Editor's note: Sydney, a Columbia Star Cub Reporter and a junior at AC Flora High School, spent two weeks in Malawi, Africa, last summer with her father, mother, and sister. They were on a personal mission with the Ministry of Hope. This is her story.
Before I went to Malawi, Africa was something of an El Dorado, a fabled place that existed only in adventure stories and tall tales. What I knew of the continent was limited to what I had read in books and seen in photos. It remained an incomplete image, a black and white photograph.
Our trip splashed colors, sounds, and smells into an unfinished painting, transforming a two-dimensional sketch into a lifelike masterpiece. Among the most vivid images are the memories of Africa's breathtaking landscape: its endless horizon, the fields of sugar cane and banana trees, the turquoise waters of Lake Malawi, and the towering mountains hidden in the clouds.
However, it was the people, not the scenery, who made Malawi truly beautiful. The villagers we met were gracious and joyful despite facing disease and death on a daily basis. They shared their food and their music with us, and invited us to stay in their homes. Even the most vulnerable among them, the orphans, gave us something. They showed us how to play and smile despite desperate circumstances.
The trip taught me to take a deeper look at my life and realize how much I take for granted, like running water and an abundant food supply. Most people in Malawi pump their water from a well, and their next meal depends on the crops and the weather. The trip also taught me how much I take my family and those around me for granted. Many children in Malawi have to survive without parents or relatives. We often saw children no older than six carrying their younger siblings on their backs.
Finally, the trip made me realize that travel is much more rewarding when I am out of my comfort zone. A trip to the beach or a week on a cruise would not have had the same impact as Malawi. It forced me to adapt to conditions I wasn't used to and think beyond my own personal wants, needs, and comforts and focus on those around me. It made me feel as though I was part of an adventure bigger than myself, one that made tiny changes in the world around me and even larger ones in me.
Miriam Beard was right when she said, "Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."