Heading to Malawi (commonly referred to as the Warm Heart Of Africa) we were expecting to meet some of the most friendly and entertaining locals thus far. Young guys with "names" like Vegemite, Mr Nice Guy, Cheap As Chips and Stan The Man introduced themselves to us, but it was a quiet, unassuming young man called Gibson who made the biggest impression on me. This is a little about him.
Gibson (Gib for short) and his cousin Fantastic Steve introduced themselves to us on the beach one afternoon and we got chatting about our respective lives. The 17 year old lives with an assortment of extended family: 10 people in total in the one house. I should point out here that the typical home in the village of Chitimba is a tiny construction of mud bricks and straw-thatched roof. Not much in the way of alone time for the quiet Gib.
He is in 2nd form at school - the equivalent of year 10 back home. A typical day of school is spent sitting on the floor taking notes (not enough seats or desks for everyone so they are reserved for the 3rd and 4th form classes). Right now he is waiting on his examination results to be released so he can confirm progression into 3rd form (year 11) next semester. When he completes high school (4th form), he hopes to study Education at uni and become a teacher. To pay for the expensive post-compulsory high schooling and university (and of course support his family) he carves wood and sells the curios at a small market stall. He tells me he is happiest when he is carving, as he knows this is a way he can make money to further himself and his family's quality of life.
Gibson knows 4 languages. Along with his local dialect, he also speaks Swahili, Chichewa and English (the latter two being Malawi's official languages). He taught me how to say the greetings for morning (Mouka!) and evening (Matandara), as well as how to give thanks (Yewo or Yewoh). They were the only words I could master - I could only compare it to German in terms of how difficult it is to pronounce and the insane number of syllables per word. He also taught me Boa.
A simple boardgame involving counters (beads, marbles, rocks, corn kernels, basically whatever you have on hand!) and an indented carved wooden board; Boa (apparently also called Mancara in some places) is a strategic game Gib likes to play with his cousin Fantastic Steve and the unique Mike Malawi. The winner stays on and they rotate through so everyone gets fair game time. Gib organised for Fantastic Steve (considered the best player of the three) to teach me the game, and so huddled around the board in the darkening evening Steve, Gib, Sjane and I watched, played and learnt the nuances of the surprisingly complex game. We moved by the flashlight on Sjane's phone and somehow I jagged two wins against a surprised Steve. I have suspicions that he may have let me win (good for business): either way it worked and I eventually purchased a board to bring home with me.
Personally Gib impressed me the most with his maturity and the genuine way he conducted himself. He felt it important for me to understand that he and Steve were not necessarily the same as some of the other guys; where they wanted to hustle and make business, he was more interested in getting to know us, extending the hand of friendship and helping us enjoy our days in Malawi. Where some others envied the man with new brand-name shoes, he knew that being happy with his one pair of shoes and one set of thongs would free his mind and allow his to focus on improving himself in other ways. Indeed, he proved this more than once in our time together. For one, he hiked the 35km mountain trail up to Livingstonia and back with us in those thongs - never complaining once - and even when a young girl strolled by, chatting to him and obviously smitten, he would not be swayed or distracted. He was busy working, and she could wait for him. I've never met a 17 year old boy back home with that sort of maturity and self control!
It was with heavy hearts that we left Chitimba that morning, but I had a feeling it wouldn't be the last time we heard from him. Sure enough, later that night I got a call from Gib via our driver's mobile; asking how our day was, hoping to exchange contact details and telling me to say 'hi' to Sjane for him. I was so glad to hear from him, and look forward to hearing what's next in store for this new friend and his promising future.