in Malawi, travel, not by walking, but by car. Those are key factors when asking the question, “How far is it?” In the Malawi mind it is better to view the time it takes to get someplace rather than the distance it requires. Besides, if you do not have a car you probably don’t have an odometer. To top it off almost no one from the villages ever sees a map so distance is only a guess to them. It doesn’t matter how far it is. All that matters is how long it takes to get there. Hence, “How far is it,” depends on whether you go in a car or you walk!
As one looks at pictures of Malawians with mobility issues requiring them to crawl on the ground where-ever they go, one cannot imagine any of them being able to respond to, “How far is it,” with either “Just near,” or “Just far.” For an American in a car, everywhere is seen as, “Just near.” For a Malawian walking it is “Just far.” For a Malawian crawling it is “Just impossible.”
Another shipment of mobility units is being prepared for Malawi, over 200 of them. That’s 200 more people who will be able to get around, interacting with others and building a better life. The new units will be ready in late February. They are being donated free of cost. All that is needed is half of the shipping cost, $7,000.00. Can you help over 200 people get up off the ground, out of the dirt and mud, lift up their pride, and turn “Just Impossible” into something like, “Just near?”