Off the Grid: Malawi, Africa

A Glimpse into the Warm Heart of Africa

The first thing you notice is the smell. When you’re stuck in a plane for nearly twenty hours, headed to a place you’ve never been, all your mind can really do is wonder what stepping off the plane will be like. Over and over and over wondering what is this place going to be like? What are the people going to be like? What am I about to walk into?

The reactions people have when you tell them you’re going to a place like Malawi are pretty predictable. “You’re going to Africa? Man, that’s crazy. Be careful!” Always be careful. Always be safe. Always watch your back. Words of caution from people who’ve never been to Malawi, and who may or may not think Africa is a country. Despite the groundlessness of statements like these, when your brain has nothing else to chew on they tend to start making more and more sense.

After twenty long hours, our plane hit the tarmac at Lilongwe International Airport. The mild apprehension of travel had turned into a roiling ball of ‘oh my god we’re here’, as myself and the eight other bleary-eyed members of the Wired Jersey team collected our things and stepped off the plane we’d all come to hate, still wondering exactly what we’d find outside.

Maybe it was breathing re-circulated air in a cold, dark metal tube for the better part of a day, but that first lungful of air was nothing short of glorious. Clean. Crisp. Warm. Not oppressive, in the way that air tends to be in the hot and humid places of the world- but reassuring, like a warm bed on a cold morning. As we all blinked our way through the fugue of jet lag and long transit, the combination of warm sunlight, blue skies and beautifully fresh air instantly turned my morale up to eleven. I had arrived. I was ready to see, and to do.

Never judge a place you’ve never been.

[additional excerpt by Bryana Arlington]

After four grueling days of production, we wrapped yesterday, shooting parts of three different stories throughout the day. We started our last production day at a school in rural Mulanje that received desks from the K.I.N.D (Kids in Need of Desks) Fund. In comparison to the first school we visited, where all of the students were sitting on the floor, this school had approximately 400 desks and the benefits were immediately obvious.

Next we visited the Nali Hot Sauce factory outside of Blantyre, where MSU alumni Philip Perry has negotiated contracts to exclusively sell this hot sauce in America. We documented the production and packaging process, as well as going into the pepper fields where the indigenous Birds Eye Peppers grow.

Our last shoot of the day was at the World Food Program’s sub-office in Blantyre, where we wrapped up with an interview with the head of the WFP sub-office, Peter Otto.

Montclair State | Africa

Ben Sanders

Ben is an international man of mystery. He likes his whiskey neat and his plane rides without turbulence.