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.