The sun is setting over the hills near my neighbourhood. The sky is still light blue on the horizon, streaked with yellow-gold and white clouds. The noises of the neighbourhood are all around us as the evening turns to dark: children yelling, families chattering, radios playing, dogs barking. The compound where I am staying sits silent: six stoic little brick buildings with trim of pale yellow and deep blue, a back-yard vegetable garden, a black front gate that is watched carefully by an attentive guard.
So I venture out of my own little building and tread carefully in my flipflops through the dirt to the back wall, also made of brick. On my toes, I rest my forearms on the scratchy surface and peer out to the scene below.
The hill slopes away from our compound to an empty lot where piles of bricks lie unused and weeds grow with abandon. Beyond that, over another wall, I can see a family in their backyard, sitting outside their home under colourful laundry that has been hung out to dry. At another house to my right, two men sit in plastic chairs on the stoop and watch over the neighbourhood like me. On the left of the open lot is a dusty path where three little girls with cornrow braids and ruffled dresses stand in a circle debating the serious issues of seven-year-olds in high-pitched Chichewa. Two young men in collared shirts walk past them down the path; maybe they are coming home from work.
“Hi!” I hear, that distinct English word punctuating the soundtrack of the neighbourhood. I’ve been spotted. Somewhere in the growing dark below, a small child has seen my white face and orange t-shirt looking out from over the wall. I see a small hand move rapidly in the air, and with a big grin I lift my own hand to wave back.
This is life in Bangwe township at six thirty on a Tuesday evening. Though I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, I do see people without much material wealth conduct their lives with happiness and love. The scene reminds me of sitting on my front steps as a young child watching my own quiet little Canadian neighbourhood go by, feeling secure in my place in the world. It shouldn’t shock me that a sense of peace and community should exist here, too—but then again, I’ve spent twenty-two years seeing images of Africa that focus solely on poverty, disease, war, and death.