Malawi is the Backdrop

Share your knowledge of the southern African nation that is the setting for "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind."

Malawi is where William Kamkwamba, inventor and author with Bryan Mealer of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is from. The book is the selection for Piedmont's new citywide reading club.          

Kamkwamba's story about how he constructed a windmill to power his family’s homestead takes place in his hometown, Masitala village in Kasungu District, in central Malawi north of the capitol Lilongwe.

Malawi's first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was from Kasungu district too. After leading the nation to independence from British colonial rule, Banda held on to power for 30 years. Kamkwamba was a little boy when Banda's autocratic regime gave way to multi-party democracy in 1993.

Rural Kasungu is the heart of tobacco country. There the smell of drying leaves is the smell of money–nearly everyone in the district, including the young inventor’s father, makes their living growing the cash crop on small plots. Electricity is a rare luxury.

Less than 10 percent of Malawi is electrified, and most of the electricity comes from hydropower fueled primarily by Lake Nyasa (a.k.a. Lake Malawi) and the Shire River, which collectively run the length of the country.

So, before he became enchanted with science and endeavored to light his home with wind power, Kamkwamba, like most Malawians, grew up fearing both the Christian God and the magic of Gule Wakulu tradition and listening to his dad tell folktales by lamplight.

What do you know about Malawi? Share your experiences and discoveries by posting a comment below.

Jeff Chipeta February 22, 2011 at 06:47 AM
Malawi is a small poor nation with about 16 million people. Most Malawians rely in farming for source of income, Malawians are the most friendly people in the World, hence Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa. Malawi is also a beautiful country with a third largest fresh water lake in Africa, Lake Malawi national park which boost of great and large number of fish species in the whole entire world is one of great features in the country.
Sara Smith Hirsch February 22, 2011 at 10:53 PM
Piedmont Community Church has sent people from Piedmont, medical supplies and funds to Malawi since our first visit in 2003. Look at some photos of our trip http://allenh.zenfolio.com/p281500948 Some of these were taken in Kasungu province. Malawi is filled with passionate people, large hearts and huge faith in the gifts they are given. Many struggle, 1 in 6 babies make it to age 5 and 17% of women die in childbirth, with Malaria, Aids and Malnutrition are everyday facts of life and with all of this they face each day as if it is a blessing, we have a lot to learn from them. There are many outreach/mission networks that pour their heart, souls and resources into helping where they can. The resourcefulness of William of the windmill is very telling, they are doing themselves proud.
m. miller February 25, 2011 at 08:12 PM
I spent six months working in Malawi in a rural clinic. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. When I was there it was illegal for women to wear pants, so you had to wear a dress everyday.
Amy Jeffries March 01, 2011 at 12:05 AM
I haven't been to Malawi, but I've spent time in Zimbabwe, and when William Kamkwamba explained the local slang by recounting a conversation with his friend Gilbert in the early pages of his book it brought me right back. "Gilbert, bo?" "Bo!," Kamkwamba wrote. In the Zimbabwean villages and townships where I stayed the refrain was: "Muribho sha?" "Bo." Meaning: "How are you, buddy?" "Cool." That exchange was usually accompanied by a hand slap that integrated a thumb-to-thumb snap, which I could never quite master.
Colleen Stormer March 03, 2011 at 03:26 AM
I lived in Malawi for 2 years from 1993-1995. It was an amazing time to be there politically. My first year were the elections to allow a multi-party system and my second year were the first real elections. People had never ever voted in their lives. It made a big impression on me at 24 years old and gave me a perspective I will never forget. I'm looking forward to reading and discussing the book, just started it.
Susan Stutzman March 04, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Thanks for posting these fabulous photographs Sara! They really help me envision many scenes in the book, particularly those that take place in the market. It's wonderful to see the faces of these people with "large hearts and huge faith" (as you say). What struck me about William (and is probably true of many Malawians) is that, in spite of poverty, famine, corrupt government, disease, etc. he never comes across as oppressed, resentful or even angry at what life has dealt him. This same spirit comes through in these photos.
Amy Jeffries March 05, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Some more pictures from a Piedmont Community Church's trip to Malawi will be show as part of a READmont book discussion on April 3. Check out the details here: http://patch.com/E-dFVl


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