Blankets & Humble Pie

A rural village in Malawi.

Last week, I traveled overland from Livingstone, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi. It took me 3 days, 2 big buses, 1 mini bus, 2 shared taxis, and 3 regular taxis to complete the trip. Each leg I was the only foreigner on the conveyance.

One of the things that I noticed during my never-ending bus ride was the luggage that the locals were carrying. They all seemed to be storing blankets (in clear plastic duvet covers) under the bus.

I thought this was odd and kept wondering what was inside the blankets — assuming that each traveler had wrapped the blanket around something precious that they were carrying on their trip.

When I reached my final destination in Lilongwe, I met up with Lois, the sole in-country representative for Madonna’s Raising Malawi Foundation. We had a lovely lunch during which she told me about the struggles of women in the rural areas of Malawi.

In particular, she told me about women who need to travel great distances to receive medical care during pregnancy and one of the concerns for these women (among many) was that if they had to travel overnight they would need to take the family blanket.

Apparently in most Malawi families, the children sleep with the parents in one bed and share one blanket. So if the mother-to-be took the blanket with her to the medical clinic, her husband and children would have nothing to keep them warm as they slept.

Lois’ story gave me great pause. Here I had been assuming that the blankets my fellow bus-mates were carrying were hiding something valuable. It never occurred to me that it was the blanket itself that was valuable. Imagine: a blanket being your families’ most prized possession.

This realization is one of my most humble moments in memory and one that will stick with me a long time. I will never look at a blanket the same again. You know, as just a blanket.

Now a blanket will always symbolize the warmth of a family, the closeness of children as they sleep, and an irreplaceable comfort during childbirth. A family in Malawi is lucky to have a blanket. And I’m lucky to have learned the value of a blanket.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 24th, 2011 and is filed under Heart.

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